Funny how everything was roses when we held onto the guns…!
Axl and his band of many musicians now unleash the most anticipated album of all time, but is it too late? Having been a huge Guns n’ Roses fan back in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, and their gig at Milton Keynes Bowl being my first ever gig, I have waited, and waited and waited for this album, always knowing that when it was finally unveiled, like most things anticipated, it would be a disappointment. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, however this is what I got:
The title track is hard hitting political rock with an attractive riff, and Axl’s vocals wrapping around you like a familiar, if not slightly uncomfortable blanket. However, in ‘Shackler’s Revenge’ we have the first signs that the Honky Tonk Country Rock influence that Izzy Stradlin brought is never going to appear, as we have music that is very much the Industrial Rock that we’ve been warned about. It’s not that bad though, it’s just not Gn’R. Musically it’s a little like The Newlydeads and Marilyn Manson in places, before reverting back to the layered Hard Rock that we know. Whilst this album is a million miles away from both ‘Appetite For Destruction’ and the ‘Use Your Illusions…’ there is a hard, in-your-face rock that the former unleashed on us, with the more intricate and musically thick and diverse collage of the latter.
‘Better’ smashes around with some nice guitar riffs, and dare I say there is a hint of Slipknot here too, but I’m strangely alright with that. Things then slow down for the more thoughtful, ‘Street Of Dreams’, a song that is for the most part a piano piece with Axl’s slow vocals sounding slightly awkward, (or maybe it’s just me that’s feeling that), when the vocals screech out they are not so bad. Slow drum beats and long arm-swinging riffs appear, before strings come in and this turns into a classic Axl Rose patchwork epic of a song. A future single, I would wager…
Another example of the change in the band’s sound is, ‘If The World’ which has a duel of Spanish guitar and piano in an up tempo fusion, whilst later on we have deep chugging guitars contrasting the beauty and the beast, and a heavy bass line that could be almost a dance track. ‘There Was A Time’ sounds like it might be another long slow song, but in fact builds into a chorus that mixes good hard Rock with strings, something that Axl has never shied away from. This song could bridge the gap between ‘Use Your Illusions…’ and this one, with lyrics like, “Broken glass and cigarettes // Writing on the wall // It was a bargain for the summer // And I thought I had it all…”
Again at his thoughtful best we have the mid-tempo song, ‘Catcher In The Rye’ which certainly has more than a passing nod of approval to the classic book of the same name as Axl ponders, “When all is said and done // We’re not the only ones // That look at life this way // That’s what the old folks say // But every time I see them // Makes me wish I had a gun // Well I guess I’d have more fun (‘Cause I’d have more fun…)” There are even some ‘Na na naas’ which are less Blink 182 and more Beatles-esque. Following this is the hard-hitting Metal-edge of ‘Scraped’. If Love/Hate updated their sound slightly and had some space-age synthesisers when the music lulls then you might have an idea at what ‘Riad N’ The Bedouins’ might sound like.
‘Sorry’ sounds a little Ziggy Stardust with psychedelic background sounds over a simple drum beat and a slow tempo. Axl has reached back to the ‘70’s here and it works very well. A great song, in fact. Then there are more political messages in ‘I.R.S.’ whilst next song, ‘Madagascar’ trumps it with snippets of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and film lines from the likes of ‘Braveheart’, ‘Casualties Of War’, ‘Se7en’ and ‘Cool Hand Luke’, the latter appearing first in Gun N’ Roses song ‘Civil War’ in 1991.
The big ballad on here, if of course you can call it that, is penultimate song, ‘This Is Love’ which could be described as the ‘November Rain’ of this album, with piano and strings for the most part, and whining guitar riffs later on. Axl has previously said how much he admires Sir Elton John, and whilst Elton is better at melodies, Axl is good with pianos and strings and could write the rulebook book for Power Ballads 101. The mid-tempo journey that is, ‘Prostitute’ closes the album, actually coming across as more sentimental than the sleaze you might expect.
Axl is Gun N’ Roses, and whilst we still have Dizzy Reed, there are another nine musicians on this album that made it all possible. Some are new; some have left; and others have fallen by the wayside never even appearing on the final cut. ‘Chinese Democracy’ has been a long time coming, fuelled with rumours and controversy, you can believe that blood, sweat and tears were shed in the making of this. It’s an album that definitely grows on you, and whilst we’ve been spoiled by No-Brain-Rock that is vocal and melody driven with chugging guitars and bass, here is a musical mastermind that allegedly had over 100 instrumental songs that were being played over and over again until Axl thought they were good enough to warrant lyrics, and so what we get are musically complex songs with thought provoking lyrics.
Love him or hate him, Axl Rose is an icon. Will this be the first of many new albums? Probably not, but who thought that at the age of 39 he’d suddenly braid his hair? The true Rock’n’Roll mad man is back, and whilst the band is not quite as dangerous as they used to be, they are still something a little bit special…