Written upon the (overdue) release of Guns ‘n Roses Chinese Democracy, for the blog Pandas That Won’t Screw to Save Their Species, which has since passed away. But is remembered fondly.
I have listened to Chinese Democracy. It is a nugget of oddity, but it is not unlistenable, it is sometimes quite satisfying, and, though it will be very difficult for many people to admit, it is not terrible or embarrassing. There are moments of genius, believe it or not, and there are moments of horror, when you think only: oh man, what were you thinking Axl.
And that, in the end, is the problem. Thinking. Too much of it. And not just your typical analytical recording mind. This is almost 2 decades of process. It is unbelievably thoughtful, in that everything, everything, everything, has been written, re-written, re-re-re-re-etc. Then recorded, then re-recorded, then re-re-re-re-re-etc. Every detail is so chosen, so deliberate and so meant to be full of meaning that you can’t help get distracted. Appetite for Destruction was damn near perfect (just accept it and move on), but it felt so new and fresh and wild, that if this kind of deliberate decision making was present in Appetite, it was covered up in the full-throttle delight of Izzy and Axl’s songwriting and Slash’s guitars and Axl’s wheens and yawps.
Truly, however, Chinese Democracy has good songs, if you think GNR had good songs in the first place (they had at least one full album of them, then some brilliant ones here and there).
There will be no shock on anyone’s face when this record is trashed, as it was by the NYTimes. Converts will not be made to GNR, nor will anyone’s mind be made to accept Chinese Democracy. I write not convince people; it would be easier to convince people that Pluto is a planet, or that it is made of eggnog. Minds are made up about GNR, and the final verdict on Axl’s labor of love was mostly decided in the late 90s. But here it is 2008, and the damn thing got released. Hopefully we can all give a little nod to that simple fact.
Others, as usual, can say it better. Chuck Klosterman reviewed the record, and he gets the difficulty of saying anything at all about Chinese Democracy. Scoff if you will at the notion of Axl Rose as a genuine musical talent, but in his way, it makes sense to see him as such, at least with the detractions that will come with any genius: obsession.
Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom?
Axl Rose put so much time and effort into proving that he was super-talented that the rest of humanity forgot he always had been. And that will hurt him. This record may tank commercially. Some people will slaughter Chinese Democracy, and for all the reasons you expect. But he did a good thing here.