Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy: From Two Perspectives


Shawn Donohue’s Rating…3 Stars

Simply stated there has never been a release like this in the history of popular music.  17 years in the making, what kind of expectations is one supposed to have for Chinese Democracy?  One thing is certain, the name may be Guns N Roses but this is an Axl Rose solo project with hired “Guns” brought in to round out the “Rose”.  Every listener is bringing their own set of expectations into the mix, but if you check your preconceived notions at the door what will you find?  A few valiant efforts and ideas that marinated too long in their own pomposity – leaving them a bit lifeless and overcooked.

The first half of Chinese Democracy is high powered and impressive.  The title track is a mash-up of voices (perhaps in Axl’s head?) spouting half-cocked ideas over scattered guitars, but things quickly improve with an industrial tinged “Shacklers Revenge” which motors.  The best songs emerge early with “Better” and “Street of Dreams,” both of which manage to balance Axl’s propensity for the dramatic with great song structure and a rising vocal/piano/screeching guitar attack.  Unfortunately that restraint is nowhere to be found on the closing trio of tracks (“Madagascar”, “This I Love”, and “Prostitute”) which all try to recapture “November Rain” but come closer to a Broadway Bomb than the successful Sunset Strip Opera.  “This I Love” is particularly over-the-top-schmaltzy and not surprisingly the only track credited solely to Rose. The middle of the album is perhaps the most representative of the entire effort with tracks “Catcher in the Rye,” “Sorry” and “If the World” working doggedly to impress, but end up leaving no lasting impression when they expire.

One thing that has not expired, however, is Axl’s presence as a front man.  Strip away the layers of over-bearing production, piano’s, flamenco guitars, electronics and bullshit and you still have one the top 5 voices in balls out rock, when he hits those high notes and screams in “I.R.S”, blending into searing guitars it sends shivers.  Some singers just got it, and he (surprisingly perhaps) still does as a vocalist who may just need an editor to get back on top of the game.    

Chinese Democracy is a loaded enigma of a record; people will either love that there is still some semblance of Rock and Roll within the GnR camp, or will be disappointed that they waited 17 years for this!  Reactions will not be timid and perhaps the most surprising result?  Chinese Democracy is not a colossal flop or a magnificent triumph – it works in some realms with exhilarating highs and fails with some embarrassing lows, becoming simply average.  Enjoy your Dr. Pepper.  –  SD


Bob Lange’s Rating – 3.5 Stars

Chinese Democracy is an album almost a decade and a half in the making. For this album alone, Axl Rose and his revolving door of musicians that make up what he still calls Guns N Roses have been at it longer than most bands take for an entire career. The Beatles changed the face of rock music in (considerably) less time. The cost of recording the album approaches the GNP of a small country. Throw in the promise of a free Dr Pepper for everyone in America (minus Buckethead and Slash, of course) and perhaps no album in history has had more hype. Frankly, I really thought democracy would come to China before Chinese Democracy would come to stores and it seemed like Axl had let it become so much larger than a rock album that he couldn’t win by releasing it. It had become a joke.

As it turns out though, the album is not a joke at all. Unlike so may recent hard rock albums that have come out after long layoffs, this one actually shows that he’s been up to something all this time. The album takes some chances and incorporates new sounds without losing sight of what GnR really is. That was particularly surprising, because most of GnR is in Velvet Revolver now. Nonetheless, Axl has stayed true to GnR’s core without becoming stagnant. He wears a lot of his influences on his sleeve of course. His love for Elton John’s over-the-top piano rock is no secret and it’s in fine form here. The addition (at least at times) of NIN touring guitarist Robin Finck shows prevalently. Not every chance he takes works of course and after over a decade, the missteps should have been resolved. However, take the time and money out of the equation and Chinese Democracy is a very god record when compared to something recorded for a normal price and in a normal timeframe.

I have to say that I’m a bit disappointed in Chinese Democracy though. I was hoping that the joke it had become would play out nicely in a train wreck and provide at least a few more weeks of laughing at Axl’s expense. But the joke’s over. The album is solid, interesting and a bit adventurous and I guess that’s better than the joke anyway.—- BL

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