Tag Archives: slash

NECA TMNT Cartoon Slash and Leatherhead

You’re gonna like this one, I guarantee!

NECA’s incredibly popular and white hot action figure line based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series of the late 80s/early 90s has slowly rolled out its third wave. The wave consists of three two-packs and a single-packed deluxe figure, but perhaps to increase the numbers of individual items it can ship at once, NECA opted to roll them out one-by-one starting in late July and finishing by the end of August. The first two-pack was the Casey Jones and Slashed Foot Soldier, and now we’re onto the second which is the villains pack of the wave: Slash and Leatherhead.

In the case of both characters, this is the second attempt at both of these characters from NECA as both have been featured in the Turtles in Time line of figures. Slash was released back in the spring, and Leatherhead was part of the more recently released second wave. Leatherhead is basically a straight re-paint of that release, or that release is a re-paint of this one depending on which you consider “first.” Slash, on the other hand, is a little more involved. This is the first action figure of Slash based on his appearance in the cartoon series. The Playmates action figure was based on his comic appearance where he was actually a good guy and part of the Mighty Mutanimals (along with Leatherhead, it should be noted). His Turtles in Time sprite was also based on that source so cartoon Slash has received very little love in the ensuing years. As such, I get the sense this version of Slash isn’t remembered fondly by a large part of the fanbase, though I like him well enough. The Slash of the cartoon was more of a tragic figure, a contented pet turtle mutated and turned into a tool by those who held power over him. The cartoon wasn’t really equipped to truly explore the complexity of the character though, so they just sent him into Dimension X and when he came back he’s basically a typical villain.

If you thought a lack of enthusiasm towards Slash was going to make this two-pack easier to find, think again. This set is proving just as hard to find as any other in this line. Target at least was a bit more stealthy about the release on target.com which allowed online orders for this set to last a whopping ten minutes! Perhaps that will be the model for future releases.

Slash may be quite different in appearance from his Turtles in Time self, but the figure should still be fairly familiar. He uses the same body as the previously released Slash, which also used the same body shared by the turtles. The only difference is in the paint, head, and other embellishments on Slash’s person, most notably the spiky shell. The head is the most striking part as the cartoon Slash was an ugly, soft-bodied, turtle. He has full cheeks and pockmarked skin with ugly teeth reminding me of a jack-o-lantern. This Slash wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and his face captures that. It also features that metal headband that covers his eyes. It’s a perfect representation of the character from the source material.

Slash’s body only differs from the past Slash release in that he has metal fixtures on his body where the previous one had cloth and wood. He has a bright purple belt with a skull logo on it that’s really cool. I love how NECA’s belt has the extra part flapping off of the front, a nice attention to detail. The gloves and kneepads are a steel gray in color with a single, purple, spike on each. About the only thing he shares with his other self are the black elbow pads which are traditional in design. His skin-tone is basically a match for NECA’s Wave 1 turtles, an olive green, as opposed to the deep green of the video game figure. He also gets to have painted claws on his hands and toes where the video game one did not. He also has a large backpack strapped to his shell and across his chest. This backpack is not intended to be removable, though mine arrived damaged and I had to superglue the bottom “clasp” back onto it. It’s held so far, but it’s also only been a day.

Lots of accessories with this guy.

Since Slash is the same base figure as the other turtles, he has the same articulation. There’s a ball-joint at the head that provides mostly for side-to-side motion, but the shell prevents much up and down motion. The neck has a joint at the base, but it doesn’t seem to offer much. The shoulders are on ball-joints with bicep swivels, single-jointed elbows, wrist swivels, and a wrist hinge. There’s a torso joint inside the shell, but again, the shell removes most of the function. It allows the hips to move a little left to right, with some slight twist. It’s subtle, but it’s not nothing. The legs are on ball-joints and rotate at the thigh as opposed to a true thigh-cut. The knees are double-jointed and the feet are on ball-pegs. They can rotate just fine, but have little up and down motion and minimal side-to-side. It’s all pretty basic, but it feels like NECA’s base turtle design could use another look, especially at the elbows, wrists, and feet.

