Sound — 6
Any album that has been closely monitored and scrutinised for the better part of 2 decades is never going to live up to the expectation, no matter whose album it is or how good it is. So to ask whether this lives up to the hype is extremely unfair. But that's not to say I think this album is particularly worthy of the hype it has received. From start to finish, this album screams over-production. It is adventurous at times, it is unique at times. But for the most part, it's a bit too much. Axl's voice still sounds great, considering the amount of abuse his vocal chords must take with his method of singing (and the fact that he's now 46 years old). It's bound to dither with age, but it still stands up and it's still recognizable. The guitaring throughout the album is pretty good and it's clear that many different players performed on 'Chinese Democracy' - there doesn't seem to be a distinct style across any of the tracks... which isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, you only have to look at the production notes to see just how many people were involved in this record. As a huge fan of Slash I've refrained from jumping on the "it's nowhere near as good as Slash' bandwagon because I don't think it's intended to sound like Slash. The apparent reason for Slash's departure from Guns (apart from finally getting fed up of Axl's growing need for control and erratic behaviour) was down to musical direction: Slash wanted to keep making records that oozed raunch and sleaze like Appetite For Destruction; whereas Axl wanted to experiment a little more, see what other sounds could be achieved, get into the electronics a bit more (as unsuccessfully portrayed in Use Your Illusion II's 'My World'). If Axl Rose were to come out and produce an album that sounded very much the same as the old Guns N' Roses, he'd pretty much be a hypocrite. Thankfully he hasn't done that; he's stuck to his guns (excuse the pun) and released an album of material that differs from anything Guns N' Roses fans were used to. But at the end of the day, maybe it's just too different.
Lyrics — 5
One of Axl Rose's greatest attributes for me has always been his ability to produce fantastic lyrics. But I have to agree with some of the other reviewers that his lyrics are a bit hit-and-miss on 'Chinese Democracy'. Considering the amount of time this album has been in the works, I think many people expected really profound content. Unfortunately, it just isn't there. I think the lyrics, as with everything else on this album, have been over-produced. And this is more of a personal preference than anything else, but I used to love the old Axl Rose lyrics that were "f**k this" and "f**ck that". It suited his personality. But that has all but gone. There are only one or two explicit lyrics so far that I've picked up on in 'Chinese Democracy'. I'm not saying I condone potty-mouthed lyrics, but I think they fit perfectly with Axl Rose's demeanour and style. Sorry, Axl Rose's OLD demeanour and style.
Overall Impression — 6
Some tracks on 'Chinese Democracy' have been around for so many years now that it seems Axl's had too much time to make "refinements" to them. A lot of the earlier versions of some of these songs were much better, in my personal opinion. However, the more I listen to this record, the more it grows on me (at the moment, at least). Maybe if I were to write another review in 2 months' time my rating would be considerably different. There are a lot of people out there who are slating this album - comments like "this isn't a classic GN'R album it's an Axl Rose album" and "it's nothing like Appetite" are all over the Internet. To a certain extent I agree with these statements, but not entirely. If this album is compared to Appetite For Destruction or even the Use Your Illusion albums, then yes it is a long way away from the band we used to love. But this IS a Guns N' Roses album, albeit a different incarnation of Guns N' Roses. Having seen this particular version of the band perform live, I feel that I'm qualified to say that Axl Rose is the only remnant of the former GN'R left, and beyond that this is a new band producing entirely different material (Dizzy Reed isn't an original member of GN'R so I'm including him as "new"). There is a lot of talent in the new version of the band (particularly Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal), but I don't think they quite work as "Guns N' Roses". There have been too many personnel changes to really call this a band anyway, you might say. But if this album is considered as a standalone piece, nothing to do with "Guns N' Roses" then it has sparks of really good potential. Some tracks do leave you wondering "how the hell did this take 17 years to produce?!", tracks such as 'Shackler's Revenge', 'If The World' and 'I.R.S.' are poor songs by anyone's standards, not just Axl Rose. But then we have songs like 'Better', 'Street Of Dreams' and 'This I Love' which are, at times, brilliant. I'm still confused as to why 'Sorry' was ever written and recorded, because for me it doesn't really fit with anything else on this album. I like it, it's a good song, but it just doesn't fit well. I think overall, 'Chinese Democracy' has moments of ingenuity and potential, but none of the ponce and swagger that has previously been associated with Axl Rose and "Guns N' Roses". There are too many poor songs for the good ones to save. Rose has constantly been seeking 'the perfect album', but perfection is a matter of opinion. And in my opinion, 'Chinese Democracy' is some way away from perfect.