Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?

I know you've all been breathlessly awaiting my review of Chinese Democracy, as well you should. Well, unlike Axl, I won't make you wait it out. I'm all about giving the people what they want. So here we go.

I should preface by saying that I tried to listen to this record as objectively as I could, without thinking about how long it's been in the works and how it's essentially an Axl Rose solo album. And when the songs are good, it's no problem, but when they're bad, I can't help but think of the rock that could've been...if only Slash had wailed on that solo, or how much more relevant those lyrics or that riff would've been, like, 10 years ago. Anyone who says they can approach this record without some sort of expectations or preconceptions is just double talkin' jive.

Track 1 - "Chinese Democracy"
This starts out sounding a little like a horror movie soundtrack, with some weird echoing noises, people talking in hushed tones, and a "Dream Warriors" drum beat. Then, out of the silence, with the wind effects going, comes a fuzzy guitar riff and then...there it is...the Axl wail. Welcome to the jungle, baby! Well, almost. The lead-off track would certainly feel at home on the 2nd side of Use Your Illusion II, or even - yes, even - Appetite For Destruction. Quite simply, this song rocks. It's got raunchy riffs, a great hook, and that classic vocal layering that allows growling Axl to duet with shrieking Axl. The production is great, and it's evident that Mr. Rose spent a long time tweaking and twiddling to get the sound just right. It shouldn't have taken 14 years to get there, but I'm not going to waste that argument on this song. It's the best one. A


Track 2 - "Shackler's Revenge"
This tune starts out with a dark, demonic feel that grinds into Nine Inch Nails' industrial dance territory. The similarity to NIN is a little off-putting (Guns N' Roses ain't for dancing, man!) but the heavily layered chorus is pretty damn catchy. And, hey, NIN isn't pansy music, so I guess it's all good. The leather jackets out there can just bang their heads to this one while everyone else is wildly gyrating with their glow sticks in hand. Not bad. B-

Track 3 - "Better"
The computerized, Timberlakesque beginning might make you wonder if you're still listening to G N'R, but give it a second. This is one of the "better" and more modern-sounding tracks on the record. It mixes down 'n' dirty rock swagger with a radio-friendly melody, and features one of Axl's "better" vocal performances. However, there's a section starting around the 2:34 mark that seems cut and pasted from a Rage Against the Machine song, and the transition back to the basic melody feels a little awkward. B

Track 4 - "Street Of Dreams"
No, this isn't a cover of the classic (and awesome) Rainbow song. It's a good one though, and gives us our first glimpse into what kind of record Axl has really made here. Basically, he's attempting to pick up where the Use Your Illusion records left off, specifically with theatrical, piano-heavy tunes like "Estranged" and "November Rain." The latter, although one of G N'R's most popular songs, is one that I've never really loved, and hearing "Street of Dreams" makes it all the more insufferable for me. Basically, they're both about the struggles of relationships and how "nothing lasts forever." But, "Street of Dreams" manages to get its point across in a much less pretentious manner and, certainly, a lot quicker. (About 4 minutes quicker.) In fact, Axl packs more meaning into the one simple line, "What I thought was beautiful/Don't live inside of you anymore," than he gets across in 9 minutes of walking around in the rain. That said, the song is rather "rock musical," but I do like a touch of the dramatic, as long as it's done well. The only misstep here is the vocal at the very beginning, where Axl sounds like he's auditioning for both the Rocky and Eddie roles in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. B+

Track 5 - "If The World"
If the world what? If the world ever hears this song, they'll laugh their asses off? Well, maybe. This was so abysmal that I couldn't even laugh. After 4 solid songs, I was wondering when my luck would run out, and then this clunker landed in my ears with a tremendous thud. It seriously sounds like an Enrique Iglesias song. I couldn't even get through the whole thing. Egregious. F

