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Welcome to Appetite for Discussion -- a Guns N' Roses fan forum!

Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

Registering is free and easy.

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Chinese Democracy (Album)

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Chinese Democracy (Album) Empty Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Soulmonster Wed Dec 03, 2014 9:19 am

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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Post by Soulmonster Sat Apr 14, 2018 6:45 pm

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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Post by Soulmonster Thu Nov 29, 2018 6:53 pm

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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Post by Blackstar Sat Dec 01, 2018 6:05 pm

Review in The New York Times, November 20, 2008:
How Axl Rose Spent All That Time

By Jon Pareles

“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.


Last edited by Blackstar on Sun May 30, 2021 5:19 am; edited 2 times in total
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Post by Blackstar Sat Dec 22, 2018 10:49 pm

Article in Billboard, Dec. 22, 2018:
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


Last edited by Blackstar on Sun May 30, 2021 5:18 am; edited 1 time in total
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Chinese Democracy (Album) Empty Re: Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Soulmonster Mon Jun 10, 2019 8:15 pm

Review in Classic Rock's 'Album of the Week' series:

Classic Rock wrote:Guns N' Roses: Chinese Democracy - Album Of The Week Club review

Can we review Axl Rose's labour of love Chinese Democracy without talking about time and money? Probably not

2.5 stars out of 5.

Fourteen years in the making, the famously long-awaited Chinese Democracy was finally released in 2008, to massive fanfare and hype, but if ever an album was weighed down by its own baggage, it was this one.

Chinese Democracy was an inevitable disappointment. Sounding like Axl Rose had taken a little piece of every single musical genre he had heard in the previous decade – some nu metal, some post-grunge, some garage – it was all over the place. To many it wasn't worthy of the Guns N' Roses name, judged less for what it was than what it wasn't. And it wasn't Appetite For Destruction. Hell, it wasn't even Use Your Illusion.

But for those who were able to cast their preconceptions aside, Chinese Democracy was a misunderstood gem. As Metal Hammer editor Merlin Alderslade said last year, "At its very worst Chinese Democracy is merely ‘OK’, while at its best it’s nothing short of fantastic.

"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."

He isn't the only one to praise the album. “The first time I heard Chinese Democracy, I thought it was the perfect Axl Rose record," Slash told Classic Rock. "If it had been released as the Axl Rose solo record everybody would have gone, ‘Wow!’"

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.

Background

Whatever one’s view of Chinese Democracy as an artistic statement, it’s indisputable that no-one will ever make an album as expensive again.

A ridiculous 14 years in the making, Guns N’ Roses’ follow-up to the expansive Use Your Illusion double set cost Geffen Records a jaw-dropping $13 million in production costs alone, understandable when studio hire weighed in at $50,000 per month, guitar techs were being paid $6000 per month and the album’s recording software engineer was taking home $25,000 per month.

Beyond that, there were miscellaneous expenses accountants never factored in originally: who knew, for example, that eccentric guitarist Buckethead would demand a bespoke chicken coop to record in, or that Axl Rose’s personal guru, nicknamed Yoda, would have to approve each track before it was signed off.

Other albums released in November 2008

Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows
Edguy - Tinnitus Sanctus
The Killers - Day & Age
Mudvayne - The New Game
Nickelback - Dark Horse
Sammy Hagar - Cosmic Universal Fashion
Third Eye Blind - Red Star
Zac Brown Band - The Foundation
Coldplay - Prospekt's March
Linkin Park - Road to Revolution: Live at Milton Keynes
Good Charlotte - Greatest Remixes
Paramore - The Final Riot!

What they said...

"Let’s get right to it: The first Guns N’ Roses album of new, original songs since the first Bush administration is a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record. In other words, it sounds a lot like the Guns N’ Roses you know." (Rolling Stone)

"Axl took 17 years to, we hoped, explore new textures, manipulate songwriting conventions, seek out challenging collaborators, or delve into unfamiliar genres for inspiration. Yet on the way to being this decade's Sgt. Peppers, Chinese Democracy became its Be Here Now – a record of relatively simple, similar songs overdubbed into a false sense of complexity in a horrorshow of modern production values." (Pitchfork)

"The arrangements are impossibly over-stuffed. Chinese Democracy is frequently as exhausting to listen to as it must have been to make, not least on the regular occasions when Rose, clearly unable to decide whether to have another verse or a widdly-woo guitar solo, opts to do both at the same time. (The Guardian)

What you said

Áslat Eira: It has a special place in my heart, since this is the only record by Guns that has been released during my lifetime, and I've grown up with this album. There's a couple of songs I could live without, but otherwise it's a special album for me.

David Alejandro Cepeda Benavides: It's not as bad as some people say. I'd say it's an average GN'R record. It has some mediocre tracks, but there are also really good ones: For me, the best song on the album is This I Love, then Better, I.R.S. and the title track. As a whole it's their worst album, but these songs deserve a listen, they should not be forgotten.

Damian Keen: It’s terrible, just terrible. I struggle not to laugh out loud every time at the vocal on Street of Dreams. This is what happens when you give an OCD unlimited funds and unlimited time. Horrible. 1/10 if not less, and a travesty to be under the GN'R name.

Eetu Tiainen: Well, I know we're supposed to ignore the time that it took to make this album, but you sort of cannot. I think that this is not a complete disaster, there is some pretty decent stuff on it as well. Only thing that bothers me is that if this album would've gotten done in the 90s it could have been so much better.

It could have had that raw GN'R sound that gave the finger to hair metal in the late 80s. When the 00s kicked in, there was too much modern sound effects available and this album drowned in to that. Too much experimenting with nu metal kinda sounds, that didn't fit with the classic rock riffs. Better is a good example.

Also, the 14-year hype that this album had made the disappointment even bigger. But hey, everybody makes mistakes sometimes, let's hope the new stuff they're currently working on is going to be "better" than this. And for the love of god, let's hope it doesn't take another decade and a half to get it finished.
Overall, should have been a lot better, could have been a lot worse.

Chris Webb: Regardless of the fact that it was labelled a Guns N' Roses project, I really felt this was Axl's solo album.

It's also vastly underrated. Better, Catcher In The Rye, Street Of Dreams, This I Love, Prostitute and the centrepiece Madagascar - all great tunes. And for some reason the title track starts off with the guitar riff from Beverly Hills 90210.

But if you can get past that, plus the hype (that has since turned to stigma) there are some great performances and some great songs on this album.

Much like Use Your Illusion I and II it's a shade too long; Axl could benefit from another strong presence telling him to cut a track or two. But ultimately, this stands up. I loved this when it was released, still enjoy it.

Mark Tucker: Its not awful. If you view it as an Axl solo album (which is what it really is) its not bad. But the gulf between it and the rest of their work is enormous. I play it rarely but enjoy it when I do.

Mike Rowell: To be fair to Axl this album could have been Pet Sounds or Revolver and people would still rubbish it! Personally I thought it was patchy but had moments of brilliance. The ballads are okay. But the rock tracks are pretty bland. I think it needed Izzy or Slash for some decent harder riffs.

Joe Breeze: Listening to this album as an independent release, stepping away from all the back story this is a good album. Not the best, but it is definitely good.

Everyone just got pissed as it wasn't Appetite - well, it wasn't the same band that recorded it. Arguably it shouldn't have been released under GN'R name.

It's an Axl and guests album but he has every right to use the GN'R name as he is as much responsible for their prominence as any other member.

Particular standouts are the title track, Better, Madagascar and Prostitute. Better was one of the highlights of the four shows I saw them at over the past three years.

It's got attitude, its got riffs and it thumps in parts. It's just not got Slash, Duff or Izzy. 6.5/10

Brett Deighton: I agree with the sentiment that this is an underrated album. You can’t compare it to Appetite, not many albums can compare. It does feel like an Axl Rose solo album, but if you think of it like that, it’s not a bad one. Yeah it’s overproduced and a bit ballad heavy, but there are some great songs on here and none of them stink as bad as Get In The Ring or My World.

Caroline Engel: I don't hate it. I try to see it as more of an Axl Rose solo album rather than a GN'R album, because there's not a whole lot of GN'R on it. But I actually enjoy playing it from time to time. Street Of Dreams is one of my favourites from the album.

Tanvir Choudhury: There's a lot to admire here; the title track is a bombastic opening, Axl's welcome swagger of Shackler's Revenge and Better, November Rain revisited in Street of Dreams and the ambition of If The World. One can even forgive the pseudo-intellectualism of Madagascar because of it's spitting conviction.

The album is akin to a bitter and perhaps deluded patient who eloquently tells you the suffering he's endured but whose sincerity is seriously undermined as his pleas are far too well rehearsed. The lady doth protest too much, methinks, but produceth a beautiful mess.

Adrian Howson: I bought this on release, listened to it once and put it at the bottom of the CD pile dismissing it as a complete pile of crap. 10 years later I dug it out, purely out of curiosity and to see if time had made it any better. While it’s not a masterpiece, time had indeed changed my opinion and it’s not the steaming turd that I initially dismissed it as. There’s some great tunes here - it only took me ten years to discover them. There Was a Time, for me at least, is a belter.

Marco LG: I tried and I am still trying to listen with fresh ears, but the hardest thing is avoiding reaching out for the skip button. Utterly forgettable tunes are one thing, properly annoying ones another. And there are more than a few properly annoying ones I'm afraid. Will score 2 / 10 and stop listening here. Sorry.

Bill Griffin: Just when I think it has something to like, Axl starts singing again. I suppose that if one likes his voice, this album is awesome. Even though there are songs in the GN'R catalog I like (Paradise City, November Rain), I'm not one of them and his vocals are even more irritating than normal on this record.

Brian Hart: Chinese Democracy is a great album. In the hierarchy of GN'R full length albums, it would fall in #3 behind Appetite and the Illusion albums. The sad part about the whole thing is Axl took 14 years and millions of dollars, with countless musicians, to produce an album that isn’t much different from what I think the next chapter of Guns would’ve produced.

Minus Shacklers Revenge and Rhiad and the Bedouins, this sounds like a classic Guns record. The solo in This I Love sounds like something Slash would play. Kudos to Finck. The ballads are epic, much like the ones on the Illusion albums. Songs like Better, IRS, and the title track are great rock songs.

If the World and Prostitute are adventurous and explore new ground. It was said that Axl wanted the album to be more electronic. He kept chasing perfection only to find that the industrial music revolution had come and gone. Like many, I consider this an Axl solo album. However, this is very strong and does not sound that much different from what I think the classic lineup could have produced.

John Davidson: I bought this when it came out and it didn't strike a chord with me then. It wasn't bad but it wasn't great either.

Listening to it again my view hadn't changed a great deal. There are decent songs in there, but they are mostly over produced or too elaborate in their arrangements.

It lacks the scuzzy charm and dirty groove of the great Guns N' Roses tracks and drifts too often towards their worst.

That said, despite several "heavy" ballads, none of them outstay their welcome to the extent of a November Rain (which – let's be honest – lasted until after Christmas).

The main issue with the album is that it is an Axl Rose solo outing. Slash struggled to find form before he teamed up with Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators.

Axl didn't find a muse and while the guitarists and other musicians occasionally get a chance to shine it doesn't feel like a band effort.

Maybe that's the joke. Chinese Democracy is no democracy at all. 6/10

Brian Anderson: I’ve listened to this album quite a few times now, but I still can’t name a single song, sing a chorus, or hum a guitar line. Each song is composed of a series of dis-jointed events. You can tell it took forever to make, and it’s obvious the band kept going back and tinkering. There aren’t 14 songs here, instead you get about 50 or 60 mini ideas spliced together in some random incoherent way.

Really really awful.

Roland Bearne: My story with this album mirrors several others in this thread; I bought it aglow with curiosity and anticipation, listened once and cast it into an "oubliette" pile. As it it has appeared as AotW on this august group I thought it behoved me to put on some big boy ears and give it a more considered listen.

First I had to scrub any notion of it being anything other than GN'R in name only; make no comparisons to albums previous, just give it as much of a "blind tasting" as possible. The title track and Shacklers Revenge come in robustly with a rich but highly processed barrage of industrial flavoured sounds. Better is curiously beguiling with Axl flexing his full range of vocal attacks (and kudos to him, his extraordinary range of vocal styles and emotions throughout is quite remarkable!).

