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Music Review: Guns and Roses – Chinese Democracy

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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.

"The Blues"

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.

"Chinese Democracy"
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."

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About Lono

  • GNNR

    Uh, dude, Shadow of Your Love sounds like old school guns b/c it *IS* old school guns. That song was recorded like back in 1994.

  • really? i didn’t know that. So, is that original gunners playing on it? Couldn’t be. I know enough about Axl that he would have re-recorded it with new musicians. There is a whole troubling story about ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and the film ‘Blackhawk Down’.

  • I have a pristine studio demo of “I.R.S.” is was barely online for 24 hours. I’d trade for a copy of “This I love” How is the quality?

    Also “Shadow of Your Love” is the b-side to “Live and Let Die” single, looking at it right now.

    “Crash Diet” may also be from the pre-Appitite/Illusion days not sure.

    I’ve heard “Better” live at the 2006 Seattle (Everret?) show I actully prefer T.W.A.T. great lyrics

    DJ Hippie

  • gnr

    Shadow of your love is a Hollywood rose song- way before 1994

  • I would certainly be willing to trade or swap Mp3s. I can e mail them to you if you are interested. drop me a line [Personal contact info deleted]

  • Johnny Rock

    Yeah, I had “Shadow” as the B-side to the 12 inch “Jungle” single. Also, he has legal rights to the name, the other guys were grown men who for all anyone knew could die the next day. No stealing there. Let’s not forget it was ALWAYS Axl and Izzy’s band.

  • Actually,

    I have to take issue with that naming thing. Though they are all own grown-ups and responsible for their own actions… they got gypped.

    As the story goes, one night Axl refused to go on stage unless the band signed the name over to him. He claimed he would quit otherwise. So, they did. Axl is extremely famous for missing shows and showing up late. My friends in Phoenix still call the band ‘Guns & Noshows’.

    So, once he got the name… he started making his changes. I wouldn’t mind if he had the name just to protect the band. Or, I wouldn’t mind if he had the name and everyone else was dead and wanted to carry on the music (a la Skynyrnd). But, to tour around the country as 20% of a still living band to me is a fraud.

    Even Skynrd had the ‘rule of 3’, which meant to continue on as Skynyrd they had to have at least three living members from the original line up.

    Of course, that went by the way when their bass player died a few years ago. There are still three living members, but the others fired drummer Artimus Pyle years ago. He now plays in a Skynyrd cover band for a living, ironically.

    Really, Guns & Roses was a Traci Guns name that Axl wisely appropriated early on after a brief and failed pairing.

  • brent

    whoever wrote this article should not be allowed to use a keyboard or a pen. he clearly does not know what he’s talking about. “Shadow of your love” was origionally a demo track for Axl’s band before GNR, called “Hollywood Rose.” i think it was recorded in 1985. “This I Love” is actually called “locomotive” and its on Use Your Illusion II. “Silkworms” and “Riad” are not even going to be on the album. “Dust In the Wind” is a cover song of the band “Kansas” preformed in 1993 and wont be on the album. And if this writer wasnt bad enough, he “couldnt get his mitts” on the best and most easily found Chinese Democracy tracks like “Better,” “Catcher in the Rye,” and “IRS.” not to mention “Crash Diet” is a fake track. I can’t believe this Lono guy has a job. if this website has any clue what there doing, they will fire off this dumbass before he has a chance to write again…

  • brent

    Lono, you screwed up again. Traci Guns had the band name LA Guns. Axl and Izzy had the band name “Hollywood Rose.” When the two bands merged, they decided to combine the names. At that time Traci formed a new band and kept the name “LA Guns.” Axl didn’t steal a name and you still don’t know what youre talking about. Do yourself and this website a favor, and DO SOME RESEARCH BEFORE YOU WRITE!!!

  • Brent,

    Too much caffeine, there, chief. Indeed, I don’t have all the facts on an album that doesn’t exist. I also am most certainly wrong about several of the track selections on an album that doesn’t exist.

    When it comes out in 2012, surely there will be much for me to apologize for.

    I am keenly aware of Hollywood Rose, and Traci Guns… and that Guns then went on to form LA Guns. I am surprised you didn’t ream me for not calling Axl by this birth name (William Bailey).

    I am aware the title exists of Kansas ‘Dust in the Wind’. However, having never heard G&R do it, I figured it was (and remains one) a distinct possiblity that it was it’s own song. Titles arne’t copywrightable, but you probably already knew that.

