Album review: Guns N’ Roses, Chinese Democracy (2008)


By Steve Newton

On a recent episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert lectured Axl Rose for stealing his thunder by releasing Chinese Democracy, the first Guns N’ Roses album in 17 years, the very same day as Colbert’s Christmas special. “What’s the matter, Axl,” whined the pissed-off pundit, “doesn’t the 50th backing track on the title song need a touch more reverb? Maybe you should get Brian Wilson in the studio to polish it for a few decades!”

Now, Colbert’s music criticism is usually too right-wing for my liking, but this time he nailed it. Chinese Democracy suffers from way too much of everything—except actual Guns N’ Roses members. Apart from Rose, the only recognizable name from the L.A. hard rockers’ heyday is keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who plays on nearly all of the 14 tracks, one for each of the studios this overblown behemoth was recorded at in L.A., New York, Las Vegas, and London.

Former GN’R axeman Slash is nowhere to be heard; instead, on the insanely cluttered “There Was a Time”, they’ve got no less than six guitar players doing their bit. That’s twice as many as Skynyrd had, for cryin’ out loud! The song also boasts, among other things, two drummers, two bassists, a “sub bassist” (whatever that is), three keyboardists, a choir, and a “synth orchestra” composed of Rose, Reed, and some other jackass. To top it off you’ve got Rose repeatedly screeching “I would do anything for you!” at the top of his lungs.

Much less painful is the title track, which opens the CD with enough blustery riffage to elicit fond memories of the day you not only scored Appetite for Destruction on vinyl, but also before its controversial original cover art was banned. The streamlined “Chinese Democracy” has only five guitarists pitching in, including a guy named Buckethead who somehow manages to pull off a wicked solo wearing a mask on his face and a KFC bucket on his head.

“Shackler’s Revenge” is an okay thrasher with a Rob Zombie–type industrial vibe, but any brownie points it earns are deducted tenfold by “Madagascar”, with its sucky strings and clumsy film-soundtrack samples. Next time Rose feels like starting a riot at GM Place, he won’t have to cancel the gig—all he’ll have to do is sneak this torture test onto the setlist.

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