Street of Dreams of course – November Rain's even more over-egged lab-produced monster child! Of the rest, Catcher In tTe Rye would, I feel, work much better with a more traditional Guns arrangement (the same could be said of many of these tracks actually). Sorry I found genuinely rather lovely, the anger in Madagascar is powerful but seems to me to ramble a bit. This I Love, I really liked with Axl hitting for me a genuine sweet spot of vocal texture conveying actual emotion, it might be my favourite track as the guitar playing is also tremendous. This is true throughout.

Goodness knows which of the many cast members contributed what, but overall there is a stunning level of musicianship on offer. It won't become a favourite album but I no longer hate it! Take it as a labour of love by a obsessive and driven artist who hopefully and indeed apparently has got this behind him and will never put himself, his collaborators or we, his fans through this ever again. I guess he got to such a point with it that it had to get finished or madness, financial ruin and the actual destruction of the Guns N' Roses name would have ensued!

Stephen O'shea: For an album that took so long to make I think it feels unfinished, it's disjointed and awkward, any good riffs or structure seems to not play out, there's plenty of great stuff on the palette but the painting isn't completed.

More to be added here later.
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Chinese Democracy (Album) Empty Re: Chinese Democracy (Album)

Post by Blackstar Sun May 16, 2021 3:14 pm

On April's Fool 2006 a joke review of (the yet unreleased) Chinese Democracy by Chuck Klosterman was published on Spin magazine's website:
Reviews

Guns N’ Roses, ‘Chinese Democracy’ (Interscope)

Chuck Klosterman | April 1, 2006 - 8:00 am

It’s been a long time since Guns N’ Roses have released an album of new material. Everybody knows this, but it’s a fact that bears repeating. If you purchased a kitten on the day that Use Your Illusion I & II arrived in stores, it’s probably dead by now. As a consequence, there has been a great deal of pressure on Axl Rose to deliver a record that would validate a 15-year, $13 million wait. There is really only one way for Chinese Democracy to avoid utter and absolute failure: It needs to be the greatest rock album ever made.

Chinese Democracy is not the greatest rock album ever made. Oh, it’s certainly awesome, but I don’t think it’s “15 years awesome.” Had Axl released his album after a silence of, say, 11 years and two months (at a cost of, say, $11.5 million), Chinese Democracy would be an undeniable masterpiece, but considering the circumstances, some of this work seems shoddy. I get the impression most of the 13 songs were written between 1993 and 1999, and Rose merely spent six or seven years touching them up in the studio. One is forced to wonder if a track like “Madagascar” was only recorded 75 or 80 times, which calls Axl’s alleged “maniacal perfectionism” directly into question.

Does Chinese Democracy offer glimpses of the paranoid, misogynistic genius we once heard on the soundtrack of Interview With the Vampire? Absotively. “The Blues” might be Rose’s crowning career achievement: It’s an epic combination of mid-period Stevie Wonder, early Elton John, and side two of In Through the Out Door. This is the kind of gutter-glam boogie ballad that makes “November Rain” seem like a bucket of burro vomit warming in the afternoon sun. Chinese Democracy is simultaneously propulsive and ponderous, and there are some electrifying guitar arpeggios on both “Silk Worm” and “Thursday Morning Strip Club” (performed, I assume, by either Buckethead, Robin Finck, Zakk Wylde, Johnny Marr, or Brian May — all five are listed in the liner notes). But this transcendence is sporadic at best: All too often, Rose’s sonic neurosis plunges into self-reflexive self-indulgence, most notably on the outdated 14-minute rap-rock anthem “Pound You (Good)” and an embarrassing “roots rock” duet with new buddy Dave Pirner titled “You’re Still Too Sweet Not to Be My Baby Anymore.” Several songs make thinly veiled references to the architect who designed Rose’s backyard topiary garden, a move that may confuse casual listeners.

Obviously, the sexy albatross hanging around Rose’s wiry jugular is simple modernity: Could he create an album that would sound contemporary — and competitive — in today’s ever-evolving marketplace? As such, it is hard to understand why he elected to have Chinese Democracy coproduced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Kiss) and Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand). Songs like “Catcher in the Rye” exhibit the sculpted sheen of Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, and the LP includes several tracks on which GNR bassist Tommy Stinson appears to be playing a note-for-note replication of the bass line from “Another Brick in the Wall.” Skeptics might also bristle at the anger that still resides in Axl’s heart; his hairstyle and facial features have changed, but his inner intensity remains grizzly-esque. On the caustic rocker “Slash and Burned,” Rose lashes out at his former bandmates now in Velvet Revolver with staggering specificity: “Your singer has cocaine eyes and a skeletonized trance / We’ll see if RCA recoups their advance.” Rose has also retained his pathological distaste for the media, lyrically attacking the editors of Vanity Fair, MTV personality Sway, numerous teenage bloggers, and the city hall reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer (who, curiously, has never written about pop music).

Still, Rose always possesses the potential to surprise us, as he does on a slightly reggaetón cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” and a faithful (albeit befuddling) version of “Think About You,” a tune actually written and recorded by Guns N’ Roses in 1987. But a deeper quandary remains: Does Chinese Democracy accomplish its goal? After all this time and all that money, will this album truly bring democracy to China?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

FAST FACTS

1. The album’s working title for much of 1994 and ’95 was Chinese Theocracy. 2. To capture a specific drum sound, Rose coated the walls of his home studio with four inches of wet adobe from the Sonoran Desert. 3. Two weeks before his death in 2002, ex-Clash frontman Joe Strummer contributed guitar for a song tentatively titled “Janky Holocaust.” However, Rose eventually dropped the track, citing “dehydration.” 4. The liner notes include Rose’s complete voting record, dating to 1992. 5. This version of Chinese Democracy only exists in an alternative reality ruled by the fools of April.
https://www.spin.com/2006/04/guns-n-roses-chinese-democracy-interscope/
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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 12:28 pm

Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2008 (before the release of the album):
Guns N' Roses' 'Chinese Democracy' reviews are in ... sort of

By Todd Martens

More than a decade in the making, Guns N' Roses' "Chinese Democracy" seems as if it's about to transition from being a punchline to a reality. The long-awaited, much-delayed and recently leaked album is expected on retail shelves at the end of November, barring any unexpected, last-minute delays.

It's a retail exclusive, according to Billboard, meaning the album will be available first at Best Buy, and then only at that the outlets that choose to pick up its stock from the big box retailer. It also means that those awaiting news on the album will probably be checking this Best Buy page as much, or more, than any artist or label website.

In fact, there's no mention of the album on the news pages of either of the aforementioned sites, this despite the fact that you can pre-order the 14-song set for $13.99 from Best Buy. For now, it looks as if at least some mystery will continue to surround "Chinese Democracy." While Billboard reported that the album would be released on Sunday, Nov. 23, Best Buy is listing the release date as Tuesday, Nov. 25.

But relax, it does appear to exist. The retailer has gone so far as to post cover art from the album, which was picked up earlier this week by sites such as Blabbermouth and Stereogum, among others, and pasted up above. Although it doesn't look like that's the last of the art to be revealed, as Best Buy is selling another version of the CD with an alternative cover, of which an image is not yet available.

But, really, who cares about the art -- how does this thing sound?

Is it possible for an album, one that most people thought would never actually be released, to live up to its insane hype? Will the backstory of its release prove to be more interesting than the actual release? Was it worth it, to have a federal agent track down Kevin Cogill, who leaked songs from "Chinese Democracy"? Will fans really be interested in an album that was recorded by Axl Rose and a rotating cast of musicians, and lacks original guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan?

Well, despite not yet being released, a verdict appears to be in. As of late Thursday night, more than 30 reviews of the album have been posted on the Best Buy website. Here's a sampling of what some are saying, cut, pasted and unedited direct from the Best Buy site:

User Nachbar compares "Chinese Democracy" to the psychedelic classic rock of Pink Flyod, and sees the album as a sort of pop-culture rescue device. "In a day where Gwen Stefani and Fall Out Boy can dominate the charts, Axl throws us a much-needed life preserver. Each song, to me, is incredible. 1-14, each track takes you on a little journey, and to me is the closest thing to listening to "Dark Side of the Moon" as I have ever gotten, in terms of a complete album."

User oneAXLinamillion believes the album will render other pop stars obsolete, listing the only con for the album being "less time" to listen to Rihanna. oneAXLinamillion adds, "Many fans (me included) had the chance to listen to many demos (leaks). Most of them are on the record and they are all "epicly" outstanding.That's what the entire music world needed."

User gnrshades is a bit more fair. "Pros: power ballads. Cons: techno influence."

User jarmo wants nothing to do with "Chinese Democracy," giving it one star, and seems unable to forgive Rose for using the Guns N' Roses name without the original line-up. "It's not right that Axl Rose is using the GNR name to promote his solo albums," jarno writes.

User referee11 says to skip it, and offers what he or she believes are some better alternatives than Guns N' Roses. Writes referee11, "i've been a fan of GNR since the appetite days, and have been following the development of chinese democracy since at least 2003. i've heard all but three of the tracks on chinese democracy, and must say that the music is disappointing and not worth the wait. it pales in comparison to earlier GNR, and cannot compare to current artists like Radiohead who are really pushing the boundaries of pop music."

User bassetlover lashes out at other Best Buy shoppers for giving the album a low star rating prior to its release, and urges people to purchase it before reviewing it. "Come on people, stop bashing this album before it's even out. So what if it's not the old Guns and Roses! You need to get over it! Axl is a very talented man. This album is going to be awesome. I have heard most of the tracks and they are great. At least wait and buy the album before bashing it."

It should be noted, however, that bassetlover has given "Chinese Democracy" five stars.

User barcheddy is skeptical, but believes "Chinese Democracy" will usher in a new era of heavy metal, even though the shopper admits some songs aren't to his or her liking. "Not crazy about Rhiad and Catcher in the Rye but it's very possible that these tunes will grow on me over time. After all, I hated the Spaghetti Incident when it first came out, but if C.D. is at least on par with that effort I will lose my mind! I'm obviously partial here, but I really feel that once these singles hit the airwaves, rock music as we know it will be changed forever. Just like the late 80's when it all began. Long live GNR!"

User Tic9 thinks the "Chinese Democracy" leaks were so good, there will be no need to ever purchase another album after this comes out. "So I haven't technically bought it yet, but hearing the leaks and such have been enough to prove this as a superior album. Save for Death Magnetic it will be the first CD I've bought since the '90s, perhaps the last. Several of the songs are absolutely stellar."

User Weedwacker is bummed the album doesn't have medicinal powers, and seems skeptical it will even come out. "Cons: Doesn't cure cancer. May not actually exist ... The release of this album may very well rupture the very fabric of space and time and set off a cataclysmic chain of events eventually causing the universe to collapse in on itself. Hopefully, GnR fans will get a full listen before we are erased from existence. Repent, my friends. The end is near."

But hey, even if the world does implode, it sounds like you'll be able to get some free soda out of this whole deal. Earlier this year, Dr. Pepper pledged to give a free can of the soft drink to everyone in America if the album ever came out.
https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2008/10/chinese-democra.html


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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 12:38 pm

A.V. Club, November 19, 2008:
Chuck Klosterman reviews Chinese Democracy

By Chuck Klosterman

Guest reviewer Chuck Klosterman is the author of five books, including Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey In Rural North Dakota and the new novel Downtown Owl. There is no one in the world more qualified to review the exhaustingly anticipated new Guns N' Roses album than he is.

Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom? I've been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy. This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can't psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.

Here are the simple things about Chinese Democracy: Three of the songs are astonishing. Four or five others are very good. The vocals are brilliantly recorded, and the guitar playing is (generally) more interesting than the guitar playing on the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl Rose made some curious (and absolutely unnecessary) decisions throughout the assembly of this project, but that works to his advantage as often as it detracts from the larger experience. So: Chinese Democracy is good. Under any halfway normal circumstance, I would give it an A.

But nothing about these circumstances is normal.

