You’ve had too many Yesterdays, and it’s been 14 Years since you’ve heard anything good – meanwhile, Anything Goes. You’ve taken the Nighttrain straight from a Breakdown into a Coma, and you’ve been feeling Estranged from Paradise City, and all you feel like during this very un-Civil War is that you want to scream “Don’t Damn Me” – but the time IS come, the moment is NOW, and Dr. Pepper owes all of America a free drink.
Chinese Democracy is here.
It’s been a long time coming for Guns N’ Roses fans – over 16 years ago – the band left us with the Use Your Illusion albums, and since then, it’s been a rough ride. If you’ve been following the people involved, itching to hear something, anything – that FEELS like Guns N’ Roses; then you’ve probably been sorely disappointed. Slash’s Snakepit, Duff McKagan’s solo album, Izzy Stradlin’s decent but unrevolutionary work, and the Weiland-inspired disaster that I’ve personally found Velvet Revolver to be, have all failed to deliver the bite, the wall of heavy groove and the cry of unabashed unambiguous almost painful honesty, the sheer depth of what the best Guns N’ Roses tracks have ever offered.
Does this read like a long lead-up? Then take the short end of it –
Chinese Democracy is brilliant. It’s not brilliant all the time, nor could it possibly be – even if it were not for the sheer weight of expectation that surrounds it. But – when it is what it aims to be, it is nothing short of awe-inspiring greatness.
If you’re still wondering where I’m going with this – get the damn thing. Pay the man, and get it. Or get it now, and then pay the man. Whichever, in both cases, do both.
Some of the tracks harken back to the Gn’R sound – and they are a tight manifestation that shows quite clearly that, despite all the fan nostalgia for the old band members, Axl can, quite simply, pull that off.
Just like that.
You’ll find that on tracks like the title track ‘Chinese Democracy’ as well as tracks like ‘I.R.S.,’ ‘Street of Dreams,’ and ‘Catcher In The Rye.’
The title track, ‘Chinese Democracy,’ for example – has a long-ish intro with some music and layers of Chinese murmurs, and then it kicks into song proper. The main riff is a super-charged guitar line that really signals the side-to-side headbang that a proper Gn’R track is known to illicit. Axl is still Axl, and the unmistakable twist to the step of the groove is right here.
Where things get a lot more interesting – in terms of sheer sound and overall direction – is with tracks like ‘Better,’ ‘There Was A Time,’ ‘Madagascar,’ & ‘Prostitute.’ These songs don’t just kick a phenomenal load of butt – they do so in absolutely wonderful ways. You’ll know that Axl’s up to something as soon as you hear the starting part of ‘Better,’ for example, but even when you’re well into the bit that’s as close to a chorus as the song might have, you still won’t quite see what’s coming next. There are quite a few surprises here 🙂
‘Better’ is a bit of an iconic track, a signal in many ways. Of the first leaks, it was easily the one I immediately got into. The second it starts, you’ll know you’re listening to something fresh, and when both the guitar and Axl kick in, it’s a solid, bendy, hard groove that chugs beautifully and powerfully along – with some brilliant vocals. The chorus is a bit difficult the first couple of times you hear the song, but it’s just peachy keen when you get a grip on how it moves. It’s a kicker.
‘Prostitute’ is sheer genius. Let me say that again – absolute sheer genius. The music and lyrics move along together with massive amounts of passion and power. It feels like every bit of a Gn’R song – even though it doesn’t really sound like a Gn’R song. If that sounds confusing – you’ll soon see what I mean. It doesn’t sound half as good if you don’t know the lyrics because then the musical changes don’t carry the meaning they need. Just look up the lyrics somewhere and play this track and see what Axl says and how he says it, and scream along like a total maniac and fall in love with this song. Yeah, do it. You can read this crap here any time 😉
‘Madagascar’ is a slower track, starting with horns and strings and sounding epic in a grave sort of way – and the instant Axl comes in singing ‘I won’t be told anymore / that I’ve been brought down in this storm / and left so far out from the shore / that I can’t find my way back / my way anymore” you know you’re ‘in.’
If you’ve heard the ‘Oh My God’ single from the End of Days movie soundtrack, then you’ll find that the industrial tones of ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ and ‘Scraped’ refine that aesthetic into a tighter, more perceivable groove, but even these take a few listens before you adapt to their feel.
There are softer tracks on the album – ‘If The World,’ ‘Sorry,’ & ‘This I Love’ are all much mellower than the rest of Chinese Democracy. And even though I tell you clearly that Axl will surprise you – you still won’t see these coming. Nope. I sure as hell didn’t.
So first impressions (based though they are on over a year of listening to the occasional demo leaks) – are that the only thing ‘wrong’ with Chinese Democracy is that not every single track is a monster of a song. That Axl does not yield miracles 14 times in 71 minutes 😉
The closest to a clear-headed review that I’ve read online is by Chuck Klosterman, who, despite not ‘getting’ Estranged had this to say in conclusion:
“The final truth is this: He makes the best songs. They sound the way I want songs to sound. A few of them seem idiotic at the beginning, but I love the way they end. Axl Rose put so much time and effort into proving that he was super-talented that the rest of humanity forgot he always had been. And that will hurt him. This record may tank commercially. Some people will slaughter Chinese Democracy, and for all the reasons you expect. But he did a good thing here.”
This won’t stop the bashers, of course. I’ve already seen reviews of the album that don’t even talk about the songs – they basically bash Axl for existing. It’s easy to do – The Botox rumors, the cornrows…being rich and reclusive is always a draw – and the flip side of an icon is always a cartoon. So they make jokes.
The big hope, of course, is that the release of this album might finally signal the start of a trilogy of albums which would finally allow us to hear some of the +60 songs that Axl’s rumored to have worked on during the last 16 years.
He does make the best songs 🙂
PS: Riad & The Bedouins does not exist.