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Chinese Democracy (Album)

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Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Soulmonster on Tue Dec 02, 2014 9:19 pm

CHINESE DEMOCRACY
[img][/img]
[Original cover]

Release date:
2008

Track list:


Band members talking about the album:
I was adding to ideas that were already there. The entire record was written when I joined the band, except for, I wrote the chorus to 'Better' [plays another part he wrote]. Robin wrote the main riff. [Plays teh verse riff]. Which is really interesting harmonically. [Plays more]. Other than that...there's little bits and pieces I added but most of that record was done [Intimate guitar workshop with Richard, November 2014].

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Re: Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Soulmonster on Sat Apr 14, 2018 5:45 am

Review in The Word, 2009:

Jim Irvin wrote:"ALL I'VE got is time" sings Axl Rose in the opening, title song of Chinese Democracy.
Indeed. It was a generation ago that Guns N' Roses last issued some original material, Use Your Illusion I & II, in September 1991, a year before the World Wide Web was launched, ten years before 9/11 or the iPod. George Bush Sr. was president. Gordon Brown was not yet even Shadow Chancellor. Barack Obama had just graduated from Harvard. There is nobody left in Guns N'Roses who played on Use Your Illusion bar Rose, who is just a few months younger than the president elect.
In other words, the world in which Guns N'Roses arrived was remarkably different to the one in which they return after 14 years work and over $13m spent. Can this record possibly be relevant? Can any record released today sell the quantity this must to recoup? Maybe, in a climate increasingly used to low–budget, low–aspiration records it will blow away all comers. Maybe its impact will be akin to Cecil B De Mille releasing a silent, black and white epic in 1956.
I can tell you you've never heard anything so worked–over, so extravagant. It doesn't sound like a band playing but a small city, every inhabitant roaring at you for attention. Just when you think a track can't get any bigger, a juggernaut full of guitars pulls up and dumps its load, until the album is a vast mountain, which unbelievably, and at great expense, has been hand–polished, until not a chip or extraneous flaw is detectable, merely so people can stand before it and wonder at the effort and the folly.
It took a modest six producers to construct. At the head of the list is Rose himself and Caram Costanzo (Pearl Jam, RATM). Whatever, this was undoubtedly one man's mission, his Xanadu, his Hearst Castle. During its exhausting 72 minutes Rose assays many of his heroes: Queen (Roy Thomas Baker was another of the producers), Led Zeppelin (two tracks, 'Riad N' The Bedouins', 'Madagascar' are indebted to 'Kashmir'), Ozzy Osbourne David Bowie and Pink Floyd (a Gilmour–style blues solo adorns sarcastic ballad 'Sorry') are all audible influences, but there are other prominent, more surprising elements too: 'Better' ("No one ever told me when I was alone, they just thought I'd know better.") has the pop gloss of a Britney Spears song. The incredibly dense 'Shackler's Revenge' starts out like The Prodigy before shunting into a massive GN'R chorus: "I don't believe there's a reason for love", while apparently random guitars writhe like snakes over it. 'Catcher In The Rye' sounds, I swear, like a summit between Take That and Metallica – a carefully crafted boy–band chord–structure with fuck–you thrash metal decoration.
This "something for everyone" aesthetic abounds. 'Scraped' is a vicious tune with a bouncy "Oh–ho" hook that's pure hip–hop. 'Madagascar' is two–parts Zeppelin's 'Kashmir' and a jigger of Jay Z with Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream speech thrown in for added tang. Bollywood strings, classical piano, modish auto–tuned voices, Spanish guitars, break–beats and synthesisers crop up all over the place, and there are plenty of exquisitely realised solos. Messrs. Finck, Tobias, Buckethead, Bumblefoot and Fortus – not a firm of inept solicitors but the guitarists employed on the record – do a remarkable job. Layer upon layer of sound has had to be found room for in the insanely teeming mixes, which are quite startling examples of an arcane craft.
But if one thing stands out in this epic din it is the oddness of Rose's voice, apparently fed through so many plug–ins and processors it's become barely human, that signature, stratospheric, sandblasted whine mutated into a precision–tooled weapon – Vocatron AXL™️ – which lasers itself directly into your hippocampus. When, after a fantastical guitar solo in big ballad 'There Was A Time', Rose re–enters slightly flat – just for a few milliseconds – it's an unfeasibly exciting moment: 'Something human got through!' The lyrics are often alarmingly banal but, somehow, you sense their sincerity. If he can't believe in himself what has Rose got left? You can't fault him for his fealty to the majesty of rock.
Chinese Democracy actually sounds like Russian communism; a huge Mayday parade of might and money, hardware and manpower, meticulously directed. It's pure spectacle, preposterous and temporarily awe–inspiring but ultimately about little but scale and force and lavish resources. The few hours I was allowed to listen to it passed agreeably enough, mostly with a one–eyebrow–raised "what the fuck?" look on my face. It's fascinating listening, even if only as a cautionary tale about unfettered ego, or a guide to what music will never sound like again. I can't wait to find out what becomes of it.
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Re: Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Soulmonster on Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:53 am

Merlin Alderslade wrote:In defence of Chinese Democracy: Guns N' Roses' misunderstood gem
Metal Hammer's Editor shares his love of Guns N' Roses' controversial 2008 album Chinese Democracy.

