Chinese Democracy review by Guns N' Roses

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Nov 23, 2008
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 7.2 (847 votes)
Guns N' Roses: Chinese Democracy
0

Sound — 7
Outside of the Beach Boys' Smile, no other album in rock-n-roll history has inspired the kind of legend that Chinese Democracy has in the last decade or so. Soon after their atrocious covers album, The Spaghetti Incident hit stores, GNR mainman Axl Rose has been talking up Chinese Democracy. Little did anyone know but the album would take nearly 20 years to see the light of day. Much has been written about the making of the record so we'll spare you all of the already well-documented details and instead will focus on highlighting the end results here. If you want to see the gigantic list of musical collaborators on the project, seek out the liner notes online. Below is a song by song breakdown of the album.

Lyrics — 8
GNR's best work was always a sum of all of its parts. If Slash and Izzy (or Gilby for that matter) were volleying off each other and Duff and either Steven Adler or Matt Sorum were locked in to the groove chances are whatever song they were playing would be rivaling or even topping anyone else that came before them. But the extra kick in the ass was Axl Rose. When the gifted yet troubled singer was on his A game, the competition had no chance. On this comeback album, Rose is surrounded by a cast (and a long one at that) of musicians so a lot of the old GNR charm rests on his shoulders. While the guys backing him on the tracks do a formidable job, that specific magic of the old days is lost. Either way, the singer delivers one of his strongest performances. He utilizes every facet of his wide range throughout the 14 tracks. We get the high-pitched wailing of Out Ta Get Me, the softer tone of Patience, and the steamrolling mid-range found in classics like You Could Be Mine throughout this collection. Like an old-friend, Rose's familiar voice is welcomed and even though the classic line-up isn't around anymore, the songs have that extra spark only someone like this legend can lend them.

01. Chinese Democracy: after an unnecessary long intro, the album kicks off with an over-processed guitar sound that has more in common with the industrial informed sounds of Nine Inch Nails than it does with the blues based hard-rock of their early material. It's not all that surprising since former NIN six-stringer Robin Finck plays on the track. Rose's vocals are double-tracked on the verses so you get his low and high register at the same time lending the song a sinister vibe throughout. The middle section features some blistering guitar solo work supercharging the song right when it needed it. Choosing to start the album with this track was a wise move and our fears are somewhat relievedfor now at least. // 7

02. Shackler's Revenge: the first riff in Shackler's Revenge sounds like something Static-X would concoct and unfortunately for the listener, things don't really veer away from that for the remainder of the song. The mechanical rhythm track only accentuates the song's lifeless feel. The guitars and bass sound like they are coming out of walls of solid-state heads making you long for the warmer, analog sounds of their classic output. The only thing that could have saved this one from its own mediocrity would have been a gigantic chorus but that never came. This one isn't even good enough for b-side status. // 4

03. Better: almost from the get-go, Better hooks you in with one memorable melody after the other. Rose's tremendous mid-range is utilized for the majority of the song and the production pulls back leaving it to shine without the effects and processing found on Shackler's Revenge. Throughout the remainder of the track, Finck and Ron Bumblefoot Thal take turns soloing showcasing their explosive yet tasteful styles. Some of their licks will even remind you off former GNR axe-slinger Slash in spots. After the colossal letdown of the previous song, Better is a beaming example of why the world was waiting for this album with baited-breadth. // 8

04. Street of Dreams: Elton John's influence is all over Street of Dreams. From the gorgeous piano sections to the stadium-ready orchestration, this track sounds like the English singer's early 70's work like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Tumbleweed Connection. It's not that Street of Dreams apes every move from those albums but it definitely has their sonic fingerprints all over it. The band even had John join them on a version of their song November Rain back in the early 90's so their ties go back for years. Outside of the obvious textural influences, Street of Dreams contains Axl's unmistakable vocal flourishes making it a GNR song in the end. The climactic guitar solos are a highpoint and the pretty piano melodies are abundant so this one will definitely find its way onto the band's live sets for years to come. // 7

05. If The World: everything about this song misses the mark. From the light-jazz percussion to the go-nowhere vocal parts, If The World is an utter waste of studio time. How this disaster made it onto the album is a complete mystery. With the exception of a few interesting guitar parts, the song is devoid of anything worth further exploring. // 2