In the accessory department, Slash is a curious case as his accessories are both abundant and lacking. As a surprise, he only has the one set of hands. Every figure in this line so far, excepting Krang who doesn’t have hands, has had multiple sets of hands for punching, gripping, trigger fingers, etc. Slash just has gripping hands, which is certainly better than having closed fists, but it’s odd he doesn’t have trigger hands or something more expressive. On the other hand, he’s able to wield the accessories he does come with just fine: twin katanas, a Dimension X rifle, a pistol, half-eaten pizza, baby Slash, and his precious “binky” which is a tiny palm tree. I love the design of the new rifle and I appreciate that the included pizza resembles the actual pies he munches on from his episode as opposed to just being the same pizza packed in with the turtles. And as stated, he can hold all of his weapons, and the only thing he can’t really grip is the palm tree, but you can finagle it into his hand. The swords he comes with are quite striking, and are my favorite swords this line has produced so far. He can store them in his purple belt too, which is certainly appreciated since he has so much stuff.

It’s great to finally have a cartoon-accurate version of Slash. Even though he only has the one pair of hands, it’s not a huge loss since he does have a ton of accessories likely to occupy both hands in a display. He does possess one other area for criticism though, and it is again with that base turtle body. Slash in the cartoon was pretty chunky compared to his fellow turtles while this figure is definitely quite lean and trim. It’s most apparent when comparing his head to the rest of his body. The width of his head basically reaches his shoulders on the figure, while in the show it sat inside the yellow “pectorals” of his shell because he was so squat. I’m fine with NECA reusing the limbs from the past figures, but I wish they had at least given him a wider shell. And in terms of scale, he was shown to be the same height as Rocksteady, but if anything NECA’s Rocksteady is a little taller than necessary. I also don’t hold that against either figure since the cartoon tended to be all over the place with scale. He also has some issues with paint to go along with the backpack issue I had. The paint on the hinges of his hands will rub off almost immediately out of the box. One hand on my Slash is still hanging onto it, while the other is not. There’s also a little bit of paint slop on the right knee pad, and I’ve heard from a lot of people their figure had really tight, stuck, joints out of the box, so beware. Mine was tight, but not too bad. I was able to get all of his weapons in and out of his hands okay, though with some paint flaking. Only the elbows gave me any trouble, but I was able to get them to move with plain old force as opposed to heat.

Slash’s box-mate, Leatherhead, had a figure in the Playmates line a bit more like his cartoon self, but this is still the first Leatherhead to truly go after that cartoon look. He’s a big boy, standing at about 7″ with a little extra thanks to his hat. He’s about the same height as Bebop, coming in at about 7 1/4″. His color scheme is also very much in-line with the cartoon version as his skin-tone is this odd blue-green with darker green used for the shading. It looks off at first glance, but go check out the old cartoon and you’ll see this color scheme is basically dead-on. The same is true for Leatherhead’s legs. I believe he’s wearing hip-waiters for trudging through a swamp, which means his pants and boots are one, uniform, color. In this case that’s blue, though with black used as the shaded part on the back. It makes the character look odd and it’s a knock against the character’s cartoon design, not the figure. Did they do this just so they could paint his legs all one color? Probably, because cartoons tried to be made as cheaply as possible. As a result, I can see why some might prefer the Turtles in Time version of the character which opted for a brighter green and gave him jeans with traditional boots on his feet.