You had to see it right there in the shops to believe it. After 15 years, $13 million dollars, a revolving door of contributors and so many false starts it had become its own myth, Chinese Democracy, the long-awaited new album from Guns N’ Roses, was finally out in the world. The better part of two decades after Use Your Illusion I and II, it served as the first new GN’R studio album for a whole generation of rock fans, and would mean that Axl Rose could finally answer the questions that had been following him around for all those years in the wilderness. Questions like: who the fuck was actually on it? What does a Guns album without Slash sound like? And, most importantly, would it live up to 15 years of expectation and controversy?

Perhaps that last point is where most people’s assessment of Chinese Democracy is a little skew-whiff. Really, the question should never have been whether it would live up to the expectation, but whether it could have. How can you possibly give an objective opinion of an album that was already so tainted by delays that it has since become the measuring stick for MIA musical ventures? And that’s not to mention the fact that a Guns N’ Roses album without, well, pretty much all of Guns N’ Roses, is going to be greeted by unprecedented cynicism from even the most battle-hardened Axl fanboy.

Upon release, ten years ago this past week, reviews were decidedly mixed. Rolling Stone described Chinese Democracy as a “great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record”, awarding it 4 out of 5 stars. The Guardian gave it a solid but unspectacular 3 stars, stating that it “wears its agonising gestation like a badge of honour.” Many were less kind: Pitchfork gave the album a kicking, describing it as “prosaic letdown”, while Hammer’s own reviewer gave the record a measly 5/10, bluntly asking, “where’s the swagger? The danger?”

Commercially, the album did pretty well – debuting at number 2 and 3 in the UK and US respectively, eventually turning Platinum – but was deemed a disappointing performance overall, especially given its lofty production bill. It quickly slumped back down album charts after the initial hype faded, doing little to convince fans that Axl was justified in seizing control of the band and making it his own pet project in the first place. The new tracks rarely garnered much of a response live, either – even the sight of Slash solo-ing the fuck out of Better on the recent reunion shows provided a paltry reaction compared to a Rocket Queen or a You Could Be Mine.

And what a shame that is. Because here’s the truth of the matter: take away the circumstances of its creation and the context of its release, and Chinese Democracy slams. It’s a damn good album – fuck it, it’s a great album, and occasionally exceptional. It’s an explosive, fantastical, multi-multilayered rock ‘n’ roll opera, but more importantly than that: it’s absolutely stacked with great songs.

Let’s take it track by track. Chinese Democracy might not be on a Welcome To The Jungle level as an album opener (come on, what is?), but it’s an absolute beast of a song in its own right – a snarling, sarcastic, proudly messy banger underpinned by a riff dragged straight out of an LA gutter. Shackler’s Revenge follows: a claustrophobic, eccentric mish-mash of sparring sounds, with a particularly loopy, industrial-metal-on-crap-speed pre-chorus suggesting that Axl was binging on Nine Inch Nails at some point in the album’s lengthy conception. And it works! Better is up next: a song packing a chorus so meaty even the most cynical GN’R nostalgist can’t possibly deny it, with some particularly worthy guitar work from Robin Finck.

After that comes what might just be the centrepiece of the whole record: a triple-whammy of power ballads worthy of any lighters-or-phones-in-the-air moment. Street Of Dreams, with a piano line straight out of the Elton John book of songwriting, and If The World, its flourishes of flamenco guitar and scatty percussion bathed in a warm wash of strings, are both anthems worthy of the GN’R moniker. But it’s There Was A Time – the best track on the record – that really steals the show. A stirring, strings-powered colossus, it’s the kind of song that’d have people slathering if it was released under the umbrella of a Use Your Illusion III in 1995. If you’re keeping score, that’s six straight-up screamers all dished out one after the other.

The album admittedly takes a slight dip here – Catcher In The Rye is another decent ballady number but a step below its predecessors. while Scraped and Riad N’ The Bedouins feel like two sides of a coin found down the back of Axl’s sofa, even if the latter has some interesting, self-deprecating lyricism going on. Then, however, comes the outstanding Sorry – an embittered, bile-spitting Western waltz that sees Axl at his most typically defiant, his goading vocals propelled by the heaviest riff on the album.

.R.S. is a (relatively) simplistic but effective rocker that fans had been used to hearing live for a couple of years before the album actually dropped, while Madagascar – an impassioned horns, strings and kitchen sink epic – had been knocking around since way back in 2001. In truth, perhaps the latter would have been the best place to let Chinese Democracy finish, as the two tracks that follow – the overwrought This I Love and messy but dramatic Prostitute – are decent but not quite in the same league.