06. There Was A Time: here come those drum loops again. It seems like Axl is totally infatuated with the electronic side of music these past few years and certainly during the making of Chinese Democracy. It doesn't serve the material well here as they seem like afterthoughts more than organic parts of the songs they're found in. At the core of it, There Was A Time doesn't have a compelling enough song to help propel it over its sonic weaknesses. // 4

07. Catcher in the Rye: this one gets off to a winning start with bluesy guitar licks and country-rock pianos. The verse melody is reminiscent of Use Your Illusion era GNR. The chorus explodes with huge guitars only to give way to a quieter interlude and then back into a classic-rock solo section. Some of Rose's vocal cues have a Paul McCartney-esque charm about them etching themselves into your head after the first listen. Just when you started losing interest the record gets a jolt of energy. // 7

08. Scraped: a straight-ahead rocker in the mold of the title track, Scraped isn't going to have you dying to reach for the rewind button. For another band this song would have made an OK album cut but for a band that had their fans waiting for so many years, it comes off as a big letdown. // 6

09. Riad N' The Bedouins": this one has a shuffling guitar main refrain that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Appetite For Destruction but there are elements in the arrangement that hinder the track. For one, Axl's high-pitched vocal delivery doesn't mesh well with the rest of the instrumentation. After a while, his singing starts sounding like a wall of shrieking; shifting your focus away from the muscular guitars. How this mess got past the production team of Rose and Caram Costanzo really boggles the mind. // 5

10. Sorry: the song immediately starts with Rose's singing echoing the bluesy overtones ringing in the rhythm section and guitars. Something in the reverb-drenched guitars reminds this writer of David Gilmour's (Pink Floyd) mid-period work. The dramatic chorus seems tailor-made to bounce off arena walls. One of the band's biggest strengths is their ability to pull of sweeping epics like this and this song is proof they should have explored that side of their arsenal more. // 7

11. I.R.S.: another track that doesn't really warrant its inclusion here. The riffs and Axl's melodies are sub-standard, the kind of stuff any bar-band would come up with. Is this the same songwriter who wrote Rocket Queen? // 5

12. Madagascar: this is one where Rose really aimed for the rafters. It's the type of grandiose musical statement a younger band wouldn't probably even try writing let alone record. There are majestic string orchestrations and dramatic guitar lead runs that echo the singer's vocal lines at key points. A speech from Martin Luther King Jr. gets thrown into the song's crescendo for added effect. This one is the vein of Civil War or Estranged but neither the lyrics nor the arrangement help get the song into that club. The nuances in this one might grow on you with time but at this point, we're left a bit underwhelmed again. // 6

13. This I Love here's Chinese Democracy's most potent moment. Rose is accompanied by a piano, a string section, and a Robin Finck guitar solo that pushes and pulls into the of the album's most impassioned performances. Some of the more interesting bends recall Michael Schenker's most thrilling work with U.F.O. in the late 70s. Who would have guessed that a guy who made a name for himself in an industrial-rock band would have such classic-rock blessed chops in his pocket? Another great choice by Rose was to keep this one short and sweet insuring the extraordinary melodies and guitar solos don't get suffocated by a busy arrangement. // 9

14. Prostitute: Prostitute goes from hushed verses to a towering chorus washed in guitars and theatrical orchestration making it a fitting closer. It's not clear who Rose is directing the lyrics to when he sings, Oh, I saw the damage in you, my fortunate one, the ending of you, but the intent is there, seething right below the surface. There is some whammy-bar assisted bombast towards the final seconds that comes out of nowhere but somehow works in the scheme of the song. So just like that, Chinese Democracy comes to and end. // 7

Overall Impression — 7
Does the album live up to the lofty expectations the public has showered it with? No, but then again, how could it have anyway? If Chinese Democracy would have come out 2 or even 4 years after their last studio album, it would have been examined in a whole other manner. There is enough great material here to make the album a worthy fit into your music collection but is it essential as an entire piece, no. But then again, how many full-lengths released today are? There are 6-7 powerful tracks here and they prove Rose is still a vital songwriter and frontman. Hopefully he can get back into the studio and bang out another collection sooner than it took this time.

