Sunday, October 14, 2018

Guns n' Roses - Gardens City (1995)

Guns n' Roses first attempted to record a follow-up to their massive Use Your Illusion albums in late 1993, with Slash putting together riffs and ideas he had written on tour with the aid of other members, recording in a studio in his basement in Los Angeles. He then presented the band with fourteen instrumental demo tunes in January 1994, of which both Axl Rose and Duff McKagan weren't much fans of. Rose called it "southern rock", and wanted the band to go on a more experimental route, such as his beloved Nine Inch Nails and other bands of the period, while Slash mostly stuck to his hard rock roots. But after a couple of months, Axl apparently changed his mind on the songs and decided to call Slash up to talk about them, now showing some interest. The only problem was he had already recorded, with Eric Dover (also a member of Jellyfish) providing lyrics, his first solo album, with the aforementioned demos used as a foundation for it. Rose got mad at Slash for that reason, which sparked a rivalry between both the band never quite recovered of.

After firing rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke in June '94, they started trying to write a new album, without a second guitarist and with quite a lot of in-fighting happening between them. Due to that, the only recording made during that year was a cover version of the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", for a movie soundtrack. Axl had his old friend and collaborator Paul Tobias replace Slash's solo in that song without the lead guitarist's permission, which further upset him, afterward calling the cover "the sound of the band breaking up". After a couple of attempts at finding the substitute member (names such as Zakk Wylde and Dave Navarro were considered, with Wylde even attending a band rehearsal), and some failed attempts at songwriting, which only produced the instrumental for Velvet Revolver's "Fall to Pieces", Gn'R found themselves caught up in the conflicts between band members and unable to record a new album, and one by one all members except Axl and Dizzy Reed quit, leaving them to begin Chinese Democracy in 1997.

But that left all of their fans wondering: what if? After the great Appetite and Illusion albums, the expectations were high for a new album of the classic lineup, and the band simply couldn't answer their fans' request for more. Well, considering that, the closest we got was the first Snakepit album, being of course written for Gn'R, and featuring 4/6 of the band (Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum, Dizzy Reed, himself, and Mike Clink in the producer's chair), as well as Mike Inez on bass and Eric Dover on vocals. In order to create a hypothetical album, we will have to base ourselves off from that, removing only a couple of tracks for other additions. I do believe that, had they gone further into the making of this fourth LP, the songs would have been virtually the same, except with Axl's lyrics instead of Dover's. The "Gilby Clarke situation" would also have to be turned around for this, because he was a big contributor to It's Five o' Clock Somewhere, co-writing a little less than half the album and also contributing backing vocals and rhythm guitar to it.

For this imaginative effort, we'll just pretend he still has the job. Seen as Axl was the only one who had any issues with him, our effort wouldn't be that far removed from the truth, as well as helping to keep the Paul Tobias incident from happening. In addition to IFOCS, the foundation of our album, we will have other 3 songs: Velvet Revolver's "Fall to Pieces", due to its instrumental parts and general structure being written/finished during those aborted '94 sessions, and that it's final recording features 3/6 of their then lineup. Duff's "Six Feet Under", released with the Neurotic Outsiders, also begun during the failed sessions, with ex-Pistol Steve Jones giving McKagan some help with it for it's final release, ending up in what we got. And finally, we have our only real Axl tune, "This I Love", begun as early as late '91, and even rumoured to have been demoed during the "The Spaghetti Incident?" sessions, with one of their engineers telling of tapes of the song in Sydney, Paris, and London, while they recorded on tour.

In order to include those, we will have to exclude some weaker stuff from the album (we don't want that "two double albums" thing all over again!), with my picks being "Jizz da Pit", for being an instrumental and Axl openly hating it, nicknaming it "redneck". "Monkey Chow", because it was written entirely by Gilby Clarke, and considering Axl's disliking of him, it would most likely not be included. Finally, we have "Be the Ball", written entirely by Slash, cut because it was written at the request of a pinball company, and had little to do with the Guns project. Throughout several interviews in '96, Duff and Matt mentioned the project they were working on featured about twelve songs, with few ballads and a more roots approach, "not as heavy as AFD and not as complex as UYI". Here we accomplished just that, with fourteen tunes (you can't blame me for keeping two more!), with few ballads indeed, and a great roots rock n' roll sound, fitting its description of being a mix of their earlier albums, and a development of both's ideas.

The only setback of this project would be Rose's lyric writing, which had by that point stagnated, and led to his next full song being released only in 1999. To blame are the many lawsuits he had to face during this time, being related to the band or his personal life. Zakk Wylde remembers, when rehearsing with the band, they only had instrumentals and no lyrics whatsoever. When asking their frontman about this, he got as an answer that if he tried to write any lyrics, they would all be about those lawsuits, which by then were tormenting his life. So, for the sake of this album, we'll just have to pretend it's Axl who's singing and the one who penned the lyrics, instead of Eric Dover and Scott Weiland. "Six Feet Under" would be the exception, being Duff's vocal solo spot, the only of its kind on the album. Duff's absence is also notable, only being fully present on four songs, due to his touring of his Believe in Me album during the making of the Snakepit album, with Mike Inez trying to fill his shoes and doing okay, although McKagan is missed in this. So without further ado, here's our tracklist:

Neither Can I (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Dime Store Rock (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Beggars and Hangers On (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Good to Be Alive (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
What Do You Wanna Be? (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
This I Love (Chinese Democracy)
Soma City Ward (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)