Still, though: at its very worst Chinese Democracy is merely ‘OK’, while at its best it’s nothing short of fantastic. There are a flurry of songs that should stay in GN’R setlists for years to come, and moments that none of the other members of Guns have managed to match in any of their time away from the fold. If this had been released as an Axl Rose solo record in the aftermath of a more amicable Guns N’ Roses split, it’d have been embraced with open arms. Actually, I’ll go one better: if this was the album that the now-reunited lineup decided to put out in 2019, it’d be heralded as a thunderous comeback and end up topping a ton of end-of-year-lists. You know I’m right. So, forget the background noise and give Chinese Democracy the credit it deserves: a killer rock ‘n’ roll record with scope, ambition and, most importantly of all, kickass songs. Happy birthday, kween.
Source: https://www.loudersound.com/features/in-defence-of-chinese-democracy-guns-n-roses-misunderstood-gem
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Re: Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Blackstar on Sat Dec 01, 2018 6:05 am

Review from The New York Times, November 20, 2008:

John Pareles wrote:
How Axl Rose Spent All That Time

“ALL I’ve got is precious time,” W. Axl Rose sings in the title song of Guns N’ Roses’ new album, and he must be well aware of how that line sounds now. Mr. Rose, 46, the only remaining original member of Guns N’ Roses, needed 17 years, more than $13 million (as of 2005) and a battalion of musicians, producers and advisers to deliver “Chinese Democracy,” the first album of new Guns N’ Roses songs since 1991. It’s being released on Sunday, with CDs sold exclusively at Best Buy. (In another 21st-century fillip the album’s best song, “Shackler’s Revenge,” appeared first in a video game, Rock Band 2.)

“Chinese Democracy” (Geffen) is the Titanic of rock albums: the ship, not the movie, although like the film it’s a monumental studio production. It’s outsize, lavish, obsessive, technologically advanced and, all too clearly, the end of an era. It’s also a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production. In its 14 songs there are glimpses of heartfelt ferocity and despair, along with bursts of remarkable musicianship. But they are overwhelmed by countless layers of studio diddling and a tone of curdled self-pity. The album concludes with five bombastic power ballads in a row.

“Chinese Democracy” sounds like a loud last gasp from the reign of the indulged pop star: the kind of musician whose blockbuster early success could once assure loyal audiences, bountiful royalties, escalating ambitions and dangerously open-ended deadlines. The leaner, leakier 21st-century recording business is far less likely to nurture such erratic perfectionists. (Mr. Rose did manage to outpace Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, which re-emerged on tour this year but hasn’t yet released a successor to its 1991 masterpiece, “Loveless.”) The new rock paradigm, a throwback to the 1950s and early 1960s, is to record faster, more cheaply and more often, then head out on tour before the next YouTube sensation distracts potential fans.

“Chinese Democracy” is such an old-school event that at this point no album could easily live up to the pent-up anticipation and fascination. Over the last two decades Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” has sold 18 million copies in the United States alone. The original band, particularly the guitar team of Slash on lead and Izzy Stradlin on rhythm, collaborated to forge a scrappy combination of glam, punk and metal behind Mr. Rose’s proudly abrasive voice, which could leap from a baritone growl to a fierce screech. Singing about sex, drugs, booze and stardom, Mr. Rose was a rags-to-MTV success story for the 1980s: a self-described abused child from heartland America who got himself out of Indiana and reinvented himself as a full-fledged Hollywood rock star, charismatic and volatile, never pretending to be controllable.

Amid tours, band members’ addictions and liaisons with models, Guns N’ Roses went on to make an EP and the multimillion-selling albums “Use Your Illusion” I and II, which were released simultaneously in 1991. Those were followed by a desultory collection of punk-rock remakes, “The Spaghetti Incident?,” in 1993, before the band splintered and left Mr. Rose as the owner of the Guns N’ Roses brand. Clearly it would be a very different band, but there was little doubt that Mr. Rose had more to say.

He has been announcing the impending completion of “Chinese Democracy” since at least 1999 and has been singing many of its songs on tour since 2001. Concert bootlegs and unfinished studio versions circulating online have defused some of the surprise from the finished album. Yet meanwhile, year after year, Mr. Rose worked on and reworked the songs. The album credits list 14 studios.

For years Mr. Rose has been tagged the Howard Hughes of rock, as his manager at the time was already complaining in 2001. That didn’t have to be a bad thing; estrangement and obsession have spawned great songs. But “Chinese Democracy,” though it’s a remarkable artifact of excess, is a letdown. Mr. Rose’s version of Guns N’ Roses, with sidemen he can fire rather than partners, leaves his worst impulses unchecked.

