Guns n Roses Chinese Democracy 01Every once in a while the metal scene collectively pisses on a band or record and someone needs to step up and defend why they like it. We normally don’t spend a lot of time defending shitty records, but sometimes genuinely interesting or good records get lampooned by an overly conservative heavy metal scene and that calls for a professional contrarian to defend it! If ever there were professional contrarians, it would be the staff of AMG. So here we are to re-hash a record from our past that (some of us) love that everyone else seems to have soured on (or never liked in the first place).

It’s now almost inconceivable, but there was once a time when Axl Rose was more than just anagram for oral sex. His stage-presence and energy was boundless (read ‘cocaine-fueled’), his signature voice internationally-recognizable (cocaine-fueled) and his band arguably the most popular hard rocking group in the world (again, cocaine-fueled). Appetite for Destruction took the world by storm in 1988 – a year after its quiet initial release – and remains the best-selling debut album of all time in the US. Loaded with anthems such as “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City” and the hideously-overrated “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” it’s no wonder that Guns N’ Roses achieved their smash success.

It’s this very quality which ensured that trve metalheads received them with much lesser enthusiasm. Guns N’ Roses seemingly fell right into Metallica‘s Kill ‘Em All category, with their big hair, sex and drug-driven sensibilities and pop-laced hooks. Conversely, Death‘s Scream Bloody Gore and Bathory‘s Under the Sign of the Black Mark were making waves in the more underground metal scene, taking things into far darker and more extreme territories. At a time when extreme metal was flexing its muscles and grappling with demons beyond what was commercially acceptable, Guns N’ Roses rose to fame and fortune despite, rather than because of, their metal credibility.

Guns n Roses Chinese Democracy 02Fast-forwarding twenty years and through four more studio albums, we reach the controversial ground that is Chinese Democracy. His cocaine-fueled days having caught up with him, Rose found himself the sole original member of the once-untouchable band, finalizing a record over ten years in the making with contributions from twelve contemporary and former members, four session musicians and over forty(!) production, arrangement, orchestration and engineering staff. Before delving into the analysis, and extending this already-excessive preamble, it’s worth noting that Chinese Democracy was critically received with guarded optimism – including in metal publications. This is seemingly in contrast to popular opinion however, with my friends and family and a cursory Google suggesting that many take issue with it (anecdotal evidence is, of course, irrefutable). Indeed, it commercially under-performed considering a budget in excess of $13,000,000. The gauntlet now falls to me to defend and justify what some consider to be “a huge money grab on ex-GnR fans… overly hyped trash likely to end up in the hands of kids with too much allowance money and not enough bubble gum to buy.” – Mike, bubblegum hater and indefatigable MetalSucks comments section commenter.

Quite implausibly, Chinese Democracy is my favorite Guns N’ Roses record. Sure, there are individual tracks which may be superior elsewhere in their discography (“November Rain” is an overwrought masterpiece), but what’s on offer here is their most unified piece, a collection of songs which transcend their disparate geneses into a compelling whole. If not stylistically, tonally there is a strong sense of cohesion across the album, from its throwback opening power chords all the way to the closing trio of ballads (or at least quasi-ballads). Counter to much metalcore and current popular metal, the choruses often undertake the rocking heavy lifting, rather than crushing the verses before hitting clean vox for the chorus. That’s not to suggest that Chinese Democracy is hugely heavy – it isn’t – but it’s refreshing within hard rock for the choruses to pick up as opposed to stripping back.

There’s an overarching sobriety and nobility only hinted at previously, reflectively addressing expectation and the challenges posed by earlier success – lyrically clear in “Better,” “Street of Dreams” and “There Was A Time.” “I.R.S.” is a strange metaphor for investigating lost love (I’m fairly certain there’s no love lost between the IRS and its subjects) and “Madagascar” samples Martin Luther King Jr. in its exploration of freedom. What could have been a heavy-handed and irresponsible bastardization finds sincerity given the surrounding tracks’ musical charm and earnestness.

