Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chinese Democracy Album Review

It has been a long time waiting. Any true rock fan knows about this album and has either been anticipating it, mocking it, or dreading it. Of course I'm talking about Chinese Democracy, by Guns n Roses.

It has been fifteen years since the last Guns n Roses album. It makes you wonder why it took so long to come out, but also, but why now? Why not two years from now, or four years ago? It seems fairly random. Perhaps the leaks of the album to the internet sped up the process.

Many fans wondered what the album would sound like. Would it be industrial rap-metal from the late 90's? Would it be 80's power ballad crap?

And what to make of lead singer Axl Rose. The stories about his ego mania and drug abuse are legendary. Would he be able to live up to the hype of the album?

I was mocking and dreading this album for years. I did not see how it could be any good. Axl kicked the original band members out of the band. Which led me to wonder, 'how do you fire Slash?' One of the great guitarists of our era, and Axl fired him. What the hell was he thinking?

Then came the attempts at reviving Guns n Roses. The song 'oh my god' appeared on the end of days soundtrack, sounding like a bad imitation of Nine Inch Nails. Guns n Roses performed at the 2002 Mtv Video Music Awards show, where fans were left wondering why Axl had cornrows and why he sounded like shit. Then the band tried to go on tour in 2002, and after some shows failed to sell, Axl failed to show up to others, and riots broke out at several shows, the rest of the tour was cancelled.

Guns n Roses, and Chinese Democracy, became a joke. Worse, an inside joke, one only understood by rock musicians. Like 'who would win in a fight, Lemmy or God? Trick question, Lemmy is God.'

Chinese Democracy would never come out and we would never have a Black president. What a shock that we now have both in the same month. I almost don't know what's more surprising.

When I heard that the album was actually coming out, I immediately downloaded it off of bit-torrent.

I loaded the album into Amarok, my computer's mp3 player, and hit play.

The title track was first and opens with a siren and the sounds of Chinese people talking. Then the drums come in like a heart beat- bum bum, while the drums are echoing and the Chinese talking continues, you begin to hear a plucking sound.

Then all the build up stops and you hear just a guitar riff. A Nine Inch Nails sounding guitar riff. Then the drums, bass and Axl's singing kick in and join the guitar riff. It sounds like old, classic Guns n Roses, but with a more updated sounds. The guitar solo sounds like it was performed by Tom Morello, with the toggle switch trick, but it has the sweep picking and harmonics of a traditional shred guitarist. The track ends with an explosion, literally. In the live show, that's when the pyrotechnics will go off.

Then something happened about half way through the song. I realized I kind of liked it. It wasn't that bad. Actually, it was pretty good.. .

The album cost a record 13.5 million dollars to create, and after listening to the album, you can hear the difference in sound and production quality that that kind of money makes.

One of the reasons why the album sounds so good, is that when you have the kind of money that Axl has to use on an album, you can hire the absolute best talent out there. Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, Buckethead, Brian May of Queen,

The second track, 'Shackler's Revenge', features avant-garde guitar virtuoso Buckethead. It's so-so at first, sounding kind of weird for a Guns n Roses song, until there is this weird break down that sounds like robots marching on the apocalypse, followed by an awesome two-handed tapping guitar solo by Buckethead.

The song 'Better' begins with a trip-hop sounding intro, before going to a pretty decent straight rock song. 'Street of Dreams' builds off of Axl singing along with a piano, sounding sweet until the rock band comes in and makes it a 1980's style ballad.

'There Was a Time' is a cool song. It starts with a choir, then Axl's nasally voice comes in crooning 'broken glass and cigarettes, the writings on the wall, it was a bargain for the summer, and I thought I had it all...' while the guitar builds off of Axl's vocal line.

'Scraped' is a knock down brawler of a song, while 'Sorry' with Sebastian Bach of Skid Row doing back up vocals, is a sad ballad with a catchy yet heavy chorus. 'This I love' is the most 'November Rain' like song on the album.

I.R.S. Is a schizophrenic song, that while it can't seem to decide if it's going to rock or go mellow, still manages to sound like it's building up in intensity.

The album ends on a bang as well. The way the string section mirrors the guitars, makes it sound that much more epic and intense while Axle bitterly screeches, 'what would you do if I told you I loved you and walked away?'

The musical styles and genres represented on the album are mind boggling. String sections, rock bands, choirs, horn sections, trip hop, Buckethead avant gardeness, piano crooning, spanish guitars, world music, techno, house, pop, metal, blues, and through it all Axl's voice goes from screech, to growl, to wail, to ballad to all sorts of things. Often all in the same song, if not in the same verse. Axl does not rap though, a good thing.

What about the politics of the album though? Didn't Axl intend for this album to be a political statement of some kind? To be honest, who cares? Axl is no Zach de la Rocha, and nobody is going to listen to Axl's lyrics that seriously. Besides, this is a metal album, you don't listen to metal albums to understand the lyrics, usually the vocals are so screamed, so scratchy you can't understand what they are saying. Which considering that Axl is no Che Guevarra, is probably a good thing.

Was it worth the wait? Well, no. By all rights this album should not even be called a Guns n Roses album. While the original albums were up for debate (they had Axl Rose but not Traci Guns) but this is definitely not Guns n Roses. It should just be called an Axl Rose solo album. No answer will ever be good enough as for why it took 15 years for the album to be released. If this album came out in any kind of a reasonable time frame since the last Guns n Roses album, the fans would accept it and be forgiving. But after 15 years? There are a lot of bitter Guns n Roses fans. Just like Metallica fans who are disappointed with the direction Metallica took since the Black album.

It's still a good album though. Possibly one of the most original, interesting and rocking albums of the decade

Since downloading it, I haven't stopped listening to it.

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