Friday, August 22, 2008

Rock Legends Plot Fall Comeback

By Michael Christopher.

This fall, three rock and roll bands will attempt to work their way back to the charts and regain the revere of music fans around the world. And while across the board success is not likely by any means, it's going to make for one of the most compelling times in music history.

The line-up is impressive no matter how you cut it; AC/DC, Guns N' Roses and Metallica. It's a triple crown of legends. Spanning three generations, there isn't a more appropriate barometer to measure what rock and roll is all about, with the respective catalogs full of instantly recognizable classics.

Back in Black, Appetite for Destruction and The Black Album have sold nearly 100 million records combined, each a flawless masterwork in its own right.
But no band is impervious to the ravages of time and the discontent or flat out tragedies that come with the trappings of fame and hopes for longevity.

AC/DC was able to rebound from the 1980 death of lead vocalist Bon Scott with Back in Black, featuring new singer Brian Johnson. The record is full of both anthemic fist pumpers and catchy singles. "You Shook Me All Night Long" is still one of the most played songs on jukeboxes coast to coast, while the opening notes of the title track never fail to induce chills, or head bob of recognition at the very least.

No one could expect the group to replicate Back in Black's success each time out, but in the seven albums since, AC/DC has gone steadily downhill in terms of the quality of its recording output.

There have been some quality singles, like "Thunderstruck" from The Razor's Edge and the title track to Who Made Who - even though they share a similar guitar line.

Hidden gems exist too. "Big Gun" off the Last Action Hero soundtrack is classic AC/DC bravado, while the pounding "Rising Power" from Flick of the Switch is an unheralded jewel.

Overall though, the band hasn't released a solid record in 28 years. Part of the problem lies within the songs treading too fine a line between tongue in cheek, innuendo heavy metaphors and cheap schoolboy humor. Songs like "Caught with Your Pants Down" and "Kissin' Dynamite" don't leave much to the imagination, not only lyrically, but musically as well.

Stiff Upper Lip, released in 2000, was the last work put out by the group, and it severely lacked in memorable hooks by guitarist Angus Young, taking a much softer approach for AC/DC in general. Johnsons' trademarked cigarette and scotch soaked voice hasn't been the best in recent years either, becoming almost a poor caricature of its former bellow.

The record hit platinum status, but was poorly received by critics and fans alike, though the latter are a loyal bunch, and filled arenas around the world for the supporting tour.

This October, AC/DC will unleash Black Ice, and it's already been promised to be full of signature guitar licks and a rougher, tougher edge. And with a title that references the band's biggest record, it has a lot to live up to.

It's hard to believe that just 15 years ago, Guns N' Roses was the biggest rock group in the land, selling out stadiums, causing chaos, and having an appeal to everyone from metal fans to suburban housewives who loved "that "November Rain" song."

The band's 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, was a blistering, near punk rock response to the glam metal ruling the airwaves. It took nearly a year to catch on, but, buoyed by the single "Sweet Child O' Mine," eventually reached the top of the charts.

Getting as much, if not more, coverage was the rock and roll lifestyle led by Guns. Upstaging the acts they were supporting on tour, showing up wasted for award shows and getting into feuds with other bands kept them in the news on an almost daily basis, and none more so than the lightning rod that is Axl Rose. The singer has been blamed for inciting numerous riots, was labeled a homophobic and racist, and is blamed for the demise of the original group.

The fallout began in 1993 when sessions for the new record, Chinese Democracy, began. One by one, Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum joined guitarist Izzy Stradlin in exiting the group. Nearly two dozen musicians have come and gone from Rose's band as he toiled away on what has become both the most costly and eagerly anticipated release in music.

A notorious perfectionist, Rose has tested the patience of producers, musicians and label executives who are desperate for the album to see the light of day. Soft drink makers Dr. Pepper even got involved, offering everyone in America, save for guitarists Slash and Buckethead, a free soda if Chinese Democracy is released this year.

Sporadic leaks of demo quality versions of a few of the songs from the record have been passed around the Internet for years, but this June saw nine tracks purported to be finished versions hit the web.

None of the songs have the frenetic energy of "Welcome to the Jungle" or will replace "Paradise City" on rock radio, but some, like "Better" and "There Was a Time," have hit written all over them.

Industry insiders claim the album has been delivered to the label, which is trying to figure out how to market something that is destined to remain in the red no matter what sales techniques are devised.

Next month, the first official track from the recording will be released as part of the video game Rock Band 2. "Shackler's Revenge" has industrial overtones, but showcases some stellar guitar work, likely by Buckethead. The patented Rose scream is in full effect throughout the song as well.

Chinese Democracy will never live up to the hype, but whether it's due to curiosity or masochistic tendencies, fans have stuck with Rose through the years of silence and false starts. Periodic touring by the new lineup has been met with more interest than would be expected, but everyone still wants to see the original back together. Only then could Guns N' Roses successfully complete a comeback.
Metallica ultimately has the biggest chance of becoming relevant again.

The band was underground metal for years, garnering a rabid fanbase throughout the 80s while radio and MTV turned a blind eye. After losing bassist Cliff Burton in a bus accident in Europe, the poorly produced but dark and progressive ...And Justice For All was released and forced the media to take notice.

Bob Rock took over as producer, and guided the band to the tight and solid self-titled 1991 release that became known as The Black Album. Radio and MTV played cuts like "Enter Sandman," "Wherever I May Roam" and "Nothing Else Matters" continuously, and Metallica officially entered the mainstream.

Its hardcore fans patiently dealt with the experimental Load and ReLoad releases of the 90s, but balked in 2003 at the supposed return to thrash mish-mash that was St. Anger. The record was so cut and pasted using a music-editing program that the guys had to learn the songs before playing them on the road.

Criticisms ranged from singer James Hetfield's cracking voice on some tracks to the absence of guitar solos and the tinny, steel ping sound of Lars Ulrich's snare drum.
Metallica realized it made a misstep the moment St. Anger dropped, as they rarely played more than one track a night on the tour to support it, which is virtually unheard of in music. The band knows what it has to do, and early indications are that next month's new record, Death Magnetic, will be a back to form magnum opus complete with epic riff heavy compositions ripe for headbanging.

Launching its Mission Metallica site earlier this year has done two things for the group. First, with "fly on the wall" footage from the studio released daily, it gave fans a chance to experience the record, or at least snippets of it, months before it hit stores.

More importantly, it successfully shook the charge that Metallica was an out of touch act, especially technology wise, ever since it went after the filesharing service Napster in a litigious, public and unpopular way a few years back.
Amends have been made, now all that's left is the music to represent the final step in the band's revival.

The Delco Times

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