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Album Review : Guns 'N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

  • Written by  Kirstie McCrum

It's not too often that a bona fide 100 million album-selling act releases a new record. That's a lot of albums shifted, and a lot of fans who love your work. But what if you took that love and let it make excuses for you, let it make you do crazy things? Hmmm, like, let's say, taking 15 years to release a follow-up record - maybe that sort of madness?


In fact, to say that The Spaghetti Incident? was ill-equipped to tide fans over is to gravely overestimate the sad sack of covers it truly was - so in essence, 17 years since Use Your Illusion II made G'n'R fans quiver with brand spanking new material.

Well, that's the mythology - what about the music?

From opener 'Chinese Democracy' it is reassuring to note that Axl Rose has lost none of the ego and pomposity which made him the perfect rock star for the 1980s. A slew of static and distortion quickly morphs into Rose's characteristic yelp backed with crunching guitars, and from then on, it's truly rock's own country. Taking as its subject, ahem, 'Chinese democracy' and the possibility thereof, good news. From our own correspondent, the report is, "blame it on the Falun Gong - they've seen the end and you can't hold on now", meaning Rose is sold on the revolution, baby. Who's going to tell Hu?

On 'Shackler's Revenge', Rose voices the thoughts of your friendly neighbourhood high school shooter, screaming every parent's worst nightmare, "I don't believe there's a reason," over a tightly woven axe tapestry. Way to court controversy.

'Better' - starting like a slicker 'Mysterious Ways' slows it down and makes Axl into the true rock frontman, using his voice to sing instead of his preferred higher register. It suits him, and makes the album more rounded as a result.

There's evidence too on Chinese Democracy of the balladeer who gave us 'November Rain', specifically on 'Street Of Dreams'. Known pre-release simply as 'The Blues', it has a bluesy swagger and a soulful centre which make it more of a radio friendly unit shifter than the other tracks on show - there's even a nicely placed solo that would make Richie Sambora proud.

'If The World' is a slinky Spanish-style love ballad - really! - which sees Rose praying that this love he has found will not end, while "There Was A Time" (affectionately referred to as TWAT on the band's side) is about the loss of the lover, and the life, of 'If The World', when it all just seems to drift away. There's a great orchestration on there, though, which makes it a good listen, even if the lyrical matter is little more than fluff.

If you ever thought what Axl Rose would sound like channeling Holden Caulfield, it's on show on the snappily-titled 'Catcher In The Rye'. For those who thought that the disaffected anti-hero of J.D. Salinger's 1951 book had long since ceased to be relevant, Rose is here to tell you different - and how. He's got a similar bone to pick with, well, one would assume Arabs, in 'Riyadh And The Bedouins'. Some sort of Middle Eastern polemic, the song unfortunately sees Axl telling those 'furriners', "I won't bend my will to live - you aggravate me", so hopefully they get the message there.

Closer "Prostitute" is more about Rose selling himself than about a "My Hooker Hell"-style confession and it's a real epic, six minutes of the real deal of choosing love over "fortune and fame" which leaves the listener feeling drained, morose and not a little older.

There are some genuinely good songs here. Axl hasn't lost it, he seems to have actually refined those talents he had. The production is pretty smooth, but that's true of any band these days, and the guitar work, in some cases, easily surpasses Slash's signature riffs for effectiveness and sheer simplicity.

The question on everyone's lips is pretty much "was it worth the wait?", and that is a tough call. Put it this way - the Chinese have been waiting almost 60 years for democracy, and G'nR fans have had just 15 years in the shade. When you put it like that, it's not been very long at all.

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