Music Review: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

(From my Buzz18 reviews)

The new Guns N’ Roses album will rock your socks off

Sometime around the mid-nineties, MTV (before they sold out) used to air a lot of GN’R videos. There was Sweet Child ‘O Mine from Appetite For Destruction, and November Rain, Don’t Cry and Estranged from Use Your Illusion I and II. Besides making me pick up the guitar and decide to form a band, Guns N’ Roses should also take the blame for making smoking and drinking look so effing cool that every youngster who saw their videos assumed cigarettes and alcohol contributed to a balanced diet.

Guns N’ Roses had become somewhat of a joke over the last decade – several bandmembers exited, unable to handle mainman Axl Rose’s erratic and dominating behaviour. Duff McKagan (bassy and co-songwriter) left, Izzy left…the biggest blow to the band was lead guitarist Slash’s departure. Fans were heartbroken, as Axl and Slash were the face of Guns N’ Roses, arguably the coolest band to walk this Earth.

Since then (and even before that, but even more after that) Axl has been viewed as a madman, someone who let success clog his head, leading him and the rest of GN’R to part ways. Axl had begun working on new material in 1994, but the promised album didn’t find its way out of the studios till now.

People thought Chinese Democracy was one of Axl Rose’s silly fantasies, and that the record would never see the light of day. Several musicians came to Axl and left, and 14 years and 13 millions dollars later, Chinese Democracy is here.

As much as I love Guns N’ Roses and wanted more music from them, I dreaded the moment I’d have to listen to the band minus Slash and the other original members.

In any case, Chinese Democracy was expected to receive flak from all quarters. Fans would find a Slash-less GN’R record hard to swallow and harder to digest, and critics were just waiting to rip Axl Rose’s new band apart.

Did we really think W Axl Rose would assemble a bunch of talented musicians, throw a few songs together and offer the world a mediocre, half-hearted record?

A haunting, siren-like intro and whispering voices, along with guitar-picking introduce the new record, before fat guitar chords and Axl Rose’s yowling tear it open for all to see. ‘It don’t really matter/you gotta find out for yourself’, he drawls, telling a waiting world he knows what its thinking. ‘I know that I’m a classic case’, he says all-knowingly, and a little over two minutes into the title track, you know the gunners are back. ‘Coz it would take a lot more time/than you have got for masturbation/even with an iron fist.’ How typically lovely of Axl.

For those who want to complain about Slash’s absence, the whacked-out genius Buckethead is soloing on the album, along with five other guitarists including Axl. Shackler’s Revenge is an industrial track, with a good pre-chorus and a superb chorus. It’s actually a good thing Chinese Democracy wasn’t made and released a decade ago, or it’d have been blasted for going the Nine In Nails way.

The first two songs were not too long, and in fact, ended at the right time. I’m curious to hear more…

Better starts off innocently and only Axl’s voice tells you it’s a GN’R song…until the badass chorus comes along. ‘Now I know you better/you know I know better’, Axl gets to his fact-of-the-matter self. The chorus is rocking, and the guitar, though different, makes its presence felt as can be only on a GN’R track.

Street Of Dreams has a clinking piano intro and typical GN’R-style guitar chords. Axl tries singing in a different way in places, and it all works really well. ‘What I thought was beautiful don’t live inside of you anymore’, he croons before the guitar takes over. A very GN’R ending, too.

What is this, flamenco-plucking I hear? On If The World, Axl sings like he wants to be the next pop diva. Now the structure and music on If The World is nothing like the GN’R we know, but it’s satisfying to know Axl can make this sound good. If anyone wants to bring up Slash again, there’s plenty of quality guitar-playing here, so forget it.

There Was A Time is again quite different, and it becomes obvious Axl and Slash (and the others) wanted to go in different musical directions. The music is damn good, but TWAT (heh!) is no November Rain or Estranged.

Catcher In The Rye is another good song. It sounded like it’d be a fast one, but it’s mid-paced, and chorus is very, very…The Beatles? Queen? I’m not sure, but it definitely isn’t the coolest band to walk this Earth. Not bad, though. Hey wait, what a nice solo!

