Guns N’ Roses
5 out of 5 stars
It’s a fact that Axl Rose didn’t bring the original Guns N’ Roses to an early demise all by himself. Slash’s and Duff McKagan’s substance problems, coupled with the band’s aversion to further musical exploration — particularly Slash and the monosyllabic Matt Sourum — were just as destructive.
That doesn’t mean Axl (I have written about this album so much I have declared myself on a first name basis with Mr. Rose) gets a total pass; his domineering attitude and probable mental issues certainly didn’t help. In fact, the biggest challenge with the release of Chinese Democracy is going to be winning back fans that thought Axl’s acting out was intentional disrespect instead of understanding it as the catharsis of a man wrestling his demons. The catch? Those very demons made Guns N’ Roses the powerhouse they once were (and will be remembered as). Imagine “Patience” without Axl’s manic breakdown at the end or “Out Ta Get Me” without his genuine paranoia and anti-social middle finger of a persona. Without him, the original lineup of Guns N’ Roses just wouldn’t hold the same power. Sure, Duff is a beyond solid bass player, Slash brought his own unique style, Izzy was easily the superior songwriter of the bunch and Steven Adler’s drumming was the musical equivalent of reckless endangerment. Still: AXL ROSE IS GUNS N’ ROSES.
Infinitely better than the uninspired bullshit that AC/DC just released, Chinese Democracy is a real rock album. I compare the two discs since both albums are available only through big box retailers. If Black Ice sells more than Chinese Democracy then music has truly turned into more of a commodity than an art form.
No, Chinese Democracy is not Appetite for Destruction, the chemistry and gang mentality that made Appetite one of the best albums ever made is gone, yet Chinese Democracy excels by streamlining elements of the band’s past.
The disc opens with an untouchable guitar riff and once Axl starts ranting about the “Falun Gong” the song becomes a cross between “Civil War” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” The list of epic GNR songs that started with “Rocket Queen” and continued with “Estranged” is extended with “Street of Dreams” and the stellar, sample filled “Madagascar,” a song that fully justifies Axl’s fight to evolve musically. “Prostitute” and “Raid N’ The Bedouins” demonstrate, just like “Get in the Ring” and “One in a Million” did, that Axl still isn’t bothered with political correctness or what you think about him.
Despite these great tracks, there are a few turds on Chinese Democracy. The industrial tinged “Shacklers Revenge” is L-A-M-E (“Oh My God” was far superior), and it’s astounding that they are considering the lifeless “Better” as a single. Easily the best tracks are “I.R.S.,” a beautiful example of wordplay that recalls the acoustic side of GNR Lies, and “There Was a Time,” a track that displays the same lyrical density as “Bad Apples.” The remaining tracks will grow on most people, “If the World” and “Sorry” being perfect examples. Real fans will keep coming back to the album long after the initial shock of “it is finally here” has faded.
What made Guns N’ Roses so vital was that they reminded the world that music could do more than just provide a soundtrack for life, and that’s exactly what Axl is still doing with Chinese Democracy. — DJ Hippie