“Chinese Democracy” – the review

It was a long time for you
It was a long time for me – “There Was a Time”

Just shut up and sing – “Sorry”

Let’s just get this over with from the start.  This album is NOT “Appetite for Destruction.”  That perfect storm ended 20 years ago.

This album is also not “Use Your Illusion III.”

Now, can we all move along?

I made a conscious effort not to listen to any early versions of these songs.  I wanted to hear them in their final version when/if “Chinese Democracy” was ever released.  My first exposure to any of them was when I heard the title track a few weeks ago on Eddie Trunk’s XM show.  It wasn’t bad.

But really, should that be the standard for GNR?  Should we be willing to accept “not bad” from the band that, for better or worse, paved the way for grunge and ruled as the last giant metal band?  Should the mind behind “Welcome to the Jungle” be given that kind of leeway?

After several listens, I think the answer is maybe.

Its definitely not Sunset Strip Guns n’ Roses.  It has more in common with “Use Your Illusion,” but even then, this is a new beast entirely.  After more than a dozen years of edits, tweaks and remasters, what you’ve got now is a singer, a rotating cast of characters and a project that has spanned several musical movements.  As such, those styles are all evident.

Here’s your track list kids:

  1. Chinese Democracy
  2. Shackler’s Revenge
  3. Better
  4. Street of Dreams
  5. If the World
  6. There Was a Time
  7. Catcher in the Rye
  8. Scraped
  9. Riad n’ the Bedouins
  10. Sorry
  11. I.R.S.
  12. Madagascar
  13. This I Love
  14. Prostitute

For those of you keeping track at home, that’s one song for every year this record has been an urban myth.

I made my dutiful trip to Best Buy on release day.  I wanted to actually see the record on a rack.  I wanted to touch it to verify its actual existence.  Then I made my five year old son carry it to the checkout so if it wasn’t there when we got there I could blame its disappearance on him…or gremlins.
I took it home and put it in the laptop for a listen.  That’s how much things have changed since “Use Your Illusion.”  Back then I was DJing in a nightclub and took my first listen on the house PA.  This one was played on a laptop, in the car and, of course, on my Ipod.

Oh yeah, and I have kids now.

But I digress.

The title track is good.  It starts with a mumbling spoken word opening then launches into some classic GNR riffing.  It takes a strange turn when, though multiple tracking, Axl starts backing himself in various voices.  Its disconcerting at first, but you get used to it.

I thought the first 5 tracks were all solid.  A lot of people are gushing over “Shackler’s Revenge,” but I like “Street of Dreams” and “If the World” better.  “Street of Dreams” would be a huge hit if this was 1989.  Since its almost 2009, I have no idea.  It seems to be the closest to vintage GNR in my book.

“If the World” is probably my favorite song on the album, even though its all over the damned place.  It opens with mariachi style guitars and then segues into some funky blaxploitation groove.  Somehow these come together to create a song that would be perfectly at home in the opening credits of a James Bond movie.  Seriously.  The title also has that 007 feel.  Its almost as if Axl is trying to remind us of his kick ass cover of that Wings song.

The funny thing about most of the songs is they seem to be about Axl and his relationship to them and the album as a whole.  I would imagine after spending so much time with them, he feels married to their final outcome.  Nearly every song makes some reference to expectations, time, or pressure.

You really come to realize how the other members of the band, specifically Izzy and Slash, served to focus Axl.  Izzy was/is a helluva songwriter and helped polish up things when Axl got bogged down.  It was always Slash’s supremely bloozy guitar that kept things moving along.  They are sorely missed here.  Buckethead and Bumblefoot may good guitar players, but they’re little more than session players here.

Things drag appreciably in the home stretch.  I only song I truly dislike on the record is “This I Love.”  It seems out of place and its frankly not very good.  “Madagascar” is odd.  We once again get sound bites from “Cool Hand Luke,” as well as Martin Luther King, Jr., “Mississippi Burning,” “Braveheart,” “Casualties of War,” and “Seven.”  Gee Axl, persecuted much?

The final track, “Prostitute,” finds Axl waxing (or whining) about his life as a commercial whore?  Really?  Was it so bad to be on top of the world?  Was it really so bad to wake up next to Stephanie Seymour? 

Really?

In the end, what you’ve got here is about 6 really good songs, 5 above average ones and 3 that should have been left off.

Is it worth your time?  Depends on your predilictions.  If you’re a GNR fan, you might as well give it a listen.  You’ve waited this long.  If you’re not?  Probably not.  If you’re somehow neither, then give it a shot.  There’s some good stuff in here if you approach it with the right attitude.

Did you hear me Hinder?

As I was preparing to write this, it occurred to me that if you took “Chinese Democracy” and the 2 Velvet Revolver albums and grabbed all the best tracks, you’d probably be able to put together one helluva Guns n’ Roses album.  Maybe I’ll do that.

But it still wouldn’t be “Appetite for Destrution.”

2 thoughts on ““Chinese Democracy” – the review

  1. I’m a little more cautious with my praise. 14 years of waiting turned Boston’s ‘Amanda’ into the hit it should never have been for Boston (maybe Journey, but not Boston). Come to think of it, with a 14 year break between records, and the recent passing of Brad Delp, shouldn’t Axl and Boston hook up? By the time the next album comes out, my daughter will be 18, old enough to participate in democracy fully, Chinese or otherwise.

    With the attention thrown this album’s way, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that Slash, Axl’s better half, is a serial enabler. First Axl, then Scott Weiland. I believe his next frontman will be notorious crack addict and rehab habitue, Amy Winehouse. The new band is to be called ‘La Pistoleras’.

  2. Nicely put. I don’t think it’s unfair to treat it in isolation either, given that it’s pretty much been created that way.

    Is it a good record, period? Yes, I think it’s alright. I’m sure way worse records were released on that day alone.

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