237 comments sorted by best / new / date

    OMEB
    I would appreciate this as am AXL solo album, which in essence it is. There are a couple good songs on this album, but nothing that lives up to the hype and the name Guns n' Roses! Get the band back together and quit being an idiot, Axl. A GN'R Reunion right now would be bigger than the second coming of Christ. If you wait much longer you'll miss out on the chance!
    randyaintdead82
    DownNdirtyRockG wrote: Listened to this album as soon as it came out!!!!! As a massive GNR fan i totally believe GNR died 15 years ago and was proved completely right by this. An absolutely shocking album, i couldnt even get past song number 4!!!! Anyone who claims to be GNR fan who says they like this album needs to go away and have a good long think!!!! Axl needs to drop the name, drop the poor musicians and seriously consider if its worth starting again at all!!!!!
    well i ****in love this album and im a big time fan, i cant be a fan huh? can't OPEN MY EARS TO NEW THINGS sorry dude i dont wanna hear welcome to the jungle played on the same disc several times and have it considered new material
    serjYankovic
    wiggyisgreat wrote: Meh I don't think 14 years in the making or whatever has paid off. Good review
    Unfortunately, I don't think ANYONE could pull off 14 years being worth the wait. It's just not in the mind's capacity to imagine... It's a fine album... I'm gunna have to say Street of Dreams is my favorite at the moment, and that throughout, the vocals are damn near perfect. GNR will never be the same, so if we're gunna keep listening, might as well get into what he gives us.
    DownNdirtyRockG
    randyaintdead82 wrote: DownNdirtyRockG wrote: Listened to this album as soon as it came out!!!!! As a massive GNR fan i totally believe GNR died 15 years ago and was proved completely right by this. An absolutely shocking album, i couldnt even get past song number 4!!!! Anyone who claims to be GNR fan who says they like this album needs to go away and have a good long think!!!! Axl needs to drop the name, drop the poor musicians and seriously consider if its worth starting again at all!!!!! well i ****in love this album and im a big time fan, i cant be a fan huh? can't OPEN MY EARS TO NEW THINGS sorry dude i dont wanna hear welcome to the jungle played on the same disc several times and have it considered new material
    Im not saying i want to hear that either, I would of loved new GNR material but that didnt happen. Even if you take away the fact that the GNR name is still being used it is still a very poor album!!!! It has nothing to do with OPENNING MY EARS TO NEW MUSIC, i do that on a regular basis, what i refuse to do is open them to music, whether its GNR or not it makes no difference, that is as poor as this album is!! That btw goes to the last album that slash and co produced aswell!!!
    dragen_slair
    I actually prefer this over older G'n'R's stuff, it's more 'mature' I guess. After listening to it, I thought Buckethead might've ended up on the album after all. The guitar on this album was BY far the best, Slash has nothing on this. /flameshield
    HuckIt
    pure rubbish. Appetite for Destruction was one of the best hard rock albums ever. Use you Illusion I & II were great, but this...bleh.
    tim western
    Shackler's Revenge and If the World were 2 of my favourite tracks :S And this album is fantastic.
    BTBAM_7
    only one thing i like about this album i got a free dr pepper at least well stop hearing about all this axl rose bullsh*t, for at least a little while.
    Nebjy
    Honestly I think this album shoudl have gotten an 8 it's not Guns and roses its' Axl Rose and friends, but it's still a pretty good album.
    David_Bowie=GOD
    i agree with this review, seeing this album is almost as old as me, if not older, it should have been better.
    gunners fan
    OMEB Get the band back together and quit being an idiot, Axl. A GN'R Reunion right now would be bigger than the second coming of Christ. If you wait much longer you'll miss out on the chance!
    Agreed!
    itmustbejesus
    didn't slash leave because he didn't want to play ballads... i think street of dreams is ****ing amazing... what has slash done lately to impress anyone VR was a huge let down if he wanted to write Appetie of Destruction part 2 he would've wrote it izzy... and who cares about the name like really you won't by an album because axl owns the rights to the guns n' roses name grow up
    randyaintdead82
    itmustbejesus wrote: didn't slash leave because he didn't want to play ballads... i think street of dreams is ****ing amazing... what has slash done lately to impress anyone VR was a huge let down if he wanted to write Appetie of Destruction part 2 he would've wrote it izzy... and who cares about the name like really you won't by an album because axl owns the rights to the guns n' roses name grow up
