Review Summary: Axl Rose tears down the mythos and mockery surrounding his infamous album with a scorching set of lyrically-charged numbers featuring an enticing new sound.
It's here. My God, it's really here. How do you review an album like Chinese Democracy
? An album that has been germinating almost as long as I have been alive? An album that has gone from eagerly awaited to worldwide laughing stock. Seeing it and hearing it is like seeing Bigfoot, or uncovering a UFO at Roswell. As I wracked my brain over the cascade of emotions flooding through me, a single thought rose above them all, filling every fold of tissue, every nerve ending, making me question everything I knew and threatening to mentally crush me and leave me a hollow shell of a man: it's pretty good.
If you're looking for the fun combination of glam, punk, 70s hard rock and metal that defined GNR's sound, you're out of luck. Axl Rose has long been a fan of industrial metal- he was one of the first champions of Nine Inch Nails- and he's put together a group of current and past players who've created a sonic wash of an album. Guitarists Bumblefoot, Robin Finck, and Buckethead brought their Pro Tools wizardry to the table; tracks pulsate with churning, processed riffs instead of crashing and crunching ahead with Slash's wild abandon. Rose also chucks in the odd string arrangement on tracks like "Madagascar" and "There Was a Time."
If you can set aside what you think a GNR record should sound like, you can find a lot to love. The first two tracks take too long to get to the point, but they both end up stronger than they started. "Better" is a cracking tune with crushing riffs and some chilling screams from Rose. It also works as a sort of one-stop shop; you can hear a bit of all of Chinese Democracy
in this song: it goes through three or four distinct parts that are explored further in other songs. That it is not the best track is a testament to the strength of the album. The best song is "Sorry," a smoldering track with marvelously bleak lyrics, great guitar breaks, and fantastic backing vocals from Axl's friend and former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach. It, along with the almost-as-excellent "There Was a Time, clearly channels the GNR classic "November Rain," with great results. The closer, "Prostitute," is a hell of a way to end the thing. It could be about the old GNR, Rose's ex-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour, and/or perhaps himself, but whatever the case it flat out rocks.
It's not all great; Chinese Democracy
swings so hard for the fences that it stumbles after every hit. "Street of Dreams" wants to tap into that "November Rain" vibe that "Sorry" and "There Was a Time" used so well, but ends up a flat power ballad. "I.R.S." is fun enough, but it's stuck in first gear; it never kicks into a real rocker. The most flummoxing track is "If The World," which is equal parts off-the-wall brilliance and insufferable annoyance; ultimately I lean towards liking the track, but I think Axl tries to cram too much into it.
The strangest thing about Chinese Democracy
- apart from it being good, which will continue to shock me for some time- is that it is an absolutely vital record. It is the last great slice of album-oriented rock the same way that The Wall
was the last great rock opera. Lyrically, it's one of the finest albums about albums ever made, which makes a lot of sense. It sheds light on the musical creative process as The Player
and 8 1/2
gave insights into the art of filmmaking. It isn't perfect, but I find myself enjoying more with each listen and it's great to hear an actual album
again, not just a haphazard collection of singles (didn't like every song on Death Magnetic
come out as a single at some point?). It will not be the last album-oriented album, but all others will stand in its shadow for years to come.
People who will base their enjoyment solely on whether it sounds like Appetite For Destruction
or Use Your Illusion
will moan and whine, but if you go in with some semblance of objectivity, you'll see that not only is Axl treating this new incarnation like a band(!), but he perfectly captured the spirit of the old GNR and forged a bold new sound for the group.