Sound — 9
I don't think I need to take you through the story of Chinese Democracy, considering the staff here at UG have made sure that any development on this album is reported on. Being a hardcore GN'R fan, I held a grudge against Axl for arguably being the chief cause of the original lineup disbanding, and I thought it was a travesty that he got a new band under the name of Guns N' Roses. With this background, I was listening to the Internet leaks a couple of years ago with a critical mindset, not an open one. The first song I heard was "Better." I thought it was... ok. Kind of ok. But when you listen to the album as a whole, you can't help but appreciate every song, and be blown away. It's hard to pigeon-hole "Chinese Democracy" into a genre. It's got elements of Pop, Punk, Rock, Blues, Ballad, Metal and Industrial. When GN'R came out with "Appetite For Destruction" in 1987, Rock N' Roll changed a lot. It was a groundbreaking record, and "Chinese Democracy" has the same effect. We're surrounded by mediocrity in the form of Green Day, and other iffy bands that appeal mostly to 14 year old girls while they flip through their music on their pink iPod nanos, and "Chinese Democracy" is an effort to redeem the reputation of Rock N Roll. 13 out of the 14 tracks in the album are mindblowing, save "Riad N' The Bedouins," which seems to me like a chaotic cocktail, or better put, a clusterf--k. The production quality on the album as a whole is excellent, with every instrument and sound easily distinguishable.
Lyrics — 10
01.Chinese Democracy: the title track of the record. It begins with vague conversation in an unintelligible language to someone who speaks only English. It then turns into some brief instrumental noodling, and bursts into a huge, overdriven, AC/DC style powerchord riff, and becomes a solid Rock song. The singing style of Axl Rose with the original GN'R lineup has been likened to a strangled cat, but in this song, he sounds much more mature, fuller, and more impactful. A good song to start the album with. 02.Shackler's Revenge: quite an Industrial song, with multi-layered vocals, ranging from a Marilyn Manson-esque drone, to the Axl Rose wail we've known to love/hate. The lyrics are quite simple, but since when was that a bad thing? Fans of "Appetite For Destruction" and people who don't like bands like Nine Inch Nails probably won't like this song, but will most probably like the shredfest of a solo by Buckethead/Bumblefoot/Robin Finck. 03.Better: starts off with a guitar intro with a wah pedal fixed on the "toe" position with the vocal styles of a shy five year old girl, but then explodes into a great rock song with exceptional vocals by Axl, syncopated powerchord riffs, sweep picking, and general headbanging rock. Great song. 04.Street Of Dreams: better known as "The Blues." Put quite simply, a beautiful song, with lyrics such as "What I thought was beautiful don't live inside of you anymore." Very true to the original Guns N' Roses sound, and would fit quite well on either of the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl's voice is reminiscent of the old days, but sounds different at the same time. 05.If The World: a really cool funky song with a Spanish/Middle Eastern acoustic guitar and wah based guitars. Very different from any other song I've heard, but maybe I haven't heard enough songs. The lyrics are slightly clichd, but sometimes it's satisfying to hear lyrics that you're familiar with. The drums are pretty loose, but keep a good steady beat, and change enough to keep you interested. 06.There Was A Time: an incredible song. It starts off quite delicate, then evolves into a stadium rock chorus. The vocals are pretty shoddily sung. Axl was probably too focused on perfecting the instrumentals to deliver as well as he could have. 07.Catcher In The Rye: a really pleasant song to listen to. If you've had a tough day, lie down on your couch, light up a cigarette, pour yourself a cold glass of beer and listen to this song. It's not a song that you have to concentrate too hard on to appreciate, and is anything but boring and generic. You'll enjoy this if you're a fan of Aerosmith ballads, or even "November Rain," and you're sure to enjoy the guitar solo. Unfortunately, Brian May's work isn't featured in the album as originally planned, and Bumblefoot doesn't deliver the emotion of a guitar player that Brian May could have. 08.Scraped: begins with kind of an acapella harmony with an Axl Rose shriek as a vocal solo, then breaks down into a fast rock song. The lyrics are somewhat along the lines of "Get In The Ring" without being as comical. "Don't you try to stop us now" is a lyric heavily featured in the song, probably a message to all the cynics in the world who doubted the album would be released. A cool song, solid badass rock n roll. 09.Riad N' The Bedouins: a fast, mishmash of unnecessary layers. Probably the only truly weak track on the album. The instruments and the rhythms they play don't seem to work together. If it was a jam session, it would be a pretty decent jam. We all know that Axl wouldn't release something until he thought it was perfect. I guess he didn't give this song a good enough listen. It's a little bit like one of the filler songs in the Use Your Illusion albums, but the guitar solo is worth listening to. 10.Sorry: a slow, mellow, slightly spooky song. The lyrics are pretty interesting. With a title like "Sorry," you might think that it would be a generic power ballad, like the one done by "Buckcherry," but it's a message of superiority. "I'm sorry for you, not sorry for me," implies that he doesn't feel like he's in a position of weakness and is patronizing those who are. My favorite feature of this song is the guitar solo. It sounds like Eric Clapton or David Gilmour are playing it, so you know you won't be disappointed. Apparently, Sebastian Bach sings backing vocals on this song, but he's a bit buried and you can't really make it out. This is unfortunate because Axl and Bach compliment each other well when they sing together. 11.IRS: the album has reportedly cost over $11m to produce, and Axl is gonna have to pay his taxes sometime. This is probably a song about his fear of having to pay his dues. Jokes aside, this is a really cool, gripping song, with lots of layers. There are about five guitars playing in this song, and each of them has a different texture. 12.Madagascar: this song has a really cool groove, with a beat from a slower hip-hop song and a nice synthesized rhythm section and big guitar sounds. The bridge of the song features MLK and dialog from "Cool Hand Luke," previously featured in the intro to "Civil War." This song is easy to listen to and will keep you interested from beginning to end. 13.This I Love: yet another ballad. Despite having a title that sounds like Yoda suggested it, this is truly an incredible song. It's got a very delicate piano part, and Axl sings in a tone that can only be described as anguish. The lyrics are exceptional, with lines like "I searched the Universe and found myself within her eyes." 14.Prostitute: a good song to end the album with. It's got a lot of layers, with synthesized orchestras, drum machines, and multilayered vocals. At the end of this song, the only thing I could think was "Damn, I've got to listen to the album again."
Overall Impression — 10
You can't really compare "Chinese Democracy" to any other album. To me it sounds pretty groundbreaking and revolutionary. There are a few rare albums which can only be listened to as albums. I couldn't imagine playing only one song from this album and then moving on to Iron Maiden or something. To fully appreciate this album, listen to it from beginning to end more than once. I've been thinking about which songs are the most impressive on this album, and I don't have a concrete answer for you. Each song leaves a different impression on the listener, except for "Riad N' the Bedouins," which would probably win the "WTF Award" at the Grammys. What I love most about the album is how it really is an example of Axl Rose's artistry. You hear stories about his perfectionism, and it shows in this album. It's a good reminder to the listener that Guns N' Roses are nothing short of original. There are a couple of things I hate about the album: 1. Why did I have to wait so long? 2. Forum posters on UG who use unintelligent lines like "This isn't a Guns N' Roses album, it's an Axl Rose album." Shut up. The Dr. Pepper jokes became boring after a week. Stop it. 3. There aren't more songs. I could easily listen to this album non stop all day and forget about other things I have to do like eat or go to University. If this album were stolen or lost, I'd be pissed. Then I'd take the bus to HMV and pick up another copy.