Sound — 9
It doesn't matter what you think of Guns N' Roses; old or new. One of the things that Guns N' Roses is known for is an incredibly crisp and deep sound, and Chinese Democracy is no exception. Before you even start to judge the songwriting on the album, you can't help but be amazed how great it sounds as far as the engineering goes. It has one of the best sounds on any album I've ever heard, and the mix is fantastic. There's no sense explaining the history of the album; everyone knows the history, and remembers it however they want to, be that Axl worked his ass off to put together a new band and record albums upon albums worth of material, or he sat around all day eating roast lamb, throwing partys in which he played the album which "had been done for years" and occasionally fighting with security guards to keep his badass reputation. However you remember the background of the album isn't important, what is important is Axl Rose is back and doing what he does best; blowing peoples minds. The album is more diverse than even the Use Your Illusion albums, and has something for everyone. From balls out rockers reminiscent of Appetite For Destruction (albeit heavier to appeal to a new generation) like Better and Scraped, to the grandiose, melodramatic songs common on the Illusions with songs like Street Of Dreams and This I Love, the album has it all. I'm not one to usually break an album down song by song, but it's really impossible to not do it with this album: 01.Chinese Democracy: it's a classic album opener, and will likely stand as such for years to come in live shows. A slow build up with Chinese being spoken and soft, eerie guitars explode into a riff that hits you harder than any GN'R riff to date. Axl double-tracked the vocals, really adding a cool dimension to it. 02.Shackler's Revenge: a very peculiar rocker, it has a heavy Buckethead influence. It sounds more like Axl guesting on a Buckethead song, with a complex drop-d riff and a great solo. Axl growls the lyrics, gradually building to one of the album's catchiest choruses. A weaker point on the album, but still great. 03.Better: by far the best rocker on the album. Starts with cringeworthy, yet still melodic riff, a falsetto vocal line and a hip-hop drum beat; it kicks into Axl singing mid range with great emotion over a classic GN'R chord progression. The bridge is super heavy, with lots of layers. Very cool song, probably will appeal to AFD lovers the most. 04.Street Of Dreams: it's the first epic song on the album. It's got everything you expect from a ballad; the grand piano, acoustic guitar and a truly beatiful solo (Which will make you do a double listen to see if it's Slash! ) and Axl singing about a love lost. The last minute will give you shivers, if that's the sort of song you're into. 05.If The World: the most out there song on the album. It features acoustic flamenco guitar and a gritty wah guitar which will make you feel like you're listening to the soundtrack to a low budget porno. There's a ton of layers to this song, it takes 3 or 4 listens to even take everything in. But it's not overdone at the same time. 06.There Was A Time: it's very much an "Axl" song, it's it's got everything that makes such a song good: a choir, beautiful orchestration, powerful guitars and innovative lyrics. The first solo is a toss back to the first solo in November Rain, and the second solo is really sort of a throw back to the third November Rain solo. Absolutely classic. 07.Catcher In The Rye: it's the only song that's truly overproduced. It represents what could have become of this album. The demo featuring Brian May had a very special magic, which has dissappeared in the 9 years of Axl's tinkering with it. Sad to see such a great song go to hell. 08.Scraped: another song that would fit on a 21st century AFD. Really powerful guitars, and Axl giving the world a big f--k you with lyrics like "Don't you try and stop us now, cause I just won't let you". 09.Riad N' The Bedouins: it really sounds like Zeppelin-gone-industrial. It's got a funky riff, with a great solo and Axl screeching over the top of everything. one of the low points, but it still rocks. 10.Sorry: it's an interesting song, with mellow verses and a super heavy chorus. It's got a very dark vibe, and the solo is reminiscent of David Gilmour's style ala Comfortably Numb or Time. Very catchy song. 11.IRS: the last real rocker, it's also the weakest. It's a mid tempo rocker, but it sort of drags on... and on. It's got a great Buckethead solo however. 12.Madagascar: it's a synth ballad, if there is such a thing. It's the only song to really use Axl's raspy voice, and damn does it sound refreshing to hear once again. The bridge of this song is very intricate, taking lines from Martin Luther King Jr and "Cool Hand Luke" (Civil War, anyone? ). 13.This I Love: if you love the overblown, beautifuly haunting Axl songs like Estranged and Don't Cry, this is the song which will shine for you. It dates back to 1993, and is almost exclusively Axl singing and playing piano, with a breif, but sad guitar solo in the middle. My personal favorite on the album. 14.Prostitute: another "Axl" song, it's very vocally driven, with little else going on except for punching chords in the chorus and a cool piano part. The bridges are very heavy, with synchronized hits during 2 of Buckethead's shredding solos over double bass drum. The last 2 minutes gradually fades away to nothingness. The perfect end to a near perfect album.
Lyrics — 10
Axl Rose will go down as one of the great lyricists of our time. The man is a genius when it comes to lyrics, and is up there with the likes of Pete Townshend, Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury. While the rockers on the album aren't among his best work lyrically, the other two thirds of the album more than make up for it. The lyrics compliment the music with great success, and in some cases, incredible intricacy. The album makes use of Axl's full vocal range, so much more than any other album to date. He sings some of his lowest notes in Shackler's Revenge, in a voice which he's never really used before. He also hits some of his highest notes ever on songs like This I Love and Prostitute. He also uses his rasp once again on Madagascar, a voice which is welcomed back with open arms.
Overall Impression — 10
The album is definitely their most solid effort since Appetite For Destruction, with zero filler, unlike the Use Your Illusions. Stylistically the album ties in very well with the Illusions; in fact despite the 17 year gap Axl could have named the album Use Your Illusion III. My favorite songs of the bunch are This I Love, Prostitute and Sorry, though all songs are gold and everyone will have their own favorites. I'd buy this album again in a heartbeat if it were lost/stolen. My last comment is, this album really deserves a chance with everyone who likes Guns N' Roses to any extent. It really does sound like Guns N' Roses, that is, unless you consider Appetite For Destruction the only GN'R album ever made. Many of the songs could have been included on the Illusions, and a lot of the guitar work is just as memorable as anything Slash did in the band. Oh yes, and if you want to argue Guns is dead because Slash is gone, you're wrong. If they ever died (Which they didn't) it would be when Izzy quit.