Guns N' Roses
Chinese Democracy


4.0
excellent

Review

by Rumpelnostran USER (7 Reviews)
November 22nd, 2008 | 35 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: This time, the happy cries of "Chinese Democracy starts now!!" turn out to be correct, as Axl delivers the record at long last... and it isn't shabby at all...

Seventeen years in the making, millions of dollars and numerous band members later, with a court case to boot... you have it in your hand. Try to recall all this when you pick up Chinese Democracy for the first time. Don't rush, take the time to flip through the booklet, read the thank-yous, analyze the artwork... just hold it for a while, cherish the physicality of it, the fact that it's here. In your very hand. You don't need to hurry, the music was carefully concocted over the years, if it waits for you ten minutes longer the world won't implode. Just savor the feeling that Chinese Democracy is out at long last...

You heard about this mythical record from one source or another. It might have been a friend raving about the most recent leak, it might have been an old school Guns N' Roses fan laughing at Axl's inability to put out an album, it might have been some guy on a message board being shocked by Classic Rock's vivid description of Buckethead's... uhh... unusual studio antics, it might have been the Dr Pepper declaration, it might have been something completely different altogether... but one way or another, you knew that it's being made. You probably had your opinion (I'm assuming that you were at least slightly interested, since now you're taking the time to flip through reviews)... that it'll be really awesome, that it'll be outright horrible, that Slash and company will never be replaced, that the current incarnation of the new band is really good, that the record will come out (especially when somebody from GnR camp just announced it for the n+1st time), that the record will never see the light of day (especially when somebody from GnR camp just announced it for the n+1st time, and the mentioned date went by without anything happening)... whatever you might or might not have thought, the fact remains – the day came, and the new Guns N' Roses album has been released to the public. This is the first batch of original material since the days of Use Your Illusion, and the lone surviving members are Axl Rose and Dizzy Reed...

The last observation leads one to pondering... since there are only two members of the original lineup (one of them “merely” a keyboardist) remaining, does the record sound even remotely like the Guns N' Roses we know? The answer is complex... upon first glance, the record bears very little resemblance in sound to the tunes that conquered the world nearly 20 years ago. The GnR of old didn't have electronics! There were no blatantly poppy hooks! And what's with the weirdo whammied and killswitched guitar leads? That's not Slash! But with repeated listens, the charm slowly unveils itself, and you get to see that Chinese Democracy isn't a happy demolition of everything that Guns N' Roses were... it's evolution. It's pretty hard to tell that, since the last record we know was released in 1991, and the morphing took place in Axl's head, in isolated recording studios, not in the public eye. Hence it might sound a bit sharp, coming after Use Your Illusion, but once you give it a few more spins and some deeper thought, it starts making sense.

One of the major components brought into the mix was the singer's love of industrial acts, and with the gradual removal of opposing band members he was free to incorporate it into new Guns N' Roses tunes. However, it did not meet with a warm reception (“Oh My God” anyone?), and Axl took that into account – the closest to that you get on the album is the pounding title track, complete with a long intro setting the mood (you can really feel the record “fade into” the real world, slowly escaping the places where it was secretly brewed... a lone muted guitar and drum pounding away...) before exploding into a barrage of unrelenting riffs, pummeling with a force definitely not expected from Guns N' Roses. Judging by the writing credits (Rose, Freese), the track stems from the same session that gave us “Oh My God”. However, you still find the industrial influence throughout the record with the electronics and numerous riffs (some fuzzy workouts in “Better” scream Nine Inch Nails... well, not that surprising, considering that Finck co-wrote the cut... the slightly “velcro”, choppy fuzz motif to be found in the pre-chorus of “Shackler's Revenge”... and that's only analyzing the first cuts on the record! Take into account that there's a total of fourteen tracks, there's more...). You get the bits all over the place, but they aren't overwhelming or distracting, if something they add to the experience. They help create more complex, multi-genre-spanning, original tunes... something the old, rock-oriented gunners probably wouldn't have pulled off.

