GUNS N’ ROSES – CHINESE DEMOCRACY REVIEW
20 years ago, Guns N’ Roses were one of the most exciting bands in the world. Although they originated in the midst of the hair/glam rock scene in L.A., the band seemed to possess a quality that bands like Poison, Motley Crue and RATT..etc just didn’t have. Within three years, Guns had become the biggest band in the world. The massive selling Use Your Illusion albums saw the band grow from clubs and support shows to full blown arena jaunts. For almost three years, they toured the globe, bringing their massive stage show to every corner of the earth. Band members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff became icons, figure heads if every thing rock in roll about the nineties.
Within months, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the grunge scene had erupted and destroyed the status of Rock stars like Axl and Guns. It suddenly became un-cool to live the infamous hell raising lifestyle set down by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin, the Stones and all the classic ‘TV out a hotel window’ groups. For the remainder of the decade, hard rock bands from the 80′s struggled to keep up with the times. Some of the groups like Metallica, Bon Jovi and AC/DC managed to retain their respect to a certain extent, while others like Def Leppard, Whitesnake and … became the butts of jokes to a new generation, who could no longer connect with the ideals these bands represented. Guns N’ Roses however, managed to fall of the face of the earth, as personal conflicts and legal issues tore the band to pieces. In the mid nineties, five years after the illusions, Slash and Duff Mckagan left the group causing fans to scream out in protest against Axl Rose’s increasing control of the band. For the remainder of the decade, there was little or no communication from the group, even when rumors of an album, entitled Chinese Democracy, that was already four years in the making, started surfacing. It wasn’t until 1999 that Axl finally broke his silence and Guns N’ Roses released their first original song in almost a decade. The track, Oh My God, appeared on the sound track to End of Days. It appeared the album was finally ready.
Despite the commotion in the late 90′s with Oh My God’s release and a handful of comeback shows in early 2001, the band failed to make the comeback fans had been dreaming off and instead, retreated back too the studio to continue working on Axl’s masterpiece. The new millennium saw occasional attempts by the band to comeback, all of which ended disastrously with cancelled tour dates, riots, broken promises and repeated disappointments. Although the band was relatively quiet for most of the decade, they were still a major focus point for the media and fans alike. Rumors about the original band, Axl and Chinese Democracy itself, circulated non-stop with everyone looking to contribute their two cents to the great Guns N’ Roses mystery that the majority of people had started to lampoon and dismiss as an album lost forever in Axl’s madness.
Fast forward to 2008 and Chinese Democracy has finally seen the light of day. After a reported fourteen years in the making, an estimated cost of $15,000,000 (in 2006), a never ending cast of musicians, studio’s and engineer’s used, Axl Rose has done the impossible and released the most highly anticipated album of all time.
The album itself has entered the world in much the same fashion that’s always surrounded it. It’s reported that as soon as Axl handed the album into label bosses at Geffen records, he fell of the radar completely, refusing to answer calls about promoting the album, arranging a tour or any other PR tasks normally undertaken by other bands for the release of the album. As a result, the album failed to achieve the coveted US Billboard 100, Number one spot that so many had seen for it. Although there are talks of promotion in the coming weeks, Chinese Democracy stands to Axl’s credit that Guns N’ Roses stand by everything they did when they formed, despite the lack of any other founding members.
Personally, I find describing the music on Chinese Democracy a challenge. There is enough material, both lyrically and instrumental, to fill an encyclopaedia. Fans that have been waiting since the Use Your Illusions’ for this record will no doubt approach the album looking for answers to fourteen years worth of constant speculation and questions or simply reassurance that, without the original line-up, Guns N’ Roses can still make the music they love. Unfortunately for those unwilling to change with the times, they could be faced with disappointment as many of those familiar traits have vanished, only to be replaced by a more mature, layered sound. Instead of Slash’s trademark blues lead guitar and Duff’s crunching bass, Chinese Democracy offers orchestral arrangements, walled in by polished guitars, all held together by a monumental production job that leaves no stone unturned. It’s very obvious that every second of the album has been planned out to the point of exhaustion and any questions about where all the time has gone, have been answered.
The grandeur and scope of the album are a credit to Axl’s perseverance and determination. Instead of releasing an album of Appetite carbon copies, Axl has completely rejuvenated the Guns style, building new levels of sound onto the original ideals. Epic ballads, such as Street of Dreams, Prostitute, Madagascar, This I Love, Sorry and There Was a Time show the Gun’s at their finest. While heavier tracks like Scraped, Riad and the Bedouins, Shackler’s Revenge, Better and Chinese Democracy are delivered in thundering bursts throughout the record, showing Axl can still deliver inexcusably heavy rock anthems without the aid of his former band mates.
Lyrically, Chinese Democracy is every bit a Guns N’ Roses record. Axl’s trademark defiance and passion is present in every verse, chorus and blood curdling scream. Fans are given an insight into one of the most talked about minds in music history, as your taken on a journey through themes that deal with love, control, anger, resentment and full frontal rock n roll. In contrast to previous work on Appetite, the Illusions and Lies, vocals play a more prominent roll as lead guitar intros are replaced by blunt starts and harmonies. It’s obvious from several of the lyrics on the album that Axl hasn’t been oblivious to the desperation of fans for this record’s release or the media’s increasing speculation about his personal habits. ‘I bet you think I’m doing this all for my health’, (I.R.S.), ‘You don’t know why I won’t give in, To hell with the pressure I’m not caving in’ (Sorry) and ‘I won’t be told anymore, That I’ve been brought back in this storm, And left so far out from the shore, That I can’t find my way back, my way anymore’ (Madagascar) being just a few.
There’s even more surprises in store as If The World, Catcher in the Rye and I.R.S. make a distinct jump from any of the bands previous work. Spanish guitars, RN’B/drum and bass and aggressive pop rock are all incorporated to make these songs a sound of their own. Despite several of the tracks being leaked over the last few years, all of them sound rejuvenated and fresh when heard in their true environment.
It was Axl’s dream for this album to be his masterpiece and despite the initial sales figures, fans continued cries for the original members return and media criticism, he has delivered. Although the albums release may end hopes for other rock stars receiving the same blind faith from their record companies, Axl has given the world a truly epic album that will stand forever as iconic symbol of persistence, hard work, vision and Rock ‘N’ Roll.