For one thing, Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album we'll ever contemplate in this context—it's the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file. This is the end of that. But the more meaningful reason Chinese Democracy is abnormal is because of a) the motives of its maker, and b) how those motives embargoed what the definitive product eventually became. The explanation as to why Chinese Democracy took so long to complete is not simply because Axl Rose is an insecure perfectionist; it's because Axl Rose self-identifies as a serious, unnatural artist. He can't stop himself from anticipating every possible reaction and interpretation of his work. I suspect he cares less about the degree to which people like his music, and more about how it is taken, regardless of the listener's ultimate judgment. This is why he was so paralyzed by the construction of Chinese Democracy—he can't write or record anything without obsessing over how it will be received, both by a) the people who think he's an unadulterated genius, and b) the people who think he's little more than a richer, red-haired Stephen Pearcy. All of those disparate opinions have identical value to him. So I will take Chinese Democracy as seriously as Axl Rose would hope, and that makes it significantly less simple. At this juncture in history, rocking is not enough.

The weirdest (yet more predictable) aspect of Chinese Democracy is the way 60 percent of the lyrics seem to actively comment on the process of making the album itself. The rest of the vocal material tends to suggest some kind of abstract regret over an undefined romantic relationship punctuated by betrayal, but that might just be the way all hard-rock songs seem when the singer plays a lot of piano and only uses pronouns. The craziest track, "Sorry," resembles spooky Pink Floyd and is probably directed toward former GNR drummer Steven Adler, although I suppose it might be about Slash or Stephanie Seymour or David Geffen. It could even be about Jon Pareles, for all I fucking know—Axl's enemy list is pretty Nixonian at this point. The most uplifting songs are "Street Of Dreams" (a leaked song previously titled "The Blues") and the exceptionally satisfying "Catcher In The Rye" (a softer, more sophisticated re-working of "Yesterdays" that occupies a conceptual self-awareness in the vein of Elton John or mid-period Queen). The fragile ballad "This I Love" is sad, melodramatic, and pleasurably traditional. There are many moments where it's impossible to tell who Axl is talking to, so it feels like he's talking to himself (and inevitably about himself). There's not much cogent storytelling, but it's linear and compelling. The best description of the overall literary quality of the lyrics would probably be "effectively narcissistic."

As for the music—well, that's actually much better than anticipated. It doesn't sound dated or faux-industrial, and the guitar shredding that made the final version (which I'm assuming is still predominantly Buckethead) is alien and perverse. A song like "Shackler's Revenge" is initially average, until you get to the solo—then it becomes the sonic equivalent of a Russian robot wrestling a reticulating python. Whenever people lament the dissolution of the original Guns N' Roses, the person they always focus on is Slash, and that makes sense. (His unrushed blues metal was the group's musical vortex.) But it's actually better that Slash is not on this album. What's cool about Chinese Democracy is that it truly does sound like a new enterprise, and I can't imagine that being the case if Slash were dictating the sonic feel of every riff. The GNR members Rose misses more are Izzy Stradlin (who effortlessly wrote or co-wrote many of the band's most memorable tunes) and Duff McKagan, the underappreciated bassist who made Appetite For Destruction so devastating. Because McKagan worked in numerous Seattle-based bands before joining Guns N' Roses, he became the de facto arranger for many of those pre-Appetite tracks, and his philosophy was always to take the path of least resistance. He pushed the songs in whatever direction felt most organic. But Rose is the complete opposite. He takes the path of most resistance. Sometimes it seems like Axl believes every single Guns N' Roses song needs to employ every single thing that Guns N' Roses has the capacity to do—there needs to be a soft part, a hard part, a falsetto stretch, some piano plinking, some R&B; bullshit, a little Judas Priest, subhuman sound effects, a few Robert Plant yowls, dolphin squeaks, wind, overt sentimentality, and a caustic modernization of the blues. When he's able to temporarily balance those qualities (which happens on the title track and on "I.R.S.," the album's two strongest rock cuts), it's sprawling and entertaining and profoundly impressive. The soaring vocals crush everything. But sometimes Chinese Democracy suffers from the same inescapable problem that paralyzed proto-epics like "Estranged" and "November Rain": It's as if Axl is desperately trying to get some unmakeable dream song from inside his skull onto the CD, and the result is an overstuffed maelstrom that makes all the punk dolts scoff. His ambition is noble, yet wildly unrealistic. It's like if Jeff Lynne tried to make Out Of The Blue sound more like Fun House, except with jazz drumming and a girl singer from Motown.

Throughout Chinese Democracy, the most compelling question is never, "What was Axl doing here?" but "What did Axl think he was doing here?" The tune "If The World" sounds like it should be the theme to a Roger Moore-era James Bond movie, all the way down to the title. On "Scraped," there's a vocal bridge that sounds strikingly similar to a vocal bridge from the 1990 Extreme song "Get The Funk Out." On the aforementioned "Sorry," Rose suddenly sings an otherwise innocuous line ("But I don't want to do it") in some bizarre, quasi-Transylvanian accent, and I cannot begin to speculate as to why. I mean, one has to assume Axl thought about all of these individual choices a minimum of a thousand times over the past 15 years. Somewhere in Los Angles, there's gotta be 400 hours of DAT tape with nothing on it except multiple versions of the "Sorry" vocal. So why is this the one we finally hear? What finally made him decide, "You know, I've weighed all my options and all their potential consequences, and I'm going with the Mexican vampire accent. This is the vision I will embrace. But only on that one line! The rest of it will just be sung like a non-dead human." Often, I don't even care if his choices work or if they fail. I just want to know what Rose hoped they would do.

On "Madagascar," he samples MLK (possible restitution for "One In A Million"?) and (for the second time in his career) the movie Cool Hand Luke. Considering that the only people who will care about Rose's preoccupation with Cool Hand Luke are those already obsessed with his iconography, the doomed messianic message of that film must deeply (and predictably) resonate with his very being. But how does that contribute to "Madagascar," a meteorological metaphor about all those unnamed people who wanted to stop him from making Chinese Democracy in the insane manner he saw fit? Sometimes listening to this album feels like watching the final five minutes of the Sopranos finale. There's no acceptable answer to these types of hypotheticals.

Still, I find myself impressed by how close Chinese Democracy comes to fulfilling the absurdly impossible expectation it self-generated, and I not-so-secretly wish this had actually been a triple album. I've maintained a decent living by making easy jokes about Axl Rose for the past 10 years, but what's the final truth? The final truth is this: He makes the best songs. They sound the way I want songs to sound. A few of them seem idiotic at the beginning, but I love the way they end. Axl Rose put so much time and effort into proving that he was super-talented that the rest of humanity forgot he always had been. And that will hurt him. This record may tank commercially. Some people will slaughter Chinese Democracy, and for all the reasons you expect. But he did a good thing here.

Grade: A-
https://web.archive.org/web/20081228033108/http://www.avclub.com:80/content/feature/chuck_klosterman_reviews?
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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 12:44 pm

Review in Rolling Stone, November 27, 2008:
Chinese Democracy

4/5 stars

By David Fricke

Let’s get right to it: The first Guns n’ Roses album of new, original songs since the first Bush administration is a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record. In other words, it sounds a lot like the Guns n’ Roses you know. At times, it’s the clenched-fist five that made 1987’s perfect storm, Appetite for Destruction; more often, it’s the one sprawled across the maxed-out CDs of 1991’s Use Your Illusion I and II, but here compressed into a convulsive single disc of supershred guitars, orchestral fanfares, hip-hop electronics, metallic tabernacle choirs and Axl Rose’s still-virile, rusted-siren singing.

If Rose ever had a moment’s doubt or repentance over what Chinese Democracy has cost him in time (13 years), money (14 studios are listed in the credits) and body count — including the exit of every other founding member of the band — he left no room for it in these 14 songs. “I bet you think I’m doin’ this all for my health,” Rose cracks through the saturation-bombing guitars in “I.R.S.,” one of several glancing references on the album to what he knows a lot of people think of him: that Rose, now 46, has spent the last third of his life running off the rails, in half-light. But when he snaps, “All things are possible/I am unstoppable,” in the thumper “Scraped,” that’s not loony hubris — just a good old rock & roll “fuck you,” the kind that made him and the old band hot and famous in the first place.

Something else Rose broadcasts over and over on Chinese Democracy: Restraint is for suckers. There is plenty of familiar guitar firepower — the stabbing-dagger lick that opens the first track, “Chinese Democracy,” the sand-devil fuzz in “Riad N’ the Bedouins” and the looping squeals over the grand anguish of “Street of Dreams.” But what Slash and Izzy Stradlin used to do with two guitars now takes a wall of ’em. On some tracks, Rose has up to five guys — Robin Finck, Buckethead, Paul Tobias, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Richard Fortus — riffing and soloing in broad, saw-toothed blurs. And that’s no drag. I still think the wild, super-stuffed “Oh My God” — the early Chinese Democracy track wasted on the 1999 End of Days soundtrack — beats everything on Guns n’ Roses’ 1993 covers album, The Spaghetti Incident?

Most of these songs also go through multiple U-turns in personality, as if Rose kept trying new approaches to a hook or a bridge and then decided,”What the hell, they’re all cool.” “Better” starts with what sounds like hip-hop voicemail — severely pinched guitar, drum machine and a near-falsetto Rose (“No one ever told me when/I was alone/They just thought I’d know better”) — before blowing up into vintage Sunset Strip wallop. “If the World” has Buckethead plucking acoustic Spanish guitar over a blaxploitation-film groove, while Rose shows that he still holds a long-breath vowel — part torture victim, part screaming jet — like no other rock singer.

And there is so much going on in “There Was a Time” — strings and Mellotron, a full-strength choir and Rose’s overdubbed sour-growl harmonies, wah-wah guitar and a false ending (more choir) — that it’s easy to believe Rose spent most of the past decade on that arrangement alone. But it is never a mess, more like a loud mass of bad memories and hard lessons. In the first lines, Rose goes back to a beginning much like his own — “Broken glass and cigarettes/ Writin’ on the wall/It was a bargain for the summer/An’ I thought I had it all” — then piles on the wreckage along with the orchestra and guitars. By the end, it’s one big melt of missing and kiss-off (“If I could go back in time . . . But I don’t want to know it now”). If this is the Guns n’ Roses that Rose kept hearing in his head all this time, it is obvious why two guitars, bass and drums were never going to be enough.

It is plain, too, that he thinks this Guns n’ Roses is a band, as much as the one that recorded “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Used to Love Her” and “Civil War.” The voluminous credits that come with Chinese Democracy certainly give detailed credit where it is due. My favorite: “Initial arrangement suggestions: Youth on ‘Madagascar.” Rose takes the big one — “Lyrics N’ Melodies by Axl Rose” — but shares full-song bylineswith other players on all but one track. Bassist Tommy Stinson plays on nearly every song, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed, the only survivor from the Illusion lineup, does the Elton John-style piano honors on “Street of Dreams.”

But Rose still sings a lot about the power of sheer, solitary will even when he throws himself into a bigger fight, like “Chinese Democracy.” In “Madagascar,” which Rose has played live for several years now, he samples both Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and dialogue from Cool Hand Luke. And at the end of the album, on the bluntly titled “Prostitute,” Rose veers from an almost conversational tenor, over a ticking-bomb shuffle, to five-guitar barrage, orchestral lightning and righteous howl: “Ask yourself/Why I would choose/To prostitute myself/To live with fortune and shame.” To him, the long march to Chinese Democracy was not about paranoia and control. It was about saying “I won’t” when everyone else insisted, “You must.” You may debate whether any rock record is worth that extreme self-indulgence. Actually, the most rock & roll thing about Chinese Democracy is he doesn’t care if you do.
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-album-reviews/chinese-democracy-255370/

The review was shared in the band's official site:
Rolling Stone: four stars for Chinese Democracy

GunsNRoses.com

...
https://web.archive.org/web/20081206004802/http://web.gunsnroses.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20081124&content_id=a1&vkey=news&fext=.jsp


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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 12:54 pm

Review in Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2008:
Welcome To His Jungle

'Chinese Democracy' is here. Finally. Not joking. Axl Rose's belabored creation is certainly weird, and it might be wonderful.

