Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy Album Cover

Album Review: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

One of the most anticipated albums of all time dropped in 2008 and, well, it seemed as if no one really noticed.

Ok, it wasn’t exactly highly anticipated rather everyone wanted to see what took Guns N’ Roses so long to release Chinese Democracy the band’s first album of original new material in 17 years and as of this writing their latest. At the time, singer Axl Rose was the lone gunman from the original lineup that mostly disbanded more than a decade earlier.

Chinese Democracy was teased for years but Rose, apparently known for constant tinkering with songs, never produced the finished product. A 1999 release was canceled and Chinese Democracy was re-recorded the following year. The band Offspring briefly planned to name their 2003 album Splinter, Chinese Democracy as Offspring singer Dexter Holland said, “You snooze you lose. Axl ripped off my braids, so I ripped off his album title.”

Rose sued.

Eventually, rumors of the album’s pending release began to surface. A March 2007 date never materialized, then a music blogger streamed much of Chinese Democracy a few months before the Nov. 23, 2008 release date. What took so long!? The old saying “Too many cooks in the kitchen” might apply here. The list of contributors nearly rivals that of an orchestra.

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Guns N’ Rose Chinese Democracy Album Review

The 14-song Chinese Democracy stretches more than 70 minutes and the vinyl release comes with two (rather heavy) records. The gatefold cover opens to the lyrics on the left side, recording personnel on the right and an overall Chinese motif using artistically styled creations of the country’s architecture, Chinese flags and members of the military.

Chinese Democracy sounds nothing like Guns N’ Roses. At least in terms of what put the band on the map. Some elements exist, of course, and Rose’s howl remains intact, but in terms of a pure hard rock drubbing a la Appetite For Destruction this album takes on a wholly different approach. That also doesn’t mean it’s a bad album. Instead, Chinese Democracy embraces much of the music landscape that followed after the Guns N’ Roses heyday sans any grunge, instead relying on modern rock rhythms and riffs while, quite arguably, working as an Axl Rose solo album even if with the Guns N’ Roses moniker.

Vinyl Gatefold for Guns N Roses Chinese Democracy

Chinese Democracy opens with the title track, a hard rock anthem of a song that immediately indicates Guns N’ Roses heading down a different path. A catchy modern rock song with a great hook and excellent guitar but considering the number of fretboard artists (5), who actually rips the solo is anyone’s guess but Robin Finck and Buckethead share lead duties. “Shackler’s Revenge” works as a solid mid- to late 90s Anthrax song and “Better” shows Rose dabbling in harder edged alternative rock.

Longtime GNR keyboardist Dizzy Dean excels on this piano-centric track  just as Rose did “November Rain” many years before, but while a solid ballad, “Street of Dreams” doesn’t rise to the same level. A very cool song in “If the World” which falls completely out of the box thanks to the 70s funk groove, a bit of Spanish guitar, excellent drum work from Frank Ferrer and Rose showcasing his vocal range.

The longest track, “There Was a Time” easily makes a Top 10 Guns N’ Roses Songs list if not the Top 5. A great guitar solo midway puts the finishing touches on this busy and melodic gem that comes off quite affecting without losing the rock edge. “Catcher in the Rye” closes out the first side in a reputable GNR heavy guitar ballad with Rose’s piano sprinkled in even if a bit too long.

The industrial rock “Scraped,” the shortest track, gets side 2 of Chinese Democracy off to a fun start and thankfully ends before the repetitive melody gets old. The quick pace continues on “Riad N’ the Bedouins” a mostly generic metal song that has some odd time signature changes interrupting the flow at times. Rose integrates his best attempt at the sounds of Pink Floyd in  “Sorry”  a weighty song with little pronounced melody, probably by design, to keep you in bed.

Chinese Democracy should end here. Because…

“I.R.S.”  has some moments  but comes across loud and overcooked, “Madagascar” indeed provides an orchestra in what’s clearly a Rose pet project that sometimes sounds like a James Bond song, has audio of Martin Luther King and ultimately drags home. Is Rose trying his hand at a movie score in “This I Love”? Not sure, but GNR’s attempt at a love song Does. Not. Work. “Prostitute” limps to the finish line reinforcing a common counseling directive to learn to let go. Combined, these four songs contribute more than 20 minutes to an already lengthy album.

The second half of the second half of Chinese Democracy pretty much falls apart. However, clearly a bit of sophistication and maturity seems to have enveloped Rose on this album. Gone are the days of the once raucous singer having sex in a vocal booth to capture the X-rated sounds for the backdrop of a song.  And admittedly, given the over play of the Guns N’ Roses debut album and the industry mostly ignoring this one, I’d pull out Chinese Democracy before Appetite for Destruction.

Drop the last four songs and this one dabbles into A- territory.

Grade: B

Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy Songs:

  1. Chinese Democracy
  2. Shackler’s Revebge
  3. Better
  4. Street of Dreams
  5. If the World
  6. There Was a Time
  7. Catcher in the Rye
  8. Scraped
  9. Riad N’ the Bedouins
  10. Sorry
  11. R.S.
  12. Madagascar
  13. This I Love
  14. Prostitute

3 thoughts on “Album Review: Guns N’ Roses – Chinese Democracy

  1. I’ve never listened to the whole thing. I’m really just into the very early stuff. I had no idea it almost came out in ’99. I wonder what that album sounded like.

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