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Chinese Democracy – Track By Track

Well, the worlds about to end.

Guns ‘N Roses’ Chinese Democracy finally is hitting shelves this Sunday.  And in what shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, it leaked to the internet this week.

So, in the interest of previewing it for you the listener, and to archive what is arguably a “historical” release, I thought I’d give you my thoughts, track by track.

Now, before I go into this, I thought I’d throw a little perspective here.

I am not, in any way, shape or form, the target audience for this album.  I’m a wussy little indie rock kid.

However, Guns ‘N Roses is the band that shaped my perspective of rock and roll.

When I was 4 years old, I heard “Appetite for Distruction” for the first time.  My parents loved that album.  And to a four year olds ears, it’s musical armageddon.  The insane licks of Slash, the banshee from hell yelps of Axl Rose…it startles you, even more so when you don’t even totally comprehend the sound coming from the speakers.

Then, as I got older, my family got cable.  I was glued to MTV, even from a young age.  And there they were, defining the rock and roll decedant lifestyle.  Rose was challenging other bands to fights via Kurt Loder, they were cancelling shows “just cause”, and causing riots everywhere they played.  That defined rock and roll to me.

Add when the Use Your Illusion albums hit, and with the “trilogy” of videos for “November Rain”, “Don’t Cry” and “Estranged”, the idea of epic rock and roll was again defined for a small child in Baltimore.  They attained this mythical concept.  Untouchable gods.

As the years rolled on…Slash became a punchiline.  A giant ball of hair full of guitar licks, eventually whoring himself out to the terrible Velvet Revolver.  The rest of the band?  Laughable hacks, holding on to the last reminants of their former rock and roll lifestyle, with the hair and wardrobe to show.

Axl?  He became the rock and roll Howard Hughes.  Always working on the album. The album that would cause every man, woman and child to hear it to laugh, cry and be moved by the universal power of rock.

Sure, Chinese Democracy became a joke, just as much as Axl.  But for every time someone slammed it, myself included…you knew you wanted to hear it.

So here we are. November 2008.  FIFTEEN Years since the name “Guns ‘N Roses” appeared on a new album, and even longer since we’ve heard original material.  And let’s be honest…this is the last hyped album.  No band these days has the level of mythos and mysticism around them, and even if they did, albums leak weeks in advance.  Music has changed from a hype game, to a world of communal sharing, and I doubt we’ll see a release as rumored, idolised and hated as this again.

What does it sound like?  Given the stories of the rotating musicians, it sounds like HUNDREDS of people have worked on the damn thing.  Guitar solos are thrown around, in the front and back of the mix.  Songs sound piecemealed together.  But yet it never sounds a mess.

Here’s the blow-by-blow (updated as I listen more):

1.  “Chinese Democracy” – Nice epic intro, but it spirals quickly into bland cock-rock.  Sounds eerily similar to some of the Velvet Revolver material, and I hate when singers layer themselves over themselves.  Let someone else sing the backround vox, man.

2.  “Shackler’s Revenge” – If you’ve been playing Rock Band 2, you’ve probably heard this before.  Of all the tracks on the album I’ve listened to thus far, it’s the most a mess.  Really sounds like 4-5 songs were thrown into a blender.  I do like some of the parts, but it never forms a cohesive whole.

3.  “Better” – I hate myself to say it, but I really love this track.  It’s just as guilty as “Shackler’s” in terms of the piecemeal department, but it winds up being a really catchy, anthemic track.  If this album hit in 96-97 like it was supposed to, this song would’ve been huge.  Now, in this iTunes society? Maybe not so much.

4.  “Street of Dreams” – A ballad in the vein of “November Rain” or “Estranged” that never really gets going.  Doesn’t help that at times, the song sounds like it’d be a part of the Dracula musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

5.  “If The World” – In short, if Axl wrote a Bond theme, it’d be this.  VERY jarring against the rest of the album, but maybe that’s the intent?

I’ll update with my opinions on tracks 6-14 once I listen, and give my final thoughts at the end.

EDIT: I honestly tried to give the rest of the album a shot, but it’s really a bizarre, and irritating mix of poor vocals, miserable ballads, and some actual decent moments of epic rock, like with the track “Madagascar”, that are then brought down by the terrible vox.

Was it worth 15 years of work? Hardly.  But the fact is, win lose or draw, this is a monumental album.  But probably not for the right reasons.

“Better” aside, avoid.

Until then, for a full breakdown of the album, check out The Onion’s AV Club review, by one of my favorite writers, Mr. Chuck Klosterman.