By Ann Powers
Pop critic


When Axl Rose announced in December 2006 that the new Guns N' Roses album, "Chinese Democracy," would be issued the following March -- the last false ending to a drama nearly as long-lasting as the Vietnam War and culminating today, as the hordes rush to exclusive retailer Best Buy to snap up the final version -- he briefly stepped out of the smoke-machine haze that surrounds him and feigned modesty. Vouching for the veracity and passion of his work, he seemingly aimed to lower expectations, writing, "In the end, it's just an album."

That may be the most ridiculous statement Rose has made in 17 years of whoppers. Just an album! Sure, and "Citizen Kane" was just a movie. And Brando as Don Corleone was just a mid-career acting gig.

Everyone with a passing interest in rock knows the abbreviated history of "Chinese Democracy." Recording for the album, the follow-up to Guns N' Roses' mammoth, chart-topping "Use Your Illusion" project, began in the early 1990s. Soon, though, Rose's authoritarian grip squeezed the life out of the original lineup, including his lead guitarist and artistic foil, Slash, and it went splat. Out of that goo rose the post-Guns band Velvet Revolver on one side and Axl, increasingly alone, on the other.

For the next decade and a half, Rose continued to work, running through band members like so many speed dates. Some, like avant-garde guitarist Buckethead, fled; others, like longtime keyboardist Dizzy Reed, stuck. This amorphous Guns N' Roses toured with varying degrees of success and spent time recording in 14 different studios in L.A., Las Vegas, London and New York.

Meanwhile, Rose got older (he's 46 now), decided he looked good in cornrows, and spent something like $13 million on a project few thought he would complete. The powers behind the already failing music industry gave a collective bloodcurdling scream.

The wait is over

And now it's here. The album that's been referred to as a "white whale" more times than Melville's own Moby Dick has been stabbed through with a spear and brought to ground. Fourteen tracks, no blubber.

Half the songs classify loosely as ballads, while the others are more forcefully up-tempo, but nearly every one makes unexpected stylistic switches. The effect is theatrical, with voicings and arrangements often taking precedence over riffs and grooves, making "Chinese Democracy" more like the score to a rock opera than an arena-oriented assault.

Like Brando and "Kane" mastermind Orson Welles, Rose is a macho refusenik whose career path illustrates how hard it can be for an ego-driven man to separate lofty ideals from fleshly indulgences. And though it's probably too cryptic to have the impact of the masterpieces to which I've dared compare it, "Chinese Democracy" does reach that far. Rose's fight to become and remain an auteur in a pop world increasingly hostile to such individualists has become a performance in itself. "Chinese Democracy" is its finale, the explosive end to a period of silence that, in retrospect, had its own eloquence.

It isn't exactly an accessible album, though many hooks and bombastic rock moments surface within its layers. Contrary to early reports, Rose didn't plunge into the "nu metal" style industrial rock that he'd embraced a decade ago with the lone track "Oh My God." Had he done so, producing an album's worth of static-laden ravers, like the album's first single and title track, he might have embraced middle age as a respectable experimental rocker. Conversely, had he fulfilled the dreams of the rabble who can't get past "Appetite for Destruction," reconnecting with Slash at the old intersection of punk and metal, he would have roared back as the king of the charts without making much artistic progress.

Instead, making this album has transformed Rose from a hungry contrarian to a full-blown desert prophet, howling mightily in protest against a pop industry that encourages its stars to innovate only within the realm of what sells best. At the same time, he's resisted the nostalgia that would have sent him after a purer time or sound, preferring to invest in a foggy future. Purity is the opposite of what Rose seeks on "Chinese Democracy." Convolution is everything as he spirals toward a total sound even he can't quite apprehend.

"Chinese Democracy" is a test for contemporary ears, an album that turns in upon itself instead of reaching out to instantly become a ring tone. Nothing on it immediately reveals its essence. Even the songs with hooks, such as the sing-song rant "Better" and the grande olde ballad "Street of Dreams," derail themselves in subtle ways, requiring the listener to reconsider her first judgment. This will frustrate plenty of listeners; lovers of "edgy" music may find it too melodic and rooted in the blues, while fans seeking simple catharsis may rue the many shifts in tone and tempo.

Versions of these final 14 tracks have been floating around the Internet throughout Rose's exile. Some may date from before the "Use Your Illusion" sessions. Rose kept building on them, rewriting, hiring and alienating all those producers and collaborators -- the album's credits, which include Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck and Primus drummer Bryan "Brain" Mantia, read like an Oscar night thank-you list from hell -- and trying everything from multitracking his voice to resemble a children's choir to sampling the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

The end result is a cyborgian blend of pop expressiveness, traditional rock bravado and Brian Wilson-style beautiful weirdness. The snake-dance-inspiring rhythms that bring Rose's libido to life occasionally dominate, as do the romantic piano runs that represent his heart. Neither overcomes the other, and sometimes both collide in the same song.

Playing the reference game with "Chinese Democracy" is a thankless task. Individual songs could be compared to everything from Queen (Rose claims that influence, though he disposed of a guitar solo Brian May gave him for one song) to My Chemical Romance, Heart, Wings, Korn, Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Bowie in his Berlin phase, U2 after "Achtung Baby!" and Curtis Mayfield circa "Freddie's Dead." Oh, and to Guns N' Roses, especially the more cracked version of that band behind "Use Your Illusion II." But rarely does a song settle anywhere. It's even difficult to declare the ballads pretty or the rockers simply ferocious.

It's also pointless to dwell too long on individual players besides Rose. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed and bassist Tommy Stinson appear on most tracks; they must have been the most successful at tolerating Rose's megalomania. As for the album's much-touted guitar army: When five different players are featured on one song, individualism becomes impossible, no matter who's soloing. Many early Guns N' Roses songs are structured as literal dialogues between Rose and Slash, with the singer's wild falsetto directly responding to and setting up the guitarist's rococo riffing. "Chinese Democracy" features no such exchanges. The real tension here is internal, and Rose's alone.

It's the same push-pull that defines everything Rose has created, including his assumed name: steely, aggressive hypermasculinity versus lush, feminine openness. Rose's music tells the saga of the mutually abusive relationship between the freight train's axle and the rose it crushes, a potentially poisonous flower that keeps growing back.

This is a central plotline in male-centered heroic tales, and it's key to the music of artists as diverse as Richard Wagner and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. But few artists have committed so strongly to both sides at once. Never mind the tales of childhood abuse and adult violence (often allegedly toward women) that fill out Rose's biography. All of that ugliness is right there in the music, in Rose's primal yowl and marauding metal-punk assaults. And anyone who's heard "November Rain" -- that's all of us -- knows that florid loveliness resides there too.

On "Chinese Democracy," Rose reflects on the cost of making art that fully expresses that dichotomy. This is where we return to "Citizen Kane," another story that plays out the tension between a wounded heart and an iron fist, and to Rose's soul mate Brando, who was also a brute and an aesthete, and who tragically misstepped as often as he triumphed.

Ever the enigma

Could Rose be self-aware enough to genuinely capture this life-defining conflict? He seems to be trying on "Chinese Democracy." But his lyrics, like the songs' musical twists, are hard to parse; their knottiness may be the album's ultimate downfall. It's tough to imagine anyone besides Rose connecting many of these songs to their day-to-day experiences. In "Rhiad and the Bedouins," he seems to be comparing himself to a besieged Middle Eastern state. "Catcher in the Rye" spits at mortality while nodding toward another famously blocked artist, J.D. Salinger, but its last verse devolves into incomprehensibility. "Madagascar," the one in which Rose pairs his voice with Dr. King's, is a sort of civil-rights-era- inspired retelling of Odysseus' journey across a monster-ridden sea.

At least that's what it sounds like to this listener, bringing my own history and imagination into the listening experience. Whether it's intentional or the result of Rose's addled grandiloquence, the strangeness inherent in these songs allows for an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll pleasure: the chance to grasp that album cover (OK, gaze at that image on your MP3 player screen) and make up your own solutions to its mysteries. Whether history declares it a tragedy or a farce, this is one album that's more than a pop exercise. And for that, Axl Rose can finally take a bow.
https://web.archive.org/web/20160512145918/http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/23/entertainment/ca-axl23
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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 2:09 pm

Review in Blender, December 2008 issue:
Guns N’ Roses
Chinese Democracy


3.5/5 stars

(Interscope)
Release Date: 11/24/2008


Axl Rose releases 15 years of anger, paranoia and guitar solos.

Reviewed by Jon Dolan

Let's get some perspective. Guns N Roses spent more time completing the follow-up to 1991's Use Your Illusion I & II than the United States spent fighting the Vietnam war. The amount of poor decision-making: not dissimilar. There have been feuds, lawsuits, firings, rehirings. All the original Gunners were gone over a decade ago. Except, of course, the Botoxed, corn-rowed super villain who scared them all off. And who finished the album in fifteen years, which is five years longer than the span of The Beatles' entire career.

Chinese Democracy's non-existence is so well-known and ingrained, the source of so many jokes, that its actual existence can only be a letdown. That is until you hear it. Then, somewhat astonishingly, 5,475 days, at least $13 million, fourteen studios, twenty or so musicians (including five guitarists and a harpist) seems just about right. Axl has written an epic poem to his own obsessive-compulsive disorder. "If I thought that I was crazy / Well I guess I'd have more fun," he sings on "Catcher N the Rye," a blast of iMax Lynyrd Skynyrd complete with string section, a couple na-na-na refrains, several bridges to nowhere and lord knows how many latticed layers of Axl's bandana-banshee singing.

These aren't songs, they're suites, energetic and skittering and unpredictable hard rock hydras cut with miasmic industrial grind, stadium rattling metal solos, electronic drift and hip-hop churn. Some of it's ludicrous: the symphonic basher "Madagascar" samples bits from Mississippi Burning, Cool Hand Luke, Braveheart, Casualties of War, Seven and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Some of it's brilliant: "I.R.S." swaggers and slugs like classic late '80s Guns N Roses. If we had a dime for every time Axl turned to one of his producers and said, "This needs just a little more guitar," we could buy everyone on the planet a lifetime supply of General Tso's chicken. But strip away the mountains of sounds and at heart you get piano ballads, a lonely man locating his pain and resentment. When Guns N Roses debuted with 1987's epochal Appetite For Destruction, Axl was an Indiana hayseed reborn as a snake-dancing messiah. His portraits of the Sunset Strip had an outsider's disdain and desire. By Use Your Illusion, he was situated above Hollywood, in the hills, like a jaundiced Hollywood producer. Twenty years later, the disdain's still there, but the only world he seems to know is his own Michael Jacksonian isolation, which is to say the world of this record and all the strife that's marked its creation. Axl's perfectly turned "you"s have a venomous adolescent contempt, his "they"s drip scattershot paranoia ("you thought they'd make me behave and submit," he spits on "Sorry"). He empathizes primarily with himself, but also with assassins and soldiers.

You can't blame a man for his feelings but it is hard to understand them. In an era when everyone else is constantly marketing their lives - twittering, blogging, hopping in front of camera phones, putting as much of themselves into the world as possible - he's been able to do what he wants, how he wants, on his own time, away from everyone, until it's perfect in his eyes. A lot of people would look at that as freedom. So how come Axl talks like he's been in jail?
https://web.archive.org/web/20081205141739/http://www.blender.com/guide/reviews.aspx?id=5399

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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 5:04 pm

Review in Spin, November 30, 2008:
Guns N' Roses, ‘Chinese Democracy’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10

by Mikael Wood

Guns N' Roses codependents are rejoicing over Chinese Democracy's long-awaited release, perhaps the most-delayed album in rock history.

But think, for a second, about our fragile economy: According to a 2005 New York Times story, Axl Rose spent more than $13 million recording this thing; if left unsatisfied, his appetite for construction might keep the West Hollywood service industry afloat for another decade. Is now really the best time for this gravy train to pull into the station?

You bet.

An outrageously overblown pop-metal extravaganza, Chinese Democracy feels like a perfect epitaph for all the absurdity and nonsense of the George W. Bush era -- one final blowout before Principal Obama takes our idiocy away.