Guns N’ Roses is still collaborative; the songs on “Chinese Democracy” are credited to Mr. Rose along with many of the musicians who have passed through the band since the mid-1990s. The guitarists Buckethead and Robin Finck, the bassist Tommy Stinson and the drummers Josh Freese and Brain pushed Mr. Rose toward rock, others toward ballads. By way of comparison with the old Guns N’ Roses, Mr. Rose’s latter-day songwriting tilts more toward the pomp of “November Rain” than the thrust of “Welcome to the Jungle” or the pealing guitar lines of “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” The one song on “Chinese Democracy” written by Mr. Rose alone, “This I Love,” is by far the album’s most maudlin track, and he hams it up further with a vibrato vocal homage to Queen’s Freddie Mercury.

Like the old Guns N’ Roses albums “Chinese Democracy” whipsaws between arrogance and pain, moans and sneers. The present-day Mr. Rose presents himself as someone beleaguered on every front, a cornered character with nothing to lose. He’s tormented by inner demons and, from outside, by antagonists, lovers and users who constantly betray and exploit him. “Forgive them that tear down my soul,” he croaks in “Madagascar,” amid French horns playing a dirge. (The middle of that song inexplicably gives way to a collage of movie dialogue and speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

All the labors of Mr. Rose and his various lineups, both inspired and overblown, come through the finished album. Mr. Rose and his co-producer, Caram Costanzo, just keep piling up the sounds. String orchestra? Toy piano plinks? Voices muttering in foreign languages? Harp? Drum machines? Choirs? “I Have a Dream”? They’re all there, along with indefatigable drums and phalanxes of guitars.

“Chinese Democracy” reveals multiple archaeological layers, including what might have been passing fascinations as the 1990s and early 2000s rolled by: the Metallica of “Enter Sandman” in the surly, self-righteous “Sorry”; the distortion effects of Nine Inch Nails in “Shackler’s Revenge”; U2’s sustained guitars and martial beat to begin “Prostitute”; a combination of Elton John piano and strings (arranged by Mr. John’s longtime associate Paul Buckmaster) with Smashing Pumpkins guitar crescendos in “Street of Dreams.”

Some of the album’s best moments are its intros. Flaunting what time and money can accomplish, there are gratuitous ear grabbers like an a cappella vocal chorale in “Scraped,” a siren matched by a siren swoop of Mr. Rose’s voice in “Chinese Democracy” and the narrow-band, filtered beginning of “Better.” That track goes on to hurtle across so much of what Guns N’ Roses does well — from steel-clawed hard-rock riffs to metallic reggae-rock to arena-anthem melodies — that it almost makes up for the whininess and lazy “-tion” rhymes of the underlying song. “If the World” opens with acoustic guitar lines suggesting a Middle Eastern oud but segues into wah-wah rhythm guitar and sustained strings fit for a blaxploitation soundtrack, while Mr. Rose unleashes something like a soul falsetto.

Is it demented? Sometimes. Does Mr. Rose care? Apparently not. “I am crazy!” he belts over the frantic guitar and tom-toms of “Riad N’ the Bedouins,” while he’s a potentially trigger-happy maniac in “Shackler’s Revenge.” In “Scraped” he’s alternately depressive and manic, warning “Don’t you try to stop us now” over a riff fit for Led Zeppelin. “Catcher in the Rye” echoes the Beatles in its melody while it alludes to Mark David Chapman, who was carrying that book when he killed John Lennon: “If I thought that I was crazy/Well I guess I’d have more fun,” he sings.

Even when he’s presumably being himself, Mr. Rose is forever overwrought. He pushes his multiply overdubbed voice every which way — rasping, sobbing, cackling, yowling — while at the same time Mr. Finck, Buckethead and Ron (Bumblefoot) Thal are playing frantic guitar solos, with a mandate to wail higher and zoom faster.

The craziness on “Chinese Democracy” isn’t the wild, brawling arrogance that the young Mr. Rose and his rowdy ’80s band mates gave the fledgling Guns N’ Roses. It’s the maniacal attention to detail that’s possible in the era of Pro Tools: the infinitude of tiny tweaks available for every instant of a track, the chance to reshape every sound and reshuffle every setting, to test every guitar solo ever played on a song — or all of them at once — and then throw on a string arrangement for good measure. That microscopic focus is obvious throughout “Chinese Democracy”; every note sounds honed, polished, aimed — and then crammed into a song that’s already brimming with other virtuosity. At points where the mix goes truly haywire, like the end of “Catcher in the Rye,” a Meat Loaf song title sums things up: “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”

It’s easy to imagine Mr. Rose determined to outdo his own brazen youth and his old band, but with less perspective and hundreds of new tracks as each year goes by. If Guns N’ Roses had released “Chinese Democracy” in 2000, it would still have been an event, but it might also have been treated as the transitional album in a band’s continuing career. By holding it back and tinkering with it for so long, Mr. Rose has pressured himself to make it epochal — especially if, on this timetable, the next Guns N’ Roses studio album doesn’t arrive until 2025. And fans were waiting for him to defy the world again, not to do another digital edit. Sometime during the years of work, theatricality and razzle-dazzle replaced heart.

