Coming back?

November 6, 2008

With the election behind us, Halloween seems like it was last year rather than last week. My costumes are perpetually terrible-just try to find some pictures from my run last year as a Chippendales Caveman-but this year, my sister and I had a great idea. What with our fair skin and dark hair … it was all so obvious. We would be the White Stripes! But then we realized that wasn’t timely, so on Halloween night, we sat down and thought of something better. Axl Rose and Slash.

For nearly two decades, Guns ‘N Roses haven’t been timely–gods of a decadent late 80s scene that seems particularly incomprehensible today. But, barring yet another setback, Axl’s new Roses (Slash and Izzy Stradlin are long gone) will be relevant once more with Chinese Democracy. Set for release on November 23, it is perhaps the most hyped comeback album of all time, and that fact probably sets it up for failure.

That’s because, historically, comeback albums are a mixed bag. Sure, Rolling Stone ran a “Ten Greatest Comeback Albums Ever” list last year, but the album topping that list, Green Day’s American Idiot, really wasn’t a comeback album at all.

But some comeback albums do achieve massive success. Critics agreed almost unanimously that Bob Dylan’s 1997 album, Time Out of Mind, was his best since 1976’s Desire. Dr. Dre’s follow-up to 1992’s The Chronic, the star-studded 2001, had an absolutely bomb first half, even if it fell off afterward. In 2005, Paul McCartney teamed with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and the resulting Chaos and Creation in the Backyard was his best-received album since 1982’s Tug of War.

On the other hand, some comeback albums have been miserable failures. Queen’s The Cosmos Rocks, released last month, is particularly noteworthy. Recorded with Paul Rodgers in place of famed frontman Freddie Mercury, most fans consider its very existence blasphemous. Michael Jackson’s 2001 release, Invincible-his first in ten years-wasn’t good enough to overcome the widespread notion that Jacko was whacko. Liz Phair’s self-titled comeback saw a formerly rebellious, uniquely feminine indie rocker morph into a boring, cookie-cutter pop-rocker.

Will Chinese Democracy succeed or fail? Because it’s only being sold at Best Buy-an odd marketing ploy that probably won’t work to its advantage-massive popular success seems unlikely. Likewise, many critics have long written Axl Rose off as an unreliable, psychotic madman. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t rooting for him-once upon a time everyone wanted to look like Axl and Slash, and maybe this record can make those personas more than a good Halloween costume.

Don’t call Justin a comeback at jhs55@georgetown.edu.

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