I figured the long-awaited release of Guns 'N Roses' almost-mythic, seventeen-years-in-the-making, just-about-stopped-believing-we'd-ever-see-it album Chinese Democracy was a worthy note on which to make my less-eagerly-anticipated but still almost-stopped-believing-we'd-ever-see-it return to my personal blog.
For those unaware, I was quite-the-dedicated G'N'R fan back in the day (much to my father's chagrin, who disapprovingly used to try to steal my albums before I finally wore him down). Back when I was a sophmore, I used to hit ski slopes listening to Use Your Illusion II (hearing the song Breakdown still makes me think of getting first tracks on Snowbird's Little Cloud bowl. Driving home from midnight movies, dances, or nights out with friends, I'd often take the long way home just to crank another song like Welcome to the Jungle, Rocket Queen, Freight Train, Civil War or Sweet Child o' Mine (I could do a mean air-guitar on the steering column). And I'd even perfected what I thought at the time was a pretty solid Axl-impression (though I now seriously question how good it ever was).
While clearly not the fan I once was, I have to admit to being excited about the release of Chinese Democracy. Rumors of its pending release have popped up so often over the years that I've long since written them off. But it's here... and despite approaching it with some serious doubts (see, e.g., Rose's disasterous performance at the MTV music awards a couple of years back), the album is actually half decent. It officially drops tomorrow, but has been available on myspace since Thursday. In that time I've managed to give it a couple of whirls and it's grown on me.
Given the album's seventeen-year genesis, it's no surprise that the album sounds a little over-produced, but the songs are also all pretty tight with little to no flab. The ridiculous number of musicians that contributed to the project over the years is apparent and it cuts into the album's consistency at points (and the absence of original bandmates, most notably Slash, is sorely felt), but hearing Axl's scratchy falcetto is oddly refreshing. His lyrics are often pretty incomprehensible, but in truth they're no worse than the lyrics of countless other artists I love (see, e.g., Dave Matthews or Ben Harper). The album is an eclectic mix of sounds, genres, and styles, but, even with its sometimes over-produced feel, you still hear a little of the angry, raw, and scrappy G'N'R of yore. Here are some random somewhat unorganized thoughts I had about Axl's solo effort (while I sit and wonder just what it would have been like had he actually managed to get the band back together to finish this one off):
I love the intro rif on the title track. I think that Better manages to do a good job capturing the old G'N'R sound. Street of Dreams is a solid ballad. There was a Time is extraordinarily rich -- with about a million things going on -- but it just works. Songs like Raid N' The Bedouins and I.R.S. rock pretty hard. There is a me-against-the-world feel to the album, with Axl all-too-conspicuously comparing himself to none-other than famed-recluse and media-phobe J.D. Salinger in Catcher in the Rye. Sorry almost seems like a fitting note to end the whole thing on... with you not quite sure whether he's singing to the women or the bandmates he notoriously battled with over the years.
In sum, I think Chinese Democracy is Rose's answer to the consistent chorus of criticism (much of it not too far off target) that has hounded him since Guns 'N Roses broke up the better part of two decades ago. It's Axl's chance to try and cement his legacy as one of rock's gifted, but tortured-souls and to make all the nay-sayers eat a little crow. And I have to say, I don't mind doing eating it at all.