Sound — 10
Most people hear the title "Chinese Democracy" and instantly start talking shit about how it took Axl forever to finish it, but when you sit down and listen to the album you'll understand why he took his time with it and why it all worked out. The sound of this album is unparalleled. I challenge anyone to find an album that sounds like "Chinese Democracy." Axl succeeded in taking the attitude and aggression of the original GNR and mixing it with his own unique artistic growth. Instead of putting out an album of sub-par/formulaic blues-rock (like somebody we know), Axl decided to explore different sonic territories and in the process, he created one of the most classic albums of all time. Read my song-by-song dissection of this album below and then listen to the album again with an open mind. Leave all of your bandwagon hate at the door and judge this album for what it is... a honest artistic expression.
01. "Chinese Democracy" - This song is the first track and it opens with a haunting/oriental intro that instantly draws you into the world that the album creates. A very compressed/industrial guitar part ensues and establishes the fact that this album is NOT "Appetite for Destruction." I love the fact that this track starts off the album because it has a blues/groove rhythm to it but its not contrived or cheesy at all. The lyrics are mostly metaphoric, which gives the album a good first impression with open minded audiences because you insert your own experiences into the phrases and therefore the song meaning becomes innately personal. The guitar work in this song is top-notch. I absolutely love the articulation of the guitar solo's and riffs. This song has a very obvious confidence to it, which is reinforced by the unique solo work. Overall this is an amazing album-opener and instantly establishes the aesthetic of the album.
02. "Shackler's Revenge" - This song is often destroyed by critics because they feel the electronics were "too much" and/or the 'chorus wasn't large enough' but honestly, I feel that critics just didn't know how to digest this song because it is so different. I'll admit that this song IS different... but that shouldn't be a negative thing at all. This song starts with an electronics-influenced guitar part and is soon followed by a monotonous vocal commentary by Mr. Rose. Axl double tracks his vocals and records his lower and higher registers separately so you hear a twisted "voices in your head" type verse performance. The chorus absolutely EXPLODES with melody and power. The chorus and solo are the highlights of this song. The chorus soars you up to a plateau and the solo tears you down and attempts to rip your throat out, fucking magnificent. If you are hung up on the "classic GNR sound" then you'll hate this song. I'm the biggest GNR fan I know but my mind isn't closed when it comes to other musical flavors and techniques... So I naturally enjoy this song immensely.
03. "Better" - When it comes to "heavy songs" on this album, "Better" takes the cake. This song isn't "heavy" in the typical sense but it does force its aggressive/emotional feel upon you in such a way that its almost futile to resist its influence. The passionate breakdown section is by FAR the highlight of the song. When Axl screams "I never wanted you to be so full of anger, I never wanted you to be somebody else" you instantly feel what he's trying to convey and it hits you in your soul. The guitar part in the verse is the reason this song is so effective. Perfect guitar work. One of the best songs on the album.
04. "Street of Dreams" - This song is the first ballad of the album and seems like a continuation of the UYI ballads such as "Estranged" and "November Rain." This song proves that Axl's songwriting hasn't diminished in quality over the years. The lyrics are rumored to be about Erin Everly's miscarriage and the breakup of the Axl's relationship with her. Overall another amazing ballad derived from the very particular artistic vision of Axl Rose.
05. "If the World" - This song has such a unique aesthetic, it has an R&B flare with exotic textures provided by various types of acoustic guitars and sound effects. The drums play a huge role in this song when it comes to the syncopation of the verse melody. Axl's vocals are amazing in this song. His voice is surprisingly clean and crisp in the chorus but he seems to channel a very dirty/scratchy delivery during the verses.
06. "There Was a Time" - There are two highlights that stand out among the others when it comes to this song. Buckethead's furious solo towards the end of this song is one, but Axl's soaring F5 vocal screams are what make this song a classic. Axl has a way of emoting vocally that makes you feel exactly what he was feeling when he recorded said song.
07. "Catcher in the Rye" - Probably the most blues influenced song on the album. Axl really channels a "Beatles" vibe here and it fits his vocal delivery and lyrics very well. This song is supposedly about John Lennon's murder and the book "Catcher in the Rye." This song's highlight is the many emotive vocalizations that Axl performs and the guitar solo. This song shows a side of Axl that many might be surprised by. He articulates his views on violence and life imitating art.
08. "Scraped" - "Attitude" is the first word that comes to mind when I hear this song. I interpret this song as Axl's response to people bashing the new GNR members. "Don't you try to stop us now, cause I just won't let you..." The backing vocals are what make this song more interesting than your run-of-the-mill "rock song." Axl goes the extra mile when it comes to subtle details.
09. "Riad 'n the Bedouins" - The intro is a highlight, for sure. Much like "Scraped," it has a lot of vocalizations for the sake of making up for the lack of full-bore "metal guitar riffs." Axl is fully capable of writing kick-a-s rock songs but I'm guessing he was going for more of a timeless anthem instead of a forgettable rock song... And he achieved that with this song.
10. "Sorry" - Even though Axl has denied that this song is about Slash, I have a feeling that he's lying to avoid public scrutiny (which is understandable). Axl is very intelligent and knew that the public would instantly equate the lyrics with Slash so why would he come out and announce something that we all know to be true anyway? This song is soaked in reverb and the chorus is the perfect weapon for those conditions. Sebastian Bach sings backing vocals during the chorus but its hard to place him in the final mix... it's one of my only gripes when it comes to this albums production.
11. "I.R.S." - One of the best metaphor structures I've ever heard in a song. This song kicks all sorts of ass but the major injustice is that Axl's RIDICULOUSLY epic F5 scream during the ending isn't loud enough. This is the only other production gripe I have concerning this album. Go listen to the vocals only and bow before Axl's insane vocal ability.
12. "Madagascar" - This song speaks for itself... If you have any complaints about it then you're probably someone who hates this entire album and I'm not going to waste time trying to convince you that something is sonic perfection.
13. "This I Love" - This song generally gets the most positive reception of any song on this album... for obvious reason. Its rumored that this song was written in 1996 and thats not hard to believe when you think of how adept Axl is on the piano and the fact that the '90s was his prime.
14. "Prostitute" - I've sat many nights and listened to this song on repeat for hours and it never ceases to satisfy me. Axl's heartfelt vocal delivery and thoughtful lyrics make this song an underrated classic that will never get its due because of the stigma that surrounds this album.
Lyrics — 10
Axl's lyrics prove that he is still going through a lot and has many demons to exorcise, but his personal pain is a double-edged sword. On one hand it puts him through tremendous amounts of mental/emotional stress, but it also allows him to write lyrics that stand the test of time. The songs with the best lyrical structures include "Better," "I.R.S.," and "Street of Dreams." Some of my favorite lyrics from the album are below...
"No one ever told me when I was alone, they just thought id know better... better."
"So if she's somewhere near me, I hope to God she hears me."
"It seemed like forever, and a day."
"If my intentions are misunderstood, please be kind... I've done all I should. I won't ask of you what I would not do."
Overall Impression — 10
Most people have already made up their mind when it comes to this album, its a shame because this album will never get the credit it deserves for being honest, unique, and incomparable.
If you haven't listened to it, you should. The only thing I hate about this album is the sequencing. I feel like the track list could have been arranged a bit better but Axl may have his own reasons for the order so I digress.
Overall this album is perfect. That may sound pretentious, but if you ignore all the bandwagon critics and GNR's past albums and listen to this album with an open mind then I'm almost certain you'll enjoy it. I personally believe that its going to be unappreciated for a long time because all revolutionary art has been.