Review Summary: When an album becomes huge, bloated and iconic without even being released, there’s a good chance you can already sense that the end product will be overrated. Enter Chinese Democracy.3 of 3 thought this review was well written
Quite possibly the biggest and most overblown fiasco music has ever seen, Axl Rose (who for all intents and purposes has now become GN’R) sent the world on an irritating trip of delays, leaks and lawsuits to get this album out. Without even listening to it, what other album can boast that its production was involved with Dr. Pepper, more than 5000 days to its name, 14 different recording studios, a scrambled Rock Band 2 endorsement, a man who wears a KFC bucket on his head, an almost complete band member overturn and a lawsuit against The Offspring’s frontman Dexter Holland?
Spinal Tap called, they want their storylines back.
Yes, when eventually released, anybody and everybody took their chance to slate it. For a band that managed to release one of the greatest debut albums ever, GN’R have dealt with some fairly harsh *** in their time. Use Your Illusion I & II received similar overblown (although not entirely unfair) criticisms, and soon the band came under fire for their macho moronic behaviour- not to mention the fact that seasoned musicians and fans alike were turning on their larger than life attitude, which did not bode well. They had become the opposite of what they had started out as; now they were bigger than anyone could have predicted, and any desire to be intimate had been cashed in to become a huge cog in the machine. Axl was more than willing to feed into it however, and Chinese Democracy serves as a service to him and his narcissist complex- thus the critics have viewed it as such. But what many forget to mention is that Democracy, when considered objectively, is really just a good rock album, no more no less.
Axl seems to want this to be everything and more; his vision is like the bastard love child of Sergeant Pepper, Exile on Main Street and Dark Side of the Moon. Instead, it sounds more like straightforward hard rock with a dose of Vitamin Axl. For instance, the ham-fisted protest of the title-track- a good song wrapped in a laughably juvenile message. This is the egg you’ve been sat on for the last 15 years? You should have left it a little longer if you were expecting big things, because what you have there is good but messy. The problem seems to be the fact Axl is craving importance, albeit bestowed upon with questionable political lyricism- “Cos it would take a lot more time than you/have got for masturbation/even with your iron fist/all they’ve got to rule the nation” Axl warbles, but this is hardly the words of a sensible man, let alone a mastermind at that. Thankfully these political occurrences soon become isolated to radio friendly Madagascar, which seems a little more mature in its approach.
Follow up Shaklers Revenge has a distinct Buckethead riff, his writing bringing forth a heavy and aggressive tale, stoking Axl into one terrifyingly amazing performance. It’s moments like these that Rose can somehow adapt his narcissism and ego into a cohesive effort, something that occurs with frightening infrequency. The industrial ramblings that Slash and Duff McKagan had even spoken of years earlier appears, notably in Nine Inch Nails-alike Better, which is surprisingly coherent given that NIN and GN’R don’t have a strong crossover in fan base or style. The building and emotional drudge of the drum machines matched with the aggression of Bumblefoot’s playing is superb. When the band has been sat on gems like this for so long, it does warrant high praise.
However the manic-depressive nature of the album first becomes apparent in the long trudge to the middle. Take for example If the World, a song so hysterically misplaced that its flamenco style jamming recalls bad 70s pornography, replete with terrible moustaches and terrible one liners. Scraped dawdles around under the heat of over production, embracing terrible lyrics, overdone vocals and a sad alternative to Better’s industrial tendencies. The crazy ranting of a man with ED on IRS is better left unspoken of.
The shameless resorts to self-parody don’t work too well either- case and point, This I Love. Besides the title sounding like something a generic Jew would say, the song itself seems plucked from the school of Use Your Illusion's excessive ballads. Riad n’ the Bedouins again seems to conjure up bad images of Axl screeching for you to “BACK OFF BITCH!” in all his overcompensating demeanour, which would be astoundingly bad save the appearance of Catcher in the Rye, a song so astoundingly middle of the road and plodding that it goes in one ear and out the other, thanks in part to its remarkably bland properties.
Is this therefore a golden turd? Hardly. Even with the cringe inducing moments that occur ever frequently, they are matched by oddly compelling expositions of Axl’s psyche- take for example the ballads Sorry or Street of Dreams, where he seems genuinely regretful for being a cunt all his life. Sat isolated with his piano, he manages to create an expansive looking in view of his inner workings, so brilliantly critiqued that it’s hard to fault. After all this is a man who’s always been seen from one side, that of being an Ayatollah figure among the press. That might be true, but to have the man speaking out on his own behalf is a refreshing change of pace.
Then to top it all off, there’s Prostitute, the final track that from Axl’s POV recounts his entire life up until that very point- with the main point being amongst his numerous flaws he’s at least never been a corporate whore, which is a commendable point at that. Even with deals at every corner to reunite with his old band, appear in this and that, endorse this, make his album how it should sound, he’s always done things the way he wants them. From that stand point, Prostitute is a success in defining Chinese Democracy. Where he’s spent time under the pressure, told how he will fail, told how much he sucks, he finally delivers not a product he should make, but one that he wants to make- *his* ultimate statement.
While the world waits abidingly for Chinese Democracy II to be released when time stops, they have only this to consider and approach. In some ways, it’s a complete and utter failure, in others it’s a magnificent and grand statement. The key however to fully enjoying this is to take it in without its context- a fully formed and above average rock record. Acknowledging it however brings about the conflicting and infuriating version- arguably the way this conflicted masterpiece should be heard.