    no. read the last part of slash's book, he left because of the way axl was treating everyone, he said would've stuck with axl through an industrial record as long as they were on good terms musically and socially
    Charles88
    If the world scored a 2?!? There was a time, a 4?!!? I dont think the reviewer actually listened to the album... Its fantastic!
    PedophilePriest
    So the Chinese are pissed, thinking that the U.S. is conspiring against them with Axl as the pin man. Yikes. I'm not sure which song it was, but one of the songs off the album sounded like such an unbelievably cut and pasted Pro-Tools hack job it was painfully obvious. I'll say this though, the dude can still sing his ass off.
    Zanon
    Ron Thal's guitar work on this album is incredible! I think if this album was under a different bands name without Axl it would be a huge success, instead of being scrutinized by everyone instead. I think Axl brings his fair share to the table but the rest of the band easily overshadow him in my view
    JadedDeath
    this album is garbage. i don't even consider this Guns and Roses. Axl rose is the only one left, and he sucks now.
    GIBSONroks6167
    ehh, this is a pretty accurate review. it surprised me that they failed 2 mention how "catcher in the rye" is probably the most traditional rock song on the record, but then again thats my opinion. also, i think they underestimated "madagascar" a bit, its f***ing EPIC live...but all in all, they were pretty much right on the money
    boxcar_smasher
    Shimekiri wrote: The quality of the album is not proportional ot the time spent on it.
    That comment pretty much sums up this album all together
    SERIALTRENDKILL
    quit hating. this album is really, really ****in' good. theres just no way around it. the only song that isn't good on the entire album is shackler's revenge. period.
    breadstick
    At least the review wasn't really biased. Most other reviews give 10/10 even if it was crap.
    Vinura
    i said this a few years ago and ill say it again it should have been called AXL AND FRIENDS
    DownNdirtyRockG
    not_dead_enough wrote: Chimpy101 wrote: I think this album is really damn good. I'd rather listen to this than to Appetite For Destruction (although maybe that's just because it is new material), and it is certainly a stronger album than UYI 1 and 2 Definatly worth the wait. Just goes to show that Axl doesn't need and has never needed Slash or the others Agreed 100%
    Erm sorry to disappoint you guy, but this is NO WHERE NEAR the standard of either of the illusion albums!!!!
    DownNdirtyRockG
    Listened to this album as soon as it came out!!!!! As a massive GNR fan i totally believe GNR died 15 years ago and was proved completely right by this. An absolutely shocking album, i couldnt even get past song number 4!!!! Anyone who claims to be GNR fan who says they like this album needs to go away and have a good long think!!!! Axl needs to drop the name, drop the poor musicians and seriously consider if its worth starting again at all!!!!!
    Nightfyre
    The math here surprises me... on the song by song breakdown, I noticed generally ok to bad scores, with a couple highlights and a couple of pieces of trash. Yet that section has an overall score of 8. I don't get it. Ignoring the fact that the entire middle section (tracks 5-9 given the length of this album) only reach a 7 once and go as low as a 2, working your way through the entire album would be a chore in itself. The opening tracks are passable, with the exception of Shackler's Revenge, and the closing 5 are decent if you get rid of I.R.S, but you have to slog through 5 straight songs that range from "meh" to "ugh" first. A straight-ahead average of the song ratings yields a 6. I might bump it down to a 5 just because of how rarely they rise above mediocrity and for making us suffer through 3 separate tracks that wouldn't rate as b-sides on anybody's album, but let's say we bump it down to a 6 and take a new average of the 3 sections. 7, 6, and 7 give us an average of 6.7. I'd rate it about a 6.5 at the most, because there are a few good songs on it but in general it ranges from ok to crap. Not just for GnR, for any band. tl;dr - Review score artificially inflated but if you look at the individual song scores you'll get a better idea, they average an even 6.0.
    Micardo
