GUNS N’ ROSES – Chinese Democracy

GUNS N' ROSES - Chinese Democracy
  • 6/10
    GUNS N' ROSES - Chinese Democracy - 6/10


Geffen Records
Release date: November 23, 2008

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

How does one review an album like Chinese Democracy? The album has been in the works for thirteen years now, and for the better part of these thirteen years the album has become a joke in the music industry (“There will be democracy in China before Chinese Democracy is released”). Well, there’s no democracy in China yet, but a new album from what was once considered to be one of the most dangerous and innovative bands within the Hard Rock genre has eventually surfaced. So, should one review this album like any other Hard Rock release? Should the thirteen years be taken into consideration? And finally, how much should one compare this album to the previous releases by Guns N’ Roses?

It’s been seventeen years since the release of an original Guns N’ Roses album (the cover album The Spaghetti Incident? omitted), and with only one original member left it was probably bound to sound somewhat different from the groundbreaking breakthrough album Appetite For Destruction and the diverse and critically acclaimed Use Your Illusion I & II. The only member still in the band from the band’s golden era (except from Axl Rose) is keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who participated on The Spaghetti Incident? The band now consists of Axl Rose (lead vocals, piano, programming), Dizzy Reed (keyboards, programming), Tommy Stinson (bass), Robin Finck (guitar), Richard Fortus (guitar), Bumblefoot (guitar), Brian “Brain” Mantia (drums) and Chris Pitman (keyboards, special effects), but on the album you’ll find the performance of yet another two guitarists, one drummer, one keyboardist, and even a person playing the harp. Needless to say there’s a lot going on, not only on the album itself, but on each track on the album.

Electronic elements that were never present on the old Guns N’ Roses albums (if you omit the unnecessary “My World” from Use Your Illusion II) are now a major part of the band’s sound. Another element that has been brought in are orchestra arrangements. Sure, they used orchestra arrangements on “November Rain” (Use Your Illusion II), but they are more present in the band’s sound today than ever before. The music is different from the Guns N’ Roses people were familiar with in the late 80s and first part of the 90s, but there are traces of the old band here as well.

The album starter, title track and the single, “Chinese Democracy,” is a Hard Rocker that’s reminiscent of good ol’ Guns N’ Roses. Axl’s voice sounds great on this one, and there are a great deal of cool guitar licks in-between his singing. Though the guitar sound is a bit different from ex-Gunner Slash’s, the guitar solo on this one is probably the one closest to what you would expect from him. This song has also managed to get the album banned in China as it criticizes the dictatorship of the country.

“Shackler’s Revenge” starts with electronic guitars in typical Marilyn Manson/Nine Inch Nails style. The song has elements of this style all the way, but in the bottom lays a good Hard Rock song. The electronic elements are present through a greater part of the album and deviates a great deal from the old Guns N’ Roses. To include these elements in the mix makes the songs seem a bit dated to the late 90s when the already mentioned bands were in their prime. The verse isn’t the strongest, but the chorus is powerful. The guitar solos on this song, played by Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, aren’t standard Hard Rock solo’s, but seem more influenced by the likes of John 5 (Rob Zombie, ex-Marilyn Manson).

“Better” starts with a guitar playing overtones and a drum kit heard through a high pass filter which makes it sound like you’re hearing them through your buddy’s headphones while he’s wearing them. Axl comes in and sings a few lines and as we go from intro to verse Hard Rock guitars, bass and a drum kit without effects enter. The verse is of the more beautiful work on this album and contains some of the more heartfelt lyrics Axl delivers circa 2008. The chorus sees Axl almost screaming the lyrics, however not in his usual high pitch voice. Also on this song the guitar solo seems more John 5 like than something that Slash would ever play.

“Street Of Dreams” is a happy-sounding piano driven ballad that’s only partially working out. Axl’s voice on this song is soaring on most of the high pitched parts, which is a rarity on this album. That is something that is greatly missed, as it was considered a signature move from the man during the band’s prime from 1987 to 1994. Axl’s Elton John influences come to show on this song and you’ll also find orchestra parts here, making it more grandiose. The guitar solo is a nice piece of work, but all in all the song has some good parts and some parts that don’t work in their favor.

“If The World” has a funk based bass/guitar/piano/drum section, while Axl sings in his trademark soar, high pitched vocals style on top of a string orchestra arrangement. This makes it the most beautiful ballad on this record, and even though it has some programmed drum parts and at times an electronic based outfit, it functions well. It sounds nothing like the old Guns N’ Roses, but it’s a new turn that should be welcomed if you’re open for changes in their style. That goes for the entire album as well.

“There Was A Time” has more of the electronic elements and sees more programmed drums. There’s also a choir and orchestra arrangements on this song. The first guitar solo doesn’t seem very well planned; it sounds a bit like they’ve decided to have a solo there just for the sake of having a solo in the song. However, the second one is of much better quality and there’s a lot of experimenting going on here which can bring your thoughts from Slash to Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, ex-Audioslave).