The music toggles between two primary modes: grinding industrial rock and keys-and-strings balladry. (Imagine Rammstein covering Wings, basically.) Yet to that blueprint Rose and his battalion of musicians (including no fewer than five guitarists) append every trick new money can buy: hip-hop beats, Middle Eastern–influenced riffs, space-cowboy atmospherics, and, of course, Rose's still-astounding vocals, often multitracked into a paranoid boys chorus.

Singling out highlights seems antithetical to Rose's double-widescreen vision, but with their memorable melodies, "Better," "This I Love," and "Riad N' the Bedouins" (say what?) rise above the aural onslaught.

Blast 'em at top volume as you wave good-bye to our yellow brick road.
https://web.archive.org/web/20130308215901/http://www.spin.com/reviews/guns-n-roses-chinese-democracy-geffen



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Post by Blackstar Fri May 28, 2021 5:47 pm

Review in Entertainment Weekly, Nov. 19, 2008:
Guns N' Roses
Chinese Democracy


B-

By Andy Greenwald

After seventeen years and countless millions of dollars, Guns N’ Roses’ sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy, has finally arrived. Pity those who wagered actual democracy would make it to China before singer Axl Rose (the band’s sole remaining original member) allowed this Howard Hughes-ian project to see the light of day.

And the verdict? Mixed! Gone is the Sunset Strip guitar grime of Appetite for Destruction, replaced by an army of ProTools-packing shredders, three ”digital editors,” and a dude responsible for choral arrangements. This is unapologetically huge music, not fit for tiny iPod earbuds. At times it’s possible to hear the world-changing CD that Rose — whose banshee howl remains gloriously intact — must have had in his tightly braided skull all these years. The blistering ”Shackler’s Revenge” rides a sinister riff to headbanging heaven, while the piano-heavy ”Catcher in the Rye” showcases GN’R at their ’70s-aping stadium best. But too often quantity gets in the way of quality: No rock cliché from the last decade goes unrepresented (hip-hop loops, nü-metal skronk), and did ”Madagascar” really need a horn section and Martin Luther King Jr. samples?

But Rose is obstinate as ever in middle age, sneering at how meek music has become in his absence: ”You talk too much/You say I do/Difference is nobody cares about you,” he gloats on ”Sorry.” For good or ill, he’s the last of his kind. We can’t wait to hear what he does next — hopefully sometime before President Chelsea Clinton takes office in 2025.
https://web.archive.org/web/20150326162420/https://ew.com/article/2008/11/19/chinese-democracy/
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 2:20 am

Review in The Guardian, Nov. 21, 2008:
Guns N' Roses: Chinese Democracy

3/5 stars

By Alexis Petridis

In 2006, writer Chuck Klosterman published a spoof review of Chinese Democracy, an album that at that stage most observers believed would never see the light of day. He had a high old time imagining guest appearances by Johnny Marr and reggaeton covers of Thin Lizzy, but also made a serious point about an album that had then taken 12 years to make and reputedly cost $13m. "There is really only one way for Chinese Democracy to avoid utter and absolute failure," he wrote. "It needs to be the greatest rock album ever made."

That's the problem with spending so much and so long making an album. By default, it's a monumental folly: however good it is, it can't conceivably be good enough. Two years later, it's impossible for the music to be heard objectively, uncoupled from its background: the expense, the time, the departure of every founder member of Guns N' Roses bar frontman Axl Rose, the blogger facing jail for leaking tracks, Dr Pepper's offer to give everyone in America a free can if the album was released in 2008, the bizarre rotating cast that variously included Moby, Brian May, basketball star Shaquille O'Neal and a guitarist wearing a KFC variety bucket on his head, who apparently refused to perform in the studio unless he was inside a specially constructed chicken coop.

Then again, Chinese Democracy clearly doesn't want you to view it objectively. The credits go on and on like an airport bonkbuster, painstakingly detailing the painstaking details: 14 studios, seven people credited for "additional Pro-Tools", six guitarists on one song alone. It wears its agonising gestation like a badge of honour, as if all this was not merely unavoidable but somehow necessary. In reality, the time and effort involved magnifies the album's shortcomings. You hear the lyrics of If the World - "if the world would end today, all the dreams we had would slip away, there's nothing more to say-ay-ay" - and think: bloody hell, is that best you could come up with? It's not like you haven't had time to think about it.

But even if you knew nothing of Chinese Democracy's history, you'd realise something was up. However much of the $13m was spent on mastering, it wasn't enough to stop it sounding like a compilation album. When Sorry recedes into the distance - a joyful event that, while the ballad trudges mirthlessly on, you start to panic is never actually going to take place - it's replaced by IRS, a rocker that conducts itself at a completely different volume, because it's a completely different band, possibly in a completely different decade. It would perhaps be unfair to call the album's lyrics - big on concepts like pullin' through, takin' your time and knowin' you ain't crazy no matter what they say - wildly solipsistic: plainly any listening multimillionare 80s hair metal frontmen struggling to complete a massively overdue, over-budget album are bound to feel a warm, inclusive tingle of identification.

The arrangements, meanwhile, are impossibly over-stuffed. Chinese Democracy is frequently as exhausting to listen to as it must have been to make, not least on the regular occasions when Rose, clearly unable to decide whether to have another verse or a widdly-woo guitar solo, opts to do both at the same time. Some tracks mark the way whole genres have risen and fallen in the time it took Rose to pull his finger out. If the World features echoes of trip-hop and nu metal, Shackler's Revenge bears the influence of the Prodigy and Nine Inch Nails, presumably because both were the latest thing at different points in its gestation. There Was a Time features brass, a choir, tribal drumming, cinematic strings, a hip-hop breakbeat, Tomorrow Never Knows-ish backwards tapes, a feedback-laden guitar solo and Rose's familiar wail. It should be noted that I am here describing only the first 20 seconds. After that, the arrangement gets a bit silly and overwrought. The songs are episodic, with endless key changes, although it's never entirely clear whether this is a brave attempt to break free of stultifying verse-chorus conformity, or just the flailing of a man who has absolutely no idea when to give it a rest. In fairness, it sounds like the former more often than the latter, for the simple reason that Rose keeps coming up with fabulous melodies, strong enough to hold songs like Better and Madagascar together, strong enough even to cut through the nonsense of There Was a Time.

Listening to them, you're struck by the thought that Chuck Klosterman might have been wrong. Chinese Democracy is clearly not the greatest rock album ever made, but nor is it an absolute and utter failure. The irony is, that for all the lavishing of money and time and technology, it's saved by something as old fashioned as a good tune.
https://www.theguardian.com/music/2008/nov/21/guns-n-roses-chinese-democracy
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 2:22 am

Review in Pitchfork, Dec. 1, 2008:
Guns N’ Roses
Chinese Democracy


Rating: 5.8

By Ian Cohen

After a 17-year wait, Chinese Democracy needs to be a spectacle-- something that either validates its tortuous birthing process or a Hindenberg so horribly panned it somehow validates its mastermind as a misunderstood genius.

To paraphrase another of rock's foremost procrastinators, Axl Rose just wasn't made for these times. Sure, armchair psychology and Axl Rose is a tired combination but it stands to reason that the only remaining original Guns N' Roses member expected Chinese Democracy to garner a 1990s-style brand-name reception: MTV would block off hours at a time to premiere its videos, fans desperate for real rock would line up at Sam Goodys nationwide for the midnight record release, and school would be forsaken to blast it on speakers the size of Greg Oden. Instead, "Shackler's Revenge" debuted on a video game, as if Gn'R were just some chump band on the come-up (or Aerosmith), and the album's world premiere found it meekly whispering through tinny computer speakers from a very un-rock MySpace page.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Chinese Democracy is that it's about the fifth-most shocking Guns N' Roses album. Sure, it's difficult to endure both Use Your Illusions in one sitting, but there's something fascinating about how the bombastically lonely "Estranged" could share disc space with the junior-high politicking of "Civil War", "Yesterdays"' concise, sepia-toned pop, and the critic-baiting tantrum "Get in the Ring". Had that record been a career-ender, it would've been a fitting finale. Instead, Axl took 17 years to, we hoped, explore new textures, manipulate songwriting conventions, seek out challenging collaborators, or delve into unfamiliar genres for inspiration. Yet on the way to being this decade's Sgt. Peppers, Chinese Democracy became its Be Here Now-- a record of relatively simple, similar songs overdubbed into a false sense of complexity in a horrorshow of modern production values.

Fans have long complained about Guns N' Roses still existing in the absence of Slash, Izzy, and even Duff, partially out of their talents, partially out of their iconography, and partially because there's no evidence Axl was an auteur figure who could work without his supporting cast. Judging from the personnel involved in the making of Chinese Democracy-- there were 18 musicians in all, not including orchestra players or the more than 30 who provided engineering and ProTools assistance-- it may be more appropriate now to think of Guns N' Roses as a free-floating creative project, even while the music itself suggests a more corporeal entity: The title track, after opening on a seemingly-interminable fade-in (it's been 17 years, another minute gonna kill ya?), pummels your ears with brickwalled, textureless power chords, the first of what seems like thousands of wah solos, and a xylophone. Initially, it's exciting to hear modern rock rendered in such operatic largesse, but the track ultimately proves insubstantial, a middle-aged symphony to nowhere.

This is generally how the rockers go on Chinese Democracy, clocking in at anywhere from nearly five minutes to just over five minutes, using those minor-third/flatted-fifth riffs co-opted by far shittier bands in Gn'R's absence. You also get a couple of piano-led ballads aiming at radio stations that don't exist anymore, while songs like "Catcher in the Rye" and "This I Love" conjure Journey and REO Speedwagon, except you can't really sing along to them. There is, however, a level of craftsmanship that salvages Chinese Democracy as a listening experience-- Axl's voice sounds surprisingly great, and even "Shackler's Revenge" has an ultrasheen gloss that particularly benefits its chorus. The problem lies with Axl’s creative direction: That same song is derailed by a grinding arrangement that suggests he's still looking to Korn records for inspiration.

It's that flaw which ultimately delivers the fatal blow. Even if Chinese Democracy had dropped a decade previous, it would still sound dated. 1996 appears to be the cut-off point for sonic inspiration, a time when the height of electronic and rock synergy in pop music involved having an acoustic guitar and a drum machine on the same track. Fans deserve better than hearing Axl trying to fight with post-NIN nobodies like Stabbing Westward and Gravity Kills for ideas. "Better" and the closing "Prostitute" feature memorable, fluid melodies, but are tied to rudimentary Roland tracks that Steven Adler could've replicated in his sleep, and while "I.R.S." sports an Illusion-sized chorus, it's dampened by empty conspiracy theorizing.

To that point, Chinese Democracy is inevitably and sadly limited in scope to the actual making of Chinese Democracy. Apart from a handful of appropriately vague love songs, Axl seems convinced that the only thing that's mattered to us over the past 17 years was anticipating whether "Riad and the Bedouins" might ever see its proper release. Anyone outside of Axl's inner circle appears lumped into some royal "you" and thrust into a meta exercise to be held up as evidence of a defiantly achieved victory: "All things are possible/ I am unstoppable," "No one ever told me when I was alone/ They just thought I'd know better," and most pointedly, "It was a long time for you/ It was a long time for me/ It'd be a long time for anyone/ But looks like it was meant to be."

Strangely, Chinese Democracy comes off like the inverse of the record it will likely finish behind on the week's Billboard chart, Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreak-- one terribly protracted and isolated, the other dashed off and intensely personal. And yet, both feel humanizing in proving that even megacelebrities can deal with life-altering pain and expectations and still have little to say about it.

In an April Fools' review of Chinese Democracy written two years ago, Chuck Klosterman suggested that if it wasn't the greatest album ever released, it would be seen as a complete failure. Chinese Democracy needed to be a spectacle-- something that either validated its tortuous birthing process or a Hindenberg so horribly panned it would somehow validate Rose as a misunderstood genius. Instead, it's simply a prosaic letdown, constructed by a revolving cast of misfits ultimately led astray by a control freak with unlimited funding and no clear purpose, who even now remains more myth than artist.
https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/12469-chinese-democracy/
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 2:33 am

Review in The Village Voice, Nov. 26, 2008:
Why Chinese Democracy’s Fine Print Is Way More Fun Than the Record Itself

by Rob Harvilla

We can all agree that Sunday’s eons-delayed, punchline-defying, free-Dr.-Pepper-triggering release of Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy marks the death of something—some combination of the music industry, “the album” as a unit of cultural import, old-guard rock stardom, irony, sincerity, free-market capitalism, hip-hop, the spread offense, and neo-conservatism. Regardless, I feel comfortable stating that it’s the last record I will ever buy just to read the liner notes. Holy shit. Do pop into Best Buy sometime this week and have a gander.