Track 6 - "There Was A Time"
We transition from that hell to an angelic chorus that is soon joined by a drum loop and something that sounds like a kid's piano. There are a million things going on in this song - synths, choirs, strings, drum machines, and I think about 4 or 5 guitarists trade leads. Somehow it all works. Axl was obviously going for another "Estranged" here, and although he doesn't quite match it, he at least manages to keep things from going too far over the top. The chorus is a little weak, but the verses keep things rolling along. The arrangement's gradual build makes for a pretty blazing final minute or two, during which there is some cool Axl whining and a really good guitar solo that's probably either Buckethead or his successor, Bumblefoot. I will admit, though, that during all the other guitar parts I kept thinking, "What would Slash do?" C+

Track 7 - "Catcher In The Rye"
Apparently, this track originally featured a solo from Queen's Brian May that was subsequently removed. Maybe Axl should've kept it. It might have saved this track from being just a watered-down, stripped-down version of the previous song. It's just...eh. C-

Track 8 - "Scraped"
I have no idea what is up with the Bee Gees-meets-Rihanna intro. I don't really want to know. The beat during the chorus is kind of cool, but overall this sounds like anything that any number of metal bands could come up with. D

Track 9 - "Sorry"
Wow. What a piece of shit grunge/death ballad. It reminds me of Staind. I HATE Staind. Supposedly, Sebastian Bach was to sing backup on this, but I don't hear it. I guess that's good for him. F

Track 10 - "Riad N' The Bedouins"
Clearly, this album derailed around track 8. This song isn't as bad as the last two, but it sounds pretty dated. It's like G N'R-meets-Led Zeppelin-meets-Rage Against the Machine. But they forgot to bring all of their good songs to the meeting. D+

Track 11 - "I.R.S."
Ehhhhhhhhhhh. With the first few bars, I thought this was gonna be a good one, but it's just an average rock song. Not horrible, but nothing special. C

Track 12 - "Madagascar"
Yep, Axl's still looking for that next big epic. More strings. Some movie sound clips thrown in the middle...Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, some stuff I don't recognize, and the same line from Cool Hand Luke that G N'R used in the vastly superior "Civil War." This is starting to bum me out now. I might need to go back and listen to the first 4 songs again. C-

Track 13 - "This I Love"
Okay, okay. I can't resist! This I don't love! Ahhh, I'm so clever. What in the eff happened? Doesn't Axl remember how to write a great ballad? What about "Don't Cry?" (Oh yeah, Izzy helped with that one.) What about "Patience?" (Oh yeah, Izzy wrote the whole thing.) D-

Track 14 - "Prostitute"
Based on the name alone, I was completely prepared for this to be an awesome, nasty song in the vein of "Pretty Tied Up" or "Rocket Queen." Nope. It's not even about a lady of the evening. It's another of Axl's attempts to be the hard-ass version of Elton John. However, it is not a bad song at all. It's not as good as any of the first 4 songs, but it has that theatrical quality that I tend to go for, without going too far. I'm not sure if I would have liked it as much had it been the first or second song on the record. I love it as an album closer though, because it pulled me out of the funk caused by the last 20-30 minutes of horribleness. C

Well, there you have it, folks. It started out promising, but a pretty underwhelming 2nd half results in a C average for Chinese Democracy. I guess an average album score isn't too bad, unless the album in question took 14 years to see the light of day. Seriously. After this long, Chinese Democracy should have the power to end war and poverty and align the planets, bringing them into universal harmony, just like Wyld Stallyns' music did. It doesn't do that, but it does make me wish that someone would've gone back in time and told Guns N' Roses how crucial it was for them to stay together.

20 comments:

Bubs said...

Thank you!

Hardly seems worth 14 years of waiting and hype, does it?

words words words said...

About what I expected. Some really good moments, but overall meh-ness. I'm trying to see if I can have the will power to wait for the inevitable Best Buy giftcard at Christmas to buy it.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

GNR sux.

Dr Zibbs said...

Great review and the first song does rock. Too bad they lifted the first riff from Judas Priest's - Living After Midnight. Go ahead - listen.

Andy said...

