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Guns N’ Roses – The Chinese Democracy

In keeping with true traditions this review arrives well after the album release date, but nowhere near the wait fans of G n’R had to endure. This is the first Guns record since 1994’s covers album “The Spaghetti Incident” and the first original material since 1991. In short, one could argue “The Chinese Democracy” took a monumental 17 years to make. With key members including guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan gone, alienated by frontman Axl Rose’s bizarre demands and behaviour, can this really be classed as a Guns n’Roses album? Is it not an Axl solo record featuring session musicians?

But to the music, “The Chinese Democracy” is a tale of the good, the bland and the downright ugly. The good arrives in the form of the first two tracks, which immediately served to heighten my anticipation of this release. “Shackler’s Revenge”, in particular, is a bona fide hit single complete with industrialized guitars and a cinematic chorus designed for end credits of a Hollywood blockbuster. The title track precedes it and does brilliantly in building an air of excitement for what is to come, though don’t be fooled this is no “Welcome to the Jungle”. Elsewhere, the brooding southern-tinged “Sorry”, though lyrically lacking, delights with some of the best guitar parts on the record.

It’s a false dawn, though, and it’s slim-pickings from here on in folks. “Street of Dreams” is pompous and completely over-blown, well wide of the mark it attempts to hit. “Catcher in the Rye” is so clichéd it makes latter day Eric Clapton seem relevant, while “Scraped” is an abomination. The sound of Axl bouncing guitars off the heads of The Bee Gees – in other words absolutely horrible. Several times the synth orchestration used throughout sounds cheap and nasty, particularly notable on “Madagascar”(especially the strange French Horn sounds) and the bizarre “Better” which comes across at a failed attempt at recording “November Rain Mk II”. Is it too much to ask to include a proper orchestra, especially with the time, facilities and money Axl has at his disposal?

One of the biggest problems here comes from the fact that the album does not build upon the momentum generated in the first few tracks. It takes several off-kilter turns which will leave you scratching your head. I’m all in favour for diversity, but it’s far from convincing here and the lack of cohesion has a detrimental effect on the record as a whole. In fact, the more this album progresses the less interesting it becomes, with songs leaving little or no mark whatsoever. This, of course, comes from a band that was once so dangerous that they made Led Zeppelin look like choirboys and The Sex Pistols like the bratty kids they really were.

Neil Young once sang that ‘it’s better to burn out than fade away’ and part of me wishes Axl Rose and paid attention to these sentiments. “Appetite For Destruction” sold 28 million copies and is rightly cited as an all-time classic record. It changed the face of music. Gone were the hairspray, make-up and soulless drum machines that blighted much of Rock music in the 80’s, replaced by danger, energy and Punk spirit. Not once does “The Chinese Democracy” hit those heights. Perhaps it was too much to ask, but then there has been several attempts (and musicians) involved in making this record.

You are only as good as your last record and I cannot help but think that this album will only taint the true legacy of Guns ‘n Roses. For three or four years, they were the most exciting band on the planet but now, with “The Chinese Democracy rumoured to be the first part in a trilogy of albums, Axl’s band is more like a parody of the real thing.