AU CONTRAIRE: Guns N’ Roses, “Chinese Democracy” (Geffen)

Because self-titled‘s staff doesn’t always agree about what’s amazing or godawful

What we said then:
“Say what you will about the state of Guns N’ Roses (and more specifically Axl Rose’s sanity), but every song on Chinese Democracy contains at least 15 to 30 seconds of undeniable brilliance–an admirable feat that would be difficult for any artist working today to match.”

Another perspective on things, by Arye Dworken:
The question isn’t how good Chinese Democracy is. It’s how good do we want it to be? Having read Chuck Klosterman’s glowing review for the Onion (an A-) and David Fricke’s unconscionable write-up for Rolling Stone (four out of five stars), the answer is we want it to be great, an absolute revelation. Fourteen years of pent-up anticipation and the pay-off is like Christmas morning. The album is unpredictable and full of depth and angst–a trip through a tortured mind. Every spin is a journey into “woah.”

But this is the deluded version. This is us fighting our parents’ reveal that there is no Tooth Fairy.

As for reality, Chinese Democracy is the worst album I have heard in years, if not, in all my life of listening to music. At moments, this cringe-inducer sounds like a Filter album (programmed drum beats?) and other times, it sounds like a desperate 46-year old man attempting to make a relevant hard rock album (so yeah, a Filter album). In truth, this should have never been promoted as a Guns N’ Roses album; it’s an Axl Rose solo record. And I’m not making this assessment in who is most prominent or in ownership of the name alone–overall, Chinese Democracy is a slight shadow of Guns N’ Roses’ former sound and, like a good friend with great metabolism, no matter how much it eats–and this album is quite bloated–it still feels thin. Sunset Strip guitar solos doth not make it G N’ R. The whole thrill behind Guns N’ Roses’ brilliant back catalogue was its middle-finger punk attitude and sadly, the recklessness is gone here. While years and years of premeditation and perfection worked incredibly well in Jonathan Franzen’s favor, this time Rose has unintentionally fallen short to a free Dr Pepper.

Take “IRS,” for example. It opens with Axl wailing like a tortured cat over retrograde power-ballad riffs, and it’s the saddest 15 seconds in hard rock history. “Sorry,” a power ballad composed in a time when power ballads are Nickelback territory, does in fact sound like Pink Floyd but it could easily sit among the tracklisting for Warrant’s woefully experimental Dog Eat Dog LP or any Queensryche album. This could be misconstrued as a compliment by some–it is not intended as such. Rose’s choir with himself on the beginning of “Scraped” introduces a track that Klosterman points out sounds eerily like an Extreme song. From 1994. He is correct. Nuno and Gary, contact your lawyers.

The list of embarrassments go on and on. Reviewing this album feels like picking on the disabled. But the awfulness of Chinese Democracy doesn’t surprise me (really, how could this have been good?) as much as the aforementioned critical acclaim. Metacritic has a score of a very competent 67, and interestingly, the reviews are split between American critics (good) and International ones (bad). Maybe there is a stateside critical reverence in approaching this record that I’m just not interested in. Or maybe Guns N’ Roses is the closest thing that some Americans had to a parent: Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, and Steven shaped our high school years and informed our rebelliousness (see Fargo Rock City). Whatever the case may be, Axl is the proverbial Santa and it’s time we grew up and admitted to ourselves that he no longer exists as we wanted him to.

However, Chuck is right about one thing–that guitar solo on “Shackler’s Revenge” does in fact kick ass.