GUNS N’ ROSES
Released on November 23, 2008 (Geffen)
Chart Position #3
01. Chinese Democracy
02. Shackler’s Revenge
04. Street Of Dreams
05. If The World
06. There Was A Time
07. Catcher In The Rye
09. Riad N’ The Bedouins
13. This I Love
Axl Rose – lead/backing vocals and keyboards
Robin Finck – lead guitar, keyboards and backing vocals
Bumblefoot – lead guitar
Richard Fortus – rhythm guitar and backing vocals
Tommy Stinson – bass and backing vocals
Frank Ferrer – drums and percussion
Bryan Mantia – drums and percussion
Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, percussion and backing vocals
Buckethead – lead guitar
Paul Tobias – rhythm guitar
Sebastian Bach – backing vocals
Patti Hood – harp
Pete Scaturro – keyboards
Produced by Axl Rose and Caram Costanzo.
Review by Hairspray Hero:
2008 has truly been a great year for the hard rock scene with releases from Whitesnake, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Extreme and Buckcherry to name a few. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen this many quality releases in one year, and I’m not sure anyone would have predicted this twelve months ago.
I’m also quite certain that no one would have predicted that this would be the year that Axl Rose finally delivered the much anticipated Chinese Democracy to an eagerly awaiting rock world. Calling it the most anticipated release of the year is both accurate and misleading since the same could have been said in 2000 through 2007. Truth is, no one was sure if or when this album would ever see the light of day and when the ‘announcement’ was made a few months back that Axl was preparing its release I don’t think anyone was holding their breath. We’d heard this a dozen or so times before with as much or more conviction.
As the release date quickly approached, it sure seemed as if this time Axl was sticking to his proverbial guns. Singles were released via radio, movie soundtrack and video game. I’d done my very best to avoid listening to any tracks prior to the album’s release, whether they were leaked or legit. If and when this album ever saw the light of day I wanted it to be new and fresh. I didn’t want the experience to be spoiled by bad bootlegged versions of half produced songs. I wanted to experience these tunes, in their entirety as Axl intended people to hear them.
Chinese Democracy was a legend long before its release. Axl Rose was the only remaining band member from the original line-up, as all others had jumped ship or had been forced out. Album title aside, Guns N’ Roses was far from a democracy at this point. Axl called all the shots and had spent 15 years and $13 million building the perfect beast. He’d burned through multiple producers and countless musicians. Tracks from the album were reportedly recorded in 14 different studios. If it sounds confusing, so does the album – but, it’s pure Axl Rose.
To say I wasn’t curious would be an outright lie, but I was also very cautious not to expect too much from an album that began recording at the beginning Bill Clinton‘s presidency and was released as George W. Bush was completing his second term. At the same time, Appetite For Destruction was the soundtrack to my teen years, so I was hoping that Axl could pull off the improbable; an album just as exciting and memorable as the bands near perfect debut. Fact is, even if Chinese Democracy was half as good as Appetite For Destruction, it would be a killer album.
The album’s first track is also its best. The self-titled track is okay, but unfortunately it’s also as good as this album is capable of being. The song “Chinese Democracy” makes it clear that this is not the same Guns N’ Roses. Gone are the loose bluesy guitar licks of Slash and Izzy Stradlin and in their place are more modern sounding, razor sharp and at times industrial sounding guitar tones. You do however get Axl‘s signature scream, as well as his growl and squeal layered on top of each other.
“Shackler’s Revenge” is up next and its intro sounds more like Marilyn Manson than Guns N’ Roses. The pre-chorus actually has a danceable disco beat and the entire song has layers of Axl‘s voice, a theme present throughout the entire album. “Better” is a modern rock (read boring) sounding ballad and “Street Of Dreams” is a ballad that actually sounds as if it could have been recorded by the Use Your Illusion line-up. The problem I have with both of these songs is that at times it sounds is if Axl is literally sobbing the lyrics.
It’s at this point in the album that I wonder if the obscure song titles mean anything beyond their blatant obscurity. Once I reach the end of the album I realize they do not. Chinese Democracy is a complete train wreck on many levels. What made Appetite For Destruction such a power house is the collaborative efforts of five very different personalities. These differences created massive tension and the result was one of the best selling debut albums of all time. It also created a check and balance system that would not have allowed the cat to get out of the bag. Chinese Democracy on the other hand is all Axl all the time. With Slash he had an alter ego and the absence of that type of relationship is obvious on this album.