“Catcher In The Rye” is another happy-sounding ballad. This song could just as well have been left out from this album. It sounds too much like a mix of the three previous songs, only without any orchestra arrangements, and suddenly you wish there would be a little more variation to the album. “Scraped” starts with a choir consisting of approximately ten Axl’s singing “Aaaooo” acapella. It sounds really cool and when the guitars kick in you feel like you’re listening to Guns N’ Roses circa 1991 again. It’s by far one of the better songs on this album, but there are a couple of flaws here though. Sometimes it’s quite obvious that the vocals were recorded line for line and they haven’t bothered to make it sound like he sang everything in one take. Also you may hear some electronic drum elements in the left speaker during the verses that are just annoying when you’ve first discovered them (just try to listen to it through headphones). It sounds like someone is clapping in your left ear.

“Riad ‘n The Bedouins” is another Hard Rocker, but this one isn’t quite as good as “Scraped.” It’s not exactly mediocre, but it doesn’t have the little extra that makes a song great. The guitar solo here is also in the John 5 area, which is totally wrong for the song’s expression. Ron Thal is once again the creator of this type of solo, and though this particular style may be part of his signature as a guitarist, he should know better than to use the same technique all the time. What characterizes a great guitarist is his ability to vary his playing to fit the song, and it seems at times like Ron Thal either lacks that ability or that he just doesn’t care. It’s ok to use these kind of songs on the more Electronic Rock sounding stuff, but to use them on straight Hard Rock songs is just wrong and it sounds weird. “Sorry” is another ballad, but this time it’s more in the “keep-it-simple”-style without orchestra, electronic elements or choir. The song is beautiful and contains a strong chorus. Axl does some of his best performances on the album on this song and he’s got Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row) to do backing vocals on the chorus.

“I.R.S.” is a song that has been played live on more than one occasion during the last years. This one is “Catcher In The Rye’s” big brother, and those two have much in common. It would be sufficient to only have one of these songs on the album, and “I.R.S.” would be the better choice. “Madagascar” is another song that has been included in Guns N’ Roses’ live shows. It’s allegedly the oldest of the songs on this album, and they’ve played it live since 2001. The electronic elements and orchestra arrangements are back with this song, and it also contains a sound sample from among others… Martin Luther’s “I Have A Dream” speech and a sound sample from the film Cold Hand Luke. The latter sound sample seems a bit weird to include as it’s the same sound sample that opens Use Your Illusion II (“What we got here is a failure to communicate…”). Madagascar isn’t an amazing song, and the “sound-samples”-part seems a bit misplaced, but the way the song ends with orchestra and wailing guitars would make this a great album closer. Unfortunately it’s not the album closer, and we have to suffer through yet another ballad.

“This I Love” isn’t a great ballad and we’ve already had too many of them. It seems to be a filler they’ve just thrown in there, and that’s really not necessary since that album lasts for one hour and eleven minutes. The album closer “Prostitute” isn’t all that bad, but by now you get the feeling you’ve heard it before. It contains electronic elements and orchestra arrangements. The song has a pretty strong chorus, but it’s mainly lifted by the orchestra. The verse is boring and sees really plain straight forward drumming that is as far from exciting as you can get. At the end of the song, everything fades out but the piano and orchestra, and it is clear that they’ve made the ending this way since it’s the album closer. They could have done this with “Madagascar” as well, and they probably would have been better off doing that.

At times Axl sings with a high pitched voice without sounding as soaring as he did on the old Guns N’ Roses albums. It’s not always as cool to listen to and you might think that he’s trying to go with what is “safe.” His voice in general, however, is great and it’s good to hear that thirteen years haven’t done any damage to it. The lyrics aren’t as self delivering, dark or as filled with everyday problems that Axl encountered in the 80s. Instead he has moderated his pen a bit and that’s not necessarily for the better.

The bass guitar doesn’t stand out as much in the mix on this release as it did when Duff McKagan was in control of the low frequency area. It mainly doubles whatever the guitars play. The drums are also more standard than what the case used to be. There are also programmed drums on Chinese Democracy and that’s something we would never see with the old Guns N’ Roses. If you’re into the heavier parts of the old records you’ll probably miss thundering drums like on the intro for “You Could Be Mine” because you’ll find none of that here.

The album is diverse in its own way, but they’ve lump all the Hard Rockers together in one pile and most of the ballads and slower songs in another. They would have been much better off spreading the material a bit more and maybe cut a few of the songs from the album.

Some of these songs are reminiscent of the old version of Guns N’ Roses, but the songs lack the diversity and magic that five unique minds added to the songs they made in the late 80s and early 90s. Nowadays this is mainly Axl Rose and a bunch of hired hands, and therefore you get an album filled with the diversity and magic of only one of these unique minds which isn’t sufficient to create a great album in the same sense as the old albums.

Chinese Democracy is a good standalone Hard Rock album, but it lacks the diversity of a great album, and it’s not a timeless work of art as it seems a bit dated to the 90s due to the electronic elements. It would be great to see Guns N’ Roses circa 2008 do something innovative and new with this music. Perhaps we will see an improvement in a not too distant future, because according to rumors two more albums are set to be released before 2012.

Whether you think this should have been the first CD of Axl Rose’s solo project (which it is in a way) or a sufficient Guns N’ Roses release, it’s good to have one of the greatest voices of Rock back. Let’s only hope it doesn’t take another thirteen years to release the next album.


  • Kristian Singh-Nergård

    Kristian is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He is Metal Express Radio's Marketing and Communications Manager, and on occasions also reviewer and photographer. Based out of Oslo, Norway, Kristian is a bass player and owner of the independent record label Pug-Nose Records. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2006.

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