Was it worth the wait?
That, really, is the ultimate question surrounding Chinese Democracy, the new Guns N’ Roses album by the new Guns N’ Roses, which only counts Axl Roses from its original members.
It’s hard to say. On its own terms Chinese Democracy is very, very good, while on GnR terms it is completely better than expected.
It’s still too early in the process for me to unleash full thoughts on the album, but I can say that it is immensely listenable and some tracks are flat-out masterpieces (I’m thinking in particular “Better,” “Street of Dreams,” “Sorry” and “Madagascar”). The title track has grown on me, as Axl Rose starts off with that familiar howl (reminiscent of “Welcome to the Jungle”) to quickly establish this is, in fact, Guns N’ Roses. A quick little guitar burst early on, though, just as quickly establishes this is, in fact, not a Guns N’ Roses that Slash has participated in.
Chinese Democracy is perhaps a bit too polished for GnR, a band that is built on being scuzzy, dirty and probably contagious. As much as I’m enjoying this record, I have to say it makes me wonder what might have happened if Axl had had his old bandmates Slash, Izzy, Duff and Matt along side, ripping out the blues rock that would make this record more Guns and less Roses.
Cory suggested an excellent point in that it’s interesting to lisen to Chinese Democracy and see what Axl’s influences where at each point in the writing process. This record is almost two decades in the making, so it’s less of an album as it is a time capsule of rock music since 1991. That in and of itself makes it a fascinating listen, if only to see Axl’s musical map.
It’s also worth noting that while Chinese Democracy cannot in any shape, fashion or form be compared to previous GnR albums, it stands on its own as a fantastic piece of rock in 2008. Today’s bands like Nickelback or Hinder claim to “rock,” but as a friend recently pointed out, Nickelback has a lyric in the popular song “Photograph” that says “What the hell is on Joey’s head?” which is about as far from rock as it can get.
In a world that has been pretty much neutered by rock radio forcing bands to conform to an unacceptable level of mediocrity, Chinese Democracy stands high, showing the other bands what rock can actually sound like in a modern world.
Unfortunately, to true Guns N’ Roses fans, we remember music’s past more than we honor the present. I hold Chinese Democracy and think about what used to be and what might have been.
My hunger for new Guns N’ Roses music has been satiated, but my appetite for destruction remains unfulfilled.