Like you, I am bored with waiting for Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy. Fifteen years, and well over fifteen million dollars, say I am waiting no more. I have most of the tracks, if not all of them, in various stages of completion. What comes now is a track by track reckoning of the new album. Some would say it isn’t fair to review an album that isn’t done. Well, I don’t think it is fair that he stole the band's name, fired everyone, and then held the name hostage for (so far) fifteen years. So, this is my childish revenge. The songs aren’t tough to find. I have no inside track to Axl – no one on earth does.
I am a big fan of Guns and Roses and I hold Appetite as the greatest rock album ever made. I fully understand the weight of that statement, and it is my opinion. So, shut up. Let’s talk Chinese Democracy, shall we?
"Dust in the Wind"
A piano ballad melody. This cut is live and Axl sounds terrific. This is his forte. That is why it seems there are 47 piano ballads on this collection.
This piano ballad is extremely close to "Don’t Cry." You could call it "Don’t Cry pt 2" … but to do that you would have to call the new album Use Your Illusion III. This is a good song. You can find some solid versions of this one on YouTube.
The title track? This is very unique, which means there is no piano. It is a pretty solid rocker. Not aggressive rock like in the Slash years, but solid. The singing is so heavily layered I get worried. His voice is triple tracked on every line.
Normally I might be cynical and think he was hiding an inability to sing. However, much of the stuff I have here is live bootlegs from their many aborted recent tours, and I am here to declare that Axl can absolutely still sing. What is strange about this song is the whole second part, which musically is like the outtro to McCartney’s "Live and Let Die." The whole song starts rocking and goes double time for no discernible reason, a la "Free Bird."
This was the first track I heard from the new album. I have had this song since about 2005 in some form or other. To me, this is the flagship track of the album and the sound to come.
Needless to say, it is a piano ballad. However, it can’t be easily dismissed. It is well written and well sung. Many of the versions floating around are live. However, there is a studio version that is circulating pretending to be live (live intro and outtro, with some poorly mixed-in audience noise throughout) but is clearly the studio track. This isn’t new. Elton John’s classic "Benny and the Jets" is pure studio, with audience sounds added later in post production, as is Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile."
It might better be described as a ‘power ballad’… as all these songs could be. The framework is piano, and the heart of the song is piano. However, about two minutes into every song you get distortion and power chords. At four minutes on every song, you get the obligatory rock solo, which rarely serves the song.
"Shadow of Your Love"
This song is pure rock, all guitar. It starts with Axl making a clear homage to earlier work by declaring ‘wake up, it’s time to play’. This song is old school Guns. I mean old school, before even you heard of them. This is similar to their first live album ‘live like a fucking suicide’. You know it as side two of ‘Lies’, but it was actually their first release, which predated ‘Appetite’. The song goes so quick, it almost seems like a throwaway. However, if you are getting sleepy from every single other song being a 6 minute piano ballad… this song is a nice wake-up call. But frankly, it feels phoned in.
"There Was a Time (demo)"
This song is routinely referred to online as "T.W.A.T." Seriously, and I don’t know why. It is a fast and poorly produced thing that sounds like the electric guitar was programmed through the Sony Playstation song generator. However, my downloads have recovered four versions of this song. So, this one could just be a work up. It is all instrumental and gets new agey in the middle. Weird.
"There Was a Time (6 minutes)"
This is the six minute version and it is a musical and vocal car crash. Just a mess. The music seems over-produced by a digital DJ and the verses seem like they were cobbled together by a drunk with ProTools (i.e.: me). What do we get at exactly four minutes? Another emotionless guitar solo, but this time with a wah pedal and some crappy hammer-on work. This must have been cut after they fired Buckethead, who is an exquisite guitarist, even if he only spoke to the band through a sock puppet. (I am totally serious about this.)
Another three and a half minutes of… what? The band work is great. Then, half way through the song Axl starts ranting like he just walked into the room and found his royalty checks not alphabetized. To be fair, this track is live. "Oh what can I do, to a bitch like you." Yeah, let's go ahead and categorize this as suck ass.
"This I Love"
Okay, something meaty to discuss. We have an 8 minute rockin' well-produced studio track. It has very cool guitar work, done by any one of about 13 people (Gilby Clarke, Brian May, Robin Finke, Buckethead… you get the idea). The song is also classic G&R from the Illusion era.
Axl is singing well, and not hiding. Somehow he thrives in these longform environments. It reminds me of Robert Plant. His best work was when he was able to stretch out and get limber. Oops, weirdo bridge jammed into the middle of the song for NO reason. It is a ragga jam from hell that sings "baby's got a locomotive, baby's gone off the track. Gotta peel the bitch off my back." Fortunately, decent guitar carries the piece away sharply.
Basically, my fear is this will be released as a double disc, which would be an epic mistake. There are probably 8 to 10 solid songs here. If this album were to be called "Axl Rose Presents: Chinese Democracy" it would be one of the great solo efforts of all time. However, it will be called Guns & Roses: Chinese Democracy which makes it a big shitball, frankly.
These are some other titles that I know are in the mix, but haven’t been able to get my mitts on yet: "IRS," "Catcher in the Rye," "Better," "Crash Diet," and "Rhiad."Powered by Sidelines