Friday, April 22, 2011

Better Late Than Never Review - Chinese Democray

Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy could never live up to the hype and intrigue that it created - 14 years in the making, the first original GNR music since Use Your Illusion, the album that tore the band apart, $13+ million to make, use of 14 different studios, multiple promised release dates with multiple delays, etc...  Chinese Democracy wasn't going to please everyone, it was just impossible.  GNR had too many fans and too many different styles of music.  It was all rock, but there was a wide chasm between Mr Brownstone and Don't Cry.

Guns N' Roses were the arguably the biggest band in the world last time GNR released an original album...and even those Use Your Your Illusion albums were disappointing to some.  I can understand the pressure that Axl must have been feeling as the years passed and the album still wasn't released.  I imagine he was thinking something along the lines of "this album has to be fucking epic."  So delay, tweak, edit, produce, delay, re-record, edit, tweak, delay...repeat.  It makes sense, but I think Axl fell into the trap of trying to fulfill the hype and please everyone.

I, like many people, had really been looking forward to the release of Chinese Democracy for over 10 years.  With each announced date and subsequent delay, my enthusiasm waned a little.  When I bought tickets to see Guns N' Roses in concert on Dec 2006, I was hoping that my excitement would be since the were on the Chinese Democracy tour, the album was imminent right?  The opposite happened instead.  I really enjoyed the songs from Chinese Democracy live in concert, but the whole experience left me uninterested and a little pissed at Axl.  I did not buy the album when it came out nearly 2 years later, I did not listen and hear any songs on the radio (I think I heard "Better" once though), I did not check out videos on youtube.  I just had no real interest or desire - I guess I can hold a grudge a long time.

A couple weeks ago, I happened to be shopping online at Bestbuy, looking for something completely unrelated and it just happened to hit me that I should look up the Chinese Democracy CD.  I don't know why this popped in my head, I hadn't thought about it in a couple years, so it was a little strange.  I searched and it the CD was only $1.99 (double vinyl is also $1.99) with free shipping.  I decided to do a store pickup as I was headed there anyways.  I figured $2 was low enough that the risk of disappointment and feeling ripped off was relatively low.

I popped the CD into my car stereo and listened through the whole thing that day within a few driving periods.  My first thought was "meh."  It had a couple catchy guitar riffs and lyrics and it was nice to hear Axl's voice again (as just hearing it brought back memories of my adolescence) but overall it didn't do much for me.  Of course, I was hoping for the balls out rock and roll from the Appetite for Destruction album - but I don't really seeing him writing that gritty of music as he is now near 50 (although strangle Dave Mustaine from Megadeth is basically the same age and I still expect him to make music like he did in his 30's - but not really his 20's I guess - maybe that is the difference).

This album has many issues.

  • I think the songs are too long*.  I like tight concise rock songs...the three and a half minute is perfect for my mind.  Long enough to really pack a punch and get your blood going, but it doesn't drag on and start to get boring.  If you were really paying attention, you could tell that as Axl took over more writing duties from Izzy Stradlin that the songs became longer and less rocky.  Basically, if you compare You Could be Mine to November Rain you can see the difference right there.  Rock vs Epic Ballad.  Both good in their own way, but completely different.  I like epic ballads, but I think they should be the minority instead of the majority of the record.  Axl has lost the feel for the three and a half minute plain rock song.  It seems that he has tried to make everything too epic.

*Turns out that the songs just seem long.  Yes, most are in the 4.5 - 5.5 minute mark, which is longer than I thought...but they almost always feel two minutes longer.  For some of the reasons listed below.