As Mr. Rose bemoans the love that ended or vows to face life uncompromised and on his own, the music on “Chinese Democracy” swells and crashes all around him, frantic and nearly devoid of breathing space. It’s hard to envision him as the songs do, that besieged antihero alone against the world, when he’s sharing his bunker with a cast of thousands.

Correction: November 30, 2008
An article last Sunday about Guns N’ Roses misstated the name of a video game that first featured their song “Shackler’s Revenge.” It is Rock Band 2, not Rock Star 2.
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Re: Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Blackstar on Sat Dec 22, 2018 10:49 am

The Divisive Legacy & Surprising Future of Guns N' Roses' 'Chinese Democracy'

by Art Tavana

The conundrum of Guns N' Roses' 2008 album Chinese Democracy is clear: Why on earth would a preposterously individualist rock star produce a solipsistic piece of art, thinly veil it as a democratic effort, and then nearly disown it like Tony Kaye in the aftermath of American History X? It was his weight to bare. "He really put his balls on the line," says Tommy Stinson, former bassist of Guns N' Roses and The Replacements.

During the period of recording Chinese Democracy (1994-2008), Axl Rose had become a wounded and mythical figure. His foreign policy was a war of attrition with real and imaginary threats—rarely shrugging off forces he believed were delaying his growth. By the 2000s, he had found the courage to drift away, but in the process of purging himself of his demons, he lost sight of the shore. From his sanctuary, deep in the canyons of Malibu, he wrote to us like Holden Caulfield: "My apologies to anyone I have unintentionally confused and those I have mistakenly offended," reads a cryptic note from the novelistic liner notes of Chinese Democracy—self-ruination to the majority, and a work of uncompromising genius to the minority of GN'R fans who view it like the soundtrack of the singer's lost years.

"I honestly don't think old school fans have any awareness for the record," says syndicated rock radio DJ Eddie Trunk, who was the first person to leak tracks from Chinese Democracy live on the air in 2003. "It didn't have any hits. It wasn't commercially successful. It doesn't have recurrent airplay on classic rock radio, and because of that, the only people that record is on the radar for are extremely hardcore GN'R fans."

It's a record defined by complex mixes that weave together a digital tapestry of interminable layering with grinding hard rock. It was a sonic anomaly from the period, as it has almost no compression, with full dynamic range, which made it sound vintage, or alien to rock music fans being crushed by the loudness of records like Metallica's 2008 LP Death Magnetic. "Its inception began in 1994, which was before file sharing, and when it came out, it was an extension of a period that predates the internet," says author and heavy metal enthusiast Chuck Klosterman, the first critic to review Chinese Democracy in 2006, a work of satire, and one of the few rock critics who would shamelessly praise it when it was released on Nov. 23, 2008.

Fans' ears may not have been ready for it, and certainly, had there been a public opinion poll conducted in 2008 asking fans whether Chinese Democracy belong in GN'R's catalog, plenty of protests would have been lobbed.

"If he had released it as an Axl Rose solo record, it probably would have sold millions," says former Geffen A&R executive Tom  Zutaut. "But when we sat in the studio and talked about Chinese Democracy, he [Axl Rose] just wasn't ready to go there yet." Nielsen reports that Chinese Democracy sold 549,000 units in the first 12 weeks of release. Records by Metallica and AC/DC release during that same period went Platinum in their first 12 weeks. Chinese Democracy was, by most standards, a commercial failure. Would it have quickly moved a million units as a solo effort? Probably not. Zutaut was recruited in 2001 by Interscope-Geffen as consiglieri to Axl, a well-paid advisor and comrade who was there to help the volatile composer meet his Interscope-Geffen deadline—which was extended so many times that Chinese Democracy became a synonym for unpunctuality; even Dr. Dre's Detox had become the "Chinese Democracy of rap."

Zutaut intended to persuade Axl to release the album under his name, "W. Axl Rose," not Guns N' Roses. It was a strategy that Zutaut felt would have alienated less of the outspoken fans. Klosterman, one of the most fluent GN’R fans, says, "almost nobody listened to it as a piece of music. They only listened to it a series of ideas and functions of Axl Rose as a person, which really skewed the perception of how the record was perceived." Had it been released as a solo record, the critics who viewed Axl's usurped GN'R as a moral dilemma, may have been more sympathetic. Then again, it would been completely out of character for Axl Rose to proceed with a policy of appeasement.

"Axl's victory or death," deli owner and band photographer Marc Canter said as rumors began to circulate about a GN'R reunion, which would culminate at an unannounced show at the Troubadour on April 1, 2016 "You can put one billion dollars on the table, and he could need it, and he still won't do it until he's ready."