Chinese Democracy is the result of a mad man’s (literally) ego gone wild. The songs, at times, are a meandering mess of background noise and other computer programmable subtleties. The music completely lacks any emotion and is more distracting than entertaining. Axl‘s strong point has always been that his raw performances only help to reinforce powerhouse lyrics. With Chinese Democracy the lyrics and the performance often sound like that of a man who has been beaten down as opposed to someone who used to do the beating. At times it is a struggle to listen to.
I did not at all expect a duplication of Appetite For Destruction. What I did expect was an album that was equally strong, but perhaps in different ways. At 46, it wouldn’t have been as believable for Axl Rose to write “Out Ta Get Me” as it was when he was 25. What I wanted was a World Champion, not a whiny bitch. I wanted a rock album, not an attempt to incorporate every style of music that has come and gone over the last 15 years.
Reviewed by Hairspray Hero for Sleaze Roxx, November 2008.
Review by Graham LaMontagne:
Axl Rose is nuttier than squirrel droppings. However, being mentally unstable is usually the first sign of a true genius. The master composer has been working on the follow up to Guns N’ Roses‘ grandiose Use Your Illusion releases for fourteen years. Given whom you ask, the timeframe differs, so let’s clear the air right now. The last time the world heard all new Gun N’ Roses music was in 1991 with the Use Your Illusion albums. In 1993 a covers album came out called The Spaghetti Incident featuring an unforgettable rendition of “Since I Don’t Have You”. The band began work on new material in 1994, but with constant fighting, Guns N’ Roses soon imploded. After numerous line-up changes, weekly empty promises that the album was ready for release and an excess of $13 million dollars, Chinese Democracy was finally released on November 23, 2008 exclusively through Best Buy.
Waiting fourteen years for Chinese Democracy to see the light of day precipitated a growing resentment inside me towards Axl Rose and the album itself. I blamed him for breaking up one of the greatest Rock n’ Roll bands of all time, and therefore was hoping Chinese Democracy would be a bomb without the musicianship of the classic Guns N’ Roses line-up.
Two songs in, “Chinese Democracy” and “Shackler’s Revenge”, and it looked like my wish may be coming true – the opening rockers were more noisy than consistent with the typical Guns N’ Roses sound of “Welcome To The Jungle” or “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. However, something happened to make the album better and that something was track number three, “Better”. “Better” is a catchy melodic song that someone could easily hate upon first listen, but its copious appeal is destined to grow on you. “Better” kicks off a chain reaction of softer songs more along the lines of Use Your Illusion than Appetite For Destruction, and they sound like a fusion of Queen and Faith No More – Queen for the album’s heavy use of piano, and Faith No More due to quirkiness and originality. “Street Of Dreams”, “If The World”, “There Was A Time”, “Catcher In The Rye” and “Sorry” show that Axl is following a more “November Rain”/”Yesterdays” sound, and though Chinese Democracy does get heavy at times, the lighter tracks are the ones that standout. During these ballads, one classic Guns N’ Roses trademark has remained strong and that is the shrill power of Axl Rose‘s instantly recognizable voice.
Chinese Democracy is not without its flaws though. There is definitely an over reliance on using updated technology to create the album. Songs sound like they have been tweaked in editing one too many times and unnecessary sounds reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails seem to have been added for a modern twist. You often find yourself pining for the stripped down raw power of Appetite For Destruction. However, I knew going into this that Chinese Democracy would not even come close to being in the same playing field as the debut album. Appetite For Destruction is one of the best debut albums of all time and has earned a well-deserved place next to the other quintessential debuts of Rock ‘n’ Roll like Van Halen I and Led Zeppelin I. Since the new album does not live up to classic Guns N’ Roses, the ideal solution would be for Axl Rose and the original GNR line-up to reconcile and put out some tracks that are on par with “Rocket Queen” and “It’s So Easy”.
Chinese Democracy is certainly no masterpiece, and was simply never going to live up to its 14-year wait. Normally it takes me a few listens to really get into an album before I can say if I like it. However, with Chinese Democracy, my interest was peaked much sooner than expected, which tells me in a week I will really be appreciating Axl Rose‘s new album.
Reviewed by Graham LaMontagne for Sleaze Roxx, November 2008.