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Chinese Democracy

Chinese Democracy
by Dylan Kissane

It’s been a very long time between drinks for fans of Guns N’ Roses but with the release of their sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy, they’ve proven the wait was worth it. Fourteen years of wondering whether Axl Rose was ever going to get around to putting the songs he’s been performing live for the best part of a decade onto a disc is now behind us and the album is all it was promised to be.

The opening and title track begins with some heavy distorted power chords before settling into a bluesy rock riff with a couple of solos thrown in for old time’s sake. Talking about how this song came to be written Rose mentions the Martin Scorsese film, Kundun:

...the TV was on and it was the end of the movie, and the Dalai Lama is about to cross over the border, to you know, be in exile for the rest of his life from his own country. And he looks back at uh, at the men who helped him, and you know he’s escaped the Chinese government. And he, and he looks back at them and he waves and they wave at him and then they show a scene where he looks back at them again and he sees everyone of them dead. Because he knew they would be killed, they knew that in helping him they would be killed.

The lyrics don’t quite meet Scorsese heights but after fourteen years it’s just good to hear Axl scream anything. Shackler’s Revenge follows and it’s hard, loud and full of emotion. Not the greatest song on the album but a clean chorus and some nice solo work means it’s solid.

Track three is titled Better and it is the standout track on the album. It’s classic GnR: big complex solos, a catchy sound and Axl rocking out with perfect style. For me it’s similar to some tracks on the Illusion albums: think the better parts of Coma or Estranged. Guitarists Robin Finck and Buckethead are superb, the latter’s influence easy to discern. Lyrically it’s all about loss, breakup and the end of what could have been. Some of the best Gunners songs return to this theme (Estranged, November Rain, Patience) and it is what the band does well. When Axl offers:

I never wanted you to be so full of anger
I never wanted you to be somebody else
I never wanted you to be someone afraid to know themselves
I only wanted you to see things for yourself

... you can’t help but be taken back to the days of the Don’t Cry trilogy. With this song – also the second single off the album – Guns N’ Roses prove they are back, a good thing considering the rather flat couple of tracks that follow.

Street of Dreams move from a slow, piano-backed opening to a heavier guitar crescendo backed by a string section is fine but nothing really special. The track that follows, If the World, maintains an almost reggae backbeat and is a little too percussion-heavy for my liking. It could easily take the place of Another Way to Die, the Jack White/Alicia Keys track that opens the latest James Bond film. In short, it’s forgettable as is the breakup tune that follows. There Was a Time is a standard rock song but after fourteen years and so soon after Better I’m hoping for more than standard from the Gunners.

Catcher in the Rye reminds me of some of the less appreciated songs off the Illusion albums. It’s got a Breakdown sort of feel to it, a bit bluesy and a lot of work on the piano. The title alludes to the book, of course, but also to the murder of John Lennon. It’s balanced, well produced and a step up from the three tracks before it. The song that follows (Scraped) is the shortest on the album but with a kicking bass line, lots of guitars and even a quick solo it is classic GnR. The band even gets into the War on Terror in typical style with Riad N’ The Bedouins. The band that has been labelled racist in the past probably won’t change any minds amongst their accusers with lyrics like

Nomads and barbarians
I won't bend my will to them


Riad N' the Bedouins
Say that’s a war you can't win
But I have had enough of them
And who can blame me”.

Leave aside any controversy in the lyrics and it’s hard not to see this as a great tune and even a little reminiscent of Appetite for Destruction days.

Sorry pokes a little bit of fun at a former love

(You've got all the answers
You know everything
Why nobody asked you
Is a mystery to me”)

and I.R.S. has got the sort of power chords and angry voice that we last heard back on Illusions II. Madagascar, a song that’s been kicking around for about five years now, is a orchestra-backed tune that delivers a curt middle-finger salute to anyone who thought that this album might never emerge as well, one imagines, to the former bandmates that left Axl on his own.

The operatic This Is Love is something far removed from a typical Guns N’ Roses album. Rising strings, flutes in the background, a simple melody and a complete lack of guitars and percussion for most of the first half of the song reminds me of a rock opera. It could almost find a place in something like Chess and is a surprising addition, though one that does not seem totally out of place. The closing track, Prostitute, builds gradually with a rocking beat founded on some intricate snare drumming. The outro of the song – a progressive fade from the guitar solo through to piano and then just strings – is a perfect transition and a great way to round out a long awaited album.

Chinese Democracy will not be an instant classic like the 18-time platinum Appetite for Destruction was and it’s not the tour-de-force that Use Your Illusion II is, either. It’s Guns N’ Roses for the twenty-first century with all the rock you were missing but less of the sort of arrogance that led Axl Rose to release songs like the over-produced My World or the Charles Manson-authored Look at Your Game, Girl. Tracks like Chinese Democracy and especially Better prove that the Gunners are back. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another fourteen years for the next proffering of evidence.

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