One of the major strengths of the record just got touched upon – the new band made a more diverse album, spanning lots of styles, often switching direction mid-piece, all whilst supplying hooking, enjoyable melodies. However, the thing that makes this so remarkable is how the elements of the mosaic seamlessly blend together, creating pieces simultaneously insanely original and irresistibly catchy. The most obvious case of this would be “If The World”... name me another song that incorporates Spanish-flavored acoustic guitars, drop tuned riffage, the occasional jazzy piano fill, pretty wahed soloing as well as a lo-fi break (caught me completely off guard!) thrown in the middle for good measure... with the hooky, slightly poppy vocal line hovering over it all, and the whole song giving off a slight “vintage Bond theme gone modern” feel. Won't work? Give the track a try, and you'll see just how well all of this meshes, what a compelling listen it makes. You get surprises like this all over the album, usually among the heavier tunes. “Shackler's Revenge” is a great example... the track stems from a movie soundtrack Buckethead wrote (well, to surprise the reader, the title of the motion picture was “Shackler's Revenge”... who'd have guessed?), but somehow the movie didn't get released. Axl got to hear the music... and molded it into a GnR song. The screechy guitar motif opening the tune is pretty far removed from anything one would expect to find on a “normal” record, but soon enough Axl comes in with a surprisingly fitting, yet catchy vocal melody over the second half of the intro theme (but this time distorted) and the tune gradually evolves into something more accessible, moving through the aforementioned industrial-tinged pre-chorus before putting forth an absolutely killer hook in the chorus (I was subconsciously humming the melody for days after grabbing the Rock Band 2 version). You get more weirdness later, when Bumblefoot blows some minds with a true aural massacre of a solo soaring over a chugging guitar riff with an unexpected tribal twist in the background. Marrying the unusual with the accessible, and coming off victorious... now that is something hard to do! The weirdos and people with a more “normal” taste will both find something to enjoy within these tunes... maybe slightly cringing over the bits reserved for the “other side of the fence” during the first few listens, but eventually coming to the conclusion that they are essential to the tune and loving them just as much...

Of course, there are also less drastic cases of the mentioned tendency. “Scraped” doesn't involve anything completely insane (the tiny Buckethead tapping fills that can be found scattered all over the piece might not qualify as “normal” music, but they're short and not too high in the mix), but you get a bond of two drastically different types of hooks – the piece opens with a choir of Axls, just vocalizing sugar-sweet poppy aaaahs... but when you get to the verse – damn! Now that is something completely unexpected, if one were to judge the piece by the intro! The way the powerful, syncopated riff blends with the infectious vocal line is unbelievable, I don't think I ever managed to listen to this without my head bobbing along at least slightly. By the time the chorus comes round the second time, showcasing both the poppy a-yos and a rhythmical similarity to the verses (typical early 2000's Buckethead), one sees that both extremes happily coexist. Two other “rockier” songs also incorporate slightly unexpected turns – both “Better” and “I.R.S.” kick off very peacefully, almost ballad-like, and then gain power. “I.R.S.” is calmer of the two, with the song never really picking up the pace like it could, happily going back to the chilling vocal-guitar interplay of the more subdued parts. However, it sports a pretty solid melody to go along with the distorted guitars once they come in, something the poppier (even if more intense) “Better” seems to lack. Still, “Better” is a good single – it is more straightforward and accessible, and the somewhat simplistic vocal melodies (especially the “dreamy” intro and chorus) get stuck in one's head for a while... even if one doesn't want them to. One can also find some seemingly out-of-context sweeping licks thrown in for good measure, but they work... both “Better” and “I.R.S.” include shred-rich, killswitch-happy leads courtesy of Buckethead – not something one would expect to find in these songs, but somehow the solos oddly fit and breathe new life into the cuts. Another pleasantly surprising listen is a ballad, “Madagascar” – did you expect to find a song carried by a horn melody? The tune contains a lot of grand orchestration, with the band coming in eventually to add even more power. Usually I am not a fan of orchestral rock/metal, since the music comes off pompous and pretentious more often than not, but here the two elements blend so well... creating something so grand, so majestic... however, another surprise awaits ahead. As Buckethead's passionate soloing leads us into the bridge part of the song, you get a big collage of movie clips, making the song further epic. Whilst I've encountered songs utilizing single movie clips over the years, I have never heard something like this. You get fragments of Dr. Martin Luther King's speeches, the “What we've got here is failure to communicate” bit known from “Civil War”... and many others. There are seven total clip sources listed in the credits for the tune. And they all fall into place perfectly...