The basic construction of this figure shares a lot in common with Bebop and Rocksteady, and might even share some of the parts. The chest is probably the same, but where Rocksteady has a rubbery shirt, Leatherhead has a plastic addition to simulate his scaled belly/chest. He also has his vest which is done up in soft plastic and is part of the same piece as the chest. There’s a lot of paint on this guy so take care when first messing around with him as some joints might be stuck. Mine was pretty loose though, much to my surprise. Unfortunately, he shares the same paint issues as Casey Jones where the ankles were cast in a neutral color as opposed to blue, so when bending his feet some white plastic can be exposed. It’s especially striking on Leatherhead since his legs and feet are all supposed to be one color. I heard there was a running change made to Leatherhead to eliminate this issue, but I haven’t had that confirmed for me. It’s rather mind-boggling that his legs were done this way, since it looks like his torso was cast in blue plastic so I don’t know why the ankle/feet weren’t as well. He also sports a rubbery belt over a sculpted belt, which is a bit odd. That rubbery belt has a hook on it for one of his accessories and I’ve seen several reviews already where that hook broke off, so again, beware.

Since Leatherhead appears to be some mix of Bebop and Rocksteady parts it’s probably not surprising to hear he’s about as well articulated as both. His head is a bit hunched forward so the ball-joint doesn’t afford much motion. He does though have a hinged jaw which is really important for a gator to possess. I don’t know if it’s just mine, but it doesn’t like to stay open and will basically slowly close after I pry it open. He has ball-jointed shoulders with bicep swivels, double-jointed elbows, and wrist rotation. His hands are big and possess hinges, but the range of motion on those hinges is limited to a degree. Any torso articulation that might be present underneath that plastic chest-piece is rendered virtually useless as a result of that piece. He does have waist articulation with ball-joints at the legs, thigh swivels, double-jointed knees, and ankle ball-joints with a little side-to-side range. The main difference for Leatherhead is the added tail functionality. It even comes packed separately and getting it onto the ball peg can be a bit tricky so don’t fret if you need to heat him up to get it on snug. It mostly just swivels as the ball is set back rather deep so he can’t do much with it. It still looks good, at least.

NECA got creative with some of Leatherhead’s accessories.

Since Leatherhead is a pretty massive chunk of plastic, his accessories are a bit sparse compared with Slash. He does come with extra hands so he has fists, open hands, and a single trigger hand. He has his weird ketchup gun, which is a pretty fun accessory and is meant to pair with that trigger hand. You’ll probably want to heat the hand in some hot water for a few seconds to make it more pliable before trying to force that gun into it as it’s a tight fit.

Leatherhead comes with a pair of lobster/crayfish which often hung from his belt in the show. They can’t really hang from his belt here though, which is a bit odd. There are two loops on his belt they can kind of dangle from, but they’re not on his hips. In the promo shots, it looks like NECA just crammed the tails under the belt. He also has a shackle accessory with a real chain attached to it, good for catching turtles and pesky TV news reporters. There’s a bear trap that can open and close and also clips to his belt via that fragile hook. And lastly, he has a net and rope which was apparently the compromise to offset the cost of plastic with him. It’s a fun accessory to have as Leatherhead can round up some turtles (and maybe some frogs in the future) and even suspend them from something if you want to as the net has a string at each corner.

Slash and Leatherhead are fun additions to the cartoon line. While I have some nitpicks about each, they’re both overall quite successful at being representations of the source material and are instantly recognizable. They’re also a good choice at this stage in the line as they’re both quite memorable since they appeared in a whole bunch of TMNT media during peak Turtle-Mania. I get the impression from the fandom that Leatherhead is the star of the show here, but I am one of the few who really liked the cartoon take on Slash so I think I prefer to him Leatherhead, but only slightly. I find my eyes are definitely drawn to Leatherhead more than I expected. Either way, this is the star two-pack of Wave 3 and not one to miss if you’re into this line.

“Got a couple of live ones here!”

