With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony right around the corner, the American band Guns N’ Roses is once again in the news.  Since their nomination, rumors have run rampant regarding a potential reunion.   To make any prediction at this point would be pure speculation; however, this is as good of a time as any to revisit one of the most anticipated (and delayed) album releases of our time.  (UPDATE: Axl Rose has officially stated he will not be attending.)  A look back (and present) at Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses sixth studio album.

It was November 2008, when Chinese Democracy was released, exactly fifteen years since their fifth studio album.  After all the years of hype, changes in the bands line-up, and delays no one knew what to expect.  Many hoped for a catastrophe.  It was too much to digest in that given moment; I mean, even Dr. Pepper was in the news promising free soda if the album did actually get released.  We all needed time to take it in and collect our thoughts.  It’s been over three years since the album was released.  My initial review was that this was an album with one part genius and two parts bloat.  In hindsight, this was never the type of album that could be reviewed after only a few listens, this is one of those “marinate” type albums, in order to form a lasting opinion.

Before I break down the songs there are a couple general thoughts, first, this album is uneven, meaning the song listing will go from heavy to slow to heavy and not necessarily lead into the next track.  This is the same with the Use Your Illusion albums, the double album that also mixed heavy songs with ballads throughout.  One other observation is that anyone who does NOT like the Use Your Illusion albums will NOT like Chinese Democracy, and I agree with this and understand why.  Like, the UYI albums, this is not a “heavy” Guns N’ Roses album, in fact, they haven’t really had a “heavy” album since their debut, Appetite for Destruction.  For fans looking for “Nightrain”, “It’s So Easy”, and “My Michelle” catchy riff type tracks you are not going to find them on Chinese Democracy, just as you didn’t find them on the UYI albums (“You Could Be Mine” being the one exception).

The album starts with “Chinese Democracy”, “Shackler’s Revenge”, and “Better.”  These three songs incorporate sleazy riffs, soft vocals, and screaming vocals, sometimes all at once.  One of the arguments against this album is that EVERY song on Chinese Democracy has EVERYTHING thrown into it.  I agree in some cases that it is too much, but not with the first three tracks that I believe compliment each other nicely and still to this day (three plus years and counting) are a very listenable trio.  “Street of Dreams” follows, it’s the first ballad and similar to “November Rain”, the surprise is that this is not even the best ballad on the album, and maybe it’s the third best depending if you classify “Sorry” as a ballad.  The next song “If the World” confused me the first time I heard it and still confuses me to this day.  I don’t understand why this is on the album.  I have created a playlist that includes the full album except “If the World.”  The sixth track, “There Was a Time”, is an underrated song that again mixes Axl Rose’s tender voice during the verse, and roaring chainsaw screams during the chorus; “Catcher in the Rye” is similar to “Yesterday” from Use Your Illusion II.  Side two (as we used to say) begins with two “heavy” songs “Scraped” and “Riad N’ the Bedouins”, these are both very good, listenable songs, but still do not capture the magic from earlier Guns N’ Roses Appetite For Destruction blazing rock songs.  “Sorry” is up next and is one of the real treats on the album.  Like most of the album (and like most good Guns N’ Roses songs), there’s a theme of anger and revenge in the lyrics.  The anger in Chinese Democracy appears to peak with “Sorry” and the next track, “I.R.S.”  Some would argue this carries through to “Madagascar”, but for whatever reason this track doesn’t do it for me and I often skip ahead to “This I Love”, which for my money, is the best ballad on the record.  This should have been the lead single instead of “Chinese Democracy” and “Better.”  “This I Love” has an Elton John-esque production element, but darkened with Rose’s bittersweet lyrics that work well.  The final song is “Prostitute” which I suspect is a follow-up to “Rocket Queen”, and if it is, falls short, but is a good effort on its own.

Today, I still enjoy 9 of the 14 songs on a regular basis which for me is a higher percentage than the Use Your Illusion albums.  My experience with this album has been semi-troubling given the only original member is Axl Rose, and that upon initial listen I had unrealistic expectations and was overall disappointed.  Since, the album has grown on me (as long as I don’t have to listen to “If the World” ever again).  I’ve also rethought my initial review and now believe this album is one part bloat, two parts genius.

David S. Grant is the author of “BLOOD: The New Red”, follow David on Twitter: @david_s_grant

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