CD review: Axl Rose dictatorship begets outdated "Chinese Democracy"
In many ways, "Chinese Democracy" plays merely as the follow-up to 1991's "Use Your Illusion I & II" and shows what happens when it becomes more about craft than emotion.
CD review |
Guns N' Roses' new album, "Chinese Democracy," took Axl Rose and dozens of musicians and producers an estimated $11 million and 13 years to complete.
It wasn't worth it. That probably goes without saying — especially since this particular album contributed to the downfall of Geffen Records, the layoff of hundreds of workers and the high-profile exits of numerous band members, producers and music execs.
All that would likely have been forgiven if "Chinese Democracy" turned out to be a great album, if it even came close to matching the legendary brilliance of "Appetite for Destruction." It doesn't.
"Chinese Democracy" is a good effort and it would have seemed even better if it came out in a decent amount of time, say, you know, a decade ago. The hard-hitting title track is potent, but whatever shock value it may have had has been diminished by what has come in the meantime, with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor perfecting that industrial snarl years ago and System of a Down dominating virtuoso metal-guitar solos for at least two albums now.
"Better" is a stronger song, maybe the album's best chance for a radio hit with its grand hook and Rose's impassioned vocals, but even that sounds a little retro.
Sometimes, it sounds like Rose knows he went too far with this album. "It was a long time for you, it was a long time for me," he sings in the overstuffed "There Was a Time," with its choirs and elaborate strings parts. "It'd be a long time for anyone, but looks like it's meant to be."
In many ways, "Chinese Democracy" plays merely as the follow-up to "Use Your Illusion I & II," which arrived in 1991 and signaled the broader artistic ambitions of the band. If "Appetite for Destruction's" "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City" were all about rage and swagger, and "Use Your Illusion's" "Don't Cry" and "November Rain" were about crafting songs that were bigger than life, "Chinese Democracy" shows what happens when it becomes more about craft than emotion.
Tales of Rose's quest for perfection came from many of his collaborators, of how he would record songs repeatedly to get just the right sound. He must have agonized over the way the electric guitars fade out on the surprisingly funky "If the World," leaving only flamenco picking and piano tinkling. It's a nice effect, but the effort would have been better used to smooth out the vocals.
That "Chinese Democracy" came out at all is a monument to Rose's artistic vision and his belief in himself. But all its excesses and its occasional lack of focus also serve as a testament to the kind of ridiculous spending and star-coddling that led to the music industry's current sales-dropping predicament. This project would have benefited from someone telling Rose "no," but any check on him came too late.
The once-mighty Guns N' Roses fan base has been worn down by false starts, combined with long waits and erratic behavior. Maybe some fans will eventually come to appreciate "Chinese Democracy" — maybe the power of "Better" or the edge of "Madagascar" — but they will first have to face the feeling of "Was this worth all of that?" The answer will almost always be "no."
The album is on sale at Best Buy stores and online through www.myspace.com/gunsnroses.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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