2011 Update: I found this unpublished draft of my review of GNR’s “Chinese Democracy” album sitting in my WordPress posts, originally written in 2008 but never published for reasons I’ve since forgotten. I’ve tweaked it a little for clarity, but the fundamental editorial points remain unchanged.
So it looks like hell finally froze over and Axl Rose finally released the much anticipated Chinese Democracy, which has been in the works for well over a decade.
One of the sources of friction between Axl and the rest of the original Guns lineup, besides the fact that by the end of their heyday, he owned the name and the rights to the band exclusively and could hire and fire people at his will, was musical direction. Axl was very much influenced by industrial music (listen to the Use Your Illusion II track “My World”), particularly Nine Inch Nails (historical irony: one of NIN’s early breaks was as the opening act for Guns n’ Roses and Skid Row during a European tour back in 1991) and that influence is abundant on Chinese Democracy.
Thankfully I didn’t have waste time or money buying or downloading the record, but it’s still an hour of my life I’ll never get back again. The guitars and vocals, which were the driving force of every previous Guns n’ Roses record, are an absolute mess. It’s not that the musicianship is bad or amateurish. It is high quality production and technically proficient, but there’s no attitude or groove to any of it. Rolling Stone’s David Fricke gave it a rave review recently. I read it and am left wondering whether he and I listened to the same record.
I remember reading an interview with Slash ages ago where he said something to the effect of, “I thought The Fragile was an amazing record, but I wouldn’t want to make it.” The bottom line here is Axl tried to make a Nine Inch Nails record and failed. Call it whatever you want, but don’t call it Guns n’ Roses.