I can't believe I'm reviewing this. After all this time, Chinese Democracy has finally been released. I picked up my copy when it went on sale in Ireland last Friday and ever-since I have been listening, nay studying the album in great detail. Forget the leaks that surfaced during the summer. Forget the live versions you may have heard. All that matters is the physical CD in my CD player. All of the hype surrounding the release will prevent it from ever living up to expectations but I will give it a fair and honest review because I for one have not given up hope on Axl Rose and his new band.
Lets get the obvious out of the way: This is no Appetite For Destruction. Anyone hoping for that would be a fool. Is it on par with the Use Your Illusion twins? Hmm... no, probably not. Is it an unashamedly grand album that still rocks like a motherfucker? YES.
Chinese Democracy is a complex, rich album with so much going on that its hard to really describe so much of what you will hear. There are industrial touches, Queen-style pomp and Aerosmith-style bombast. At the heart of this however, is Axl Rose. His voice is still one of the most impressive things on the album. Years have not faded its ferocity and instead we have a meaner, more introspective Rose who's anger now has added weight from age.
The title track is powerful, riff heavy and has a low growled vocal delivery from Axl and leads into "Shackler's Revenge", a pounding industrial anthem that features a typically complex Buckethead solo and a soaring chorus. Awesome. "Better" is a schizophrenic pop-rocker that again hits the spot before the ballad (the first of many) "Street of Dreams". Originally known as "The Blues", "Street of Dreams" is an Elton John style song. Rose's voice is a little incongruous in his ballads but the song features many melodies so I still like it. "If The World" is a funky, Spanish-guitar number that unfortunately doesnt work for me. It's a little to "bad porn soundtrack" for my liking. Its the only real mis-fire in my opinion.
"There Was A Time" and "Catcher In The Rye" are epic ballads, the former sounding like a Bond theme song and the latter an old-school, major-key rock ballad. Both are good, if a little over-produced (but then again, what song on this album isn't?).
There are throwbacks to classic GN'R in "Scraped" and "Riad N' The Bedouins". Both are awesome. The lyric's "Don't you try to stop us now" pretty much reignite the old attitude we love and missed so much in the 17 years since Use Your Illusion I & II.
"Sorry" is a slow-paced, doomy ballad that spews anger rather than love. Its vintage GN'R. The next track is I.R.S. which is another hard-rock punch to break up the ballads. It's also quite classic GN'R in its composition. The final 3 songs are all epic ballads.
"Madagascar" has been floating around in the ether since at least 2001 so to hear it now in all its glory, finished is quite a treat. It features brass, guitars and a grooving drum beat and had this been played with the original line-up, would have undoubtedly been hailed as one of their masterpieces alongside "November Rain" and "Estranged". It features an awesome Buckethead solo set against the backdrop of samples from Martin Luther King and Platoon.
"This I Love" is a moody, piano and string orientated song sung by Rose, probably mourning the collapse of his relationship with Stephanie Seymour. Its impressive and for once on the album, shows a little fragility underneath the anger. The orchestral backing is beautiful and the rather epic guitar solo is wonderful. the album closes with "Prostitute", a slick ballad that features an aggressive chorus. Its a re-affirming song to close a re-affirming album. There are a few over-indulgences on the disc. In particular, every song is produced within an inch of its life. There is sometimes too much going on. Its a flaw that was found on the Use Your Illusion albums and one that we had no right to think would be reversed here. At its heart, its magic. For all the digital messing about, Axl knows that every good song centres on a good tune and he delivers in spades.
I loved Chinese Democracy. I honestly do. Its not the Guns of old but thats not a bad thing. AC/DC churned out an album that bored me with its lack of ideas. Axl Rose certainly doesnt lack ideas. His album is an acquired taste perhaps, but one which you can savour for a long, long time. I'm going on a limb here with a 5 star review but, it's been a while since I have been so happy that an album I have been waiting for for so long, surprised me in a good way. t's a triumphant return. My faith in him has been restored. Thank you, Axl.
For the iPod playlist: "Shackler's Revenge", "Better", "Riad N' The Bedouins", "Sorry", "Madagascar". Hell, throw on "This I Love" too.
Verdict: ***** (5/5)