The record is not made up solely from such “oddball” tunes, there are plenty of normal songs which don't bother marrying seemingly unrelated elements to form something unique... heck, some of it even sounds a bit like the Guns N' Roses of old! I'm talking about “Street of Dreams” here... there is something in the song that reminds me of the band's previous output. This is as close to “instant gratification” you're getting on the record – a simple, piano-driven ballad with a powerful melody, great buildup and sublime soloing (I daresay that Buckethead's positively mesmerizing outro lead is one of my favorite solos on the record, and Finck's spot earlier in the tune isn't too shabby either), immediate epic win. At first I had some issues with the final version, since I've grown attached to the June 2008 leak of the tune (still under the old title, “The Blues”) and wasn't too fond of the changes... however, now I have come to terms with the additions. The distorted guitar in the beginning sounded very uneasy at first, since it just came from the blue and took off just as unexpectedly, coming in between a short acoustic snippet and one hanging bass note. It didn't really build up the power either... if Axl wanted to have some real punch in the intro, he should have used the drums too... and not just leave a bare distorted guitar hanging there. However, now I see it as more of a hint of things to come, a promise that there will be more power later. Also, Bumblefoot's additional crunchy guitar riffs scattered all over the song don't come off as disturbing anymore, a few listens later I see that they really add to the groove and give the tune a bit more kick. Very enjoyable song, hope they make it a single.

Another potential single can be found two tracks later - “There Was A Time”. The song feels like an updated take on a “November Rain” type of epic ballad, but offering more heaviness with little piano presence. This is the richest arrangement on the CD, the credits for the track are almost as long as “Scraped” and “Riad N' The Bedouins” put together. Synth orchestra, mellotron, additional horn arrangements... the list just runs and runs, if you include the writing credits you get 37 lines. You can hear all the work put into the track with no problem, ever since the first second you are greeted by a true wall of sound, with each and every single element of it carefully thought out and mixed to perfection. You get a modern feel, a great buildup, and... well, what would a Guns N' Roses epic ballad be without masterful guitar work? Finck starts off the soloing festival even before the half-way mark, and the leads coexist with the vocals until the tune ends. Whilst Robin's leads aren't bad... Buckethead steals the show again. Ever since the song leaked for the first time in 2006, the masked guitarist's solo has been widely loved, and with good reason. It is one hell of a lead, fitting the modern sound the ballad is craving for perfectly, whilst supplying huge amounts of melody and genuine feeling, giving the tune something special...

