Blast from the Past: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

There were many that thought by the time this album finally saw the light of day, there would actually be democracy in China. Those people were wrong though, because as we all know, the controversial 14 billion-years-in-the-making album finally did find its way onto shop shelves.

This week for ‘Blast from the Past’ I’m going to take an objective look at Guns N’ Roses latest album, Chinese Democracy, released in 2008. Can I go from reviewing albums from the 1980s, to an album from just 3 years ago, and still call it “blast from the past?” Yes, just watch me do it.

So why Chinese Democracy? Well, it’s a controversial album, we’ve just recently interviewed guitarist Bumblefoot, so why not take an objective look at the album. Is it really Guns N’ Roses, or just an elaborate Axl Rose solo album? Is it good, or is it a little crap? Find out after the jump.

Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

1. “Chinese Democracy” 4:43
2. “Shackler’s Revenge” 3:37
3. “Better” 4:58
4. “Street of Dreams” 4:46
5. “If the World” 4:54
6. “There Was a Time” 6:41
7. “Catcher in the Rye 5:53
8. “Scraped” 3:30
9. “Riad N’ the Bedouins” 4:10
10. “Sorry” (featuring Sebastian Bach) 6:14
11. “I.R.S.” 4:28
12. “Madagascar” 5:38
13. “This I Love” 5:34
14. “Prostitute” 6:15

Like many reviewers of this album, I am going to begin this review with a certain quote. No, I’m not original, but fuck it. As Chuck Klosterman said, “There is really only one way for Chinese Democracy to avoid utter and absolute failure. It needs to be the greatest rock album ever made.” Chinese Democracy had a lot to live up to, and as expected, the sales didn’t match the hype, and it wasn’t long before the album made its way into bargain bins around the world. Receiving mixed reviews, with some proclaiming it a mighty success, and others being far more critical, calling it an Axl Rose solo album, Guns N’ Roses‘ latest album hasn’t had an easy ride. Many complained “where’s Slash!?” To which I ask, where was the memo that said Slash is the be it and end all of this band? The answer is, there isn’t one, so get over it.

That’s the underlining problem with this album, it’s taken so long to arrive, that by default, no matter how good it is, it won’t live up to the hype. So how good is it? That’s what I’m here to do, give an objective review on the album.

So the album opens with the title track ‘Chinese Democracy’ after a minute long introduction, and it’s a decent start to the album. Musically, the band are great, and why shouldn’t they be? You have brilliant artists like Bumblefoot, Buckethead and Robin Fink on the album. Axl’s vocals also prove to be great, whether there’s a little pro-tools help or not, I don’t know, but he’s sounding good regardless. Guns N’ Roses may have lost most of their original line-up, but they certainly aren’t short of talented replacements. Perhaps they should have changed their name, but I don’t want to get into that debate.

Each of the 14 tracks on Chinese Democracy are strong, and catchy. However, throughout, there’s constantly a feeling that it’s missing something. Perhaps it’s some cohesion, as at times the album feels like a collection of songs created in different times (which they were), or maybe my expectations were always too high. The album is a strange one, as it’s obvious Axl has spent the best part of 14 years merely refining an obsessing over the music he’s written, rather than really re-inventing and creating something all together new. Everything found on Chinese Democracy sounds oddly familiar, as if at times, it had been heard before (and I don’t mean because we all heard the millions of leaked tracks and demos over the years). The album largely begins where Axl left of 18/19 years ago when he released the pompous overblown Use Your Illusion double album.

Despite my criticisms, this doesn’t make the album bad in the slightest. In fact, it’s very good, with some obvious stand out tracks. Third track ‘Better’ is one of the catchiest rock song in years, whilst tenth song ‘Sorry’ is a fantastically bleak ballad. The album is undoubtedly a solid one, and anyone that says it’s bad, or sucks, just because they’re still crying over slash et al leaving, is a liar. That doesn’t mean it’s without it’s problems either though.

Overall, Chinese Democracy proves to be neither the greatest album ever, nor a bad album. Forget all the politics involved and the fact it took 13 years to arrive, and you may just find an enjoyable heavy rock album. It remains a good album, at times even a great album, but it isn’t without its flaws. At 71 minutes in length, it’s also a long album, and with a few filler tracks, it can be difficult to listen to in entirety. The next time you see it for $5 in your bargain bin though, if you’re a fan of Classic Rock, I suggest you pick it up and give it a try.

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