By Eliot Hagen
Unlike Iraqi democracy, “Chinese Democracy” works. It has its faults, but with it being in the pipeline for over a decade, there was no way that it could’ve met all of our expectations. It’s not a revolutionary album, but it’s an excellent set of tracks to bring Guns N’ Roses back onto the scene.
A caveat, however: this doesn’t sound a lot like the Guns N’ Roses we knew. There are times when songs here bring to mind some of their classics, but the band has expanded their musical horizons, incorporating everything from jazz and blues influences to funk and grunge.
There are a few moments in a few songs where you’ll think for a second that you’re listening to Nirvana or Korn, but, apart from that, the album has its own unique sound.
It’s not avante-garde or experimental, though. It abides by several conventions of the rock genre while taking enough liberties in terms of composition and tone to keep the listener interested.
The album starts out with the explosive titular track, a solid tune perfect for headbanging and an exclamation that Guns N’ Roses are back. It’s followed by “Shackler’s Revenge,” an interesting song with a somewhat annoying chorus. The drumming and bass is good, punctuating the verses, but the chorus sounds very nasal.
“Better,” another single, starts out with a drum machine and a falsetto Axl Rose before flourishing into his signature voice and a contagious riff. Then comes “Street of Dreams,” a song that seems to be channeling “November Rain” from the outset.
It has its own sound, though, and is definitely one of the strongest tracks on the entire album with good lyrics and the right balance of piano and guitar.
“If The World,” the third single from the album, is another keeper. The fusion of funk guitar with latin and middle-eastern sound and traditional GNR makes for a good listen.
The next track, “There Was A Time,” has some pretty cool sounding percussion but the song is plagued by a horrible chorus that is, thankfully, only repeated a few times. Otherwise, it’s good, mixing light guitar with a choral backing.
“Catcher In The Rye,” a song whose meaning is obvious to anyone who has read the book or the poem from which it derives its name, is good, save for…you guessed it…the chorus. It seems to grate on one’s ears, bringing down an otherwise adequate song.
“Scraped” sounds weird, shifting from a run-of-the-mill chorus to excellent verses played along by guttural, muscular riffs and Axl’s voice.
It starts out uninspired, but it gets there if you give it some time. The next track is rather nondescript. It’s really just filler between tracks eight and 10. But it’s good filler.
“Sorry,” one of the best songs on the album, has Rose singing with former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach. This track is lyrically the strongest and it’ll get stuck in your head even after the first listen.
Following that ballad we have more filler. “I.R.S.” is a typical rock song that forges no paths and blazes no trails. “Madagascar” is your classic protest song complete with spoken words from Dr. Martin Luther King while “This I Love” is a heartfelt ballad free from distorted guitars and percussion and inspired by the entrancingly beautiful Anna Karenina.
The closing song, “Prostitute,” suffers where the majority of the other tracks shine. The verses are accompanied by lackluster synth drumming that bring to mind hip-hop and rap. While that kind of thing is passable as a lead-in, I don’t want it clogging up what should be hard rock. It’s one of the weakest songs on the album in that it was misplaced.
I believe it would have been more appropriate to have a track similar to the opening if only to bookend the album between two strong points.
From the performance perspective, I couldn’t be happier. Yes, the absence of Slash is felt but the presence of Buckethead is felt as well. In many ways he’s far more appropriate for the newer direction the band is taking, as it drifts away from conventional structures. In addition to that, Rose’s voice is as powerful as ever.
On the whole, you can’t go wrong with this. It’s a good album. For all its faults, it has several excellent songs that will burrow themselves in your brain and refuse to leave for several days. It might take a few listens, but even fans of the old GNR will grow to like, or at least not hate, their newest endeavor.