(Deep breath.)

Fourteen studios in four cities. Twenty-two assistant engineers. Eight folks under the heading “Additional Pro Tools.” Six more under “Logic.” The phrase “initial production” re-occurring. Eleven musicians get their own personal thank-you lists; deranged mastermind Axl Rose’s requires nearly three columns of tiny-ass type. (Notable names: Mickey Rourke, Donatella Versace, Izzy Stradlin.) And these are just full-album credits; all 14 songs get their own personal bibliography: “There Was a Time” has six guitarists (five is more common) and five orchestral arrangers (Axl is cited as both); “Madagascar” boasts not just French horns but synth French horns, plus clips from two Martin Luther King speeches and dialogue from Mississippi Burning, Cool Hand Luke, Braveheart, Casualties of War, and Seven. Full lyric sheet, too: Within the first minute of histrionic piano ballad “This I Love,” Axl rhymes why, goodbye, I, eyes, wise, try, inside, deny, die, mine, inside, why, goodbye, inside, light, bright, night, and deny.

I look forward to re-reading these liners in Best Music Writing 2009; you will greatly prefer them, at least initially, to Chinese Democracy itself. For what has really died here is the word overproduced. It will no longer suffice. So dense, so suffocating, so paranoid-android synthetic, so ludicrously engorged is Axl’s magnum opus that you will have absolutely no problem believing it took dozens of people millions of dollars and nearly two decades to complete it. This is the mythical burrito microwaved by God that’s so hot, God himself cannot eat it. Upon first, second, third, quite possibly tenth listen, it’s a deeply unpleasant experience. You’ll warm up to it. Maybe.

Cling to Axl’s voice. He’s still got it, that deranged shriek-to-moan bazooka of lust, contempt, pathos, and megalomania that made us love him—and a full stable of jilted bandmates, exasperated label minders, and overworked lawyers tolerate him—in the first place. And though he frequently sounds like a cruise-ship Phantom of the Opera parody of himself, this record gets better the more ridiculous and self-absorbed it gets. Daffy guitar solos by gentlemen named Buckethead and Bumblefoot enliven fairly turgid compu-thrash riff-rockers; eye-rolling piss-and-moan heartbreak dirges (“You’re the only one I have ever loved that has ever loved me,” etc.) are mercifully eclipsed by distinctly meta I-did-it-my-way anthems of defiance. Axl toys with several metaphors (“Blame it on the Falun Gong,” advises the title track) to describe the titanic improbability of this album’s mere existence, often abandoning them in mid-sentence at his whim:

Riad and the Bedouins

Had a plan and thought they’d win

But I don’t give a fuck ’bout them

‘Cause I AM CRAZY


Indeed, the best one-line summation of Chinese Democracy is “If I thought that I was crazy/Then I guess I’d have more fun,” thesis of the oddly exuberant piano-rocker “Catcher in the Rye” (seriously, it sounds like Journey). “Madagascar,” the mournful MLK/Cool Hand Luke one, is meant to be the climax, with a luscious French-horn/synth-French-horn bed worthy of a Björk B-side, and though things have gotten way, way, way out of hand by the time we’re in full-blown arena-rock mastadon-stomp mode and Axl is implicitly equating his stubborn purity of vision to the civil rights movement, the sheer audacity gives you hope. That you can now purchase and listen to this album—that heartless major corporations patiently waited years (1.5 decades!) for its fruition—makes a better case for the undiminished possibility of the American Dream than the election of Barack Obama. The subtext imbues otherwise pedestrian tunes with a gleeful self-help delight: “Scraped” bashes around gracelessly but means what it fuckin’ says when it says “You’re stronger than the lies that they tell you” and “Nothing’s impossible/I am inconquerable.” That’s not a word; it is now.

Again: Three full listens and/or four full hours, minimum, before you reach this state of admiration. Inevitably, Chinese Democracy sounds like too many cooks following way too many recipes. Totally rad finger-tapped wankery aside, “Shackler’s Revenge” is a charmless, grating butt-rock dud infinitely more tolerable as a Guitar Hero download (a dismaying recent trend). For fans of second-tier, vaguely funky mid-’90s industrial, “If the World” is straight-up God Lives Underwater. And “Sorry” is a plodding, sub-Daughtry knuckle-dragger wherein Axl accosts one of his myriad enemies (whether his foe wears a suit or leather pants and a top hat goes unspecified) with deeply lame gibes like “You talk too much/You say I do/Difference is nobody cares about you” and “You close your eyes/All well and good/I’ll kick your ass like I said that I would.” You can fall in love with the idea of this album and eventually teach yourself to love the album itself, but nothing packs a tenth the vitality and exhilaration of, oh, let’s say, “It’s So Easy.”

God, “It’s So Easy.” You put on Appetite for Destruction (in, like, 1987), cranked up “Welcome to the Jungle,” and believed that no finer specimen of pure, vicious, exhilarating rock-‘n’-roll hedonism could ever exist, and then came track two: “It’s So Easy.” It’s an objectively perfect song, and though objectively perfect songs aren’t effortless, per se, they sound that way—the effort, the craft, the forethought, the money, the time, and the personnel they require is the least interesting and prominent thing about them. Chinese Democracy is the inverse: a hilariously painstaking attempt to synthesize that lightning, a lost cause taken to delirious extremes, a fascinating catastrophe inspiring equal parts awe and pity. A would-be Hollywood blockbuster upstaged by its own credits.
https://vvstaging.villagevoice.com/2008/11/26/why-chinese-democracys-fine-print-is-way-more-fun-than-the-record-itself/
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 2:59 am

Review in Slate, Nov. 21, 2008:
Welcome to the Jumble

Axl Rose and the epically messy Chinese Democracy.

By Jody Rosen

The news lede is simply: OMG. It’s actually here. After 17 years, a reported $13 million, and countless rock critic invocations of Howard Hughes, white whales, and Fitzcarraldo, a new Guns N’ Roses record will be released on Sunday. Chinese Democracy’s album credits reflect the epic slog that brought it into existence, listing 14 recording studios, five guitarists, and multiple “digital editors.” (British record producer Youth is cited for the “initial arrangement suggestion” on the song “Madagascar.”) But the telling liner note detail is the absence of all but one of Guns N’ Roses’ founding members. There is no Slash, no Izzy Stradlin, no Duff McKagan. The last time a collection of original Guns N’ Roses songs was released, it was 1991. Barack Obama was graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law; GNR was the biggest rock band on earth. In the years since, Axl Rose has dithered, tinkered, and obsessed; feuded with Kurt Cobain and Tommy Hilfiger; appropriated Christina Aguilera’s cornrow extensions; and watched the zeitgeist, and his band mates, leave him behind.

So make no mistake: Chinese Democracy is an Axl Rose solo record. The surprise, given Rose’s reputation for volatility, is how buttoned up it is. From the first moments of the title track—an eerie swirl of siren peals and chattering voices that gives way to brutish power chords—Chinese Democracy is slick and airtight, with production values that are up-to-the-minute. The sound is heavily compressed in the contemporary style, and the music’s frayed edges have been smoothed away; every kick-drum thump and keyboard tinkle gives off the glint of a thousand mouse clicks. Those digital editors earned their paychecks.

It’s ultra-professional, yes—but oh my, is it busy. Guns N’ Roses always mixed up its hard rock with other stuff: pop-metal, boogie-blues, Queen-inspired glam, schmaltzy piano pop in the Elton John mode. But Chinese Democracy ups the fussiness factor a hundredfold—call it hard rococo. By the sound of it, Rose simply dumped every musical idea he’d ever had, every genre he’d ever heard, into his Pro Tools. And stirred.

The result is songs like “If the World,” which starts with Flamenco guitar noodling and segues into a desultory ‘70s funk groove, before piling on strings, wailing guitars, and a variety of showy digital effects. “Madagascar” has more orchestral strings, and brass fanfares, and drum loops, and ripping guitar solos, and drifting cloudbanks of industrial rock noise. Did I mention the samples from Cool Hand Luke? And the snippets of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech?

What Rose is trying to express with this excess is unclear. It is tempting to read a song like “Catcher in the Rye” as a statement about Rose’s own Salinger-like artistic stagnation and reputation as a recluse. (“If I thought that I was crazy/ Well, I guess I’d have more fun,” Rose sings.) But several songs suggest that Chinese Democracy is first and foremost a record about the torment of making Chinese Democracy. In “This I Love,” a chiming ballad that boasts the album’s most shapely melody, Rose pleads: “It seemed like forever and a day/ If my intentions are misunderstood/ Please be kind, I’ve done all I should.” “Sorry” is more defiant: “You thought they’d make me behave and submit/ What were you thinking …/ You don’t know why/ I won’t give in/ To hell with the pressure/ I’m not caving in.”

That’s an Axl that Guns N’ Roses fans know well: paranoid and spitting mad. But another Axl has gone missing on Chinese Democracy. In his heyday, Rose was a classic sex-symbol frontman, dreaming of a utopian Paradise City populated by babes, commanding “feel my-my-my-my serpentine,” stalking arena stages in serpentine-strangling spandex biker shorts. The members of Guns N’ Roses were not just archetypal rock Dionysians, they were the last great rock Dionysians—the end of a dynastic line stretching down from the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith.

Of course, cock rock is not unproblematic, and its problems—musical, political, and, God knows, sartorial—are epitomized by the skeezy silliness of the ‘80s hair metal scene that produced GN’R. But listening to Chinese Democracy, and to the earlier Guns N’ Roses records, one is reminded how much pure fun was sucked out of rock circa 1992, when the last poodlehead packed away his phallus and shuffled off of the Sunset Strip, surrendering the limelight to a succession of sad sacks: grunge rockers, post-grunge rockers, and the current crop of Radiohead- and Coldplay-influenced bands, whose whimpering falsetto vocals rather pointedly dramatize the music’s reduced, um, virility.

Rose is 46 years old now, so diminished libido may be par for the course. On Chinese Democracy, his voice is still an amazing, bludgeoning instrument, rising from demonic low rumble to piercing banshee wail. But listen to the words he is singing: “Sometimes I feel like the world is on top of me/ Breaking me down with an endless monotony.” “Don’t ever try to tell me how much you care for me/ Don’t ever try to tell me how you were there for me.” “I’ve been brought down in this storm/ And left so far out from the storm/ That I can’t find my way back/ My way anymore.” The priapic rock god has become just another bummed-out white guy, bellowing his angst over noisy guitars.

Of course, in rock, the sexiness starts with sound, and spreads. There’s no gainsaying the skill of the L.A. studio musicians whom Rose has been touring with in recent years. (Chinese Democracy is full of virtuoso shredding sure to please the Guitar Player magazine subscribers.) But the songs lack the rugged, sexy swing of the original GN’R. It was a band par excellence: Lead guitarist Slash was Rose’s sidekick and foil; rhythm guitarist Stradlin was the hook-savvy secret songwriting weapon; bassist McKagan gave the music its fearsome thrust. I can’t help wondering what, pardon the expression, a real Guns N’ Roses record would sound like in 2008.

