Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy: An Underrated Axl Rose Solo Album
Somehow Axl Nails It On This Record
Chinese Democracy isn't really a Guns N Roses album is it? It's an Axl Rose Solo album more than anything else. What a fantastic solo album it is though. Hey, I like Slash, Izzy, Duff, and Steven Too, but lets be honest here, GNR is Axl Rose, he's the ONE guy that you can not replace.
It's bizarre to me, how under the radar Chinese Democracy was when it was released in 2008. I believe it's almost as Good as Appetite for Destruction. I can usually tell if a record is classic by the re-spinability of the album. I wore this record out when it was released, and I must confess it gets regular rotation 8 years later.
The song writing is stellar on Chinese Democracy. Somehow Axl manages to make the album sound like classic GNR, yet with a thoroughly modern or at least contemporary sound.
It's still earthy like you would expect a Guns album to be, a lived-it style, that never offers an apology.
The secret of this album though is its maturity. This dude has been through a lot in his life, and he ain't no ordinary cat, he lays it all out on us on Chinese Democracy. I think because this album took so long to make adds to the quality. Like Appetite for Destruction, years passed before release, all those years are poured out on the album. Appetite took a lifetime, while Chinese Democracy took what seemed like a lifetime, 17 years. I don't count 1993's The Spaghetti Incident in that timeline.
It is an album that grows on you, especially if you look at life, and its politics, both political and social with a skeptical, if not paranoid bent. You no doubt relate to a lot coming from the lyrical content.
Was it Worth the Wait?
If you've followed the band, and all of their trials and tribulations I think you can really appreciate the music, especially if you're able to accept the tinkering with the GNR sound. I think initially the electronics seemed odd to me, but years later it holds up well to my ears.
GNR taught me that uncomfortable music could become comfortable, especially when you can relate to that "up yours" mentality that Rose so eloquently expresses with f-bomb after f-bomb.
I have always paid close attention to Axl's life struggles. Not that I am paranoid or misogynist myself mind you, but rather I marvel at the genius in the way he expresses his own life's ups and downs through song.
The last time we heard Guns before Chinese Democracy was through their forgettable Spaghetti Incident album. I had completely lost hope in the band by the year 2000, as Guitarist Slash, Bassist Duff McKaggen, and drummer Matt Sorum, one by one they left the band.
It seemed as if Axl was just lost to the world, and himself possibly being beaten by it. I thought perhaps he had become too jaded to ever get new music out again? Thankfully he's still jaded of course, and paranoid, it all comes shining through on the album.
What Kind of Sound Does Chinese Democracy Have?
The Modern touches I spoke earlier of could have been a disaster if done the wrong way. I am thinking about "Better" and its intro specifically, it's perfect honestly to my ears.
Two styles of music?
For me the thing that is obvious about Chines Democracy, the music clearly has 2 different sounds: The classic GNR sound, and this new hybrid progressive rock fusion of hard rock with diverse sounds, including those electronics
Most would tell you that "Better" is the best track on the album, I agree it's one of the best, and clearly has some of the best Rose paranoid life lyrics. Who hasn't at some time been warned by friends and family about the road your going down with a particular boyfriend or girlfriend? We never learn, do we?
For me, the tracks "Catcher in the Rye" and "There Was a Time" stand out as some of the most mature and well made song-craft I have heard in Rock music the last 20 years.
The title track, and "Riad and the Bedouins" are great examples of the newer hard rock sound Axl's developed, and tracks like "I.R.S." and "Shackler's Revenge" hearken back to a rawer vintage GNR sound.
There is a lot going on within this album, it's progressive rock; a thick stew of styles, with electronic nuances that might turn the classic fans off.
You know Axl was going in that direction with tracks on the Illusion albums, with lots of overdubs and strange sounds. One of the flaws of those double Illusion albums was the forced nature of the overdubs, they seemed clunky in spots, seemed like the overdubs were added last-minute.
Axl also tended to lay extra vocal tracks down too much on the Illusion records, that distracted me from the music I was listening to. I don't get distracted like that here.
Axl's Voice and the Overdubs
On Chinese Democracy all of the overdubs and add-ons never seem out-of-place or contrived.
This thick jungle of sound in Axl's mind somehow seems logical, perhaps more mature is Rose these days? Rose's voice still sounds amazing, and he can still write a good song
Another thing I worried about, was how Rose's voice would hold up after more than a decade off record? The guy still has it on Chinese Democracy, the upper register signature style never sounded better. He still changes the intonation of his voice to suit the need of the track to great effect.
You never hear Axl mentioned as an all-time great song writer, not sure why? His street wise "lived it" style gains rapport with the common man.
The fact he's still writing about let downs and disappointment after all the fame and fortune, does point to the age old fact that money indeed can't buy everything. Axl masterfully gets that point across on Chinese Democracy.
I have paid attention to Axl's life over the years, all the issues. He has written lyrics for this album from his own person diary so to speak, for me, that's what brings this music up to masterpiece level.
A myriad of emotions are seething throughout this music, with paranoia and bitterness at the top of the list. I never once feel like the music is depressing though, I think over time, people, even fan boy, will appreciate it more.
Hard to believe it has already been 8 years since Chinese Democracy was released, considering how long it took to arrive. Now with the reunion happening in 2016 hopefully a new album won't be delayed as long as this album was?
Now with Axl flirting around with AC DC, hopefully it won't distract him too much regarding a new record? We shall see?
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