    From the research I have done, this is the most complete discussion of Chinese Democracy yet. I know it isn’t much, but in fifteen years we have only seen this guy thrice. Once was getting arrested in an AZ airport, and the other was fighting Tommy Hilfiger. So, instead of being an over reactions hothead insulting my very existance… why not try and contribute positive information and dialogue? I am a just a music fan, and don’t have the time or energy for a flame war.

  • Badgrafix

    My full list of Chinese Democracy MP3s conisist of Better, The Blues, I.R.S., Chinese Democracy, There Was a Time, and Madagascar. These all sound like studio versions. I’m definetlly willing to trade any/all of em’ for a copy of This is Love. I’ve never even heard of it but it sounds great.

    Good article, Take a listen to all the released songs (demos?) and write at us again. Have you read the article that talks about Sebatchain bach talking about Axl’s planned 3 CD Release over the next 12 years? Good read.

  • Sam

    Your review is full of mistakes, please do better research before writing something online, and the album not being out isnt an excuse, theres more written about this album than alot of albums that are out
    shadow of your love as already said is a b-side from pre-appetite
    Dust in the Wind is a cover played live with the old band, dont you here the obvious slash solo?
    Crash Diet is a song recorded during the illusions sessions, but slash isnt on guitar
    Madagascar does have a studio version around, but it definitely doesnt have live noises added in, ur probably listening to a cleaned up live version
    What you call This I love is Locomotive off of Use Your Illusions 2, dont review a band if you cant even recognize there old tracks
    IRS, Better and Catcher in the Rye are easy to find, and Better is the best track of all of them in my opinion

  • Allan D, Eureka

    I agree no list of the upcoming Chinese Democracy album is complete without Better. Also Catcher in the Rye. I like other GNR fans are upset about the wait. 2006-2007 seemed positive that it would finally be released. I think current rumors that it is done, and Geffen Records is shopping it, because they have an unearthly sum invested in the album are in fact true. I am cautiously optimistic that it will be released in 2008. I also think Sebastian Bach’s statement that it is really 4 albums is absolutely true. Axl obviously has so much material that has been recorded, he could release that many albums. However, with all of the band changes, it really does create a hurdle to get the thing released. If any of those individuals, like say, Buckethead have writing credits, then there are realistic legal impediments to release the album. I think for the album and the band to ever re-attain their mono-lithic status the album[s] will have to be released, and the original line-up will have to re-unite. I have seen weirder things happen.

  • Ok, I totally agree I should have known about the Use your Illusion piece (Locomotive). That is indeed my bad for not knowing it. However, I haven’t listened to either ‘Illusions’ albums for at least fifteen years, and this track keeps rearing it’s head on the pirate sites attributing it to the new disc.

    in addition, ‘Dust in the Wind’ is absolutely not a Kansas cover. it’s a new track, piano ballad of course.

    So, sorry I wasn’t as complete. I agree that is on me. This is free stuff, though, folks. It’s pretty good for free. With all your contributions (even the mean ones), perhaps this piece will be the definitive piece. In addition, I absolutely believe this will see the light of day this year. It costs too much not be on the market. My guess is fall or christmas. It couldn’t be much earlier, or it would already be circulating the radio stations.

  • brent

    You’re right its not a Kansas cover, it’s a Todd Rundgren cover. my mistake, and I can see I did not do my research on that one. It was preformed on the UYI tour. Here’s a link to a video of GNR playing it live in ’93.

  • stephen cantu

    I am looking for help I am at the center of the conspirice so say you will contact me be for I die .

  • Wolfgub

    Nobody can take this piece seriously – just because an album hasn’t been heard for fifteen years doesn’t mean you could forget a track, listen to it again and not remember it? Bandwagon jumping, lame research, trying to make a name for yourself with showboat journalism, trouble is the facts and the finesse are both missing from the writing.

  • Axl Fan

    Shackler’s reveng is pretty good too,, i’d say 2nd best, Better being 1st place,, I.R.S or TWAT coming n third,.,,, in my opinion that is.

    But ahh how great a reunion would be, even if it was just a few shows. I’m sure if they got together for one tour, they would forget all the hating on each other, the attention they would get would be too good to pass up,, coz i know the croud would go crazy, if say, Slash suddenly appeared on stage, HECK izzy’s made peace,, im sure the other’s can too, Steven even seems keen.

    Lets all hope right guys 🙂

  • Biz

    it is nice to see GNR back. It was too long time since “Use Your Illusion”. This album is not that good, but still shows that Axel is back on the track.