Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (2008)

This album's history is a very long and tedious one. With the aid of my September 2006 and February 2009 issues of Guitar World by my side and sometimes dependable Wikipedia by my side I can go into a brief history of this album. We all know that Izzy Stradlin left the band in '91 and Gilby Clarke (who played on the cover album The Spaghetti Incident) took his place until '94 when Clarke himself was replaced by Paul Huge [aka Paul Tobias] (who played on the cover of Sympathy for the Devil). Slash himself left the band in '96 and was initially replaced by Robin Finck. Matt Sorum left the band in '97 along with Duff McKagan and they were replaced in early '98 by Josh Freese and Tommy Stinson, respectively.

At this point the only original member of the band is Axl Rose and the second-longest tenured member is keyboardist Dizzy Reed who had been with the band since 1990.

Now we begin with the first song of the "Chinese Democracy" line-up that is ironically not even on the album.  The song is called Oh My God and it is from the End of Days movie soundtrack. This song was recorded with Axl Rose, Paul Tobias, Robin Finck, Tommy Stinson, Josh Freese, Dizzy Reed and an additional keyboardist named Chris Pitman. Dave Navarro from Jane's Addiction guested.

The song itself is a bit of a sign of things to come even though it precedes the album's release by 10 years. It is very industrial sounding, but it is pretty decent. Not as good as anything on the album, but not bad.

This initial group probably started writing and recording the album. The album credits are very detailed as to who wrote and played on what, but it doesn't necessarily provide an accurate picture of when.

But when in doubt go back to Oh My God.

When Josh Freese and Robin Finck left in '99, renowned guitar virtuoso Buckethead [aka Brian Carroll] entered. In 2000 Robin Finck came back (Buckethead did not leave) and Bryan "Brain" Mantia took the drummer position. We know that Finck, Buckethead, Chris Pitman, and Bryan Mantia played on the album. As did Tommy Stinson. Josh Freese is credited with songwriting and "drum arrangement" but not an actual studio performance as far as I can tell. I could be wrong, but I don't don't think anything he did made it on to a final recording.

Guitarist Richard Fortus entered the band in 2002 and Buckethead left in 2004. Buckethead's contributions were clearly kept in some shape or form but how much he initially did is tough to tell because in 2006 Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal came in and he is credited with solos and guitar parts as well. In 2006 Frank Ferrer comes in on drums and Bryan Mantia leaves.

Robin Finck leaves in early '08 and after the album is finally released in November of 2008, DJ Asha joins the band in 2009 as a lead guitarist and still remains there.

Now there are a few things I overlooked and I'll get to them now. In '99 a leaked version of Catcher in the Rye featured Brian May of Queen. The album version is slightly different and doesn't feature May. There are also leaked versions of Street of Dreams (originally titled The Blues), IRS, and Chinese Democracy that sort of help pinpoint who recorded what and when and what was added between then and the final album, but it is still tedious detective work because there's at least a ten year gap between the leaked versions and the final versions. Only the musicians really know. But looking up the demos on YouTube doesn't hurt because they are quite good and you'll realize that the lyrics are actually the same or very close to it.

Now let's get to the actual album.

Comprised of 14 songs that span about an hour and eleven minutes in total, Chinese Democracy is what we would expect from Axl. It's very good. And it sort of is a natural descendant from the epic songs Estranged, Coma, and November Rain. Added in is the element of semi-industrial sound that we first glimpsed in Oh My God. That is the album in a nutshell and it probably isn't for everybody. If you swear by the classic line-up of Guns than this probably isn't your bag.

But I honestly don't see how anyone could possibly listen to this album and be shocked that it sounds so different. This album was 13 million dollars and at least 12 years in the making and Axl Rose was at the helm the entire time. Don't feign being surprised because there isn't a big enough rock you can live under to not know this.

I knew what I was expecting when I first heard this album. And by that token, I really did and do enjoy it.

My favorite songs are the title track, Better, There was a Time, Sorry, Street of Dreams and IRS. In fact, I knew from the moment that I heard the title track back in '06 that I would enjoy the album. The other songs I  just mentioned really proved my claim. Especially Sorry. Sure it's covered in that Axl-attitude (as are many of the other songs on here), but it is so very heavy. Part ballad, part slow doomy riffs. I really like that.

I think my least favorite tracks are If the World and Madagascar. If the World's very bass-driven and it is probably unique in that aspect, but overall it just doesn't stand out to me. Madagascar's middle section of movie quotes (a trick that is clearly a descendant of Civil War from Use Your Illusion II) goes on for a bit too long.

The other songs on here are very good, too.

But on the whole this album is an absolute failure even though I really like it. To quote the old Guns, "It's been fourteen years of silence, it's been fourteen years of pain, it's been fourteen years that have gone forever, that I'll never have again."

Considering how long it took to make this album, this fucker should have been damn near perfection personified.

It's not even close. It's just a pretty good album made by an asshole.

1 comment:

  1. What I don't understand is why Axl felt he had to use the Guns n' Roses name. He has so much name recognition, just going solo would have worked. Considering that his band will also be in a state of constant change, I think the solo makes more sense. I think this cd would have been better received if it was under the name Axl Rose. There are many GnR fans pissed off about him using the name.

    Of course Axl has never been one that cared about pissing of his fans. Soundgarden toured with GnR a little in the early days and Chris Cornell witnessed some of Axl up close. In some interviews that I've read, Chris was always amazed a how shitty Axl could treat his fans and get away with it.