First thoughts on the arrival of Chinese Democracy

Last updated 10:21 25/11/2008

chinese-democracy-375-x-371.jpgWell it finally arrived – the new Guns N’ Roses album, Chinese Democracy, was released last weekend; just 17 years after the last original studio material. Now only one member of the band remains, owning the rights to the name.

For the last few years the rumours of this album’s release started to become a long, sad joke – Chinese Democracy was/is basically the Smile for Generation X’ers.

I went straight out to buy a copy on Saturday morning, because over the last few weeks I had been getting quite excited about hearing the album. I know various tracks have been available online for a while but it struck me that Chinese Democracy would be an album to experience as just that: an album – maybe the last time some real hype would exist and potentially pay off.

Previously I had wondered if the album would ever happen – and I was pretty sure it would be a car-crash. I still love Appetite for Destruction and G’n’R Lies and the Illusion albums. Actually, I really dig The Spaghetti Incident? too…. But I figured that this new Axl-only version of Guns N' Roses was going to be something I didn’t need to know about.

All of that changed when I heard one song – sent to me about three weeks ago. Normally when a record company sends through a one- or two-song sampler I have no interest, I still like to hear finished, completed albums but with this my curiosity was piqued. And I loved the track – it made me hopeful that the finished album might indeed be good. It might even justify the 17-year lapse.

At the time of writing this post I have heard the album a handful of times. My opinion, right now: very good. A strong album that is not without its misfires (as was the case with both of the Use Your Illusion albums) but overall Chinese Democracy is compelling, quirky and well worth a few listens. The wait has added weight to the finished release – this is big, epic, grandiose, and is a logical extension of where the early-1990s G’n’R were at, but it is not quite Use Your Illusion III (though at times it is very close). Axl Rose really has created his own musical landscape, his own idiom, a language that maybe only he understands completely.

The opening title track does a fine job in bridging the gap between the defined sound of G’n’R and the Nu-metal trend of a few years ago; this is a Guns N' Roses that might manage to do what is so hard in music: appeal to the old guard and win new fans. So often reviewers write this is good but it won’t win any new fans – I think Chinese Democracy will. And sure there will be old fans that won’t be interested in ever hearing it and many who will be expecting the impossible and will therefore be unhappy, but I think – at this early stage – the album is a) well worth experiencing, particularly if you ever liked anything about Guns N' Roses ever and b) it just might be the work of genius that Axl Rose so often proclaimed in the overly long buildup.

metal-325-x-325.jpgOn first listen the first two tracks don’t exactly grab you and hold you – but they are not embarrassing at all. After my third spin of the album I have decided that track two, Shackler’s Revenge, is great, but I’m still not sold on the title track. To begin with the album really only started to get better with, well, a track called Better; the third song. The problem there is that Better would not have worked as an album opener. But it features playing that manages to somehow redefine the tired old idea of the bluesy guitar solo, sitting somewhere between Slash’s mellifluous metal and Eric Clapton when he’s not just going through the motions.

From track four onward, this is all epic all the way – and Buckethead’s widdly-widdly guitar solos are the best, contextually, since his incongruous late-night shred solo album, Colma. And Axl delights in ripping himself off several times, his Elton John-like turns at the piano threatening to rewrite Estranged and November Rain more than once. And his trademark gutter-rasp remains one of the most distinctive vocal instruments of the last quarter century in hard rock.

As the final song (Prostitute) plays out and the album leaves the way it came in – with a moody, textural wafting of sound, I think back to that ridiculous track My World that closed off Use Your Illusion II – sequentially the last piece of original music presented under the Guns N' Roses moniker as part of a finished album. Axl croaked over a confused clash of sounds “you wanna step into my world...” He spoke of the psychotic state of things and challenged his fans.

With the release of Chinese Democracy we are stepping in to his world, finally. One that he has built up around him for close to 20 years, a project that could flop like Kevin Costner’s Waterworld or could return him to the mountain. We step into the world but are none the wiser about how this world works.

