'Chinese Democracy' actually wins my vote
Here's a review some '80s fans hoped we'd never have to read: It's finally time to examine Chinese Democracy by Guns N' Roses. Though the record isn't officially released until Sunday, Nov. 23, you can listen to the entire album online at the band's MySpace page or on IMEEM.com.
Oh, I really wanted to hate it, but it's not the train wreck everyone expected. Don't count me as a likely purchaser when it hits Best Buy shelves (exclusive deal, natch) this weekend, but I might listen a few more times online in the near future. Here are some first impressions:
THE OVERALL SOUND: Heaven help me, I can't bear to listen to one more overproduced rock album. Ever. You want to know what Axl Rose has been up to for the last 345 years since his last studio album? Probably taking a study-at-home class on using Mac's Garage Band software or something. Tunes like Chinese Democracy (listen) and Shackler's Revenge have zero chance of being replicated live.
EASY ON THE GUITARS!: Where is Slash when he's needed most? Some of the songs here feature finger-work that can only conjure visions of Guitar Hero addicts on heroin. That's a sound better left to the hair-metal plague of bands.
THAT'S 'BETTER': Want a tune that will bring you back to 1989? Try Better. A simple rocker with a bare minimum of production work and guitar work that glides between the verses. It's a time machine back to a much better time for this band.
WOW, SOME PIANO: I actually checked the webpage when Street of Dreams started with a happy if not partly cliched piano intro. Lush orchestration weaves back and forth. Easily one of the most accessible songs on the disc.
OBLIGATORY THROW-AWAYS: Gotta appreciate the long tradition in album-making that requires a band to put a few totally incomprehensible picks on each disc. For this album, it's If The World, which sounds like a James Bond theme song, and There Was A Time, which switches gears a few too many times to gain any momentum. And don't get me started on Scraped and Sorry, two songs that sound like rejects from a bad Broadway musical.
POWER BALLADS LIVE ON: There's something just warmly familiar with Catcher in the Rye. And I find myself really enjoying the lyrics here: "When all is said and done, we're not the only ones who look at life this way. That's what the old folks say. But every time I'd see them, makes me wish I had a gun." Easily my favorite track.
AXL HAS MELLOWED: If you were expecting a collection of head-banging anthems, go back and just re-listen to 1987's Appetite for Destruction. Axl slows it down considerably here, especially with the songs on the bottom half of the disc. Tunes like I.R.S. and Madagascar benefit from the gentle pace. And hey, we can almost make out the lyrics. By the time the surprisingly tender This I Love plays, you're ready for a nap. But don't, because you'll miss a great tune.
BUY OR NO BUY: Let's face it - You're either a GNR fan or you're not. Their brand of shredded vocals and brain-scrambling guitars might seem out of place in 2008, but give them credit for really putting out a disc that will surprise a lot of people. If you're sitting on the fence, this one's worth the coin.