A Long Time Coming
Self-indulgence has never felt as good as when itâ€šÃ„Ã´s in the hands of groups like Queen and Guns N’ Roses. Freddy Mercury may be gone, but Axl Rose has emerged to release the long-awaited Chinese Democracy. Whether itâ€šÃ„Ã´s an epic song or a CD fifteen years in the making, Rose does it big, but like an old friend, his familiar angst-ridden cry and contempt have been sorely missed.
In a 2006 interview, Rose explained, “It’s a very complex record, I’m trying to do something differentâ€šÃ„Ã¹. And he does, going beyond the familiar GNR sound without completely abandoning it. Blissfully loud tracks with a theatrical bent, like the opening title track, coexist with heartfelt ballads like â€šÃ„ÃºThis I Love.â€šÃ„Ã¹ Boisterous songs like â€šÃ„ÃºIRSâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and â€šÃ„ÃºMadagascarâ€šÃ„Ã¹ strut like the GNR from two decades ago, although the latter has sound bytes from Casualties of War and MLK that feel more like an indulgence than content.
â€šÃ„ÃºThis I Loveâ€šÃ„Ã¹ is classic GNR connecting with emotional honesty, making just strings, piano and vocals sound like an opera while Rose acknowledges that his sincerity will be doubted, singing â€šÃ„ÃºNo matter how I try / They say it’s all a lie.â€šÃ„Ã¹
Impressive guitar shredding abounds on tracks like â€šÃ„ÃºProstituteâ€šÃ„Ã¹ and the visceral â€šÃ„ÃºShacklerâ€šÃ„Ã´s Revenge,â€šÃ„Ã¹ but Roseâ€šÃ„Ã´s vocals often take precedence over complicated, extravagant orchestrations. Vocal heights (many) and depths even happen in the same song, like â€šÃ„ÃºStreet of Dreams,â€šÃ„Ã¹ which begins with an unconventionally odd baritone and ends with vocal mastery.
Whereas Appetite for Destruction had the grittiness of Sunset Strip clubs and the jaded Use Your Illusion I and II had a communal stadium vibe, Chinese Democracy is harder to relate to, sounding like it was recorded in a vacuum or just a studio with lots of toys. This is likely due to the years of talk about itâ€šÃ„Ã´s creation which makes it hard to separate whatâ€šÃ„Ã´s behind the scenes from the music. Meanwhile, with so many musicians contributing, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s hard to identify with any one. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s been little promotion and no tour to accompany Chinese Democracy so whatâ€šÃ„Ã´s left is just the music. Thankfully, thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s a lot.