- Release date:
- November 23, 2008
- Artist/Band name:
- Guns N' Roses
- Record label:
- Official Web Site:
The buzz: Most thought the day would never come. After some 15 years, $13 million, 14 studios, numerous false starts and countless rumors, Axl Rose has finally bestowed “Chinese Democracy” upon his waiting public. In the early ‘90s, Rose was the dark prince of rock; he’s since withdrawn to become its Howard Hughes, fostering a legend that grows with each new lawsuit and unauthorized biography. “Chinese Democracy” became a punch line as years passed—and while anticipation has remained high, expectations have plunged.
The verdict: Even an instant classic would be hard-pressed to justify this nearly unprecedented buildup, and “Chinese Democracy” has too many flaws to reach that status. But Rose’s return is monumentally ambitious and frequently satisfying; overstuffed and overproduced, certainly, but a fairly natural follow-up to the “Use Your Illusion” albums, or at least the sort of solo disc one would have expected from Rose after huge rock epics like “Coma” and majestic melodrama such as “November Rain.” He offsets Slash’s absence with a battalion of talented guitarists led by Buckethead, ensuring little drop-off in showmanship or technicality.
The real slip from yesteryear GNR is the lack of checks-and-balances songwriting from Slash, Duff McKagan and particularly Izzy Stradlin. As a result, there are no simple or straightforward pleasures on “Chinese Democracy.” This relentlessly weighty approach makes for an exhausting listen any time the album falters, as when “Madagascar” climaxes to combine Korn-styled guitars and Martin Luther King, Jr. speech excerpts (not a good idea, as it turns out). The best visceral punches are thrown up front, led by the title track and snarling “Better.” Lyrically, Rose was somewhat obsessed with doubters and enemies even at the height of his fame—a decade and a half of heckled hibernation have done nothing to ease the aggression. Against pretty heavy odds, he wins this round.
Did you know? Slash recently weighed in with his reaction to “Chinese Democracy,” calling it a “relief” and a “great statement.” He’s also hinted that he’d like to see GNR’s classic lineup reunited if and when the band is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.