Fall to Pieces (Contraband)
Lower (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Take it Away (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Doin' Fine (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Six Feet Under (Neurotic Outsiders)
I Hate Everybody But You (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)
Back and Forth Again (It's Five o' Clock Somewhere)

Bonus track:
Dead Flowers (Pawnshop Guitars)

Our new album begins with "Neither Can I", a story about depression and suicide, featuring some inspired guitar work by Slash, as well as guest Teddy Andreadis (who was on their UYI tour) playing the harmonica. Eric Dover does a fantastic job singing this one, but we can't help to imagine Axl singing his part on this, which I think he would do really well. Up next, we have the fast paced "Dime Store Rock", a collaboration between Slash, Dover and Gilby Clarke, him being the one who wrote the main riff to it. It's an aggressive song in the best Gunner fashion, complete with a hard-rocking backing track and mean lyrics about fame and partying. Track three is "Beggars and Hangers On", a song that alternates between loud and heavy parts throughout itself, featuring then again some inspired Slash guitar playing (it is his album, after all!). It has Duff McKagan receiving a co-writing credit, even though he didn't play on the album sessions. That makes 5/6 of GN'R members to contribute to a song, and considering this is supposed to be their album, not bad at all.

Next up we have "Good to Be Alive", then again with the aid of Clarke on the songwriting. Once more, pretty much a standard tune of theirs, with most of their typical characteristics featuring in it. A good song, but nothing phenomenal, making for a good "deep cut" for the album. Up next is "What Do You Wanna Be?", featuring Matt Sorum receiving a co-writing credit. He features on the credits of five of this album's songs, something that didn't happen before, seen as when he arrived on the Illusion sessions, all material was completed, and here he has the chance to contribute. If you were missing a certain someone, now we have "This I Love", a power ballad of the best kind, written by Axl alone. If it were to be recorded in this moment in time, I believe it would feature a more "stripped down" arrangement: none of the orchestration it has, and more "heaviness" during the full-band section of it. Otherwise, it would sound as much as a fish out of water with its lush production as it does when you listen to it along with the Snakepit tunes, even though it's great as it is.

The seventh song in this collection is "Soma City Ward", featuring the illustrious Mr. Izzy Stradlin giving Slash a hand on writing the song, which is itself quite good, and while Izzy was a driving force on the composition camp of theirs, it's his only appearance on this album, having left the band some 5 years before. Up next comes "Fall to Pieces", yet another "softer" tune, a song about heroin addiction, which features Slash, McKagan, Sorum, and the great Scott Weiland on vocals, being a more than fair replacement for Rose. Up next is "Lower", a more mid-tempo song with Sorum once more providing songwriting aid. The song is again a good "deep cut", being a good song, but not enough to stand out on the album. "Take it Away" is next, a song with a great loud/quiet dynamic, while also being one of three tunes in this LP to not need our imaginations when regarding the lyrics, them being written by Slash with the aid of Matt. With all that combined we are almost able to hear Axl's voice in the song. We can dream, can't we?

Following that, we have "Doin' Fine", a great song about partying with an instrumental part that only helps to reinforce the party atmosphere of it. I sincerely could see this become some sort of "live staple" of theirs, such as "Mr. Brownstone" before it. Serving as track twelve on Garden's City is Duff's time to shine, "Six Feet Under". Although he is the only Guns member in it, it does sound like them, and it adds a nice "punk" edge to the album. The second to last tune of the album is "I Hate Everybody But You", and as was the case before, the lyrics are entirely by Slash, so no need to put our creativity to work on that one. As number fourteen on the album, we have probably my favorite song from it, "Back and Forth Again". A strong song, reminiscing of "Breakdown", it's a fantastic way to calm down the mood of the album, before building it up again for its chorus. We can add some credibility points for the fact that Axl and Slash are seen performing an acoustic early version of the song in the Making of Estranged video, and there we have a great finale to the album.

Those of you who pay a lot of attention to detail have noticed the lack of cover songs in this, something they had in abundance for UYI and "TSI?". Before you start wondering why and complaining about it, my reasoning for this is that their aforementioned cover album wasn't that well received and sold less, and given that their public was already saturated of cover songs by then, they decided to stick with original tunes. However, we will add one as a bonus track. "Dead Flowers", from Gilby's solo album, features Axl in the backing vocals and was played during their then latest tour, so it was an obvious recording choice, and possibly as a b-side to a "Fall to Pieces" single. Regarding the album's name and cover art, a couple of years ago, a rumor started spreading in internetland of the so-called Gardens City demos, recorded in 1996. Unfortunately for us, it turned out to be a hoax, but as I liked the title, I stuck with it and made some cover art with a painting I found elsewhere, doing some album title recycling, so to speak.

Simply to be able to see this band back together, after nearly a billion drug overdoses, lawsuits and fights is unbelievable, and while their semi-reunion doesn't release anything studio related, all we have to do is try to cobble together fan comps like this. While we endure that wait, we're left imagining Rose's possible lyrics and vocals to them, most certainly motivated by his then contemporary lawsuits and divorces. And this collection of songs, although really dependable of hypothetical scenarios, shows that they could produce some very strong material and great rocking songs, even while the band slowly fell to pieces.

Sources used:
- Slash's Snakepit - It's Five o' Clock Somewhere
- Velvet Revolver - Contraband
- Guns n' Roses - Chinese Democracy
- Neurotic Outsiders - Neurotic Outsiders
- Gilby Clarke - Pawnshop Guitars