It's remarkable how Axl seems to have a knack for surrounding himself with great guitar players... even pulling them out from nowhere if needed. Back in the old days, Slash made Guns N' Roses synonymous with masterful guitar soloing... and all the future lead guitarists had some big shoes to fill... whilst Robin Finck played with Nine Inch Nails prior (and during... and probably after) his tenure with Guns N' Roses, Buckethead and Bumblefoot weren't exactly well known before joining the band, it took some major scouting to find them... in the case of Buckethead, his appearance at Ozzfest '99 with Primus might have caught the eye of somebody close to Axl... whilst the hiring of Robin Finck to replace the departed Slash might have already aroused some curiosity, since the Nine Inch Nails guitarist did not seem to be anything like the man he just filled in for (mainly due to his “industrial” look and very curious solo stance)... that was nothing. Buckethead was the most controversial person to be brought in to work on Chinese Democracy – hiding himself behind a plain white mask and KFC bucket, if speaking, doing it through a hand puppet christened Herbie, robot dancing in front of hundreds of thousands at Rock in Rio III, having a chicken coop built in the studio... pretty odd, isn't it? However, there was something between Axl and Buckethead that goes a bit deeper. You ever heard any other bands the masked guitarist played with? If you have, then you must have noticed how he has trouble taking the steering wheel and pushing the project forward... it's the shy side of his personality acting up, the same part of him that made him put on the mask and bucket to evade stage fright in the first place. When Buckethead is out among other people in a band, he takes more of a backseat, letting the others do their thing... but with Guns N' Roses, the case seemed to be different. When one listens to the aforementioned leads he nailed, that's not just a shy boy noodling on his guitar, trying to play something to satisfy the rest of the guys. He is really “into” the tunes, doing his best to make them grow, not afraid to show just how gifted a player he is and what magic solos he's capable of conjuring. If, despite Buckethead leaving GnR in 2004, his leads are still all over the place (to top it off, he's the most prominently featured lead guitarist)... that's definitely saying something. You get introduced to his playing from track one – the extended solo taking over from Finck's short lead and continuing under the chorus shows what Buckethead is all about. You get shred, killswitch, whammy, melodic... all of it in perfect proportions, showing the listener that Slash's main successor is a force to reckon. A few tracks in, any possible doubts are blown away... this guy can play insanely well, and beats the old Guns N' Roses lead guitarist at everything. I don't think I need to tell you the masked guitarist can really tear it up when necessary... however, for those of you questioning Buckethead's ability to play with feeling – check out the “Street of Dreams” outro solo, or “Sorry” – a brooding, atmospheric 3/4 ballad that has fetched some Pink Floyd comparisons... of course with the obligatory magical heartfelt lead in the middle. There is something about it that keeps me coming back for more... like I mentioned before, Buckethead left the band in 2004. The reasoning remains unknown – some articles mention the guitarist's chickens getting eaten by wolf cubs, but the truth will probably remain unknown. The man's departure was a great loss for GnR, because his tendency to get stuff done quickly somehow pressed on Axl's slow, drawn-out perfectionism...

Still, the fact remains – Buckethead called it quits, and somebody was needed to fill in for him. The search started again. Joe Satriani recommended an underground guitar god by the name of Ron Thal, also known as Bumblefoot... and in 2006, Guns N' Roses had three guitarists once again. Bumblefoot didn't have much to say when it comes to the process of creating Chinese Democracy, but nonetheless he's featured on every track (some of his contributions are really great – the “grunting” fretless rhythm added to “Chinese Democracy” really makes the track take off, adding some extra heaviness I always thought was needed) and even gets a few solo spots. The most controversial is “Catcher in the Rye” – a low-quality demo of this piano-driven ballad leaked in 2006, and was well received by fans. One of the highlights of the tune was a guest solo by Queen's Brian May, reportedly recorded in 1999. However, on the finished album, May's guitar is absent, instead you get Bumblefoot... the new solo didn't get the warm reception the original one did, but I actually prefer it to the previous version – somehow, Thal's playing is more defined, stronger, and the solo moves me more than May's did. His other leads seem to be retakes of Buckethead solos Axl deemed replaceable... I already mentioned “Shackler's Revenge”, you get a drawn-out, melodic, wah-drenched lead in “Scraped” and an insane, shredding, frothing, sprawled, atonal, messy beast of a lead in “Riad N' The Bedouins” (in case you haven't figured it out yet, I really enjoyed the solo... overall, the final version of the tune is so much better than the leak. The new intro is fantastic, not just the mundane electronic drone that was there previously... somehow, it sets the mood better, and lets me enjoy the song in a whole new way). Considering the fact that he only joined the band two years ago, that's still a lot. I'm curiously awaiting his input in the next GnR records (well, Chinese Democracy ended up seeing the light of day... I believe there will be more), I like his solo albums and think his composition style might appeal to Axl.

