Hokay, let’s get some perspective here.
The last Guns N’ Roses album to have come out on Planet Earth was in 1993. The Spaghetti Incident? was a collection of covers from which I rather liked the version of the Skyliners’ 1959 doo wop hit, Since I don’t have you. The last Guns N’ Roses ‘original’ album was the sprawling Use Your Illusion II — with the snarling courtship song You could be mine and Axl Rose knocking down Dylan’s doors in Knockin’ on heaven’s door. That came out in 1991.
Around 1995, with the departure of guitarist-smoker Slash and bassist Duff McKagan, Guns N’ Roses started existing only in Axl Rose’s increasingly puffed up head. So one can be fairly certain that work on the new GN’R album, Chinese Democracy, started in 1997. Both Lady Di and Mother Teresa were still alive; I.K. Gujral was India’s Prime Minister, and I was still as single as the stray hair on Scarlett Johansson’s upper lip. (She was then 12 years old).
What I’m trying to say is that if you’ve been cooking an album for 11 years, one of two things happen: expectations become ridiculously high (I was even hoping that Axl would turn into a kilt-wearing Tom Waits); or, the product resembles a much-regurgitated pudding. Well, both are true for Chinese Democracy.
The title-track is predictable but comfortingly so. After whiffs of a ‘rock opera’ opening and a distinctive pedal-driven rip-off of the riff from Owner of a lonely heart by Yes, we hear Axl’s voice, curling in and out. Sure, he’s been hearing a lot of Korn, but the new dreadlocks don’t block that trademark vocals. Guitarist Buckethead — from Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains — seems overexcited to play alongside the Name with a Rose.
Shacklers revenge follow, its industrial noise mixed with a rather thigh-slapping bridge until Axl power-ballads into the chorus. Too many things in a 3:33 minute song.
Better is worse — with the additional misery of having to hear Axl Rose trying too hard to sound like Axl Rose. A good heavy guitar middle apart, we can push the ‘next’ button. Street of dreams is the mandatory piano’n’guitar GN’R song. But instead of November rain, we get Gary Glitter-meets-Mariah Carey. I just hope the video will be nice.
There was a time has a choral start that warns us that this is going to be somewhat ‘auto-biographical’. More piano-guitar in Catcher in the rye; lots of vocal pyrotechnics in Scraped followed by a fast rollercoaster ride that goes nowhere.
If by Song No. 9 you don’t get a single song jumping out at you in a 14-song album, you have the right to call it a dud. Bum notes are strung together in Riad N’ the Bedouins and I have lost faith. If you’re feeling nostalgic about the times when G’N’R were king, trade Chinese Democracy for a Milli Vanilli album.