It was never about the money for Axl. There was nothing commercially viable about reimagining GN'R through the kaleidoscope of every bizarre musical movement that followed the original band's dissolution. It was career suicide. It was uncompromising. It was punk rock. But Chinese Democracy stalled to convert GN'R stans who were confused by a record that sounded avant but couldn't escape the band’s cultural recession and Shakespearean behind-the-scenes melodrama. It was a paradox, and Axl's weltschmerz permeates the tracks on Chinese Democracy—the musical equivalent of an Ed Hopper painting filled with characters illustrated by Robert Williams. The strange lyrics added to the foreign-sounding production of Chinese Democracy, as fans tried to make sense of the literary rock star's psychology, while trying to reconcile his piano ballads with their need for catharsis after a nearly two-decade drought. Whenever they found something to cling to, such as the monstrous bridge on "Better," or one of the 10 clinical Buckethead solos, they thought, would Slash have played it that way?

"Buckethead was an absolutely emotionless person," says Zutaut. "The only thing that allowed him feel emotion was having things cut up and bleeding around him, so he'd cut the heads off rubber chickens and hang them around the studio." Chinese Democracy had a sociopathic tinge to it that made it an album that could become a character in a Bret Easton Ellis novel, not something to head-bang to; the perplexing irony being that Axl Rose previewed Chinese Democracy at a Vegas strip club in 2003.

In 1999, reporting for Rolling Stone, David Wild was the first reporter to sit down with Axl Rose and listen to Chinese Democracy, which was "99 percent musically done" a decade before it would be released. "Axl was trying to respond to the different waves of music, and it seemed like he was trying to wait out the changes to capture something new," says Wild, who opines Interscope head Jimmy Iovine was hoping Axl would reunite the old band, which fueled the singer's insecurity during the creative process. "Past success weighed on him heavily," said Wild.

"There is the desire definitely to do it, to get over some of the hump of the people that are trying to keep you in the past," Axl told RS.

Kevin Cogill, aka Skwerl, who would leak nine of the 14 tracks of Chinese Democracy for his blog Antiquiet only months before the official release date, adds his take: "He left in the oven for so fucking long that the end result was every trend over the last 14 years, a little bit of trip-hop, nu-metal, NIN…."

For Cogill, the anxiety of waiting for Chinese Democracy, or rather, waiting for someone else to leak it, was the impetus for the leak; mysteriously, the CD-R, according to Cogill, came directly from the desk of Jimmy Iovine. For Cogill and other infamous leakers, the long incubation period had turned the record into a government secret -- and they were the GNR nation state’s WikiLeaks. By 2008, there had already been major waves of leaks, beginning with Eddie Trunk in 2003 (which was a CD-R lifted from the strip club preview) and ending with the penultimate Antiquiet leak. Even before the Antiquiet leaks, most of Chinese Democracy was being pieced together by internet-savvy fans. "Everyone in the forums were waiting around for the album to come out, but when it came out, we'd already heard a lot of it and there was a bit of exhaustion," says Downzy, one of the moderators of the MyGNRForum (which Axl actually posted in under the pseudonym "Dexter").

As noted earlier in Wild’s account as well as Axl’s own words, Chinese Democracy cast a giant spotlight on Axl's lifelong ideological struggle to "bury Appetite," while his fans wanted him to bring it back to life. "Axl's goal was to make a more modern record, to make GN'R a more modern band. But Guns N' Roses fans wouldn't accept that," says Zutaut. "Had it been a 'W. Axl Rose' record, who knows…but not a lot people know this: Chinese Democracy was going to be trilogy."

Tommy Stinson, who says he hasn't listened to Chinese Democracy since he helped record it, provides his take on Axl's unfinished masterpiece: "All I can is…that record was not meant to be one disc." Chinese Democracy remains curiously incomplete, and though the numbers vary, there seem to be at least 60 different tracks that were at least partially finished when the first part of Chinese Democracy was released. Fans continue to struggle to find a cohesive concept album buried underneath all the years of tinkering and tumult.

"All of the material that hadn't been released was coming out in 2016, then, the reunion happened," says one source, who believes leaks over the years -- including unreleased tracks such as the Stinson penned song "Going Down," and the unheard "Atlas Shrugged" ("a song influenced by Axl's fascination with Ayn Rand," confirms Zutaut) -- are the result of a fanbase that's begun to fantasy book their preferred version through leaked Chinese Democracy demos, album art, and their take on what the most classically GN'R-sounding song was on a record that was essentially postmodern.

"Ironically, the song that sounded the most like traditional Guns N' Roses was the title track, 'Chinese Democracy,' which was written by their drummer, Josh Freese," says Zutaut, who has a reliable ear when it comes to the band’s original sound. Both Axl and Freese are credited for writing "Chinese Democracy," but Freese, perhaps the best modern session drummer in rock, was not someone fans had an emotional connection with. Through no fault of his own, he wasn't Izzy Stradlin or Slash.

As for Slash, when he told Total Guitar in 1997 that "Rose's sound is a lot more synthetic than anything I would get anywhere close to," he would arguably curse Chinese Democracy with a scarlet letter. Without Slash's endorsement, Chinese Democracy lacked the necessary seal of approval to click with the aging fans from the Sunset Strip. Then again, Chinese Democracy, those 14 songs, may have sounded too organic with Slash. Part of the appeal of Chinese Democracy is that it sounds post-apocalyptic and completely cybernetic in parts.