There is one song on the album that should be looked at from a completely different angle, although when listening to it one isn't able to tell that the tune is a lot older (that's saying something... if a piece written during the “old Guns N' Roses” days does not stick out like a sore thumb...). I'm talking about “This I Love”... the song dates back to 1993, Axl mentioned it in an interview with RAW. Initially, the tune doesn't make a really good impression, mostly due to a repetitive and simplistic ab-Fb-db-Eb based piano line and equally minimalistic melody as well as numerous dodgy rhymes. However, eventually one notices just how pained Axl seems to be, how singing this song is causing him anguish... in 1993, the singer's relationship with Stephanie Seymour came to an end, and he fell into great depression. This song is the product of somebody genuinely hurting, missing a loved one who chose to abandon them... when looked at from this perspective, one stops caring about the occasionally blunt lyrics and all the other things that detracted from the song in the first place... because the song is magical. Just like the solo, courtesy of Finck... I loved it from first encounter – I was listening to this song, with the record finishing its first historical spin... and I wasn't too thrilled with the tune. But then, the solo came out of nowhere... the sheer essence of loving someone, transformed into a heart-touching guitar lead, started flooding my brain... this is, by far, the best lead Robin ever played, but still, the vision of him doing it live with his usual crotch pyrotechnics ritual might be... uhh, how to put it mildly... rather disturbing.

With all this said, one is left to ponder – what exactly took Axl so long? A sly peak into the album credits informs us that Paul Tobias, who departed in 2002, is featured on 10 of the 14 tracks... with the exceptions being “This I Love” (written in 1993) and three Buckethead-penned tracks - “Shackler's Revenge”, “Scraped” and “Sorry”. When one draws conclusions from it... most of the record was written by the early 2000's, with a few tracks jumping in later (but by 2004). In this light, all the “album's coming out soon!” declarations suddenly start making more sense – come on, the tracks were there, Chinese Democracy really could have seen the light of day sooner. However, the thing that held up the record the most seems to be Axl's legendary perfectionism, his attention to every single detail. The album had to be perfect. Songs started gaining more detail over the years, the arrangements becoming even richer and more complex. Axl took his time, didn't rush, walked his own path... like he states in “Prostitute” (a great closer, starting off soft, then gaining more power, climaxing in a whammied Buckethead solo before collapsing, with a subtle orchestral arrangement ending the record), “Ask yourself/Why I would choose/To prostitute myself/To live with fortune and shame”... he's got his own road he's following, and he's not asking anyone for directions, incorporating whatever he feels like (be it industrial tendencies or Buckethead's unreleased movie score) into the evolving Guns N' Roses sound. Axl waited years for the optimal moment to release the polished final product... and he decided that the time is now. So go, grab the mythical record and listen to it. It's really worth it, believe me. Let's just hope we won't have to wait as long for the next one...



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user ratings (1046)
Chart.
2.8
good
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Daniel Dias (4)
    An essay on why Chinese Democracy is excellent....

    turnip90210 (2)
    The definite case study on the futility of overproduction....

    James Honaker (3)
    Axl's "masterpiece" is a decent album...no more, no less. It has some excellent cuts, but ...

    erdi (4)
    Let's take a trip to the inner-world of Axl Rose....

  • mark sammut (4)
    A spark of life from a band that seemed to reach its end a long time ago....

    Tom Gellatly (4)
    Overblown, overproduce and very much in love with itself, Chinese Democracy throws in ever...

    etomren (4)
    'Chinese Democracy' is a continuation of the band's work with the 'Use Your Illusions' wit...

    Smell The Cheese (4.5)
    Shacklers Revenge is the best song, Great album...

  • red0 (1.5)
    'Chinese Democracy' would have been cool in 1997....

    Dr Dave De Sylvia STAFF (4)
    Chinese Democracy is comfortably the most consistent product the band has put out since Ap...

    Spamue1G (3.5)
    Generic and overblown though it may be, Chinese democracy turns out to be a worthwhile rec...