    During illusion sessions, Axl threatened to split up GnR if the other dudes didnt sign over the right to own the name 'Guns N Roses'. That was a pretty stupid mistake, because in trying to control/own the name, Axl immediately undermined the strength of the band, so in some cases that coulda been seen as him losing control of the band, which is completely contradictory to what he probably intended. Which is why this album, although being great in a few parts but lacklustre in others, comes included with a bitter taste of selfishness. Axl had a hand in writing every song, so in this way it makes it like a dictatorship, and with him being producer as well, its like him being a president of a country wherever everyone (in the band/country) can vote, but they can only vote for him. If Axl wanted to keep this a band, then he should have given more power to the other members. I know that Axl writes the lyrics for every song, which is almost how its always been, but in the old days he left most of the music to the VR guys (plus Izzy) and occasionally came up with a bit of music here and there (november rain and estranged etc). And with UYI, there would be a few solo songs that Axl only sung a few lines in (14 years, so fine, double talkin jive etc) In this album he has too much power over each song, which makes the album a bit tainted. But then again, if he allowed more input from the other members, would the album be as good? Maybe. The question posed to everyone is that would you rather see the current incarnation of GnR functioning more as a band, with the risk of hearing a possibly lesser album? I'm still deciding myself.
    [travis]
    I think we all know this album wasn't going to be great. I only enjoyed "Chinese Democracy" out of all the songs. Everything else just wasn't GNR material. GNR was only good when Slash, Izzy, Steve, and Duff were in it. Axl should just make this his new band, and call it something else.
    beelaal85
    Imagine if Slash was in this album, den it cudve been da gr8est album eva mad3! 10 ova ten! Why Slash WHY did you leave GNR?
    valnir230
    genre and label is backwards I like this CD, not the whole thing, they have a huge section of complete crap but the first 4 songs, Sorry, and This I Love are excelent songs, its not like Appetite but its a good album, don't hold it to the standard of the GNR name
    SlashFan810
    I wonder how isolated axl is from the public and realizing his own mistakes and if he sees the faults in calling this version of the band Guns N' Roses...You would think he would drop the band name by now and at least make some public statements, but he seems just as wrapped up in his own visions as an artist. Just a thought...
    porkymc
    beelaal85 wrote: Imagine if Slash was in this album, den it cudve been da gr8est album eva mad3! 10 ova ten! Why Slash WHY did you leave GNR?
    he left cuz axl wanted 2 fit in the technolgical industrial crap mainstream and slash was smart and didnt, so he left. axl was bossin evry1 around.
    Jrsd
    I remember some controversy about Bon Jovi some years ago. The thing is, when I want to listen another kind of music than what is to be found on Appetite or even the Illusion albums, I'd rather listen to Bon Jovi than this crap. Shit is shit, no matter what stamp you put on it (go and listen to the full album on the gnr myspace page before posting here). 4/10
    failsaferemedy
    There are parts to love and parts to leave alone, but really... the music is solid. I outgrew my hair metal/80's hard rock phase about 4 years ago and it was nice to hear that Axl did too. Whether or not this is Guns N' Roses isn't important. You either agree or disagree and that won't ever change.
    OzZY-RuLE5!!!!!
    the album was great. appetite is overated just by how people talk about it. as for the review pure biased. all of you haters get the **** over the fact slash, izzy and duff aren't in. you don't hear slash, duff, izzy bashing the album. in fact slash said he liked chinese democracy and said i quote 'it's good to hear his voice again.'also alot of you are pissed off that the album is good. leave it at that axl proved you wrong. nonetheles album had a good use your illusion feel to it. personally their use our illusion albums are their best work imo. chinese democracy has the epicess of uyi while having the attitude of appetite.
    TheRobbo7108
    i know it isnt exactly guns n roses how we'd like them but i think that the new album rocks... not everyone's into it though and i can understand why
    sunovagun
    The songs are, on the whole, really quite good, better than I expected to be honest. The main qualm I have is some of the solos, they deviate too much from what made guns, well, guns. Sweeps and Taps is not something I have EVER associated with gnr and never will, say what you will but I don't see the emotion in them. Glad I saw this album in my lifetime, Rock N'Fucking Roll!!
    paul1991
    it took 14 years to come up with this I am a big gnr fan but have to say this is a let down
    A8039077
    I disagree with some of the ratings that have been given to the individual songs. IRS i would give a 7, and both There Was A Time and Madagascar should have at least an 8 each. People have been saying that its self-indulgent, but it's Axl Rose, you'd be dissapointed if it wasn't! It's quite epic.
    Tubyboulin
    You slash and Izzy fanboys are worse than the Tarja fanboys with Nightwish. get the hell over it already, its been 15 years. This album was pretty damn good. Title track is my favourite.
    Power123
    bad review 10 out of 10 this albums classic
    Amen to that! seriously lyrically this is some of Axl's best work!