This set is currently exclusive to Target stores in the US, and if you’re having difficulties tracking a set down help might be on the way. NECA recently took pre-orders for the Deluxe Metalhead figure on its own webstore with the promise to make other figures from this line available in the future. It also recently opened another batch of pre-orders for the movie Casey and Raph pack as well as Super Shredder. It might take a little while, but it would seem NECA understands the frustrations in the collector community and is committed to making sure every TMNT fan gets a shot at owning these figures. Which is certainly a plus as these figures are too good to remain so scarce.

If you’re looking to get your hands on these guys they’re currently up for pre-order RIGHT NOW on NECA’s website! They’ll be available until the morning of September 4th so don’t wait too long. Also up for pre-order is Bebop and Rocksteady, quite possibly NECA’s best two-pack so far.


NECA Turtles in Time Slash (TMNT)

img_1071Ever since NECA forced the hand of Nickelodeon to grant them an expanded license for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the toy company has been killing it with its releases. We don’t know if Nickelodeon found a loophole to exploit with the master license that has been held by Playmates since the mid 80s or if the company had to sign off on it. Either way, I like to think this is all a result of NECA just making a product that could not be ignored. And if everyone is making money, then everyone is probably happy.

With the expansion of the license it meant NECA could move from small batch, convention exclusives and market its product direct to consumers via more conventional means. NECA quickly secured distribution arrangements with Target and GameStop. Target would sell two-packs of figures based on the classic 87 cartoon while GameStop was handed single-packed figures based on the 1990 movie (a deal that is expiring soon and shifting to Wal-Mart). NECA would be the first to admit though that it wasn’t places like GameStop and Target that supported and grew the business when it got started. No, it was smaller, collector-oriented shops and online vendors that first carried NECA product and helped the company become what it is today. As a way of saying “Thanks,” to those businesses, NECA wanted to include them on this newfound TMNT craze and devoted a new line of product just for them:  the Turtles in Time line.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the TMNT could be found in arcades and home consoles about as often as they were on broadcast television or movie theaters. Anyone who had a love for the Turtles and a game console probably had at least one video game based on the property. While they were of varying quality and some were more popular than others, it’s hard to argue that the one that has endured over the years as a particular favorite has been Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Turtles in Time (alternatively known on the Super Nintendo as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV:  Turtles in Time).

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Check out that classic, old school, logo!

Turtles in Time was essentially the true sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both games were fairly straight-forward beat-em-ups by Konami, a company known for creating such titles for the arcade. Players could play as one of the four turtles and bash their way through many a Foot Soldier in a quest to stop Shredder and save April. The games were simple and fun and also a great way to gobble quarters and turn a profit for anyone who plugged one into their establishment. Turtles in Time was the better of the two largely by way of arriving later. It looked better, featured more boss characters, and even gave the Turtles some additional moves to make use of. Surprisingly, it was made even better when it came to Super Nintendo as it looked largely the same while adding new levels and new bosses.

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Slash in the comics vs Slash in the cartoon. One is definitely cooler than the other, though fret not fans of the dim cartoon Slash, he’ll be in stores soon.

One of those new bosses was Slash. Added to the end of the fifth level, Prehistoric Turtlesaurus, Slash attacked the Turtles with his twisted sword while rolling in a ball back and forth. He was depicted in his Mighty Mutanimals attire which is what the Playmates action figure was based on as well as opposed to the cartoon which had its own unique look. Slash was a favorite boss of mine when playing two-player mode (the only way to play the game, really) as two well-positioned players could just bash Slash back and forth between the two of them in a comical scene. Failure to do so actually left players with a formidable foe. I’d even go as far as to say Slash is the most difficult solo boss aside from Super Shredder due to his propensity to block most attacks.

NECA likely saw this version of Slash as a good opportunity to create a figure based on his comic look which could explain why Slash is part of the first wave of Turtles in Time figures which just hit shelves. Slash and all of the other figures in this inaugural wave (Leonardo, Donatello, and a purple Foot Soldier) comes in a box designed to mimic the original arcade cabinet, which is slightly amusing for Slash since he did not appear in the actual arcade game. These figures are largely just updated versions of the arcade figures NECA released as convention exclusives a few years ago. Slash is the only all new of the bunch, though even he is fairly familiar as he uses the same body as the other turtles. The main difference being he has spikes added to his shell and obviously has a new headsculpt. His belt is unique as well, as are the blades on his hands. He comes with his crooked sword as well, his weapon of choice in the game. And for added mayhem, he also has a grenade.

