|14 years since the last Guns N' Roses album. A long time in music. In that time the music industry has changed beyond recognition. Grunge music has come and gone. Downloads are now king with the CD being deemed obsolete as a medium. Out of this and after the longest gestation period in modern rock, comes a screaming prophet from a time thought long dead, a time when music was seen as a way of rebelling, of expressing yourself. So, the question is, in this changed musical landscape, does the world really need Axl Rose anymore?
The question to that is not easily answered. Should we ignore the history of the album or the fact that Axl remains the only original member? Maybe, we should instead celebrate the group of musicians Rose has brought together to craft this album, each of them shining luminaries in modern musical society. Guitarists like Robin Finck and Ron "Bumblefoor" Thal; drummers like Josh Freese and the technical wizard Chris Pitman have all contributed on this album in one guise or other. So much musical talent in one place was bound to bring results. It is also a hindrance to the album at times; with the wall of guitars used where once only Slash and Izzy Stradlin were needed. This gives many of the tracks an overly busy feeling. The album has undoubtedly been tinkered with to death, perhaps nobly to give all artists credit, or more likely to fulfil Axl's vision. This vision, which was only hinted at on the Use Your Illusion records, is blown right open on this album. Axl's genius lies in his over rampant and downright bizarre imagination when it comes to music and it often seems like every little idea Rose had made it onto the album in some way or other. This causes the whole album to feel somewhat overproduced but for fans left salivating about what Rose would do next after his overblown ballads on the Illusion albums, I doubt they'd want it any other way. And thrillingly, Axl seems to have lost none of his song writing ability, anger and vocal poweress.
The best thing to do at this stage would be to examine the tracks individually:
Chinese Democracy- An old fashioned rocker with a few modern twists. The intro of Chinese whispers serves as the intro to the entire album, making this more a statement of intent than just a mere track, announcing the return of Guns N' Roses. Axl's impressive vocal performance and the nice solo make this a worthy opening track: A-
Shackler's Revenge- Another rocker and catchy as hell. Possibly the most divisive track on the album, it's a thumping and unrelenting track but I can't shake the feeling it's aimed more at today's modern nu-metal crowd than anyone. Great guitar work though (and its Bumblefoot, kids, not Buckethead): B
Better- Never been as hot on this one as others, but the album version has won me over somewhat. Great track to win over the causal listener and Axl gives a great account of himself, with one of the standout vocal performances on the album while instrumentally; it's a trippy song with a great breakdown in the middle. A good track: B+
Street Of Dreams- Turning point of the album. A November Rain esque ballad with stunning vocals by Axl, superb solo by Finck and a violin just to add to the theatricality. Great piano rock and the first "killer" tune: A
If The World- The most experimental thing Axl has done since "My World". Except, you know, it doesn't suck...: B+
There Was A Time- The defining point of the album and one that will give both admirers and detractors ample ammunition. Yes, it does sound too overproduced, with way too much going on for its own good, with the aforementioned wall of guitar most evident on this track. But, even haters will admit underneath it all is a stunning track. Fantastic lyrics, Axl giving another incredible vocal performance and crazy guitar work by Buckethead. Probably the best track on the album: A+
Catcher In The Rye- pretty much "Guns N' Roses does Queen" which is little surprise seeing as Brian May once appeared on this track. He hasn't survived but Axl more than makes up for his absence, and Finck and Bumblefoot do his guitar work proud. The lyrics, supposedly about John Lennon's killer, add a new dimension to the song, which already had an other worldly, magical quality. The last verse and outro is the strongest thing on the entire album. My personal favourite: A+
Scraped- Best rocker on the album, courtesy of some stellar vocals and guitar work. "All things are possible, I am unstoppable" wails Axl. Maybe he wasn't bluffing. The most Appetite sounding track on the album: A
Riad N' The Bedouins- Another heavy thumping rocker, this track has some of the best and heaviest guitar work this band has ever produced. Good stuff: B
Sorry- an apology from Rose? Not quite. Instead this seems more of an attack, most likely against Slash ("I'm sorry for you, not sorry for me"). Sebastian Bach's claims that this sounded like Doom metal don't exactly hold true, and it's unclear whether his vocal contribution remains intact (if it does, he's uncredited and buried in the final mix). Contains the second best solo on the album. But Axl steals the show and gives one of his best performances here, ranging from all his vocal styles, spewing out the venomous lyrics, showing he's lost little of his anger. He's still got it...: A
I.R.S.- always my least favourite track little has changed. It lacks the energy it has live, much like Knocking On Heaven's Door did, but it's still a good rocker most modern rock bands would kill to have in their library: C+
Madagascar- The most powerful song on the album. The instrumental work builds up dark images of oppression and slavery while Axl's raw vocal performance brings it to the next level. Quotes from the legendary Martin Luther King, make it oddly relevant to today's society. Brilliant work: A+
This I Love- Almost as mythical as Chinese Democracy itself, this track was written by the original band in 1993, known as the fourth part of the trilogy containing the songs Don't Cry, November Rain and Estranged. Does it live up to the hype? Well, those hoping for an epic like Estranged will be disappointed. This is instead a stripped back, piano track for GNR purists, and is one of the quietest and most heartfelt songs GNR have ever written. Scoff at the lyrics all you want, it still contains both the best vocal performance and solo on the entire album. Possibly the only song worth 14 years: A+
Prostitute- the perfect closer with an epic song. Fire and Ice would be the best way to describe it. Caps off a rollercoaster of a musical journey: A
Music like this just doesn't get made anymore. It wouldn't be allowed to. Which is a shame. The kind of overblown, bombast albums that closed the 70s and 80s, have long died out, so an album like this is the shot in the arm the music industry needs. It may border on the ridiculous at times, but isn't that what music has always been about, to dare to dream and want to write world changing music. This isn't world changing music but its charm is that it dares to try, in a world where the majority of artists have now sat back and decided to create boring, clichéd music. This reminds you why you fell in love with music in the first place, and what kind of music can be created if your imagination is allowed to flourish. No, it's not worth 14 years, but for Guns N' Roses fans, this is the masterpiece you always hoped it would be. So, does the world need Axl Rose? The answer would appear to be a resounding yes. Whether this album revives the rock industry or proves to be its final hurray, at least he's written a fitting epitaph.