It’s early, and I need more time with the album – but it feels like the right record for Axl to release. I loved spending the weekend playing it over and over – twice in a row at one point, which hardly ever happens these days. I am happy to have people laugh and tell me how wrong I am in saying this but Chinese Democracy made me believe in Axl’s genius.

The album is not without its flaws (it doesn’t start super strong and is at least three songs too long, as were both of the Illusion albums) but this is the sound of an artist who has placed it all on the line, backed himself when hardly anyone else would, been painted as the annoying, angry, bitter, bemusing megalomaniac; been accused of stalling for fear of failure; been deemed irrelevant.

Well I enjoyed stepping into his world – and the 17 years feels irrelevant. Chinese Democracy will be on my end-of-the-year Best Albums list.


Meta-irony, anyone??

Post a comment
Peter   #1   10:28 am Nov 25 2008

Will check it out this week.

I heard Sebastian Bach saying Axl had 3 albums worth of material in the can and that CD was the start of a trilogy.

I just don't want to be 72 when it is done (which is on the cards at his current production rate).

Chip Douglas   #2   10:54 am Nov 25 2008

Kevin Costner. Waterworld. I don't know what the big fuss is about. I saw that movie nine times. It rules!

AL   #3   11:30 am Nov 25 2008

ive been anticipating this album ever since i heard a live recording of Chinese Democracy from the House of Blues in Vegas, it has a big long spoken bit where Axl explains the meaning of Chinese Democracy and how luck most of us are to live relativly free lives, he did go on too long and the fans all started chanting, cue for him to stop talking and ROCK! it wasnt a very good rcording but it has kept me waiting, with a little patience, ohh yeah patience.

i herd Axl was had by the balls by buckethead, who reportedly thretened to quit unless Axl had a chicken coup built in the studio! good old Buckethead!

dan   #4   11:54 am Nov 25 2008

It is a good album - unfortunately a lot of people are out to bash it regardless, so it'll get a lot of bad press anyway.

If you don't get too many comments this morning, it's because the 'blogs' button on the stuff front page is linking to the music section, thought you'd like to know.

Will Bailey   #5   12:37 pm Nov 25 2008

He must have had some heavy backing at Geffen to allow him to take 17 years and as many million in costs, to get the album produced.

flippi   #6   12:50 pm Nov 25 2008

'tis a good album indeed - although I must admit it's impact has been blunted by the leaked tracks over the past year or so.

The closest example to what's happened was the Beatles 'Get Back/Let it Be' album, where early versions leaked to some US radio stations almost a year before the official release.. didn't seem to do the official album any harm, however some die-hard fans prefer the early mixes.

I'm keen to see what the reaction from the general public will be... and even keener to see what Axl does next (I heard a story that this album is part one of a trilogy...?)

Kate   #7   01:11 pm Nov 25 2008

If The World [track 5] is incredibly bad. I had to force myself to listen to it till the end.

Other than that song I really like the album.

Don 1   #8   01:13 pm Nov 25 2008

It's taken so long to emerge that even if it was the ebst album since...ooh, say Back in Black, I would still find it incredibly hard to give the minutest damn about it. I'd have gone out and bought it up until even 1998, but now it's just Meh.

AL   #9   02:32 pm Nov 25 2008

@ Don 1.

NO! you're just meh! (see where your coming from though

m.s.p   #10   05:31 pm Nov 25 2008

I'm almost sad its actually come out! The 'myth' was so much fun.

Haven't heard it yet - was planning to do a G'nR marathon with my friends - all albums back to back, all night - before putting Chinese Democracy on. But then we sobered up.

Didn't like the title track single at all. Heard a live version of Madagascar two years ago and thought it sounded like a good song.

Axl looks scarily like Mick Hucknall now though, doesn't he?

Show 11-23 of 23 comments

Post comment


Required. Will not be published.
Registration is not required to post a comment but if you , you will not have to enter your details each time you comment. Registered members also have access to extra features. Create an account now.

Maximum of 1750 characters (about 300 words)

I have read and accepted the terms and conditions
These comments are moderated. Your comment, if approved, may not appear immediately. Please direct any queries about comment moderation to the Opinion Editor at
Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content