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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Guns N' Roses, Kanye West and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

ROCK

Guns N’ Roses, “Chinese Democracy” (Black Frog/Geffen( ***

Given the time that’s passed — 17 years since Guns N’ Roses last set of original material, 15 since the covers set “The Spaghetti Incident” — expectations for this album have run a gamut from the Second Coming to it never being released. The reportedly $13 million project has outlasted quite a few other bands’ entire careers and, of course, has left what we knew as GNR in the dust, with only frontman Axl Rose remaining from the group’s original lineup. But as “Chinese Democracy” finally rolls out (as a Best Buy exclusive), Rose is unrepentant for the wait: as he begins the album-closing “Prostitute,” “It seems like forever and a day/If my intentions were misunderstood, please Be Kind/I’ve done all I should ... It’s not a question of whether my heart is true.” Rose’s heart, in fact, radiates from his sleeve throughout these 14 tracks, an artful and sincere melange of epic rock featuring pristinely produced walls of guitars, orchestras and vocal assaults that find the singer in prime, chameleonlike form in these rants and reflections about lost loves, societal ills and, not surprisingly, the search for the perfect sound. The punk rock edge of GNR left with the likes of Slash and Duff McKagen, but Rose and his legion of musicians (up to four guitarists on some songs) still kick up a storm on the title track and “Scraped” while also experimenting with industrial grooves on “Shackler’s Revenge,” old school funk on “If the World,” the roots rock of “Catcher in the Rye” and quieting down for the gently ambient piano balladry on “This I Love.” But Rose is clearly most fascinated in epic, ebband-flow constructions such as “Street of Dreams,” “There Was a Time,” “Riad N’ the Bedouins” and “Madagascar,” the latter of which has a midsection that weaves together samples of famous lines from Dr. Martin Luther King, “Cool Hand Luke” and “Braveheart.” Was it worth the wait? That’s the $1 million — or perhaps $13 million — question, but if, even after all this time, all Rose and company owe us is a good album and a rich listening experience, “Chinese Democracy” is certainly that. (To celebrate “Chinese Democracy’s” release, Dr. Pepper is giving away free bottles at www.drpepper.com, today only.)



POP

Kanye West, “808s & Heartbreak” (Rock-A-Fella/Island Def Jam) **

After an epic hip-hop trilogy that concluded with last year’s “Graduation,” Kanye West was in a trap all too familiar in the rap game. His method of dodging it, however, may polarize his multiplatinum audience, not unlike the way Beck confounded his following with “Mutations” in 1998. On “808s ...” West puts his MC mantle down and sings, liberally using Auto-Tune to bolster not only his voice but also those of guests such as Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne and Kid Cudi. The song arrangements are spare, employing mostly keyboards, subtle strings and beats from TR-808 drum machines, and while West’s characteristic bravado pops up in spots (“RoboCop,” “See You in My Nightmares”), we find him at his most vulnerable and tender, mourning his late mother (“Coldest Winter”) and a lost love, presumable exfiance Alexis Phifer. “Paranoid,” the most upbeat and muscular of these 12 tracks, works best, but this jarring change feels like a transitional moment rather than the focused, fully realized works West has delivered to this point.



NEW & NOTEWORTHY:

Trace Adkins, “X” (Capitol Nashville): The black-hatted country baritone’s eighth album has been preceded by the hit single “Muddy Water.”

Jeff Beck, “Performing This Week Live at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club” (Eagle): The British guitar legend’s rare small club live stand is captured on this 16-song set.

David Byrne & Brian Eno, “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today” (self-released): The duo’s first collaboration since 1981 comes out in terrestrial form after a couple months of availability online.

Chamillionaire, “Mixtape Messiah 5” (Chamilitary/Universal Republic): The Houston rapper showcases other MCs signed to his own label on this stop-gap to set up the release of his next proper album.

Coldplay, “Prospekt’s March” (Capitol): This eightsong EP includes the remake “Lost+” with Jay-Z along with several tracks left over from sessions for the “Vida la Vida ...” album.

Good Charlotte, “The Greatest Remixes” (Epic): The modern rockers turn their songs over to remixers such as Junior Sanchez, Teddy Riley, Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, The Academy Is ... and others.

Rivers Cuomo, “Alone II: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo” (Geffen): The Weezer frontman’s second set of demos includes a Beach Boys cover (“Don’t Worry Baby”) and more songs from the closeted “Songs From the Black Hole” project. “

The (International) Noise Conspiracy, “The Cross of My Calling” (Vagrant/ American): Superproducer Rick Rubin helmed the politically minded Swedish garage rockers’ latest album at Sunset Sound, the Doors’ studio home in Los Angeles.

Tom Jones, “24 Hours” (S-Curve): The man with the most famous hips in music co-wrote more than half the songs on his first U.S. release in 15 years, with other contributions by members of U2 and Bruce Springsteen.

The Killers, “Day & Age” (Island Def Jam): The Las Vegas quartet recorded its third set of all-new material while touring to promote 2006’s platinum sophomore outing “Sam’s Club.”

Linkin Park, “Road to Revolution” (Machine Shop/Warner Bros.): A CD/DVD souvenir of a June concert in England, featuring a guest appearance by rapper Jay-Z.

Ludacris, “Theater of the Mind” (Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam): The rapper/ actor goes release day toe-totoe with labelmate Kanye West and gets help on his sixth solo album from the Game, T.I., Lil Wayne, T-Pain, Chris Brown, Common, Spike Lee and rockers Good Charlotte.

Barry Manilow, “The Greatest Songs of the Eighties” (Arista): The soft rock crooner takes one more decade swing, covering songs made famous by Phil Collins, Rick Astley, Wham! and Chicago and dueting with Reba McEntire on a recreation of “Islands in the Stream.”

Moby, “Last Night Remixed” (Mute): As is his wont, the dance music pioneer turns his latest album over to a batch of contemporary remixers, including Holy Ghost!, Freemasons and Drop The Lime.

R.E.M., “Murmur: Deluxe Edition” (I.R.S./ UMe): The 25th anniversary of the quartet’s landmark debut album is made more essential with a second disc from a 1983 concert in Toronto.

Kevin Rudolf, “In the City” (Cash Money/ Universal Republic): Lil Wayne, Nas, Rick Ross and the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo help the New York hip-hop/rocker out on his debut album.

Soundtrack, “Punisher: War Zone” (Lionsgate): A title song by Rob Zombie and tracks from Slayer, Slipknot, Seether, Rise Against and more provide headbanging accompaniment for the comic book spinoff.

Supersuckers, “Get It Together” (Mid Fi): Arizona’s punky roots rockers celebrate their 20th anniversary by packaging their first new studio album in five years with a DVD of a 2007 concert in southern California.

Scott Weiland, “Happy in Galoshes” (Softdrive): The Stone Temple Pilots/ Velvet Revolver frontman’s second solo album is a wildly eclectic two-disc affair featuring members of No Doubt and a cover of David Bowie’s “Fame.”

White Zombie, “Let

Sleeping Corpses Lie” (Geffen/UMe): A decade after its demise, the Rob Zombiefronted band is celebrated with a four-CD, one-DVD box set featuring every officially released track from the group’s canon.



HOT NEW MUSIC DVDs

Hitting stores this week: Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Live at the Troubadour” (Shout! Factory); Rush, “Snakes & Arrows Live” (Zoe Vision/Anthem Entertainment); Paul Simon, “Live From Philadelphia” (Eagle Rock).

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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