  • Too much shit - and by that I don't mean too many shitty songs, I mean the songs just seem overloaded.  Too much synth, too much orchestra, too much background noise.  It makes many of the songs feel very messy and overwhelming.
  • Too much filler - the biggest mistake that I think Axl made was putting 1 minute of filler (ambient noise, people talking unintelligibly, street noise, etc...) before the song Chinese Democracy.  It is one of the best songs on the album, and the first song on the album...with the minute of filler, I was already bored before the album started.  I think maybe he wanted to have it build up to the song, but it just didn't work.  A couple of the other tracks also have this type of lead-in and I just am not feeling it for the record.
  • Too downbeat - it is not a happy album, and with its slower pace it just seems to drag on.  On great albums I am full of energy at the end and want to immediately start listening to it again, on this album I feel a little exhausted and drained (but not in a "Wow what a moving experience kind of way").
  • Too many meandering guitar solos - this leads back to the songs feeling too long, but having three to five guitarists contributing to some tracks just leads to too many solos and guitar effects.  I like Buckethead, but I just don't see him as being part of the GNR sound (and yes, I think it is easy to pick out his solos).  It just lead to it feeling overbearing when I would have loved something stripped down.
  • Repetitive - on some songs the chorus just seems super repetitive.  I think it is actually drowning out the rest of the lyrics which are often kind of hard to understand, so the chorus just stands out all the more but becomes repetitive on several songs.  Plus are there so few good quotes out there that you had to re-use the Cool Hand Luke "failure to communicate" quote that was used on "Civil War"?
  • Too much electronic drums - unless you are doing industrial music or rap, there is not much use for a drum machine.  You can tell the difference and it is so boring and sterile.
  • Boring cover art - really a bicycle with a basket in sepia tone?  It feels drab and I think that feeling gets transferred into your thoughts about the music (at least at first).  Seriously, this is just a boring cover.

However, it is not all bad.  After the first listen, I set the album aside for a few days but my mind kept coming back to a few guitar riffs, vocals, or lyrics.  I gave it a couple more listens over the past week and it has grown on me quite a bit.  It is not a terrible album, just not a great album.  There are a few hooks to pull you in but nothing that instantly stood out and made me want to listen over and over.  There are some parts that I really like - unfortunately not many songs come together as a complete package and that means that it is just not full of hit songs.  I do like it though and think that I will be returning to it every so often, but it is definitely not an "era defining" album like both Appetite and Use Your Illusion were to me.  I do think it is a pretty decent album and powerful - just not instantly catchy.  It not something you will be singing along with all the lyrics like Appetite, but it is worth a listen.  For $2, I would recommend this album to most people.  I think you will get $2 worth of enjoyment out of it if you go in with an open mind and not expect the old GNR.  Hearing Axl screaming and screeching like the good old days is worth that much...and I think the album will continue to grow on me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sometimes You Gotta Let Those Hard-to-Reach Chips Go...

You may have heard last week that the brand Pringles was bought by Diamond Foods from Procter & Gamble (you can read the press release here if you like that sort of thing).

I mention this for a reason besides my fondness for Pringles.  Actually, I like Pringles, but usually don't eat them more than once or twice a year.  Usually when I am in a potato chip mood, I am looking for something more greasy.

You can see Torengos ability to hold
salsa in this handy advertisement (hint:
More than the leading tortilla chip, but
less than a bulldozer)
However,  I did love the corn chip made by P&G/Pringles...the Torengo.  The Torengo was just melt in your mouth good.  Torengos were similar to Pringles in that they came in a can and were all uniform in size and shape.  They were triangle shaped, but concaved like Pringles - supposedly for better salsa dipping.  Light, airy, and crispy, with a taste that wasn't overly corny, but just didn't even need salsa or cheese.  They were delicious by themselves.  Every time I opened a can, I had to be careful not to eat the entire can in one sitting...and this was at a time when I really didn't like corn chips that much.  I doesn't do justice to say that the Torengo was the Rolls Royce of tortilla me they were the Bugatti Veyron of tortilla chips.  They were that good.

Torengos came in three flavors: original (delicious), splash of salsa (pretty darn good), and pinch of pepperjack cheese (good but I would refer to them as "hint of ass" but still ate anyways because they were so good texture-wise).  Unfortunately, the original and the pepperjack flavors' cans were too similar - one pink, one red but in the fluorescent lights of the grocery store it was hard to tell them apart...especially if they weren't right next to each other - which seemed to happen often.  Nothing was more disappointing than unpacking your groceries when you got home and realizing that you got the red pepperjack can on accident.  This caused me to almost develop an obsessive-compulsive disorder where I would check the can about 10 times by the time I got to the register to make sure I had the correct one.  It wasn't always this way...original Torgengos were in a purple can at first, but I guess that wasn't eye-catching enough.