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Our source material.

Like the other figures in this line, Slash has a pixel-like deco applied to his body. This is designed to mimic the video game appearance of the character right down to the resolution. When placed on a shelf, the effect mostly works. It’s not very extreme with Slash which is partly due to his darker skin tone when compared with the Turtles. For those two, I think the effect works a bit better though it actually works really well with the Foot Soldier, based on what I have seen anyways. I chose to only get Slash as I’m rapidly running out of room for all of my TMNT figures and the upcoming figures in the cartoon and film lines are going to do a number on my wallet as is. With Slash being unique to this line, I wanted to grab him. I loved my old Playmates version and I do confess this is what I think of when I hear the name Slash, as opposed to what the cartoon did with the character.

Since Slash has the same body as the other turtle characters, he has the same range of motion as well. None of the additions made to the sculpt impact that at all allowing for Slash to be a pretty expressive character. He has a nice weight to him, though his shell adds additional bulk making him a bit heavy in the rear. He can stand well enough, but it isn’t a bad idea to add an optional stand to the display for more dynamic posing and peace of mind. About the only thing he can’t do is mimic his pose from the game in which he’s doubled-over in pain. My figure was mostly free and easy out of the package, though his right elbow and knee required a bit of hot water to loosen. Even after that, the knee still doesn’t want to bend much so I backed off, not wanting to damage my new toy. He does seem a bit light on the accessory front, considering the other figures all come with giant surfboards, but really what else could he have? An alternate head depicting his pained expression would have been neat, I suppose. More realistically, additional bandana tails might have been fun like NECA does with the movie figures. Slash’s bandana just sticks straight out, but one that jutted out to the side would have been pretty cool. Again though, it’s hardly essential and realistically I would have just picked one and then forgot about the other.

The sculpt for Slash looks quite nice. Since he uses the same body as the Turtles he’s the same height. He appears a little more squat in the game, but that’s nit-picking. His shell looks great and reminds me a lot of the old Playmates toy, but with more extreme spikes. And unlike that old toy, his belt is glued on so you need not worry about it falling off. Slash has a maniacal grin on his face that suits the character. There’s a bit of glue or something stuck above the right cheek on mine, but it’s not very noticeable. Aside from that, the paint application is quite clean, save for the insides of his hands. His claws and toenails also aren’t painted, but that’s also accurate to the game. The blades on his hands are nice and long and look rather wicked. In comparing him closer with the game it’s hard to find fault.

Slash is a great addition to a fun line of TMNT product. I quite like this series and even though I’m mostly sitting it out, don’t confuse that with me disliking any of the figures here. It’s just an issue of resources as I’m really tempted to go all-in and create a separate video game display to go along with my movie and cartoon ones. Maybe an eventual sale will entice me, but if I’m being honest, these TMNT NECA figures are selling far too well to count on a future sale. If you like what you see and have the means, I say go for it. I see a lot of concern from collectors online about mixing video game figures in with their cartoon series, but to that I say “Who cares?” Slash looks great and fits in anywhere. The video game pixel deco is not particularly extreme and I have no qualms about placing him among the other villains from the cartoon.

