So far there have been two kinds of reviews for Guns N’ Roses new album Chinese Democracy: sarcastic and positive. Believe me, I breathe sarcasm but it has no place in a music review if it is not backed up by facts or additional insight. Of course there is a wealth of humor in the fact that Axl Rose’s new opus has been fourteen years in the making, but spare me the lame, sad music reviewer jokes. We’ve heard the one-liners before and most likely with a better delivery than coming from a snarky LA Times journalist. If you have been reading this blog for any length you already know my opinion on Chinese Democracy, but let me state clearly for the record that it’s amazing.
The title track starts the album off strong with a light political commentary that has caused more outrage from the Chinese government in one week than an army of television crews did in the two weeks they covered 2008 Summer Olympic. Otherwise known as the NBC Chinese orgy. Luckily the song rocks hard, because I don’t really need political insight coming from the likes of Axl Rose. In fact the first three tracks start the album off strong (with Chinese Democracy, Shackler’s Revenge, Better) only to slightly taper afterwards, but not enough to derail the entire effort. Out of 14 songs, I count only two as weak: Scrapped and Catcher in the Rye.
The album is a little heavy on the slower songs, but when those songs are There Was A Time, Sorry, and This I Love it’s forgivable. Intermix a couple of unique sounding tracks like If The World and Riad and the Bedouins and it clear Rose had a grandiose vision of where Chinese Democracy was headed. The album ends on a clear high note with Prostitute, which crescendos which just enough power rock to make you want to start listening to the entire album again. Right away and before the final note fades.
Metallica and Kirk Hammett could take several pages of notes on the apparently lost art of the guitar solo from Buckethead and Bumblefoot. If Axl was self indulged during the recording of Chinese Democracy, someone forgot to clue Buckethead in that his searing solos might take some of the spotlight away from reclusive lead singer. Very few albums (heavy on the very and few) have guitar solos so perfectly woven into the overall sound of a song. These so-called hired gun musicians clearly spent a lot of time working with Axl to fit the solo within the context of the song. In a word: awesome. Then factor in the countless fill solos and layered solos and album becomes a richly layered masterpiece.
The music of Guns N’ Roses has never been such that you would listen once to the lyrics and then the next time you would listen to the drums, bass or guitar lines as it needed to be taken as a whole. However Chinese Democracy may change that. The drums, while admittedly influenced by ProTools, are the deepest, hardest hitting and technically challenging in the history of GnR. Not exactly a long history of great drumming, but Matt Sorum does a decent job on Use Your Illusion however Bryan “Brain” Manti takes it to another level. The musicianship is so good that you can pick apart each instrument and they will stand on their own merit. Chinese Democracy is far from the EP Lies.
If you are looking for Appetite for Destruction, then you should look elsewhere. Might I suggest you look inside a can of hairspray and breakout your Bugle Boy pants. Viewed apart from comparisons to Appetite, then Chinese Democracy is clearly a wonderful rock album. However I question whether the nation’s music journalists will allow that to happen. Mainstream reviewers live for being able to list dozens of bands you have never heard before has being the next great thing. This new Guns N’ Roses is the polar opposite of that type of thinking. Ironically, Chinese Democracy is unlike most of the new rock music being played on the radio right now. Perhaps that’s why I like it. There is only so much Nickelback and Staind one person can take. My threshold is about 2 or 3 minutes once a year.