For those of us who will accept no substitutes, there is hope. Rumors have flown for years about the original GN’R lineup reforming; Stradlin and McKagan have mentioned the possibility in recent interviews. Given the money involved, it may eventually prove too tempting to pass up. At the very least, a shotgun reunion is certain to take place at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2012, Guns N’ Roses’ first year of rock-hall eligibility. That’s just three years away, a blink of the eye in Axl time. As a philosopher once said—way back when, in the heady days of the first Bush administration—all we need is just a little patience.
https://slate.com/culture/2008/11/chinese-democracy-reviewed.html
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:04 am

Review by British journalist Joel McIver, published in Lucem Fero Metal Blogs, Nov. 28, 2008:
“Loaded Guns” - Joel McIver reviews Chinese Democracy

You know the stats. Seventeen years in the making. A $14 million studio budget. Endless delays. Multiple bootlegs. One prima donna... yes, it's been a long hard road out of hell for Axl Rose and the random cast of session musicians who make up the new Guns N' Roses, and the weight of expectation on the band's third all-studio, all-originals album is ridiculously heavy. The chances were that after such a long wait Chinese Democracy would be an anticlimax, and so it is -- but few could have predicted quite how feeble it's turned out to be.

The problem here is that Axl has had too long to fool around in the studio, with no guiding hand to push him in the right direction. With a Rick Rubin or a Jim Steinman at the controls, Waxl might have found a coherent theme and a consistent sound across the songs: as it is, the album is unfocused and doesn't really know where it's going or what to do when it gets there. Axl has come up with some decent-ish songs (“Better” and the title track are the obvious examples) but there are too many tunes that try and fail to sound like Appetite for Destruction-era Guns for us to take them seriously. The power ballads that make up about a third of the album want so badly to be “November Rain” that it hurts -- and the sub-Industrial guitar tone of many other tracks sounds a decade old. Finally, the arrogance of including a snatch of Martin Luther King's “I have a dream” speech as an audio sample is breathtaking, and not in a good way.

Time to reform the Appetite line-up, tour the world and retire, Axl. Chinese Democracy is an embarrassment.
https://web.archive.org/web/20081201073120/http://www.lucemfero.com/joelmciver_loadedguns_-_joelmciverreviewschinesedemocracy25112008.php
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:07 am

Review by British journalist Garry Bushel posted in Lucem Fero, Dec. 4, 2008:
Random thoughts on Chinese Democracy

By Garry Bushell

Parts of Chinese Democracy are sensational. “Shackler's Revenge” is exhilarating but, but, but... many of the arrangements are as over-blown as a burst Macy's Parade balloon, and as bloated as Homer Simpson after twelve hours at a Vegas breakfast buffet. This is an OK album; it has some great moments, but it isn't a classic – and after this long wait and this much expense it had to either be a classic or an anti-climax. The bottom line is the Guns N' Roses who gave us Appetite for Destruction would have knocked out something ten times better than this in a tenth of the time. Chinese Democracy is simultaneously over-produced and unfocused. Axl needs a strong hand to give him direction and discipline. Under his own steam, he comes up with cobblers like “For Your Love” - a song he’s been dicking about with for over twelve years, which ends up sounding like some old Yardbirds tune re-imagined by Andrew Lloyd Webber. God save us from anguished power-ballads and pretentious strings.

Oddly other parts of Chinese Democracy variously recall Kurt Cobain, Hip-Hop electronics and 1990s Industrial guitar. Anything that spends this long in the can inevitably starts to stink of fish. That said there are plenty of decent elements: tough riffs, steroidal power-chords and sawtooth solos. I like the chutzpah of “Scraped”, and the matter / anti-matter mix of “TWAT”. But I’m not convinced by the pleas of “Prostitute”: “It seemed like forever and a day... be kind, I’ve done all I should”. And I'm baffled by the album title. What does it mean? Democracy doesn't exist in China. They cling to the pretence of democracy; they use the word but it means the opposite. Much as many fans would say, Guns N' Roses without Slash is a pretend version of the band they once were. If all things are possible, as Axl assures us in “Scraped”, why not a reunion?
https://web.archive.org/web/20081207220423/http://www.lucemfero.com/garrybushell_randomthoughtsonchinesedemocracy28112008.php
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:10 am

Review by British journalist Neil Daniels posted in Lucem Fero, Dec. 2, 2008:
Chinese Democracy - Has the wait been worth it?

By Neil Daniels

After X amount of years and a gazillion dollars does anybody really give a damn about Chinese Democracy and Axl Rose’s notoriously manic obsessions? Has the wait been worth it? Is it actually any good?

Well, early sales figures suggest that there’s still a broad fan base out there that do give a damn. The wait hasn’t been worth it. And it is actually pretty good... in parts.

Unsurprisingly, the album has split the critics ranging from grovelling reviews in some major music magazines (they’re probably hoping for an exclusive with the man himself) to vicious attacks on Axl and his baby. The credits in the album’s sleeve notes reads like the end credits to a major Hollywood historical epic. And the promotional TV advert likening the release of the album to some major global, political and social events only proves Axl’s incredible arrogance, but I guess that’s why a ridiculous amount of people find him so alluring. He’s a wee bit odd is Axl.

Chinese Democracy is bloated and over-produced; there’s so much going on it requires a lot of time and patience, which most people don’t have if truth be told. There are countless overdubs and huge sounding guitars layered together. But I’m surprised at how well-written some of it is and how mature the sound is. You have to listen to it with an attentive ear (preferably through ear / headphones) to fully appreciate the musical depth of the songs. There are loops, horns, strings, choirs, female backing vocals and even electronica. But sometimes it’s all a bit too much.

Axl’s voice has come a long way; he doesn’t sound like the guy who, twenty years ago, screamed through the likes of “Night Train” and its siblings on Appetite for Destruction. His voice is deeper and occasionally more meaningful. But that’s partly the point. Admittedly, I was expecting something more akin to the Use Your Illusion albums but Axl has created something more baffling and contradictory. It’s the complete opposite of the stripped down, Punk tinged Hard Rock of their brilliant debut album.

He’s never gotten over his love of ELO, seventies Elton John and David Bowie and early Queen (I’d say pre-The Game), and on Chinese Democracy he’s extended his commitment to his favourite bands. A couple of standout rockers are “Riad n' the Bedouins” and “Catcher in the Rye”. The title-track is a solid opener and “Better” is easily one of the finest songs onboard. But “Shackler’s Revenge” is a jumbled mess and “If the World” is pretentious and overwrought. The fact of the matter is an analysis of Chinese Democracy could go on and on and on…kinda like the making of the album.

At the end of the day Axl doesn’t really give a fuck what we think. The end.
https://web.archive.org/web/20100902055423/http://www.lucemfero.com/neildaniels_chinesedemocracy_-_hasthewaitbeenworthit26112008.php
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:12 am

Excerpt from review by Steven Rosen in Lucem Fero (via Ultimate Guitar, Dec. 10, 2008):
In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, the headline read: “Fizzle of the Year - Chinese Democracy Finally Out - Few Care”. They throttled the album because it came out behind Kanye West and Taylor Swift to arrive at number three on the Best Buy (major chain carrying the album). What the hell is wrong with number three? Certainly you don't hear Axl crying about it.

"This is a good record. Not as good as "Appetite for Destruction", not nearly as heroic or muscular or engaging, but as a first attempt by a solo artist named Axl Rose camouflaged as the one-time lead singer for a band called Guns N' Roses, it is better than most debuts.

"Axl made his bed (composed more of thorns than roses) and now he must lie in it. He brought the focus of the entire industry down on him and no one could live up to that.

"And what happens next? Axl picks up the phone, calls Slash, and offers to become Velvet Revolver's new singer. They bring in the 'Chinese Democracy' songs, the riffs Slash has been recording while looking for a new vocalist for VR, and they go back out on the road as Slash & Rose, a barely veiled banner for Guns N' Roses.
https://web.archive.org/web/20090803002755/http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/press_releases/steven_rosen_on_chinese_democracy_it_is_better_than_most_debuts.html
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:15 am

Review in The Oakland Press, Nov. 22, 2008:
After 15 years, "Chinese Democracy" finally hitting store shelves

“Chinese Democracy”
Black Frog/Geffen


By Gary Graff

Given the time that's passed - 17 years since Guns N' Roses last set of original material, 15 since the covers set “The Spaghetti Incident” - expectations for this album have run a gamut from the Second Coming to it never being released. The reportedly $13 million project has outlasted quite a few other bands' entire careers and, of course, has left what we knew as GNR in the dust, with only frontman Axl Rose remaining from the group's original lineup. But as “Chinese Democracy” finally rolls out (as a Best Buy exclusive), Rose is unrepentant for the wait: as he begins the album-closing “Prostitute,” “It seems like forever and a day/If my intentions were misunderstood, please Be Kind/I've done all I should ... It's not a question of whether my heart is true.” Rose's heart, in fact, radiates from his sleeve throughout these 14 tracks, an artful and sincere melange of epic rock featuring pristinely produced walls of guitars, orchestrsaults that find the singer in prime, chameleonlike form in these rants and reflections about lost loves, societal ills and, not surprisingly, the search for the perfect sound. The punk rock edge of GNR left with the likes of Slash and Duff McKagen, but Rose and his legion of musicians (up to four guitarists on some songs) still kick up a storm on the title track and “Scraped” while also experimenting with industrial grooves on “Shackler's Revenge,” old school funk on “If the World,” the roots rock of “Catcher in the Rye” and quieting down for the gently ambient piano balladry on “This I Love.” But Rose is clearly most fascinated in epic, ebb-and-flow constructions such as “Street of Dreams,” “There Was a Time,” “Riad N' the Bedouins” and “Madagascar,” the latter of which has a mid-section that weaves together samples of famous lines from Dr. Martin Luther King, “Cool Hand Luke” and “Braveheart.” Was it worth the wait? That's the $1 million - or perhaps $13 million - question, but if, even after all this time, all Rose and company owe us is a good album and a rich listening experience, “Chinese Democracy” is certainly that. (To celebrate “Chinese Democracy's” release, Dr. Pepper is giving away free bottles at www.drpepper.com, today only.)
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:20 am

Review in The Boston Herald, Nov. 21, 2008:
Hell freezes over; ‘Chinese Democracy’ released
Guns N’ Roses return is an Axl Rose coup


By Jed Gottlieb

GUNS N' ROSES
"Chinese Democracy" (Geffen)


Grade: A-

What are the dudes who said Guns N' Roses doesn't work without Slash going to do now?

First things first. "Chinese Democracy" is great - you can hear it right now as a free stream on MySpace and buy it Sunday at BestBuy. It's not "Appetite for Destruction," but it's way more consistent than the bloated "Use Your Illusions."

Forget that we've chased the carrot of new G N' R tunes Axl Rose has cruelly dangled before us for 17 years. Forget that this is likely the most expensive album ever made at a reported $13 million. Forget that the cast from "Appetite" is long gone. Just listen and you'll hear the awesome opus Rose intended "Illusion" to be. Because Slash, Izzy Stradlin and the rest ruined Rose's vision of "Illusion," "Chinese Democracy" is defined by their absence.

"Chinese Democracy" succeeds because Slash is missing. Slash fans need to face facts: the guitarist was never right for Rose (too much Joe Perry, not enough Brian May); post-"Appetite," he's consistently failed to capture his early mad-hatter-run-amok fury.

The guitarists on "Chinese Democracy" - Buckethead, Bumblefoot, Richard Fortus, Robin Finck and Paul Tobias - use Slash's dirty blues as a starting point but take it places G N' R's iconic axe-man could never, and would never, want to go. And the results are wicked cool.

"I.R.S." tilts between a gentle lilt and a classic "Appetite" grind. Beneath the lilt are lyrical blues lines. Over the top of the grind are supernovas that reference Tom Morello, Yngwie Malmsteen, Vernon Reid and Slash, too. "Scraped," "Better" and "If the World," all vaguely electronic, use this same approach: bursts of straight, lyrical rock guitar, bursts of fast, twisted notes that sound like they're coming from a malfunctioning cyborg.

The absence you notice most is Stradlin.. G N' R's second guitarist wrote the band's straightest rock songs ("Patience," "Mr. Brownstone," "Think About You"). No Izzy means no good Stones' cops. And because Rose doesn't do simple well without Stradlin, the weakest tracks on "Chinese Democracy" are its most typical, specifically the title track and "Shackler's Revenge."
But no Izzy means Rose is free to write what he wants: sagas equal to his best "Illusion" experiments. Half of "Chinese Democracy" consists of big, bold, piano-driven operettas directed at his old band mates, himself and his haters.
"Sometimes I feel like the world is on top of me/breaking me down with an endless monotony," Rose sings on "Scraped." Then he adds, "like a daily affirmation, I am unconquerable."