A very thorough review. But I couldn't help but be distracted by the music player you included to play "Chinese Democracy." Underneath the play button, it had "Listen to Britney's latest." It just doesn't seem right. When GNR started, Britney was a little girl. By the time this album got released, Britney had already sold millions of records, performed with a python, worn latex, gone crazy, got married, got married again, had a kid, had a kid again, went crazy again, sucked at the VMAs, got herself together, went crazy again, snorted coke, got arrested, attacked paps, and got herself together again (not nec. all in that order).
So for me to fully embrace a GNR album, it's just difficult. I need time.

SkylersDad said...

Who were they again?

J. Hi said...

I give your review an A. Thanks.

I didn't think I would be interested in it since it was just Axl and none of the others. And now I am sure I will not be buying it. I'll just pop in my old 'Appetite' and enjoy the real deal.

deadspot said...

Bill S. Preston, Esquire!

I don't have anything to say about GNR, I just wanted to say that.

McGone said...

Part of me wanted to like it. Really. I still listen to Use Your Illusion II, if you can believe that.

Over the first two days it was out I listened to it once, listened to it again, then I threw it on the iPod for The Headphones Test and finally gave it the Driving In The Car Test.

By the time I got to "Better" that last time I conceded defeat and instead started listening to this week's "This American Life" podcast which features Sarah Vowell playing the recorder. That's pretty telling right there I think.

FAIL Mr. Rose.

pistols at dawn said...

"And they forgot to bring all their good songs to the meeting" and Axl trying to be the tougher Elton John were excellent.

There's a part of me that kind of wants to hear this album now after this in-depth review, but then I remember that I've never made it all the way through either Illusion album because they're too long, and I realize I don't actually care.

Tony Alva said...

Great run down... I still think I'll buy it to be disappointed myself though...

LegalMist said...

When I was still in law school, I was interviewing for a position at a major law firm in town and the interviewer asked me, "Who is your favorite famous person?"

(What the h--- kind of question is that, in a law firm interview??!?)

I drew a blank. The only response I could think of was "Axl Rose."

I did not get the job.

Probably just as well. Who wants to work for morons who ask questions like that in an interview anyway?

Bluez said...

Maybe they should get Steven Adler back, he's clean now yanno...

HAHA

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Thanks BeckEye- you just saved me some valuable cash on all those itunes gift cards I'm expecting.
Have a great Thanksgiving babe!

Metal Mark said...

I have not heard it yet. I won't be running after it, but I will get to it at some point and try to be objective. I will ramble on a little now even though I have not heard the album. Does Axl deserve all jokes and remarks about this taking so long to get released? Certainly because 14 years is far too long. However, AC/DC waited 8 years and put out pretty much the same album they have been releasing for the last 20+ years and everyone oohs and ahhs like they are giving us some sort of gift. Something else that crosses my mind is that those two Velvet Revolver albums are alright, but hardly anything special. So I am not sold on the idea that Slash and Duff staying in G-n-R would have made that much of a difference. I am going to step off my soapbox and go back to my little metal world now.

Gifted Typist said...

This thing sort of reminds me of the (no doubt to come) Friends Reunion movie - 10 years on. There will be all the hype, raised expectations and ultimate disappointment...

Axl should've done a country album or something different so there would be no comparisons/expectations

But the review gets five stars.

genn6 said...

I agree with your assessment, and I hate Staind, too. I'm an industrial fan so I like Shackler's Revenge the best. Back in the day, Axl had wanted to take GNR in an industrial direction and the rest of the band was adamantly opposed. Axl screwed himself, after all those years and all that hype and none of the other original band members, this whole album falls short of almost impossible expectations. And it's over produced, they could have trashed about half the sound effects.
Axl's crazy anyway, I guess we get what we get. ;( But I'm at least thankful for the few good tracks there are.

cube said...

I'm really torn becuase I'm for anything that ticks off the ChiComs, yet, I've never been a fan of this band.

cube said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from me and mine.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Right then, I've listened to about 2 minutes and that's pretty much all I need to hear. Especially since you've already done all the work anyway.

Chinese Democracy should have remained a myth.

 

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