By this point you've probably already listened to, and made up your mind about, "Chinese Democracy," the maledicted multi-million-dollar Axl Rose entitlement program on sale Sunday at a Best Buy near you, and currently available for streaming on Guns N' Roses' MySpace page.
If you haven't, this is what it sounds like: a compound of "Use Your Illusion"-era GN'R, souped up with every conceivable and occasionally dated bit of available studio alchemy, mated with widescreen ballads that suggest early '00s versions of "November Rain," except longer and puffier.
"Chinese Democracy" isn't a masterpiece -- it's more curious than actually great -- but it's never dull, encompassing everything from classic rock to prog rock to actual rock, with nods to "Phantom of the Opera," hip-hop, industrial, Putumayo's world-music compilations and countless other things that should never, ever go together.
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Chinese Democracy Official Site
Spin Magazine : Chinese Democracy is not the greatest rock album ever made.
Oh, it's certainly awesome, but I don't think it's "15 years awesome." Had Axl released his album after a silence of, say, 11 years and two months (at a cost of, say, $11.5 million), Chinese Democracy would be an undeniable masterpiece, but considering the circumstances, some of this work seems shoddy. I get the impression most of the 13 songs were written between 1993 and 1999, and Rose merely spent six or seven years touching them up in the studio. One is forced to wonder if a track like "Madagascar" was only recorded 75 or 80 times, which calls Axl's alleged "maniacal perfectionism" directly into question.
Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom? I've been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy. This is a little like when that grizzly bear finally ate Timothy Treadwell: Intellectually, he always knew it was coming. He had to. His very existence was built around that conclusion. But you still can't psychologically prepare for the bear who eats you alive, particularly if the bear wears cornrows.
Here are the simple things about Chinese Democracy: Three of the songs are astonishing. Four or five others are very good. The vocals are brilliantly recorded, and the guitar playing is (generally) more interesting than the guitar playing on the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl Rose made some curious (and absolutely unnecessary) decisions throughout the assembly of this project, but that works to his advantage as often as it detracts from the larger experience. So: Chinese Democracy is good. Under any halfway normal circumstance, I would give it an A.