As for the future of the line, we know wave 2 will comprise of Raph, Mikey, Leatherhead, and Shredder. They’re all basically repaints of existing figures (though in the case of Leatherhead, a soon to be released figure) from the cartoon line. Shredder appears to have some new tooling to give his spikes some added menace and he comes with new effects pieces. He’s in his normal form from the arcade game, but since NECA showed off a Super Shredder for its movie line recently at Toy Fair, don’t be surprised if a video game version follows. Additionally, NECA unveiled multi-colored Foot Soldiers as well which was a given. Other characters that cross-over with the other lines include Tokka, Rahzar, Metalhead, Krang, and Baxter. In the case of Baxter, his cartoon figure wouldn’t be in-scale with his much larger video game depiction so it’s unknown if NECA would do a different sculpt, or if they’d just use a larger mold based on the same figure. Bebop and Rocksteady also appeared in the home version of the game, but in pirate attire that basically would necessitate all new figures from what was already released. Either way, there’s room to grow and other games as well to pick from should they cross-over with the cartoon line so expect at least a few more waves. There’s also a TMNT branded Loot Crate coming this summer with an arcade theme so expect a figure in there as well. These figures can be found at specialty shops, and online at popular toy retail sites, and best of all, you can preorder them without too much hassle!


Chinese Democracy Revisited

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After a lenghty development process, Chinese Democracy was released on November 23, 2008.

Quite possibly the most interesting and fascinating rock album released in my lifetime is Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses, released ten years ago today. This was an album of mythic proportions. It was in some state of genesis for parts of 15 years and I think come the mid-2000s most probably assumed it was musical vaporware and would never see the light of day.

To comprehend the magnitude of Chinese Democracy you need to take a trip back to 1991. That year, Guns N’ Roses released its true sophomore effort and follow-up to the debut Appetite for Destruction with the double-album Use Your Illusion. The band was on-top of the rock world thanks to the success of Appetite. It combined good tunes with big personalities, none bigger than frontman Axl Rose. The band invited controversy, or at least Axl did, and was pretty upfront about its destructive lifestyle. The title of their first album wasn’t something that just sounded cool, it was basically their lifestyle. As a result, record company Geffen was quite fearful that the band would crash and burn before they could milk it for all it was worth. This is all detailed quite well in Watch You Bleed, the unauthorised biography of the band by Stephen Davis. Geffen would repeatedly try to get the band into the studio, and fast-tracked the follow-up EP Lies in 1988 just to keep the cash flowing. Use Your Illusion would basically turn into Axl’s vanity project, wanting to do something bigger than Appetite. His affinity for Elton John was front and center in the many long ballads contained on those two albums and the accompanying music videos were lavish and expensive. The albums were a major commercial success, even if they were quite inferior to what came before.

Following the release of Use Your Illusion, the band would embark on a massive, global tour where apparently things deteriorated between Axl and his band mates with some claiming Axl forced them all to sign over the rights to the band to him before a gig in Rio (a claim Axl denies). Members were dropping, but the most recognizable personalities of Rose and guitarist Slash were still holding things together, albeit barely. Following the heavy touring, the band would work on and release a covers album in 1993, The Spaghetti Incident?. It wasn’t particularly good, though few cover albums are, but still managed to sell over 6 million copies. Things would further fall apart following the recording of another cover, this one of “Sympathy for the Devil” for the Interview With a Vampire soundtrack. Axl supposedly mixed it behind the band’s back and Slash was disgusted with how it turned out (I personally find it kind of interesting), but he still soldiered on but eventually left the band in 1996. Bassist Duff McKagan would eventually follow Slash out the door in 1997. At the time he stated the band had studios rented for the better part of three years and yet no songs to show for it.

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In the early 90s, Guns N’ Roses was on top of the rock world.

By 1998, the band was practically unrecognizable. Axl Rose was the only member left from the early days, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed was the only other holdover from the Use Your Illusion albums. It was at this point the band seemed to get serious about writing and recording new music and Geffen even offered the band a bonus of a million dollars if it could complete the record by 1999. That obviously didn’t happen, but by then one song was unveiled along with the eventual album’s title. That song, “Oh My God” was included on the End of Days soundtrack and was not met with much enthusiasm. It was basically an industrial rock song and few nice things were said of it. This was also the era in which Rose really started talking up the album claiming he had enough material for a whole trilogy of albums. He even played some demo versions of songs for Rolling Stone and there was some momentum for the album, and yet nothing would come for many years.