"The solo on 'Riad N' the Bedouins,' I can't imagine Slash playing that," says Klosterman, who, like many music critics over the years, has returned to Chinese Democracy to study the technically astounding guitar solos on the record played by Buckethead, Robin Finck, and Bumblefoot, which makes it one of the last records where guitar solos were such featured attractions. "In the context of the today, listening to some of those solos, it's an epic rock record," says Zutaut. Then again, even Klosterman and Zutaut struggle to immediately remember who played which solo on Chinese Democracy, which fans required an instructional manual to know, along with the fact that a harp is buried in the mix of "This I Love," Axl's vulnerable piano ballad. Tragically, a lot of the record's emotional beauty got lost in Pro Tools maximalism.

"By loving that album, you were almost rejecting the band that came before it," says Wild. Axl Rose was either too stubborn to abandon ship or fully committed to a militaristic quest to vindicate himself over the corpse of his former band. Either way, it was riveting theater that led to a complicated piece of modern art, rather than something even remotely user-friendly.  

"When I talked to Axl, his idea was very much punk rock," says bassist Stinson, who would go on to be the glue to the band's rhythm section for roughly 18 years. "He owned the name and was like, 'the other fuckers all quit, and I got the name and I'm going on. I'm going on as Guns N' Roses.' Call me kooky, but at the moment, I was like, 'shit man, I'm with you.'"

Stinson has a punk-rock ethos, but a lot of the musicians who worked on Chinese Democracy have explicitly signed confidentiality agreements preventing them from talking about the simonized recording process, in perpetuity, which are now locked away under the threat of legal blitzkrieg from attorneys. It was the fall of 2008, and Axl Rose, along with Stinson and an army of musicians, had authored one of the most anticipated rock records in history -- and nobody was allowed to talk about it, because Axl Rose, the majordomo, refused to promote Chinese Democracy. There wasn't an overwrought music video or a late-night appearance; no Rolling Stone cover, either. The first major interview Axl gave was to Billboard in 2009, where he dragged the label. You'd have to go back a decade to find his next major print interview. Chinese Democracy was lost in the fog of Axl's two-front cold war with Interscope and his demons.

Nobody knows precisely why Axl refused to promote his life's work, which was 14 years in the making with a price tag ballooning to $14 million. The mystery has led to fan theories: Was his evasiveness a defense mechanism to protect him from criticism? "Axl's an extremely fragile and sensitivity person," says Zutaut, a sentiment seconded by a confidential source who worked on Chinese Democracy. Was Axl protecting himself, while at the same time burnishing his own myth as the "Howard Hughes of Rock"?

"I think there was a safety net with the other bands members," says Doug Goldstein, one of several managers who landed on Axl's shit-list during the recording of Chinese Democracy. "Without them around, it [was] an Axl Rose album, so he couldn't say it was bad song because of Slash or something."

If there's any argument to be made that Chinese Democracy should have been an Axl Rose record, it's that every song is a psychological study of one Axl Rose, not his band.

"Sometimes I feel like the world is on top of me, breaking me down," he writes on "Scraped," lyrics that may have been borrowed from the unreleased "Atlas Shrugged," or whispers in a sadistic child's voice on "Better": "No one ever told me when I was alone, they just thought I'd know better." There's lyrics that threaten violence, bemoan betrayal and manipulation, and like Dylan in the late-'60s, he was punishing the hypocrites with diss tracks that were, unfortunately, a bit too cerebral for his fanbase. It felt like Axl was asking hard rock fans to think like poetry majors. On "Street of Dreams," he writes what can either be interpreted as a breakup letter to an ex-lover, or a lyric about a former friend: "What I thought was beautiful, don't live inside you anymore." He possibly spoke to fans on the track "Sorry," the Chinese government on the title track, and teased answers to questions no journalist was allowed to ask him on the ballad "Prostitute”: "What would you say, if I told you that I'm to blame?" None of it was accessible to the novice GN’R fan.

In the studio, he had digitized GN'R with obscure samples, effects, and recording wizardry that had dragged GN'R away from Aerosmith on a path of broken glass, and towards NIN—which was painful for some fans to accept. The fundamentalist fans would never forgive Axl for turning their sacred band into a melancholic science project. They had waited 14 years for the gustatory pleasure of Appetite for Destruction, and got an album that glittered with synths, dance beats, and orchestral arrangements that included a harp. It was the hard-rock equivalent of Dylan going electric at Newport.

Doug Goldstein adds his take Axl's creative instincts during that period: "If it was up to Slash, GNR would have been AC/DC and every album would be Appetite. If it was up to Axl, they'd be the Beatles, and every album would evolve." Like Beatles fans in 1970, you were forced into either the Slash or Axl camp, and until the two reunited in 2016, a specific demographic of fan felt divorced from GN'R.

