One could look at Guns N’ Roses as really only having 3 studio albums proper. There’s the 1987 classic debut Appetite For Destruction, the monster 1991 second album Use Your Illusion (I & II), and Chinese Democracy.
Of course there are other albums. The 1988 cash-in Lies and the covers album The Spaghetti Incident (1993). I guess you see my point. Let me point out this early into the review that there is NO EXCUSE at all for the crock of shit that is “One In A Million” (Lies) by Guns N’ Roses. Have the band ever distanced themselves from this track? Racist. Homophobic. It is amongst the worst kind of idiocy and ignorance ever recorded.
There is a remarkable 17 year gap between Use Your Illusion and the 2008 Chinese Democracy. Many believed, understandably, that the album would never surface. It cost around a staggering $15million due to many delays and re-recordings. I have just read that Dr. Pepper said they’d give a can (of Dr. Pepper) to everyone in America except Slash and Buckethead if Guns N’ Roses released the album in 2008.
That really is Spinal Tap to end all Spinal Tap’s. A guitarist famed for wearing a bucket on his head and only one original member, Axl Rose.
Guns N’ Roses are a band that are easy to dislike, but there’s no doubting that they have some fantastic songs are (were) the genuine article.
With the classic line-up long gone, the question was “would Chinese Democracy actually be any good”?
Incredibly, the answer is a resounding YES. How Axl managed this is a headscratcher. Maybe it was him at last having total control? Often cited as a band dictator you feel that this is his album. Really, it would work much better (and be more honest) if the album was credited as Axl Rose and not have the Guns N’ Roses moniker.
When I bought the album in 2008 I worked about 10 miles away from where I lived. Everyday for about 2 months I listened to the album on the way to and from work. It does have some very, very strong songs. It is not a classic album but, if it had been released by an unknown band it would be held much higher regard.
Chinese Democracy teases its way in. Oddly and ironically it reminds me (anticipation wise) of Breaking Into Heaven by The Stone Roses (The Second Coming). Guns N’ Roses made The Stone Roses look like workaholics mind. The track sounds futuristic. It does sound like Guns N’ Roses but heavier and heading in an industrial direction.
Shackler’s Revenge offers more industrial leanings. Axl’s vocal is lower than we’ve ever heard initially. Layered subtle samples. The song reminds us that Guns N’ Roses were once a very important band whilst also taking us on a totally new journey.
Better almost keeps up the quality of the two openers. It has a safer sound and veers less but sounds solid throughout. When it does rise it sounds perhaps too masculine momentarily.
Street Of Dreams manages to capture a Use Your Illusion era Guns N’ Roses frighteningly well. Axl showcases that hollar, that raw rasp. He is a great singer despite some clear personality flaws.
If The World is a weaker song. That said, the production (Rose / Costanzo) is very clean and elevates the song to a higher level than it would naturally be at.
There Was A Time is the best song on Chinese Democracy and further evidence that the album should be credited to Axl Rose. It really is an epic track. Clean but exhausting guitar strains that dare to threaten Axl’s domination. The song is layered and with its build truly showcases the venom and uniqueness of Axl’s voice. Subtle hooks that pull you further in as the musical build engulfs. Stooges like guitar streaks. It is just pure rock n’ roll from a band out of time. At the end it turns into a hair flexing machine. It really is one of the bands best ever songs.
Catcher In The Rye steps back a bit. More great production as the band stab at a sing-a-long. They almost pull it off.
Scraped is more album track fare. It could be omitted from the album and perhaps make the album work better. Not necessarily a bad song though.
Riad N’ the Bedouins has an experimental feel . The music follows an unconventional pattern. It heads down sleaze alley musically and drags the listener with it.
Sorry is one of the best songs on Chinese Democracy. Again it is an epic. It is a very bitter track lyrically and this is mirrored with fairly devastating hooks musically. Midway through the songs lulls to near ballad before relaunching a second equally powerful assault.
I.R.S. is again a heavy offering. Axl’s vocal leans to a near rap delivery. The Rolling Stones could never get away with this but Guns N’ Roses pull it off with credit that underlines where they stand in the musical spectrum.
Madagascar from its soft, soft intro is a song that goes for he epic but falls short as it never really takes-off fully.
This I Love screams Axl Rose solo artist out of the speakers. Practically a ballad. Overambitious and again, a track the album may be better of without.
Prostitute closes Chinese Democracy. More vocal acrobatics and an altogether robust sound despite its crass title.
In short. Chinese Democracy is much better than it should be. It’s not a classic but serves to remind us of Axl Rose’s unique talent. The largely unacknowledged musicians fill-in well for the lost line-up. I wonder if they can top this in 2025…