I suddenly understand Wayne Campbell at the feet of Alice Cooper explaining his unworthiness: 13, 15, 17 years in the making (seriously, who can keep track at this point?), the now mythical release of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy has finally been revealed and I can’t imagine a three paragraph review is going to do it justice. The first album of original work from the band since 1991’s Use Your Illusion II, Chinese Democracy’s release had become a thing of legend. Riddled with personnel changes, fired managers, tours cut short, a random appearance from Dr. Pepper trying to ride the wave of “This thing will never come out” and a production cost that would make any independent film maker salivate (“How many million?! I suddenly feel like my movie needs a lot of CG…”), Chinese Democracy had officially become a joke in the music circle with most assuming it would never actually see the light of day. But on November 23rd, they were proved wrong.
Long gone are the greasy, dirty rock/blues riffs from Appetite for Destruction. A large part of that is obviously attributed to Axl Rose being the only remaining member of GnR. With Slash and company gone, Rose amassed an eclectic group of musicians ranging from Josh Freese and Brain on the drums to Robin Finck and Buckethead on guitars. So with hype and anticipation built to a frothy frenzy, how does Chinese Democracy actually live up to expectations? Surprisingly well. Drop the notion that this will be the album to end all albums (Chinese Democracy could possibly have more overhyped expectations than Barack Obama) and you quickly realize that this album is a labor of love that is pretty successful. The one-line soundbyte review? Chinese Democracy is the Use Your Illusion albums if they were made in 2008: now with more computers! GnR has evolved, stepped outside of the notions of what that band was and has put forth a solid collection of 14 tracks, most of whom succeed on some level. The stellar tracks are stellar. “There Was a Time”, “Sorry”, “Chinese Democracy” and “Madagascar” all prompt an excited finger towards the “back” button on your CD player/iPod/iTunes/whatever-you-use-that-still-has-a-back-button. “Street of Dreams” showcases Rose’s Elton John influence (an influence clearly heard on the Illusion discs) and “This I Love” is actually a beautiful song. Picture “Sweet Child O’ Mine” with lyrical heart.
Shy of a couple of “eh” tunes (“Catcher in the Rye” and “Shackler’s Revenge” both feel undercooked), Chinese Democracy is well worth the wait. It’s not unreasonable to hope or expect a band to evolve from album to album and with 17 years under the belt, the minds of those waiting for Chinese Democracy’s release was laden with those expectations. And I’m glad to say that with the same ears you’d listen to any new album, Axl Rose has shown that what he has provided wasn’t just some prat being a wanker. Hard work went into Chinese Democracy and it shows. The songs are dense, complex and soulful. You sometimes get the sense that Rose was constantly reworking the tunes to be sure that they got the praise he thought they deserved (those “leaks” sure paid off). But in the end, his efforts paid off. Chinese Democracy is well worth the wait.