Gone before
their time
Torengos weren't around long...2 or 3 years maybe.  Wikipedia says they were listed as discontinued on P&Gs website as of 2007, but they were gone at least a year or two before that.  I emailed Pringles several times asking about them when I couldn't find them in local stores and was told they would not be making them again...and that was early 2005 or before.

Anyhow, back to the point of this whole post - Diamond Foods, pretty please with a cherry on top bring back the Torengos.  I promise that I will eat plenty of them.  PS - feel free not to make the Hint of Ass (pepperjack cheese) flavor.

Torengos, I love you so (and my specially designed Torengo tray with built in salsa receptacle is just waiting to be filled with your deliciousness again).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Perchance to Dream (Part 2)

It is now been over a year since I have had horrible dreams.  One will still sneak in every once in a while, but no longer is my normal night filled with knives, spears, and shotguns shooting in my direction.  No longer are my memorable dreams the ones of a deadly game of cat and mouse that I am always bound to lose.  

I don't know what demons my brain had to exorcise, but they seem to be gone now.  It has taken a lot of work...forcing myself to bed before 3 or 4 am, actually trying to sleep.  Although I had long ago gotten used to the dreams, I think they still had a lot to do with my sleeping habits.  I rarely got more than 4 hours...and existing on 2-3 hours each night for weeks at a time became pretty common place.  Often it wasn't even 3 hours in a row - maybe a couple hours from 2am to 4am then up till 5am and one more hour of sleep before I had to get up for work.  It was exhausting but it was something that your body got used to after a week or so.  I would have horrible sleep for several months and then semi-normal sleep for a week or two before getting back to the next cycle to terrible sleep.

In the past six months, I have enjoyed the longest period of normal sleep schedule that I have had in well over 10 years.  My dreams have started to turn more and more senseless and bizarre...not scary in anyway, but just strange with little tidbits of my life, thoughts, and day intermixed.  It seems more like what other people dream about, but it is new and interesting experience for me.  I often even know that it is a dream but have not been able to enact lucid dreaming yet (dreams where I realize it is a dream and take control...allowing such feats as flying), but I hope to soon.  It would be a complete 180 from constantly being the helpless and hunted to being the controller of the dream.

What dreams are made of...apparently.
So what do I dream of now?  One night last week, each dream started with a still photo of colored pencil drawing, as the camera (of my brain) zooms in, the picture animated and turns into live action.  There was a series of 3 or 4 dreams that started like this but I don't remember the actual dreams, just the form...and the fact that they were narrated by Stone Phillips and Anne Curry from Dateline NBC.  It was all very odd and charming.  A couple nights later, I dreamed two things (that I remember).  The first was that I went to the pet store to buy a fish.  Instead of giving me a fish in a bag of water, they handed me a small fish shaped box that they put the fish of my choice in...without water.  I expressed concern but evidently "This was the new way" and they "had made great advances in fish transportation."  I then went shopping and out to eat with the fish box/coffin in my pocket...but I was worried about the fish the entire time (but evidently not enough to go home and put him in the tank).  The other dream from last night centered around a new pinball machine that I came across at the mall.  Obviously a dream...pinball machines at the mall?  It was a two player Tango & Cash pinball.  One person played Tango, the other Cash.  A little strange, I know...but the pinball portion didn't surprise me, I love pinball.  However, the theme was a little surprising especially since I haven't seen the movie in probably 15+ years.

I am still getting used to these strange and irreverent dreams, but as confusing as they are - it is really nice not to die, even though I do at times still feel apprehensive while in a dream waiting for the hunters to come.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Review of Eagleheart Justice Rider T-Shirt

Originally submitted at Adult Swim Shop

Show your appreciation for Adult Swim's most aggressively bearded lawman with the Eagleheart Justice Rider Shirt. Villains won't stand a chance against your torso once it's backed up by this stunning portrait of U.S. Marshal Chris Monsanto, galloping headlong towards vengeance atop a no...