But it's unfair to only blame Axl or Slash for the alienation and immolation of Chinese Democracy. There's another, more industry-oriented theory about the fan denial of the record, which involves the singer's decision to never promote or fully sign-off on Chinese Democracy.

"I think he [Jimmy Iovine] never gave it a chance. I think he was like, 'Ok I'll sponsor this, and then the band will get back together, and I'll have that.' I think he was always waiting for that ball to drop," says Stinson, a theory that was mostly corroborated by Wild.  "I think to some degree, he [Jimmy Iovine] sabotaged the thing. There were a lot of missteps, and they were all record company related, which had everything to do with the failure of that record," says Stinson.

There's an audio clip Billboard reviewed; it's allegedly from June 2014 and includes Axl Rose from behind his grand piano telling a story to a group of friends. Some of those who knew him then describe him as “Twain-y” because of his gift for gab. "Listen, listen, you gotta' understand," he says. "When you see the real artwork from my album, not what you see (inaudible), there's a reason I didn't promote it, because the real artwork is what I will promote." Axl then begins to play a medley of Elton John. The grand piano from the recording is described to have custom artwork on the lid that most uninitiated fans have never seen. Initially, Chinese Democracy was scheduled to be released with three different covers (a grenade, a red hand, and a bicycle), but only the minimalist bicycle art made it to the mass-production phase and became ubiquitous with Chinese Democracy, a record that was the antithesis of minimalism. "They ripped it away from him," says Stinson. "Right at the last second, when he wasn't ready…."

The general public essentially never saw the "Red Hand" album booklet, which is said to have been Axl's preferred version, with a cover designed by Chinese artist Shi Lifeng. It would be released in limited quantities, but the digitally haunting "Red Hand" cover never appeared on the rack for the Best Buy exclusive, which failed to move units at a substantial rate (according to The Wall Street Journal, Best Buy was experiencing a poor quarter in terms of earnings during an economic recession). The most anticipated album in rock history felt lost in Best Buy's cardboard stands, with such DIY artwork—which Axl refused to promote. Around the same time, however, Wal-Mart released AC/DC's Black Ice, creating a pop-up AC/DC shop that sold T-shirts and AC/DC-themed Rock Band video games; that album sold 1.95 million copies in the first 12 weeks, according to Nielsen. Of course, AC/DC guitarist Angus Young was a media darling, while Rose was more mercurial. But Universal Music's Interscope Geffen label had released a blockbuster and promoted it like it was nothing of the sort. The most anticipated rock record in history was murdered by a thousand different jabs and body shots, including artwork the artist wasn't committed to, but the colossal marketing blunder was the Tyson-esque knockout punch.

But a curious question that remains is, as Chinese Democracy becomes vintage and benefits off the tacit endorsement of Slash and Duff on the reunion tour, can it become a more accepted part of GN'R canon? Thus far, the reunited band has played numerous tracks off Chinese Democracy (“Better” and “Chinese Democracy” are mainstays on their current set). For GNR's fans, seeing Slash strum the first few notes of "Chinese Democracy" at the Troubadour and Vegas kickoff shows, the first time he'd publicly play those riffs, either felt like closure, deep offense, or…

"For most people," says Trunk. "It was a go get a beer or go to the bathroom moment…."

Since the Not In This Lifetime...Tour began in April 2016, Chinese Democracy has sold 7,900 units, according to Nielsen. That's pretty insignificant. However, streams of Chinese Democracy (a total of all songs on the album) have spiked from 8 million to 24 million, which is to say that Slash and Duff's endorsement, and the tour, has led to a notable increase in album streams. The reunion bump has also tickled the imagination of music moguls and made Chinese Democracy more of a curiosity for a new generation of fans.

"One of the best things about the reunion tour is hearing the Chinese Democracy material with Slash and Duff, and how much better it is with them playing on it, which only puts into my imagination what the record would have sounded like if they had played on it," says Zutaut.

Trunk feels the reunion has mildly increased interest in the record: "It's been a slow grower and people have rediscovered it with them just playing it on their reunion show."

The most interesting question is whether Axl Rose can recruit Slash and Duff to record or re-record the material to fill the second part of Chinese Democracy, as, in the end, the singer may require the services of his original bandmates to complete his unfinished masterpiece, which the sage-like ghosts of GN'R's past continue to bury, refusing to accept it as part of GN’R's hard-rock legacy.

"Chinese Democracy proves the importance of Izzy Stradlin to Guns N' Roses," says Alan Niven, who managed the band from 1986 to 1991. For an Izzy purist such as Niven, the former guitarist was the leash on Axl's mad genius, the voice who would keep him from losing himself in an abyss that's absent of limitation -- which is what makes Chinese Democracy such a fascinating study of an auteur losing control while trying so desperately to assert it.
https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8490842/guns-n-roses-chinese-democracy-album-legacy
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