Why Chinese Democracy is a better Guns N’Roses disc than you think
“Sorry, Chinese Democracy barely qualifies as GnR.”
While I was traveling on the T last month in Boston, I started listening to Guns N’ Roses’ latest effort, Chinese Democracy. If you haven’t heard of this disc or any of the production drama behind said disc, chances are that you probably aren’t into rock music, lived in Antarctica or simply decided to erase the thought of Axl Rose from your conscious being at some point over the past decade.
I had heard from some friends that they really liked it, but I was prepared to be less than blown away. I had purchased Democracy months ago and only briefly skipped through some tracks, never really fully embracing what I was hearing. But I made the commitment and focused into what Rose and his group of mostly non-original Gunners had to tell my ears and mind and I gotta tell you…I really liked what I heard.
“That album mostly sucks. I gave it three tries.”
I’m not a mega-fan of the band, but like many other white guys in their early 30s, I had the Appetite for Destruction tape that spun repeatedly in my yellow Walkman and participated in the debate over what Use Your Illusion disc I liked better (for the record, the blue one). While my musical taste has grown over the years, I still looked forward to hearing this new cd eventually – even if the path to get there took way too long to begin with.
What I heard was fantastic. From the title track to songs like Better, Madagascar and my personal favorite Shackler’s Revenge, this is a great disc. Totaling 14 tracks in all, you can throw this on and just listen to it from start-to-finish. While there is no Sweet Child O’Mine, Patience or even You Could Be Mine, the release of Democracy has added some good music to the G N’R catalog – even if a vocal group won’t allow these songs to enter the conversation.
“Sorry Josh, that was not worth the wait.”
But as you can see by the italicized comments throughout this blog, my opinion apparently is in the minority. Unfortunately for the band, they were in a no-win situation with the CD for several reasons:
- The on-again, off-again release of the disc over the last decade became a running pop culture joke. There was more stops and false starts than a ’85 Ford Escort with no oil so when the impending launch became very real, people didn’t take it seriously. I was in a Best Buy and saw a display that helped spark my memory. Marketers and fans just got burned out from the entire game and thus, killed a lot of buzz for the November release. Strike 1.
- This isn’t the original crew. A cop-out from some critics has been that Slash isn’t in the group and thus, it really isn’t Guns. I can see where they are coming from because Axl and Slash were like a well-tuned WWF tag team of the 80s. But bands evolve and change and while this version has been bastardized over the last 10 years, it’s still Axl’s voice and I think that should count for something.
Being Axl is obviously its own curse as he’s one of the most polarizing figures in rock, even when he was holed up somewhere in the desert working on Democracy. Easy to overcome? For some, yes. For many others, not so much. Ah, the curse of a frontman that believes too many of his own clippings. Strike 2.
- If this disc was put out by someone other than Guns, it would have been hailed as one of 2008′s top rock discs. When you factor in all of the above, it would have taken a miracle for this to get the credit it truly deserved. Just out of spite alone, I feel that critics would never give Chinese Democracy a fair shake. It was either Appetite for Destruction II or bust and I don’t think that’s fair. If any number of bands had released this under a different name, there would be a huge buzz but because it was Guns N’Roses, the disc was seen as average at best.
Yes, they are a better band with Slash…but he’s not coming back. Yes, it shouldn’t have taken a decade to get this on the shelves…but it did, so deal with it. Yes, they should be touring to help support this…which I actually don’t understand at all but that’s beside the point.
Let go of your prejudices and give Chinese Democracy a shot. G N’R got you through the late 80s and 90s – you owe Axl that much.