Sunday, June 28, 2009

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (2008)

Oh, you had to know this was coming.

When this album finally got released, it looked like the perfect target: a bloated turkey crossing the road, iconic in its dalliance. (I know what some of those words mean.) I bought this, with high hopes to blow this ridiculous, bombastic journey to Mecca through rock's desert to pieces as I rained my sarcastic machete down on its undoubtedly subpar musical gizzard.

Let's put this in perspective: when Use Your Illusion I & II were released in 1991, Guns N' Roses was the biggest band in the world. After Appetite for Destruction and Lies (which were both in the Top 5 in 1988, the only band in the 80's to be able to say that), there were people sleeping out on sidewalks to buy the double album... er, two individual albums. Now that's gumption. And they debuted at #1 and #2 on the charts, the first band ever to see that happen.

17 years later, this is their next album of original material. Think about that. Four #1 or #2 albums to start a career... followed by 17 years off. We will never see anything like this again in our lifetime, I'll wager.

And this album... 14 years in the making. All original members except Axl Rose gone as of 1997, with multiple, wild lineup changes (18 band members total) throughout the process. The album got an official name 10 years ago. The timeline:

  • 1999: song "Oh My God" released from "the forthcoming album." Axl tells reporters he has re-recorded almost the entire Appetite for Destruction album with his new band.
  • 2001: GNR shows include songs from "the forthcoming album."
  • 2002: GNR tour scheduled to support "the forthcoming album." Most of the dates are canceled.
  • 2006: Axl tells reporters that the new album will be out before the end of the year. European and US tours happen. In December, new release date announced: March 6, 2007.
  • 2007: Band announces mixing will delay release date. Australian, Mexican, and Japanese "Chinese Democracy World Tour" dates happen.
  • 2008: Dr. Pepper announces plan to give everyone in America free can of Dr. Pepper if the band releases Chinese Democracy before the end of the year. Except to former guitarists Slash and Buckethead.
The most surprising thing of all was that Dr. Pepper had to pay up.

So after all of this time, all this hype, all these stops and starts, the reported $13 million spent in the studio, it finally has arrived: probably the most dissected, longest produced, most legendarily anticipated album we will see in our lifetimes. The question is: after all that, exactly how good is it?

It all depends on your perspective. If you look at this as Axl Rose's masterpiece, an album 14 years in the making, the successor to the GNR legacy... you are going to be disappointed. Very disappointed. There are very few albums that could ever live up to that kind of standard, and this one ain't it. There are no hits here, no transcendental tunes, no timeless classics. It just does not justify the amount of time spent to create it. And at times Rose's lower range sounds like a dead-on impression of the lead singer from Queensryche.

However, if you listen to this as an album by "some guy" with a revolving cast of thousands, who has a voice that still has fantastic range (possibly unparalleled for male vocalists even to today), that is meticulously produced, recorded, and mixed, it's quite good. It's a very good, well produced album.

Rose's main disadvantage here is that this album was begun before the internet, Napster, or ipods, and it sounds like he chose to ignore that trend we like to refer to as "mp3's." In the car, it sounds terrible; but loud and on the big speakers, you can hear the nuances he was going for. Unfortunately, that's not the way most people listen to music these days... and my guess is that Rose has been listening to this album in big studios, from well-appointed stereos, and in car speaker systems that cost as much as my house does.

In the end, even if this album were terrible I'd keep it -- it's a piece of history. As it is, it's good enough that I'll listen to it as well. As much as I would like to wind up and just blow this album to hell, I can't. Damn.

CD Placement Rating: This is a borderline call, but I have to acknowledge this album objectively -- it goes into the Portable CD Case. Nicely done, Axl.

- Snilch

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