Hot Dog Boy's Invincible

By Gubby from on 4/7/2011


5out of 5

Fit: Feels true to size

Length: Feels true to length

Pros: Pale green, Stick figures, Stylish, Horsey, Beard, Soft

Cons: No death punch, Coveted, Justice only on one side

Best Uses: Avenging your partners, Catching criminals, Show Chris Elliott love

Describe Yourself: Awesome

Was this a gift?: No

Chris Elliott is awesome. I was hoping for some awesome Adult Swim merch when Eagleheart was announced. I wasn't sure about this shirt at was not what I was expecting for an official show t-shirt. But I ordered it anyway, just to show the love. I now realize that it is perfect. Primary colors, stick figures, pale green...what better way to express the humor and style of Eagleheart and Chris Elliott.
Surprisingly, I am asked about the shirt all the time..."What is it?", "Did your kid paint that?", "How can I make a shirt?", "Hey, is Eagleheart any good?" It is definitely an attention grabber. Your friends will love it, your family will love it, your co-workers will love it, the people at the bar when you sing karaoke will love it, and the random people on the street will love it. Long live Chris Elliott and Eagleheart. Bring us more Eagleheart merch - action figures, more tees, a leather vest, cowboy hats, and most importantly DVDs!


Friday, April 1, 2011

Perchance to Dream (Part 1)

Perchance to Dream

For many years I have had horrible dreams - dreams or drowning, full of blood, hacked off limbs, bitten off ears, jabbed eyeballs, and sliced throats.  Really horrible dreams.  The only redeeming fact was the 99% of the time whatever terrible act was happening, it was happening to me instead of committing the act myself.  I could take some solace in that.

At first, you laugh them off as just bad dreams but once they have been going on for a while (weeks, months, years...), you do start to question what type of monster you are.  You start to stay awake later because you don't want to face the dreams.  What kind of person dreams night after night of having their feet cut off at the ankles?  That person can't be sane right?  That person is really messed up.  They must be a serial killer or something because that is just not normal.

Trust me, if you make the mistake of telling anyone about these dreams you will know the look of someone who thinks you should be committed...and the funny thing is that the re-telling really don't do the dreams justice.  You have never seen such a beautiful, red river as the one that gushes from my dagger sliding upwards through my lower jaw, pinning my tongue through the roof of my mouth.  You learn to keep quiet or make up silly little pretend dreams when the subject comes up among others.  It is not all you dream about, I'm convinced of that,  but how are you supposed to remember anything else once you feel the blade slicing into your ribs?

Eventually, they just become part of your realize that you aren't too messed up (at least I wasn't...I don't think), and you aren't going to hurt anyone.  You didn't ever REALLY think you would hurt anyone, but with dreams like that you always worried about some kind of inner psycho/sociopath.  The dreams become commonplace and therefore ignorable.  They no longer stick with you and disturb you all day.  Your mind becomes used to it and like everyone else, your dreams quickly fade in the morning light.  You never really even think about fact, there are a couple benefits like finding "scary" movies to be pretty darn silly.

There are times however when it all comes slamming back home and you are saddened.  People saying things like "I had a dream about you last night," you think to yourself, "Thank god that I don't dream about people I know."  Or people talking about "sex" dreams...I can count on one hand the number of times I have had either a sex dream or a dream about someone you know.  Which is a blessing because neither should be mixed up with what I was currently dreaming.

Most people would consider what you dream to be nightmares, but for you it is normal, ordinary life.  This has been my life for about 20 years or so.  I don't remember when it exactly started but it was before high school.  It was sporadic at first, but then they came more and more often until nearly every night was a personal horror show.  I haven't told many people about the dreams...a handful at most, the people that I have really felt close, the people who I thought might understand.  I've been told that I might be repressing some traumatic event but I really don't think that is the case...

Editor's note:  I started writing this blog post over a year and a half was at a time when the dreams first stopped and I started having normal(er) dreams.  However, I was a little anxious that they might come back. So I hesitated.  It is a pretty personal topic to me, so that was a little frightening I stopped writing.  I am coming back to it now, for the first time feeling confident enough that the horrible dreams are gone not to jinx it.