Monday, December 1, 2008

Review: Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

I've now listened to this album enough that I can share some of my thoughts with you. I'm not going to go all Chuck Klosterman on it because, well, just read his review if you want his trademarked obsessive psycho-analysis.

As for me, here we go, track by track:

"Chinese Democracy" - Really long fade in. Waaay too long. But after that, this song is all right. Axl's vocals still have some bite to them. The Buckethead guitar solo, punctuated by whammy pedal squeals, stands out. Not melodic like something Slash would do, but technically impressive nonetheless.

"Shackler's Revenge" - Whoa, holy crap. This song is just awful, every single second of it. Sounds like some shit they would play on modern rock radio, but way more dated. What's up with the drum loop? And that chorus?!? Truly dreadful.

"Better" - Along the same vein as the last track. The guitar tones are really bad. The lyrics and phrasing sound like late-era James Hetfield. Not good. This is the second single off the album??? It figures.

"Street Of Dreams" - Journey power ballad, all the way. Wow, Steve Perry could definitely rock this shit. Very dated production and overall arrangement. Like, pre-original-GN'R, 1978 dated. How'd that happen?

"If The World" - Very 007, could easily be in the opening credits. Funky wah-wah riffs throughout, melodic strings and snaky bass line. Hell, even a flamenco guitar solo thrown in for good measure. The lyrics are James Bond-ian in theme as well: "If the world would end today, all the dreams we had would just drift away." Was this a throwaway from the 1999 soundtrack to The World Is Not Enough? Perhaps. Another one from left field in this incongruous pastiche of an album.

"There Was A Time" - Reminds me a bit of "Estranged" off of Use Your Illusion, mostly because of the bloated production. Choirs, orchestras, suites, bombast, extended solo, the works. Video featuring Axl being rescued from a suicide attempt by dolphins will surely follow shortly.

"Catcher In The Rye" - Another song directed at Axl-haters. I can't help but think that EVERY lyric on this album is directed at Axl's ex-bandmates, his critics and anyone who's ever thought about saying anything bad about him. The line, "If I thought that I was crazy, I guess I'd have more fun" pretty much says it all about his self awareness.

"Scraped" - Pardon my metaphor, but the vocal scats in the beginning of this song are the gayest thing since gay sex. Otherwise, the song isn't too bad. It has a cascading guitar riff in the verses that reminds me of old GN'R, although it lacks the swagger that often went along with the old lineup.

"Riad N' The Bedouins" - This is probably the closest this album comes to sounding like the old, punky GN'R songs. Well, except for the chorus, which is a bit weak. In fact, that's what's missing from this album --the dangerous element. It lacks the toughness that the band once oozed. And of course that's because, well, it's not the same band. Duff, Izzy and Slash ain't in this bitch no mo', and their punk rock bluntness is sorely missed here.

"Sorry" - Yet ANOTHER song directed at haters. I can picture Axl singing this song to a life-size cutout of Slash in the vocal booth before totally losing his shit and fiercely attacking it, berserker-style. Get over it already, Axl. Is there anything more pathetic than a petty and paltry middle aged man (with cornrows, no less)?

"I.R.S." - This song epitomizes Chinese Democracy's biggest fault: it's completely unfocused. Songs aren't songs; instead, they're what happens to songs after the writer spends way too much time tinkering with them. Arrangements get overworked, the instrumentation gets erratic and, ultimately, the songs suffocate under their own weight. Transitions that should feel natural instead seem convoluted. A mess.

"Madagascar" - This song has Martin Luther King Jr. sound clips in the middle of it. Why? I have no fucking clue. Except maybe that Axl didn't think the list of names in the credits wasn't long enough already. Too bad he couldn't get Morgan Freeman to do the narration between tracks, that would have classed up the credits even more.

"This I Love" - Perhaps it should have been called, "This Is The Love Ballad" because that's exactly what it is. Is it about Stephanie Seymour? Probably. Is there a song on this album that ISN'T about someone in Axl's past? No. It's really pathetic.

"Prostitute" - Ah, the album closer. Not a bad song, it's definitely better than most of the songs that precede it. It ends with a calming symphonic suite, presumably the sound in Axl's head as the 12-year process of creating this goddam album is finally over and now he can go back to doing whatever crazy people in Los Angeles do. Something tells me that frequent trips to the Scientology Center are in his near future.

So, overall, Chinese Democracy sounds exactly like I figured it would sound --a collection of songs written and recorded under the authoritarian tutelage of Axl Rose over the span of 12 years, trying to be passed off as a cohesive album by an unmistakable, legendary band.

That, it is not.

And aside from the first song, it doesn't even have anything to do with China. Or Democracy. It, actually, has more to do with an American Dictatorship (which is how Slash described the state of Guns N' Roses shortly after quitting back in 1996), and Axl is the artistic despot in question --taking absolute credit and conclusively, absolute blame for all his maxims.

Is it bad?

Not particularly. It has its moments.

Is it good?

It's not going to be on my year's best list, but I'm sure to some, it may very well be good.

Was it worth the hype, the endless speculation, the multimillion-dollar studio tab, the legendary "will it ever be unleashed on the eagerly waiting masses" status?

Of course not. What album could have met those kinds of expectations? I'm just glad it finally came out so we can all just move on already. Especially Axl, I can't imagine what kind of bat-shit-crazy rollercoaster ride it's been for him. Although he did choose to keep the name Guns N' Roses alive, so perhaps he deserves the massive responsibility and expectations that came with it.

And he will certainly benefit greatly (as in, media attention and sales) from this project even though, as I see it, most great albums transcend the artists who write and perform them, prompting the question:

If this album wasn't being released under the name of Guns N' Roses, would we care about it at all?

Probably not.

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