NEW YORK —
But Hughes' verdict is in: "You can't say it's a bad record — you just can't do it."
Hughes, whose band was dubbed "Pigeons of Sh-- Metal" by Rose, joined MTV News for a brief Chinese Democracy listening session Monday at the Downtown Records offices. He shared his thoughts on one of the most anticipated albums of the last 10 years, set for release November 23.
Like much of the world, Hughes never actually believed Rose would deliver Chinese Democracy. "During that one show we were at, they'd play songs like 'Mr. Brownstone' and 'It's So Easy,' and the crowd would be going nuts," he recalled. "Then, all of a sudden, they'd play something off Chinese Democracy, and it was just crickets. And then the crickets went silent."
But now that the release is upon us, Hughes has changed his tune. "The first two tracks, right out of the gate, grabbed me, and the first time I heard the record, I was like, 'F---, it's not bad,' " Hughes said. "I had so many funny things waiting to be said about it, but the record is good."
Hughes, whose band recently released its third album, Heart On, was especially taken with the musicianship on the record, which he called "unparalleled." The LP's overall sound also impressed him.
"The production values had to be probably at the highest level of anything, and you can hear that immediately," he said. "There is not a lot of magic going on, in terms of making sh-- from nothing. These are real players, and this is the greatest karaoke band ever assembled. He pulled together some of the greatest talents from the last 16 years, so it's a lot of talent in one spot."
But Hughes does have one gripe: "To say that it's Guns N' Roses, which is the L.A. freaks who hit the streets and made you scared and your women were being hidden, and you have this ugly son of a bitch on guitar shredding — I don't think it's fair to say that this is Guns N' Roses. When you're releasing multiple albums and you're a band, you're part of a lineage. You're saying you started here, and from here comes forth this. You can't do that with the new GN'R. This is Axl Rose's solo album. There's nothing Guns N' Roses about this. It's a great album, but it's not Guns, and it's an insult to all of us to call it that."
Hughes doesn't think Chinese Democracy does anything to diminish Guns N' Roses' rock-and-roll legacy, but he feels "it helps to contrast and highlight it, because if you've even heard one track off of [1987's] Appetite for Destruction, you're immediately going to go, 'That's not Slash.' And to me, that's cool, because Slash has the rad stuff. Axl — he just has implants."
As for Axl's pipes, Hughes described the vocals as sounding "suspiciously Zapp-ish," a reference to the '70s soul-and-funk outfit that utilized a talk box on the majority of their recordings. (Jesse apparently didn't know that Zapp founders/brothers Roger and Larry Troutman both died in an apparent murder-suicide in 1999.) "The vocals don't sound real," he said. "It sounds like a MIDI sampler that's approximated to his voice.
"Axl, I think he's like the child with chocolate on his face telling you he didn't eat the candy bar," Hughes continued. "This is the reverse. It sounds like a person talking, but it's really a robot. Axl's a robot. Have you ever seen 'Terminator'? I think if we cut Axl's arm at the skin and peeled it off, a robot would emerge."
Hughes realizes that Chinese Democracy is an important record, one he's sure "will topple Communism and the great dragon itself," but after hearing it, he questions why it took so long to produce.
"Let's be serious and set aside my personal issue with the man, and let's just pretend for a second I'm not in this business," Hughes said. "Sixteen f---ing years to make an album is an outrage and an abuse of the system. Who the hell does anyone think they are that they'll take 16 years to make a record? The only thing Axl has going for him is that he's still friends with Sebastian Bach. That man's still a hunk. He's a savage animal if ever I saw one."
Ultimately, though, Hughes respects Rose's position in rockdom. He also wonders when — if ever — we'll see a follow-up to Chinese Democracy.
"It doesn't matter who Axl is or what he's done to me, he's part of one of the greatest rock-and-roll bands that's ever lived, and Appetite has carved out this massive spot for itself that can never be screwed with," he said. "I can't speak ill of the man too much, because it seems like I'm, in a disingenuous way, calling into question his rock nobility. I just can't wait for North Korean Democracy, which will be coming out in 2036. Axl will still look the same then, but he'll actually be growing corn out of his scalp."