Such tonal accord is almost unexpected considering the multiplicity inherent to the release – the many contributors poking and prodding with their sticky fingers ensure that it is musically complex despite the unending vocal hooks. A homage to the old Guns N’ Roses can he heard at the opening of “Chinese Democracy,” with heroic power chords resonating out from the near-silence. This is perhaps the most aggressive track, progressing forward into generally lighter material, with frequent utilization of electronica and trip-hop beats, such as on “Shackler’s Revenge,” “If The World” and “There Was A Time.” Nonetheless, this is layered with impressive shredding guitars and solos which add a welcome old-school aesthetic, and emotive orchestrations which contribute to the aforementioned tonal cohesion. This is most evident on such ballads as “Street of Dreams,” “Madagascar” and “This I Love” where the verses are more simplistic and the strings and horns can be highlighted. It’s quite musically diverse but doesn’t feel discordant.

Guns n Roses Chinese Democracy 03

As the center of the swirling vortex, the record’s focus can be attributed to Axl Rose. His fourteen-year investment and ambition shine through, as do his amazing vocals. Pulling the myriad sounds in his direction, the vocal performance sits atop the mix and ensures that all songs are catchy. There’s not much more to say here that hasn’t been said elsewhere, though I do think the diverse material on offer allows him to run the gamut more effectively, from emotive croons, through his signature high-pitched cries and even into an occasional lower range. This is his project despite the sixty or so total contributors.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: this is not the second coming and it’s not my favorite album of the new millennium. “Riad N’ The Bedouins” and “Sorry” are both still throwaways. But there is no doubt that it eclipses any prior Guns N’ Roses release and resides in the top tier of ill-comprehended records. The melodies and arrangements are complex but focused, and Rose’s vocals outstanding. So, Mike: ease off yeah? My allowance is depleted, my sweet-tooth satiated. And I still really like Chinese Democracy.

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  • AndySynn

    I also really like Chinese Democracy.

  • The only problem with this record is that the band that made it is called Guns N’ Roses.If it was called ”Axl and Friends” people would have given it the chance it deserved.But if it takes you almost 20 years to release it, given that all the original members(especially Slash) are gone,unfortunatelly the hype will be huge,and the criticism and disappointment even bigger.I love CD and i think it gives us a glimpse of Axl’s greatness at song writting.It was good to see where he wanted to take GnR musically and his vision come true.Still to this day i listen to tracks as TwaT,CD,Street of Dreams and Catcher in the Rye.

  • Dr. Scorpion

    me this likey. i now want a dr.peppers

  • Óðhinn

    I saw Guns n’ Roses open for Iron Maiden in the late 1980s. Unquestionably the worst live band I’ve ever seen. Axl Rose, aside from his obvious mental health and extreme personality issues, has always sung like a diseased cat. Chinese Democracy is a mess. It’s a record that sounds dated via an inadvisable melange of 1980s Glam Metal and 1990s Pop/Industrial music. That the album was actually released in 2008 is demonstrative of just how out of touch with reality that Axl Rose really is. How could he listen to this album and think, “Yeah, that’s perfect, let’s go ahead and release it.” Axl Rose isn’t a musical genius, he’s quite literally borderline retarded. That this turd of an album took 14 years to record when there are bands who can release albums that are good every couple of years is just laughable. The original Guns n’ Roses was bad, and this is just worse. Axl Rose, and his personal version of Guns n’ Roses, should never attempt making music again.

    • El_Cuervo

      Agree to disagree

      • So I love early GnR. But this record realllly blows.

        • Dr. Scorpion

          Naa. This one’s the best

        • Rob Nine

          I’m mostly with AMG on this. I’ve listened to “Appetite” cover-to-cover more than any other album / cassette / CD in my life (and I’ve owned all 3 formats). Even have the cover painted on the back of a denim jacket. Considering the love I had for GNR at one point, I can’t say I found one moment of Chinese Democracy that was great and I definitely tried. While not a bad album compared to many, it just doesn’t get my Evinrude cracking. I’m still glad AMG was willing to post a defense of this album.