So what's Rose retained from his past life? His Queen fascination is in full bloom. His wicked yowls, howls and growls remain intact, and his obsession with "Cool Hand Luke" has held - this time incongruously paired with Martin Luther King Jr's "I Have a Dream" sound bites and Kashmir-like strings on "Madagascar."

Oh, and there's his ego. Now everybody knows Slash wasn't the genius in the band.

Download the brooding, black, brilliantly un-"Appetite" tell-off, "Sorry."
This review was shared in the band's official site:
https://web.archive.org/web/20081206004830/http://web.gunsnroses.com:80/news/article.jsp?ymd=20081124&content_id=a2&vkey=news&fext=.jsp


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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 3:31 am

Review in Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide, January 2009:
Guns N' Roses
"Chinese Democracy"

(Geffen)


Hopeless eccentric spends most of his adult life and a large chunk of his ill-gotten fortune trying to make the perfect album. Succeeds, kind of, on his own totally irrelevant terms. Nobody cares. Since he's no longer capable of leading young white males astray, this effort isn't just pleasurable artistically. It's touching on a human level. Noble, even. I didn't think he had it in him.
Grade: B PLUS
Note: Christgau, self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics", had given very negative reviews on the band in the past:

https://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist.php?name=guns+n+roses
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 4:02 am

Review in St. Petersburg Times Blogs, Nov. 20, 2008:
'Chinese Democracy' actually wins my vote

By Steve Spears

Here's a review some '80s fans hoped we'd never have to read: It's finally time to examine Chinese Democracy by Guns N' Roses. Though the record isn't officially released until Sunday, Nov. 23, you can listen to the entire album online at the band's MySpace page or on IMEEM.com.

Oh, I really wanted to hate it, but it's not the train wreck everyone expected. Don't count me as a likely purchaser when it hits Best Buy shelves (exclusive deal, natch) this weekend, but I might listen a few more times online in the near future. Here are some first impressions:

THE OVERALL SOUND: Heaven help me, I can't bear to listen to one more overproduced rock album. Ever. You want to know what Axl Rose has been up to for the last 345 years since his last studio album? Probably taking a study-at-home class on using Mac's Garage Band software or something. Tunes like Chinese Democracy (listen) and Shackler's Revenge have zero chance of being replicated live.

EASY ON THE GUITARS!: Where is Slash when he's needed most? Some of the songs here feature finger-work that can only conjure visions of Guitar Hero addicts on heroin. That's a sound better left to the hair-metal plague of bands.

THAT'S 'BETTER': Want a tune that will bring you back to 1989? Try Better. A simple rocker with a bare minimum of production work and guitar work that glides between the verses. It's a time machine back to a much better time for this band.

WOW, SOME PIANO: I actually checked the webpage when Street of Dreams started with a happy if not partly cliched piano intro. Lush orchestration weaves back and forth. Easily one of the most accessible songs on the disc.

OBLIGATORY THROW-AWAYS: Gotta appreciate the long tradition in album-making that requires a band to put a few totally incomprehensible picks on each disc. For this album, it's If The World, which sounds like a James Bond theme song, and There Was A Time, which switches gears a few too many times to gain any momentum. And don't get me started on Scraped and Sorry, two songs that sound like rejects from a bad Broadway musical.

POWER BALLADS LIVE ON: There's something just warmly familiar with Catcher in the Rye. And I find myself really enjoying the lyrics here: "When all is said and done, we're not the only ones who look at life this way. That's what the old folks say. But every time I'd see them, makes me wish I had a gun." Easily my favorite track.

AXL HAS MELLOWED: If you were expecting a collection of head-banging anthems, go back and just re-listen to 1987's Appetite for Destruction. Axl slows it down considerably here, especially with the songs on the bottom half of the disc. Tunes like I.R.S. and Madagascar benefit from the gentle pace. And hey, we can almost make out the lyrics. By the time the surprisingly tender This I Love plays, you're ready for a nap. But don't, because you'll miss a great tune.

BUY OR NO BUY: Let's face it - You're either a GNR fan or you're not. Their brand of shredded vocals and brain-scrambling guitars might seem out of place in 2008, but give them credit for really putting out a disc that will surprise a lot of people. If you're sitting on the fence, this one's worth the coin.
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 4:06 am

Review in Newsday, Nov. 20, 2008:
'Chinese Democracy' by Guns N' Roses

By Glenn Gamboa; Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

Nov. 20--Guns N' Roses' new album, "Chinese Democracy" (Black Frog/Geffen), 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.

Nevertheless, 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. All along the line, 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?" Unfortunately for Rose, the answer will almost always be "no."

THE GRADE: B

BOTTOM LINE Either a major letdown or way better than expected -- you choose.
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 4:08 am

Review in USA Today, Nov. 21, 2008:
Guns N' Roses scream 'Democracy'

By Edna Gundersen

The nervy, enthralling thickets of hard-rock riffola and cascades of wrathful pain will come as no surprise to Guns N' Roses fans. The biggest shocker is that Chinese Democracy (*** out of four) is here at all after 15 years, 14 studios and an estimated $13 million.

Erratic resume aside, much of the 71-minute album, due Sunday at Best Buy and iTunes, packs an undeniable wallop. Axl Rose's feral yowl remains potent and pliable. Though the futuristic industrial sound he once promised is in short supply, he leans heavily on synthesizers, samples and machined beats without abandoning metallic rock drama, especially in convulsive guitar wig-outs. Such hyperactive bashers as Shackler's Revenge and the title track recall GNR splendor, and Rose displays a nimble contemporary touch in techno-poppy If the World.

Chinese sags when Rose indulges melodramatic tendencies in the cheeseball Street of Dreams and overwrought There Was a Time. Bloat results elsewhere as Rose's studio rat-packing brings a brass band, choirs, hip-hop rhythms, movie dialogue and snippets of Martin Luther King Jr. into the mix. And his tech fixation buries GNR's former menacing grit and swagger under ProTools and digital editors. Lyrics? Rants from a hothead narcissist shut-in, bristling with paranoia and spite. Rose conjures magic in a studio, but it's a suffocating lifestyle.
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 4:14 am

Review in The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut newspaper), Nov. 21, 2008:
CD Review: 'Chinese Democracy' marks Axl's triumphant return

By Stephen Ortiz; U. Connecticut

(CSTV U-WIRE) STORRS, Conn. -- In 1994, Axl Rose began a journey -- a journey that would last him 14 years, see 14 recording studios and in the end, produce an album that has long been considered rock 'n' roll's Holy Grail. Yes, it has taken some time for him and his ever-changing Guns N' Roses to complete "Chinese Democracy," but it is finally here, and it's been well worth the wait.

Rose, now 46, is the only remaining member of the original G N' R line-up, and critics and fans have scrutinized him at every opportunity for his strange actions and stranger bizarre makeover over the past decade and a half. But despite what may be happening on the outside, pardon my language when I say that Rose can still f------ rock. So here, 14 years in the making, is the "Chinese Democracy" track-by-track review.

"Chinese Democracy"
There's only one way an album this long in the making could have started, and that's with a bang. The track opens with countless voices speaking Chinese faintly until interrupted by an echoing riff. And then Rose lets loose. "Chinese Democracy" is hard, angry and familiar. It's good to hear Rose's voice and, surprisingly enough, it's withstood all the abuse from countless years of drugs and alcohol.

"Shackler's Revenge"
Extremely repetitive and a bit of a pain to listen to, "Shackler's Revenge" has Rose singing both deep and in his traditional tone over some rough riffs. Definitely a bit of a letdown after how good the album's opener is, but no one thought this was going to be perfect. The forceful chorus makes up for it, though.

"Better"
An instant standout among "Chinese Democracy's" 14 songs, "Better" combines shrill guitar work with vocals that border on ballad-like. The end result is one of the most addicting songs on the album -- a bittersweet tale of Rose looking back on a love he wishes he knew better. Oh, and the guitar solo is awesome.

"Street of Dreams"
"Chinese Democracy" finds its first true ballad four tracks deep with "Street of Dreams." Ripped straight from the best piano-based ballads of old, "Street" is a great listen, though it's as cheesy as the best of them.

"If The World"
This is an odd one. It's funky and slick and sounds like a rejected "Bond" theme song. It's a fun listen, but it's certainly not the Guns N' Roses sound we're used to. Guitarist Buckethead lays down some Spanish guitar to seal the deal.

"There Was A Time"
Easily "Chinese Democracy's" most complex song, this track is a wall of sound that combines a choir, plenty of simple, impressive guitar work and Rose's growl. Best part? It works. Everything comes together to make a beautiful six-and-a-half minute trip into Rose's darkest hours. He sings, "Broken glass and cigarettes/ Writing on the wall/ It was a bargain for the summer/ And I thought I had it all."

"Catcher In The Rye"
One of the few tracks on "Chinese Democracy" that doesn't work as well as you would hope. It's odd, doesn't make a lot of sense and musically doesn't impress, aside from the face-melting solo.

"Scraped"
A rough and raw trip back to the golden days of the old Guns N' Roses. One can't help but wonder how much better a track like this would be with the original lineup intact. It's a classic rollercoaster ride that never lets up.

"Riad N' The Bedouins"
Another one that misses the mark -- but only slightly. It's great that Rose won't hold back with a "bigger is better" mentality.

"Sorry"
Evidence that after all these years, Rose can still write a good tune. Rose's voice is almost eerie on this folk-y campfire tune over a simple acoustic.

"I.R.S."
One of the album's best, "I.R.S." is catchy and addicting. This is one of the many songs on the album in which Rose's voice is almost indistinguishable from the Rose of old -- especially when he lets out a scream right before the song's solo.

"Madagascar"
This one had been out in various forms for years now. Rose has been performing it live and it's leaked with every demoed version of the album. The song samples Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech -- a companion to the song's lyrics, which reflect its meaning: hope.

"This I Love"
This one drops all bells and whistles for a pure emotion-driven ballad over violin and piano. Guitars are added late in the song, but they're unnecessary. The real star here is Rose's songwriting and emotional crooning -- it's almost heart-wrenching.

"Prostitute"
"Chinese Democracy" starts with a bang and ends with a ballad. Rose lets it all go in "Prostitute" -- he confronts the past, the accusations and skeptics all in one hell of a power ballad. He may even be owning up to the fact that the destruction of the old Guns N' Roses when he sings, "What would you say if I told you that I'm to blame?"
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Post by Blackstar Sun May 30, 2021 4:16 am

Review in Star Tribune, Nov. 22, 2008:
Was it worth the 14-year wait? For GNR fans, probably yes

By Chris Riemenschneider
Staff Writer


"Chinese Democracy" is the rock 'n' roll answer to the Hummer.

Sonically, it's bigger and beefier than any record needs to be, and it comes fully loaded with bells and whistles. Musically, it's a high-velocity, guttural, bumpy ride. Lyrically and vocally, it's manly, ugly and fierce. And financially, it probably wasn't worth the costs of keeping it running.

In short, the Guns N' Roses opus that took 14 years to complete is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of album. You're going to love it if you don't mind that Axl Rose is the only original member or that some of the songs ("If the World," "Shackler's Revenge") try way too hard to update the band with electronic beats and whirs and staticky vocals, which actually sound more 1998 than 2008. You'll love it if you still enjoy good old-fashioned, heavy metal power ballads ("Catcher in the Rye," "This I Love," both laden with goopy piano). You'll hate it if you want your rock 'n' roll to offer subtlety or humility, or vocals and guitar solos that don't try to shriek your ears off.

For more reasons than nostalgia -- such as pure and simple songwriting -- the best tracks sound like classic GNR. There's some great "Welcome to the Jungle"-sized guitar thunder and fine howling by Axl in "Riad N' the Bedouins," one of the angriest songs lyrically ("Nomads and barbarians/ I won't bend my will to them"). The dramatic "Street of Dreams" deserves to be a "November Rain"-style crossover pop hit. The best track, "Better," offers the perfect balance of old GNR grime and new Axl polish.

Is it good enough to make Rose rock's biggest star again? No, but "Chinese Democracy" should keep him from being its biggest punch line.
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