The band’s first unveiling with this new lineup ended up as a surprise appearance at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. Despite a warm reception, the band kind of floundered through a brief set that included renditions of classics “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City” sandwiched around a new song, “Madagascar.” Rose particularly sounded awful, unable to really unleash his screech and compensating by just singing comically high. Still, the band suggested the album was close with guitarist Robin Finck even throwing out a date of Summer 2003, but that obviously didn’t happen.

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The band’s surprise appearance during the 2002 VMAs may have done more harm than good.

Guns N’ Roses, possibly in need of a cash infusion, returned to touring in late 2002. This likely stalled production on Chinese Democracy, but not enough to justify missing that release window by five years. During the touring, fans did get to hear early versions of songs that would make the album, but the reception wasn’t warm. Leaks would follow over the ensuing years, some resulting in legal action by Geffen and the band, and the New York Times would report in 2005 that production costs had now topped 13 million dollars, an incredible sum for an album that still was years away.

Eventually, the album would see the light of day. On November 23, 2008, Chinese Democracy was unleashed. It’s hard to say what the level of enthusiasm was at that point. Because the costs for Geffen were so astronomical, the label went to great lengths to try to make as much of its money back as possible. It negotiated exclusive deals for songs with movie studios and video game makers. “If The World” would run during the closing credits of Body of Lies while “Shackler’s Revenge” was included with Rock Band 2. Best Buy secured an exclusive agreement to sell the album in its stores, including CD versions and an LP.  The title track was debuted on Opie and Anthony’s show before being distributed to other radio stations while “Better” was released as a promo single as well. To drum up enthusiasm for the record, fans could stream it for free three days before release. Perhaps most infamously, was the Dr. Pepper promotion. Early that year, Dr. Pepper openly promised free cans of its signature soda if the album was released in 2008. The roll-out of coupons for individuals looking to take advantage of the promotion was botched, with Dr. Pepper’s website becoming overloaded. The band even threatened a lawsuit over the whole thing and accused Dr. Pepper of tarnishing the album’s release leading to lower than expected sales. Rose would later claim he had nothing to do with the threat of litigation and considered it a non-issue.

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Buckethead was probably the band’s most famous member outside of Rose during the interim period between albums, though by the time it was released Buckethead had left the band.

When Chinese Democracy was finally in the hands of fans curious to hear it, it came packaged with a rather thick booklet. So many cooks were in the kitchen here, many no longer even with the band. Of them, the most famous was likely guitarist Buckethead who didn’t hang around long enough to see release. Twelve separate musicians received credits in the personnel department with five additional guest musicians credited (most famously, Sebastian Bach who performed backing vocals on “Sorry”). The 14 track album ran for over 70 minutes, and it’s almost impossible to know how old some of the tracks are. It’s a rather fascinating album for this reason, and perhaps one day Rose will open up about the production process and be able to provide track lists for each year recording was ongoing. It certainly would make for an interesting documentary.

As for the album itself, while the initial sales may have disappointed (it debuted at number 3 on the Billboard 200) it has since been certified platinum. Critics seemed largely complimentary of the release, even if it was tempered somewhat. Perhaps the biggest proponents of the album were Axl’s former band mates with almost all of them offering a positive assessment of the record.

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Chinese Democracy’s release cost Dr. Pepper a few bucks and maybe some PR damage as well.

