Chinese Democracy

Guns N' Roses

Geffen, 2008

http://www.gunsnroses.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/16/2014

Finally.

This bitch of an album took 15 years to come out. Four presidential administrations came and went before Axl Rose finally decided to grace the public with some sort of follow-up to 1993's The Spaghetti Incident?, Guns N' Roses' final proper album (a covers record, but still). As early as 1994, the troubled band began working on songs for their next release.

But then Slash quit, and the rest of the band followed suit. Singer and general douche Axl Rose found some new talent like Buckethead and Bumblefoot (no guitarist with more than one name, please) and continued work, plus the occasional live appearance. Promises of a new album kept coming, year after year. Assurances. Guarantees. Financial incentives. Still, nothing. The album became a joke, forgotten, consigned to the bin of Great Projects like Brian Wilson's Smile that was never to exist.

And then, in 2008, when it looked like Obama would be the next president and the world had moved long past the '80s, Metallica released Death Magnetic, one of their finest records. Also, Guns N' Roses released Chinese Democracy because, hey, why not? I don't know if there was a Poison or Whitesnake record that year, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Forgive the snark, but the ill will felt by many fans toward Axl for making them wait, seemingly for no reason, wasn't about to disappear because he finally deigned to release an album without Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Steven Adler or Duff McKagan. Those were the other four that actually made up Guns N' Roses in 1987, on the legendary, timeless my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Appetite For Destruction. Could this even be considered GN’R?

According to the liner notes, a whole baseball team played on this record at some point as Axl was assembling it, with various studios, producers, overdubs and ProTools all making an appearance on the lengthy credits for each track (he even thanks Best Buy in the liner notes, and don't ask me why). Pretty much every song has four guitarists, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, either Brain or Frank Ferrer on drums, two keyboardists, a "sub bass" and credits for "digital editing" and "guitar processing." Somewhere, Slash is throwing up, even though he is sober. 

So, this is clearly a product assembled in a factory over many years and with many hands, but it is Axl's love child, and even if relevance passed him by some 15 years prior, the rock world still owed this album a listen. Because of these expectations, reviews at the time were predictably mixed, with some deriding the sonic overkill and others appreciating the grandeur and craft that Rose obviously had for this project. I would have loved to hear some of Stinson's thoughts about an event like this, since it is the antithesis in every way of Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, but that's for later.

As usual, the album falls in between those two extremes. Obviously, Rose is not trying to fit in with the current rock scene, nor is he trying to rewrite Use Your Illusion, but simply create a good modern rock record. There's little of the catharsis and attitude of Appetite, and a surprising lack of grandeur a la "November Rain," meaning that Rose isn't conforming to the rules, but he's not breaking them anymore either.

And that's why this record is a bitch. You want to hate it, but you can't because it's pretty damn good. You want to rip on Rose for his methods and personality and treatment of the fans and former bandmates, but he really can sing and knows about arrangements and melodies. The guitarists know their shit and play their asses off. Sometimes, as on the title track, "If The World" and the epic anthem of strength "Madagascar," this new Guns N’ Roses reaches the heights of the old.

Most of the songs are balls-out hard rock, with a few turns toward the softer side that never sound forced, and even the rare melody that gets stuck in your head. Granted, many of the melodies are tricky to find underneath the layers of guitar and string and digital editing, but as Chinese Democracy plays it's easy to get wrapped up in the whole experience.

Set aside all the drama, the sniping in the press, the business delays, the army of musicians and producers and engineers that constructed this over 15 years, and you will be left with the music. And when it's all over, you will wonder why the wait was so long, because it's just a little bit too much production and overkill in service of songs that don't really warrant it. But then, given the hype and the legend, would anything have been good enough? At least this way, Axl Rose made the album he needed to make. Finally.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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