It was a long time for you
It was a long time for me
It'd be a long time for anyone but
Looks like it's meant to be
After reportedly generating four albums worth of material since 1993's
The Spaghetti Incident?, Rose has left us with 14 meaty songs
that total 77 minutes. And as with every aspect of Chinese Democracy,
the track order is calculated, with the heavy hitters up front in
an effort to appease returning fans. As the album opens slowly with
an ominous buildup that includes murmured Chinese chatter and thunderous
drums, you get the feeling that a sleeping dragon is about to awake
from its 15-year slumber. When it does, a monstrous, razorblade riff
cuts through the air, and after a decade and a half, Guns N' Roses
is back with a vengeance.
As the album progresses, though, Axl applies the brakes with mid-tempo
numbers that (somewhat unexpectedly) take over. One of the highlights
is Use Your Illusion-era survivor "Street Of Dreams",
a pretty piano-and-strings ballad brimming with early-90s romanticism.
Immediately following is the most diverse-sounding track, "If
The World", which marries slithering Spanish 12-string and funky
wah-wah with cinematic strings, but whose underwhelming lyrics aren't
on par ("If the world would end today
you know there's nothing
more to say"). The album closes with the Andrew Lloyd Webber-inspired
"This I Love" and power ballad "Prostitute", which
fades the album to black on a reflective note using gorgeous orchestral
swells, even if they're a little out of left field.
Without question, though, the standout track is "Madagascar",
which is destined for a movie trailer. The track opens with a majestic
but mournful French horn before being joined by Rose's world-weary
vocals, a trip-hop backbeat, and moody string sweeps. The song is
a telling metaphor for Rose's battle as a washed-up rock star who's
been written off by fans and critics: "I won't be told anymore,
that I've been brought down in this storm / And left so far out from
the shore, that I can't find my way back my way anymore."
The hallmark here is the vocal-sample collage of the extended middle
section, in which Rose intercuts speeches from Martin Luther
King, Jr. and movie quotes from films like Cool Hand Luke
and Seven. The alternation creates a new dialogue that combats
the negative aspects of the human condition. It's a calculated risk,
but one that works well on a dramatic level.
What's more in question is the biggest bone that's been picked
with Chinese Democracy: Axl's appetite for excess. That is,
every track is packed with layers of guitars, multi-tracked vocals,
and a motley of sounds (e.g., electronic drums, Mellotron, children's
choir, Space Invader atmospherics). Most are unnecessary but benign,
and some are instrumental in elevating key tracks like "Madagascar"
and "Prostitute". Clearly, Rose does not subscribe to
a less-is-more philosophy, but given the unique circumstances, he
shouldn't be automatically disqualified for his lack of restraint.
Because after a few spins, it's also clear that the album's replay
value hinges on Rose's underrated ability to craft great songs by
progressively sprinkling layers that he deemed necessary. His kitchen-sink
tendencies may compromise compositional balance, but would it even
be a Guns N' Roses record if it wasn't excessive or indulgent in
some way? There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but the meal
isn't stuffed beyond satiation.
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