      • Óðhinn

        Yes, definitely.

    • dblbass23

      O6inn…..or whatever your name is….you’re entitled to your opinion. I’m waiting on your new album. What’s the release date?

      • Óðinn

        Hi doubleass23….or whatever your name is…..What a coincidence. I’m waiting on your new album. What were the odds?

        • dblbass23

          You fired the first shot. I just responded. Don’t make it more than it is.

          • Óðinn

            While I agree that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I commented on the actual story which was about Guns n’ Roses, which is the purpose of the comments section, and not you personally. You “fired the first shot” by trying to make it about me. In the future, please show respect for Angry Metal Guy’s blog by not attacking others personally. Thank-you.

          • dblbass23

            ARE YOU KIDDING ME??

          • Óðinn

            No. Not at all. Please show respect for Angry Metal Guy’s blog. Thank-you.

          • dblbass23

            Didn’t mean to offend. I was wrong for the disrespect. Have a good day…and peace.

          • Óðinn

            Have a great day.

  • Luke_22

    It’s definitely underrated and perhaps unfairly dismissed, but I can’t rank it anywhere near the brilliance of Appetite or the bloated Use Your Illusion albums (which would have been greater had the fat been cut and reduced to one single album).

  • Herr Coffey

    nah … I beg to differ “at the center if this whirling vortex”

  • Doomdeathrosh

    My sequence of events:
    First read the title…El Cuervo defends Chinese Democracy??!…
    Then, I see the art…..OHHHHH!

  • Appetite for Destruction is one of the best hard rock albums of all time, even if the band was incapable of pulling it off live. This thing though is a true shit show.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    no no no no no

  • This is more of an April Fool’s Joke than the Amaranthe review.

  • i love El Cuervo, angry guys and this fucking Great Album! Very undervalued one.. congrutulations for this brilliant move to recover that one. This is Better!

  • dblbass23

    I like the album. Always have. It’s obviously no Appetite….or Use/Illusions for that matter. But it is a good album.

  • KingKuranes

    Overall I actually like this album too – but it is no Appetite for Destruction.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Appetite is a hard rock album so good, it could almost be Australian :). Axl et al will always have my respect for that.
    I think it’s true that a lot people think this record is a pile of the proverbial steaming without actually having listened to it. It had become a such running joke for years prior to its release that it was effectively damned.

    I don’t think Ive ever been able to sit through the whole album it just seems to go on and on and on. It starts of well enough with Chinese Democracy being a good driving hard rock opening track. ‘Better ‘and ‘Catcher in the Rye’ IMO are the best songs on the album though they are fairly generic AOR/pop tunes. ‘I’m Sorry’ is a pretty good 70’s inspired doomy Floydian style number and IRS is not a bad tune, but thats about it

    A lot of the album feels like either Queen songs stripped of humour, good times and memories or some kind of Whitesnake meets Radiohead meets Bob Geldof abomination that should have been put out of its misery i.e. ‘Madagascar’.
    ‘Shacklers Revenge’, ‘If The World’ and ‘Scraped’ are genuinely awful and ‘Prostitute’ leaves me feeling dirty (not good dirty).

    The thing is you’re right in so much as this album doesn’t deserve the ridicule it gets but sheesh a decade and 13 million dollars and this is it!!!

    Epic fail unfortunately

  • sickbroski

    It’s a pretty artsy rock album. I like it.

  • PFC

    Well, it’s one thing to defend an album you like which is universally shit upon. It’s quite another to say: “Chinese Democracy is my favorite Guns N’ Roses record”. That’s taking it way too far. A lot of people shit on A Matter of Life and Death, which I happened to enjoy and still listen to from time to time. But in no way, shape or form would I ever claim it’s the best Maiden album of all time.

    • NotePad

      A Matter of Life And Death actually is my favorite Maiden album.