It's been fifteen years since the last release from the "band" known as Guns N' Roses seventeen years, that's not a typo seventeen years since the last batch of new material dropped as Use Your Illusions 1 and 2. With all the hype surrounding what has been in the works for an entire generation, Chinese Democracy should be the release of the year, if not the millennium. In no way, shape or form does it come close to achieving either status. Why? Because no amount of hype and buildup can hide the fact that your album just isn't very good.
Not so much recorded as assembled, Chinese Democracy answers the question, "Can a band stay relevant after so long of an absence?" In this case, the answer is no.
Despite its merits or lack thereof, an album so long in the making should at least have a track-by-track breakdown:
Chinese Democracy - We're off to a shaky start with what is possibly the most contrived 80's hair farmer Are You Ready to Rock-style riff the "band" has ever recorded, complete with the long pause for the imaginary crowd to yell Waa-Hoooo! when they take the stage two hours late on the tour canceled soon in a town near you.
Shackler's Revenge - The track was first heard by most on the Rock Band 2 setlist. At the time I remember thinking "It's okay, but if this is the best song on the album, they're fucked." I was wrong. It's the second best track.
Better - Opens with a brutal falsetto leading into one those wistful-type lost love tunes that has you reaching for the skip button.
Street of Dreams - Listen to Axl's inflections during his faux-earnest opening lines and not laugh at the worst Geoff Tate impression ever. I dare you.
Okay, let's pause for a moment for qualification. I did not enter this review to shit on this album. I went to Best Buy and shelled out $11.99 of my own personal dollars expecting maybe not greatness, but at least a nostalgic trip back to the early 90's with a decent upgrade to the new millennium. It's not often I regret a music purchase, but this has become one of those rare moments.
If the World - The best track on the album. The first of many self-indulgent crescendo-reaching epics on the album, but this is the only one that works. Axl sounds great here, but the cynic in me says that this can be credited more to Pro-Tools than herbal tea with honey.
There Was a Time - Another symphonic "epic". Shorter in length than "November Rain" but seemingly twice as long. Nice solo work from Buckethead.
Catcher in the Rye - From the initial notes of the reviewer: "Jesus, this sounds like the bassline in Ozzy's "Tonight." Does Sharon know about this?" A bridge of "Lana nana na na na" is all you need to know.
Scraped Opens with the single worst a cappella vocal in history. I want my goddamn money back.
Riad N' the Bedouins I could have sworn there was no such word as "Riad" (and there still isn't, according to Mr. Spellcheck), but I looked it up. You've won this round, W. Axl Rose. Minus points, however for the very lame usage of "N" in the title. The game is afoot.
Let's pause for another moment to discuss just how soulless this album truly is. The overproduction was a given the overwrought embellishments were already clearly visible on the Use Your Illusion albums, but never in my life have I seen a credit for the "re-amping, engineering and editing" of not the song, but the solos. This is truly a discredit for those guitarists involved Buckethead, Robin Finck and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal - who all do great work upon listening, but still manage to provide not a single memorable riff on the entire album. It doesn't help that of the fourteen tracks, only three could be considered "rockers".
Sorry - From the initial notes of the reviewer: He's doing those dumb inflections again. Too bad. This could be one of the keepers. Again, more nice solo work from Buckethead. Restrained, for him.
I.R.S. - Rhyming "F.B.I." with "private eye"? Bravo, Mr. Rose.
Madagascar - Song #3 on the list of ones to download. A little contrived in the vein of "Civil War." Not as good, but more of a companion piece. Complete with more Cool Hand Luke samples.
This I Love - Syrupy, self-indulgent swirly-keyboard bullshit. This I Hate.
Prostitute - Piano-driven coda with not a single thing going for it except that it signifies the end of the album.
So there you have it: Chinese Democracy. Almost two decades in the making and it winds up being the single biggest waste of manpower and resources since FEMA. This is not the GNR you know. This is an Axl Rose solo album with special guests. It'll be interesting to see who's going to be on the tour if it's any of the endless revolving door of talent (and make no mistake, these musicians are talented they just backed the wrong horse) appearing on the album, or a whole new batch of dudes. Make no mistake - the failure of Chinese Democracy rests solely at the feet of Rose who once took something familiar in the minds of the social consciousness 80's glam rock - and gave it a kick in the ass, elevating it to a whole other level in collaboration (the key word) with talented musicians like Slash, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan, whose subsequent careers have proven that together with Rose was lightning in a bottle but separately will always be less than the sum of their parts.