Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy (2008, Geffen)
- Chinese Democracy
- Shackler’s Revenge
- Street Of Dreams
- If The World
- There Was A Time
- Catcher In The Rye
- Riad N’ The Bedouins
- This I Love
Axl Rose – Vocals
*** There are so many different musicians that have been in an out of GnR during the last 13+ years of production and I am not going through the entire booklet. It’s not the original GnR, only Axl remains from that era. Go to the GnR website to see who contributed to this record and who is in the band right now.
Produced by: Axl Rose & Caram Costanzo
Total Time = 1:11:26
Well it’s finally here! After close to 14 years, Axl Rose has come out of his protective shell and delivered the most hyped Hard Rock album of all-time: CHINESE DEMOCRACY. It’s the first new material from Guns N’ Roses since 1991’s USE YOU ILLUSION albums with a whole new cast of bandmates surrounding the enigmatic Axl. I’ll be honest, I never thought that the album would be released and I have always thought that either the album will be the greatest album of all-time or the biggest flop, there will be no middle ground. The burning question is will anyone care? It’s been so long since the band was at the top of the charts and the music business has changed dramatically from how artists make music, to how we buy it, to how we listen to it. Is this the time to release CHINESE DEMOCRACY or was it 10 years ago?
I never bothered to listen to any of the leaked tracks that have popped up over the years so I really didn’t know what to expect. The opening title track is heavy on guitar and layered Axl vocals and it’s an obvious nod to the earlier incarnation of the band. It’s an aggressive song but it sounds like Axl is trying too hard to grab the older fans from the outset with a familiar APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION tone. I’m one of those fans who bought the debut before the band was huge so I got hooked right away. The exclusive single for the ROCK BAND 2 video game, ‘Shackler’s Revenge’, starts to show some diversity in direction with elements of Hard Rock, Techno, and Industrial combining for an interesting listen. I’m not digging the deep vocal Axl puts on this but the song picks up steam with the chorus, sounding like current Hard Rock. ‘Better’ is the actual lead single that Geffen sent to radio and it’s my favorite off the record. The song follows a melodic mid-tempo line until the chorus gets a little more aggressive and the song builds from there around the solo break. There is some good clean guitar mixed with a distorted/synth type guitar that brings the song a traditional feel while exploring different melodic tones. The first ballad arrives in ‘Street Of Dreams’ and I had to breathe a sigh of relief because I would have crucified this record if it was a cover of the Rainbow classic! The song follows a great piano melody and builds as the guitar joins in. Remember ‘November Rain’? It may not be as over the top but ‘Street Of Dreams’ does have that grand feel to it, following the Guns N’ Roses tradition of great ballads. Four songs in and I’m not disappointed at all. The songs have a diverse sound and both ‘Better’ and ‘Street Of Dreams’ would have easily fit on either USE YOUR ILLUSION albums.
The first low point comes with the mid-tempo ‘If The World’. I’m not really sure what to make of this song because I hear the guitar and the piano leading the way but it sounds like ballad with a touch of Funk, Jazz, and Latin. It’s ambitious, I wouldn’t expect this kind of musical blend to be on a Guns N’ Roses record. ‘There Was A Time’ has some interesting guitar parts but not enough to keep me interested. Add some orchestration and a dash of electronic backgrounds and the song does build up nicely, it’s just that this marks the fourth song in a row that leans more to the melodic and slower side of life. I understand Axl’s penchant for making grandiose epics but how many do we need in a row? We need another obviously because the almost six minute ‘Catcher In The Rye’ follows the same formula minus the electronics. ‘Catcher’ sounds almost like a cross between GNR and Elton John with only the guitar solo reminding you that this is technically a Hard Rock record.
‘Scraped’ redeems my faith that Axl can make solid Hard Rock. This is an overdue guitar driven rocker that Axl shrieks all over. It’s more modern than what old GNR is like but it’s pretty cool, the intro needs to be dumped though. Same thing goes for ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’, lose the 45 second instrumental intro and kick right into the song because it kicks things up a notch! There is more experimental guitar sounds surrounding the traditional guitar but it’s a fast tempo and there’s a tasty solo in the middle. That Axl shriek is carried over from ‘Scraped’ as well as a driving drum sound. Obviously this band can still rock so it’s a total mystery why ANOTHER mid-tempo/ballad type song has to be offered with ‘Sorry’. The song is totally experimental, Axl channelling his inner Pink Floyd to create a soundscape that sounds so out of place and outer space! I’ll give the guy his due for creating something so out of the box but if I want to hear DARK SIDE OF THE MOON I’ll put it on! There is another Industrial/Electronic influence on ‘I.R.S.’ albeit a small one. ‘I.R.S.’ is following the same formula as all the other slower songs on CHINESE DEMOCRACY: follow a simple mid-pace rhythm and build to the chorus, repeat and build to the solo. Same thing goes for ‘Madagascar’, another of these type of songs. I think trying to recreate the success of ‘Don’t Cry’ and/or ‘November Rain’ with similar epic just isn’t what the doctor ordered. I could also do without all the sampled audio during the solo too.
‘This I Love’ is a piano ballad with orchestration and not much else. The vocals are pretty good but I’m so disappointed with the lack of power on this record that it’s a small consolation. The lone bright spot on this song is the Scorpions style power ballad guitar solo. This song is just over five and a half minutes and it’s way too long. My hope was hinged on ‘Prostitute’, a sleazy Hard Rock song title to be sure! Unfortunately, it’s another song that follows the epic formula with a piano lead, orchestration and guitars that only seem to appear when the chorus hits. At this point, I don’t need a six minute song that sounds like the rest of the album.
It’s been 14 years in the making, with millions of dollars spent on production, and CHINESE DEMOCRACY is as overblown as the hype surrounding it. The album started off promising with the first four songs but, with the exception of ‘Scraped’ and ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’, the rest of the album sounds like different variations of the huge classic hit ‘November Rain’. Maybe I was wrong to think that a new Guns N’ Roses album would rock because only 4 out of 14 actually do. It’s as if Axl and his band are trying to recreate the USE YOUR ILLUSION era of diversity but the problem is that there were some kick ass rockers on those albums. You can only have so many epics, ballads, and mid-tempo songs before it all sounds the same. I was expecting GNR to go for the throat with at least half of the songs but only a few break out. I’m not saying that CHINESE DEMOCRACY is a bad album, it’s just not as good as it should be after the years put in and I’m disappointed.
Favorite Songs: ‘Better’, ‘Street Of Dreams’, ‘Shackler’s Revenge’, ‘Chinese Democracy’, ‘Scraped’, ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’