Well it’s been a week, I guess it’s time I start defending Axl Rose. Welcome to the first in a series of posts that will examine CHINESE DEMOCRACY, track-by-track.:
I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that CHINESE DEMOCRACY is a perfect album or that it’s better than APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION. It is my belief, however, that people dismissed CHINESE DEMOCRACY too quickly. For one thing, the long delay in it’s release did nothing but raise expectations to a ridiculously high, completely unattainable level. Time was also an enemy for the album in that 15 years passed between GNR albums. That’s a long time and in the music industry that’s practically a lifetime. Styles change. Trends come and go. When Axl Rose released “THE SPAGETTI INCIDENT?” in 1993 people were still listening to music on the radio and watching music videos on MTV. I guess what I’m saying is: the world moved on.
I feel like a lot of the negative reaction to the album had to do with people expecting Axl to pick up right where GNR left off all those years ago. But why did fans expect or want Axl to stay locked in 1993? Anyway, I can’t really explain why it took 15 years to make CHINESE DEMOCRACY, and I certainly don’t think it “sounds” like it took 15 years to make. What did does sound like is an older, more mature rockers attempt at a comeback album. It incorporates what was great about his old work and adds to it some modern touches. I think it was those modern touches that turned off most listeners, especially the old GNR fans. People who expected or wanted the record to sound like “Welcome to the Jungle” are missing the point of art and artists. Wanna hear “Welcome to the Jungle”? Go put on APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION.
The first track on CHINESE DEMOCRACY is, fittingly enough, “Chinese Democracy.” Axl has stated publicly that the song is about the Chinese government and their poor treatment of the Dalai Lama. It opens with a faint and ominous siren-like noise. A chorus of quiet voices bleed over the sound of a guitar for a few seconds before we hear a louder, more highly processed guitar. That was the first thing that suck out about both “Chinese Democracy” the song and the album-there are so many different guitar tones on this record it’s not even funny. At first these crashing/clashing tones are pretty jaring. It sounds initially that these guitar sounds are just tossed around haphazardly, like Rose just threw the kitchen sink at CHINESE DEMOCRACY, but really what Axl does throughout the record is to create a lush, pulsing wall of sound. It’s not out of control or random, the entire record is highly organized. It reminds me of the symphonic work Brian Wilson did on PET SOUNDS.
I guess the Brian Wilson comparisons are easy, after all Wilson’s magnum opus SMILE (in it’s original form) was only just this past year made available to the listening public. Both albums are the singular vision of musical geniuses, the only difference is that Rose seems to have lost the war with a lot of critics. That said, I think that in 20 years it’ll be as highly regarded as SMILE. Why do I think this? Well genius is very rarely recognized, at least initially. And Axl doesn’t bend over backwards to make CHINESE DEMOCRACY likable or “easy.”
Axl lets us know right off the bat, ending his 15 year silence with this pronouncement:
“It don’t really matter/You’re gonna find out for yourself/No it don’t really matter/You’re gonna leave this thing somebody else.”
The song goes on to point a finger a China’s government and it’s use of an “iron fist” to subdue it’s people. It’s accusatory and at the same time resigned in the fact that ultimately totalitarianism fails. I find it ironic that Rose’s first album in 15 years is called CHINESE DEMOCRACY and seems to stab brutish dictators…the irony being that Rose is something of a brutish dictator himself. A quick look at the personal of the album reads like a who’s-who of rock musicians (studio hands or otherwise). So many people have credits on the damn thing it’s unreal. And you know that for every person given proper credit there must be two people who aren’t. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but it would seem that 15 years is an awful long time to remember whom to thank. “Chinese Democracy” alone is credited as having five different guitarists (not counting two different bass players). And then there are the people who started on the project and pissed Rose off and were booted off…
Regardless, “Chinese Democracy” is a fucking great rock song. It’s rebellious, scary, and when you finish hearing it you are left with no doubts that Axl Rose has come screaming back like he’d never gone away. Ignoring the fact that the song bookends a 15 year period of silence, I think “Chinese Democracy” is a great opener and a worthy addition to the GNR catalogue.
Next week I’ll continue my strange, track-by-track odyssee through CHINESE DEMOCRACY by looking at the second track “Shackler’s Revenge.”