15 years after their 1993 album “The Spaghetti Incident?”, which was comprised solely of cover songs, the Guns N’ Roses minus everyone except Axl Rose finally put together a new album. Many years in the making, Chinese Democracy was highly anticipated to say the least, even without Slash, Duff McKagan and the gang involved.
Some loved it, others hated it.
But was this big comeback really worth it?
A boldly simple riff leads the way in a kickass opening title track which most definitely sounds like the Guns N’ Roses. You’ve got some great guitar work in there, a top chorus, it’s short and sweet: the album couldn’t have started any better.
Axl goes low for second track “Shackler’s Revenge”, before slowly building to his usual highs. Expect a chaotic guitar hook mixed in with quite a lot of electronic sounds and a solo which is all over the place. The bridge is a bit weak and doesn’t quite fit but luckily the chorus works. It’s a very metal, very experimental track you’ll either have fun with or dismiss altogether as just too messy.
“Better” is a rather modern track for the band as it doesn’t exactly have that nostalgic retro feel to it. Which is not to say it’s not good, it’s got a very unique melody to it which builds really well with some heavier bits thrown in plus a respectable Slash-esque solo. Axl’s voice sounds weirdly different in this one I should point out but it remains a cool song.
A piano solo opens “Street Of Dreams” which goes for a “November Rain”-style ballad. Going back to Axl Rose’s voice, it sounds great when high but a little odd when low here. The song itself is appropriately grand and ambitious and boasts a strong melody despite not being quite as memorable as it probably wanted to be.
“If The World” is next and that one has more of a hip hop beat with something of a Middle Eastern vibe in places. Its pace speeds up and slows down in random places so, while it’s another good song, it’s also another experimental song which might sound a little off here and there. The next track, “There Was A Time”, has a a really strong melody but the chorus ruins it a bit by being so off-key somehow. It settles more later with an atmospheric solo and a solid build-up to the end but early on it’s frankly a bit too distracting.
“Catcher In The Rye” definitely has its moments, especially its solo and the main hook which help structure the song well throughout. You never know where this one’s going but it holds up really well even if it’s not the most memorable track on the album. It’s the nifty little touches here and there which make this one as likeable as it is. “Scraped” is a faster-paced track and, again, there’s a good hook and a cool solo in there. Unfortunately the key changes don’t really fit the vocals which makes it sound like two people are singing two different songs at the same time.
Another track with some weird key changes is “Riad N’ The Bedouins”, a song which, otherwise, is musically sound and which definitely has a lot going for it. “Sorry” is next and it’s a slower track with more of an R&B vibe. It’s a great ballad that works perfectly overall: chorus, bridge, it’s all steeped in attitude and regret. Easily one of Chinese Democracy’s best even if it rarely sounds like the Guns N’ Roses.
The next song, “I.R.S.”, is a fun track with a good melody and lots of energy. Could have definitely heard a song like it on Appetite For Destruction back in the day. It is followed by “Madagascar”, a more political track with more of an emphasis on mood and lyrics. Think of it a bit like a callback to classic GNR song “Civil War”. The track opens with a mini-orchestra (in synth form) giving it an appropriately grand, almost epic quality. Axl sounds like an old soul/blues singer here, in a good way!
There’s a beautiful piano-led melody throughout heartfelt ballad “This I Love” and an admittedly very pretty bridge also. The track grows and grows towards the best, longest guitar solo on the entire album. One of this new Guns N’ Roses’ best and most underrated songs. The album ends on “Prostitute”, a song about… exactly what it says it’s about! The pace is much too up and down in this bizarre ode which is surprisingly pretty but also unfortunately never allowed to fully take-off.
What to make of Chinese Democracy, then?
The fact that Axl Rose finally delivered this album which was such a long time coming and never felt like it would ever exist is in itself something of a miracle. While it’s certainly uneven, with some of its songs jumping from key to key or rhythm to rhythm sometimes with very little rhyme or reason and Axl’s voice sounding nearly completely different depending on where he is in the album or in a song, fans of what used to be the world’s biggest band should still find plenty to enjoy here.
The lack of some key band members means that this isn’t really the Guns N’ Roses, of course, but what we can learn from some of this album’s best moments is that the Roses without the Guns are still worth something.
That’s 3 Drunk Hatters out of 5 for Chinese Democracy. I’ll happily add an extra Hatter but only when Axl releases a brand new album which should be…
Any decade now.