In revisiting the album I still largely hold the same opinion now as I did back in 2008. It’s both a satisfying and disappointing release. The disappointment comes in that this isn’t some over-the-top sound, nor is it a giant dumpster fire. I think some people were hoping for a disaster, and what they got is a pretty decent record, though not one anyone is likely to proclaim as an all-time great. What I do find really interesting about the album is that its best moments are what many people disliked about Use Your Illusion. This is an Axl Rose record and Axl Rose likes ballads, so there’s no shortage here. The last three songs are long, slow, pieces and are also among the best moments for the record. When it tries to be hard and heavy, it has its greatest stumbles. The title track is a fairly straight-forward rock track, satisfying, though not spectacular. “Shackler’s Revenge” and “Better” follow a similar path, though to not as great an effect.

The album stumbles following its first ballad, the quite competent and satisfying “Street of Dreams.” “If the World” goes for a bit of a jam sound and it sounds way over-produced. It’s more an idea than a fully realized song. The next two, “There Was a Time” and “Catcher in the Rye,” are fine, but sound way too similar to each other. It’s puzzling to see them placed back to back. “Catcher in the Rye” also goes for a melancholy sound that feels stale and a touch corny. It’s not helped by the subject matter of the song, which feels like well-trod territory. “Scraped” is where the album bottoms out, a noisy, directionless song with Rose’s worst vocal performance. “Riad N’ the Bedouins” feels like the unofficial beginning of the album’s second act. It’s a rocker that’s delivered with true ferocity. It’s probably the heaviest song on the album and it contains some classic Rose gusto with lines like, “I don’t give a fuck ’bout them ’cause I am cra-zay!” What momentum the album finds with the song though is wasted on “Sorry,” just a snoozefest of a track. “I.R.S” is more a mid-tempo rocker, and it’s fine. Axl’s vocals are probably as close to classic Axl as you’re going to hear on this one. The trio of ballads that round things out follow. “Madagascar” is another over-produced mess, though it debuts a new “voice” for Rose in which he goes with a weathered, low, sound. The song is interwoven with clips of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech as well as the same soundbite from Cool Hand Luke that was previously used at the beginning of “Civil War.” “This I love” is a gentle ballad with a great melody and vocal performance by Rose, while “Prostitute” is similar, but it has a bigger end.

axl and bach

Fellow rocker Sebastian Bach was a source of news on the album leading up to its release. He also guested on the track “Sorry.”

Despite my dislike for some songs on this one, I do still find it compelling enough to listen to the album the whole way through. It is not and never will be my favorite GNR album, but I’m torn on if I like this more than I do the individual Use Your Illusion albums. Those two were a mess stuffed full of filler material. I think if I were to cut Use Your Illusion down to a single album, it would be better than Chinese Democracy, but it is a fun discussion. Appetite for Destruction will likely always be the band’s best album and one that really defines its sound. It’s not just the best album in the band’s discography, it’s one of the ten best rock albums of all time. No one, even back in 1991, expected the band to top it only to supplement it with more worthwhile content.

GNR reunion

After years of saying it would never happen, Slash and Axl finally reconciled and re-joined the band, along with McKagan, in 2016.

Following Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses has been quiet on the new release front. Rose did claim around 2014 that more material was on the way, but it’s been rather quiet. The band put out a remastered version of Appetite for Destruction instead, and former band mates Slash and Duff are back with Rose. Supposedly, there are dozens of unfinished songs leftover from the Chinese Democracy sessions so it’s possible that some day Geffen will put them out looking to just make a little money off of them, if they can. If GNR is to remain a nostalgic act I suppose few will mind, though longtime fans are probably curious to hear what a new album with Slash and McKagan back in the fold would sound like. Regardless of how the album ultimately turned out, Chinese Democracy will always be remembered as the white whale of rock albums. The incredibly long and dramatic production time was perhaps more fun to follow than the album was to listen to. There’s a part of me that wished it continued, though I know that’s a retroactive feeling as at the time I was more than ready for the whole thing to have an end. I think ten years later the album is still worth a look and how much you enjoy it largely depends on your expectations. If you’re looking for another Appetite or even another Use Your Illusion, you’ll be let down. If you just want a textured rock record with a modern sound, then I think there’s something to like here.


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