Detroit News calls Guns n’ Roses "Chinese Democracy" an over-the-top masterpiece.
Did this guy create an Epic Masterpiece using "studio wizardry"?
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Chinese Democracy’ an over-the-top masterpiece
Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer >HERE<
In a word: Epic.
"Chinese Democracy" — Guns N’ Roses’ long-gestating manifesto that many thought would never materialize, and many more thought would be an unlistenable mess should it ever see the light of day — is a crazed masterpiece, a big, bold triumph of perseverance and modern studio wizardry. Yes, it’s overblown, overindulgent and totally over-the-top, but it is also audacious, defiant and ambitious beyond belief. It’s every bit as gigantic-sounding as you’d expect, given its unbelievable back story and the parties — namely, one W. Axl Rose — involved.
It’s the sound one of rock’s most maniacal perfectionists who is struggling with his relevancy and wrestling with his demons, both personal and creative, while concurrently dealing with the self-inflicted pressures of making the Greatest Album Ever.
No one but Axl Rose could have set the stage as grandly and as absurdly as he did for this album, with a decade’s worth of missed release dates, aborted tours, and the general rock star insanity that has surrounded this album since its inception. And frankly, for better or for worse, no one else but Axl Rose could have made "Chinese Democracy."
In an odd way, finally hearing the album in all its boffo grandeur helps the drama that has been "Chinese Democracy" make perfect sense. It couldn’t have happened any other way; it had to be like this. And yes, it was worth the wait.
The first sounds you hear on "Chinese Democracy" are echoes and chatter and spooky laughter, which are all quickly silenced by the arrival of a killer buzz-saw guitar riff. It seems to be Axl’s way of addressing the rampant speculation and rumors surrounding the project, and putting a stop to them by finally letting ‘er rip.
The Meta themes continue throughout the album, and in many ways, "Chinese Democracy" reads like a concept album about the making of "Chinese Democracy." The journey to today’s release date has surely been rife with its share of heroes (Axl, mainly), villains (Axl, mainly), strife and struggle, so why not?
The self-referencing unfolds in songs like the vaguely Middle Eastern-flavored "If the World" (the chorus supposes, "if the world would end today," which surely seems plausible given the improbability of "Chinese Democracy’s" release) and the rip-roaring "Riad n’ the Bedouins" (Axl sings of all his "frustrations" and "salvations" being "caught up in lies," which probably means people were trying to tell him what to do). It continues in the bluesy dirge of "Sorry" (when Axl sings "you don’t know why I won’t give in/ to hell with the pressure, I’m not caving in," he might as well be talking to a label boss asking him to just finish the album already) and the caustic "I.R.S." ("would it even matter the things that I say?/ You made your mind up on your own anyway," he seems to be singing, pre-emptively, to his critics). Even on the zeppelin-sized (the balloon, not the band) "Madagascar," when no less than Martin Luther King’s sampled voice announces, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last," it’s not hard to read it as Axl’s own statement of liberation from the burden of completing the album.
Ironically, given its title, "Chinese Democracy" is the product of anything but a democracy, Chinese or otherwise. With ex-Guns Slash, Duff McKagen and Matt Sorum long since having moved on, Guns N’ Roses is now a dictatorship, led by Axl himself. This Guns N’ Roses bares little resemblance to the young, hungry band of jackals that crafted one of hard rock’s finest-ever moments in 1987’s masterfully raw "Appetite for Destruction." This Guns N’ Roses is more a band that thought 1991’s famously bloated "Use Your Illusion" double album just wasn’t big enough.
In many ways, "Chinese Democracy" is a ’90s rock album through and through, a monolithic relic of a bygone rock era. It’s a Hummer at an electric car convention, celebrating its excesses at a time when everyone else is scaling back and running for cover. But that’s what Axl knows, and that’s what Axl is. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
If you spend 15 years making an album, it better sound like it, and "Chinese Democracy" sounds every bit like Rose has been tinkering with it non-stop since the first Clinton administration. Guitars are layered on top of guitars, with a thick coat of guitars on top; symphonies of strings drop in, say hello, and bow out; choruses of angels add soothing background vocals. (Is that what took so long? Was it the auditioning of angels that tied Axl’s hands?)
And then there are Axl’s vocals, which are alternately screeching, preening, dark and wicked, and sound as if they’ve been sent through a lifetime’s worth of vocal processing. Yes, "Chinese Democracy" may well be the most overproduced album of all-time — there’s nothing remotely spontaneous about it, and every millisecond is filled with a drum loop, a guitar overdub, something — but it’s a badge it wears proudly. This far into the game, it’s go big or go home, and "Chinese Democracy" is nothing if not a Hail Mary with 0:00 left on the clock.
Musically, "Chinese Democracy" is fascinating, filled with experimental electronic flourishes and guitars that light up the sky like a Fourth of July fireworks display (together, guitarists Buckethead, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Robin Finck form a veritable offensive line of dive bombing guitars). But underneath the studio bluster and Pro Tools perfectionism there’s plenty of old school song craft at play. "Street of Dreams" — known in early, leaked versions as "The Blues" — would easily be the album’s "November Rain," if there weren’t already a half dozen other songs jockeying for the same position. It’s got strings, massive guitars and the album’s most winning vocal performance, but at the heart of the song is Axl and his piano, and it recalls Queen or Elton John in its scope and delivery.
Equally seismic is "There Was a Time," another holdover from leaked versions of the album, which rides a skeletal hip-hop backbeat early on before becoming a gloriously excessive parade of orchestra swells, guitar riffs, keyboards and general madness. The whole thing sounds like it’s going to implode at any minute, but it hangs on, and roars proudly like a wild beast.
Make no mistake, "Chinese Democracy" is a colossal listening experience that isn’t likely to be topped anytime soon. For sheer drama alone, "Chinese Democracy" is in a class all its own.
Some 70 minutes after it opens with those cackling detractors it closes with a calming orchestral outro, which seems to be Axl’s way of saying he is finally at peace. He’s delivered his magnum opus and he can now move on, and so can we.
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.