    Jake Cole (4.5)
    Axl Rose tears down the mythos and mockery surrounding his infamous album with a scorching...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Zippermouth
November 22nd 2008


1305 Comments


Oh my god...
way too much ... and uhh and stuff like that. This Message Edited On 11.22.08

Essence
November 22nd 2008


3586 Comments


I just checked, this is actually a good 500 words bigger than Greer's Alchemy Index review.

TheGreatD17
November 22nd 2008


1141 Comments


Maybe it's like one word for every minute since the last GNR album...

Zippermouth
November 22nd 2008


1305 Comments


For starters, this is the most ridiculous review I've ever seen. You lost my attention at arround the third paragraph, and you hadn't really said anything other than GnR is awesome, GnR is great, GnR is awesomely great and so is there new album... blah blah blah.

I can safely say that there are very few people who are actually going to take the time to read this monster through.

Iai
Emeritus
November 22nd 2008


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Go look for the review of X-Japan's Dahlia that YakuzaRock posted.

Essence
November 22nd 2008


3586 Comments


His last review comment was nearly half a year ago.

Then:
BAM

Giant ass review.

What the shit?

*edit*
LOL and that review wasn't even any good.
This Message Edited On 11.22.08

Zippermouth
November 22nd 2008


1305 Comments


Go look for the review of X-Japan's Dahlia that YakuzaRock posted.

Good lord! that's even longer than this beast!

Essence
November 22nd 2008


3586 Comments


Metallicaman8 still holds the record with an 11,000 word review, regardless of the fact that it was actually several separate reviews.

I love the lines in that Dahlia review though.

"This is the best thing by mankind ever"
LOL
This Message Edited On 11.22.08

Zippermouth
November 22nd 2008


1305 Comments


seeing that many words at one time gives me a headache. I say we neg him into oblivion so he never does something like this again, but that's just me.

Lunarfall
November 22nd 2008


3179 Comments


Wasn't silverfang's RTL review like double the length of this?This Message Edited On 11.22.08

Essence
November 22nd 2008


3586 Comments


Posting in a Chinese Democracy thread.

Zippermouth
November 22nd 2008


1305 Comments


^where at?

Essence
November 22nd 2008


3586 Comments


lol, I meant review.

I suppose the comments section isn't really thread, but in a sense, it is.


I'm not going to change it now, though.This Message Edited On 11.22.08

Lunarfall
November 22nd 2008


3179 Comments


My Valley of the Damned Review (My Longest) - 1572 Words
Greer's Alchemy Index III and IV Review - 2240 Words
Greer's Alchemy Index I and II Review- 3402 Words
This Review - 3848 Words
silverfang's Ride the Lightning Review - 4671 Words
YakuzaRock's Dahlia review - 8467 Words and over 10 pages longThis Message Edited On 11.22.08

Essence
November 22nd 2008


3586 Comments


Check Metallicaman8's Master of Puppets review.


Ironpriest
November 22nd 2008


403 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

lol its true. I still can't believe im listening to "chinese democracy"

I was not expecting much, but i am indeed blown away. Its a great record with lots of different influences and kind of flows nicely in a weird bi-polar type of way.

whilst this cant lay a finger on appetite, im gonna take it for what it is. An above average modern rock record, one im glad acquired.

Iai
Emeritus
November 22nd 2008


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

My Valley of the Damned Review (My Longest) - 1572 Words
Greer's Alchemy Index III and IV Review - 2240 Words
Greer's Alchemy Index I and II Review- 3402 Words
This Review - 3848 Words
silverfang's Ride the Lightning Review - 4671 Words
YakuzaRock's Dahlia review - 8467 Words and over 10 pages long

I think my longest is Everything Must Go, at 2,205.

jingledeath
November 22nd 2008


7104 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I can safely say that there are very few people who are actually going to take the time to read this monster through.




ConorMichaelJoseph
November 22nd 2008


1870 Comments


Aargh this review got featured over mine...:D

Fugue
November 22nd 2008


7353 Comments


holy moly, I find it hard to write 900 words...

...with that said I gave up on this review at about 5th paragraph



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