Scraped! What’s up with Axl, he sounds like he’s getting raped! Okay, he started singing it like Robert Plant… The guitar tone is rather mean, but the song is okay.

Things get very interesting with Riad N’ the Bedouins, and he sounds even more like Robert Plant at the beginning of the verses! And check out the guitar solos on this!

Sorry is a song that could’ve easily been on Tiamat’s A Deeper Kind Of Slumber, it’s like that! Axl singing ‘You talk too much/you say I do/difference is nobody cares about you’ over a slow beat and Sebastian Bach’s (Skid Row/Last Hard Men) backing vocals. Axl Rose sounds so relaxed, and after the first chorus the song starts sounding Tiamat-ish again. But the lyrics are very GN’R…’You close your eyes/all well and good/ I’ll kick your ass/like I said that I would.’ Good boy, Axl.

IRS has Plant-like vocals (again) amidst typical hard-rocking parts, and a solid build-up.

Madagascar is Rose trying to recreate the magic of epics like November Rain and Estranged, and he succeeds to a great extent, because this is definitely working on me. Midway, Madagascar gets industrial, but it doesn’t sound weird or anything. There’s a bloody opera going on, perhaps trying to stay in the background and not be too loud. I certainly don’t mind.

This I Love is fabulous! Axl Rose is in pain, and the man is singing his heart out! What a beautiful chorus, only this band can do this. What is this you’ve given us, Axl? A modern-day Patience? Another Don’t Cry? This is beautiful, man! The beat doesn’t even start till 3: 16, and it drags the already on solo to an even more ecstatic place. I am at a loss. Am I supposed to cry? Orgasm? If someone wants to get slapped, come and tell me this isn’t Guns N’ Roses.

The last song on Chinese Democracy is Prostitute, and Axl seems to be explaining/justifying things here. Things have probably been inside the guy for a long, long time. The frontman’s initials spell ‘war’, whoever wants to fight him has to get in the ring! By the way, the production quality on this album is good enough to make Metallica sit up and pay attention. Yeah, that good.

A soft drink company called Dr Pepper started a marketing strategy, stating they’d give a free Dr Pepper to everyone in America if “Chinese Democracy” was released in 2008. The album is here, and according to what I’ve been reading, Dr Pepper is having a hard time giving everyone in America a free Dr Pepper. Sue their pants off, Axl.

So, is Chinese Democracy a classic Gunners album? Maybe not. But it is still a Guns N’ Roses record, Slash’s absence notwithstanding. It is Axl Rose showing he is the vital force he has always been, the creative monster responsible for several GN’R anthems. When Axl Rose and Slash parted ways, I thought there’d never be another great rock n’ roll band. The coolest one to walk the Earth is still pretty much around, and I expect William Axl Rose to come up with another couple of albums (at least!). And I’d like them to be wilder and over-the-top, self-indulgent, offensive, however Guns N’ Roses is meant to be.

I’d give anything to see Axl and Slash sort their differences out and get themselves and their boys together and rock this world their way. And if that’s not going to happen, I’m not going to complain because this new line-up sounds great, too. Those who want to continue cribbing about Slash and the others not being around will just have to wait and live in hope of a reunion…to quote Axl Rose, ‘It would take a lot more time/than you have got for masturbation.’ Hey, has there been even one great rock n’ roll band since the last Guns N’ Roses record came out? Thanks for this, Axl…missed you like crazy.

RATING: 3.5/5

8 Responses to “Music Review: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy”

  1. March 4, 2010 at 02:24

    Axl Rose looks fucking weird now but he sounds fucking phenomenal. This I Love!


  2. December 27, 2010 at 22:53

    I’d prefer Slash’s solo album honestly! 🙂
    Not that I don’t love Axl Rose. I was mad about that guy but Chinese Democracy wasn’t as pleasing as I was hoping it to be! Hah!


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