The worst thing can be said about Chinese Democracy is that its not the wall to wall heavy metal onslaught suggested by the early release of the title track. On the other hand, it very well may be the best album of the year.
After a rock band becomes a major success, they’re really in a ‘no win’ position. If they try to break new artistic ground, exploring different sounds or influences, they’ll invariably hear complaints that they were better the way they ‘used to be’. If they keep doing things the same way, a band risks losing any sort of artistic relevance and becoming a ‘nostalgia act’. KISS is a good example–a lot of purists hated it when they took off their makeup and became another 80’s ‘hair metal’ band, but they deserved respect for doing something different and trying to forge a new artistic path. On the other hand, there’s KISS now: Gene Simmons eventually made the calculated, slightly cynical decision that commerce trumped art. Hes now giving fans the best representation of KISS that their nostalgic desires long for”to the extent of dressing a new guitarist and drummer up like Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Not exactly a high water mark in artistic creativity, but a highly lucrative enterprise that reportedly nets Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley a cool half million bucks per concert.
Axl Rose could have taken the same route with Guns n Roses. All he needed to do was patch things up with former lead guitarist Slash and the two of them and whatever supporting players they recruited could have toured forever playing the old songs in the old way and make a ton of money along the way. To some extent, Slash has chosen this route with his band Velvet Revolver. They play similar blues based hard rock to vintage GnR, and brought in former Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland on vocals (who sounded almost just like Axl on a number of the early STP songs) Never mind the fact that everything Velvet Revolver has ever recorded sounds the same, or that the band members are all well in their 40s and a little old to be doing the rock n roll gypsy routine.
Axl refused to play the nostalgia game. He deserves credit for this, but he doesnt have much of a knack for self promotion or media spin. For that reason, there are plenty of people including media and critics that have predisposed to hating this album before it was released or even having heard any of it.
Many albums are fairly straightforward and are easy to figure out with a couple of listens. They fit a certain formula, with a power ballad, a hit single, a filler song, etc. Others evolve and change with repeated listening”different songs become your favorites, you notice new things about ones you thought you knew well and most significantly songs that you glossed over the first time around start to grow on you.
On Chinese Democracy is definitely an album that lends itself to repeated listening. A great case in point is the song ‘Better’ It doesn’t really jump out on first listen, but may be the catchiest pop song since The Killers first album.
One of the real triumphs of Chinese Democracy is the difficulty that a listener has in pigeonholing the songs”with the overall observation that there’s a lot of the Elton John inspired piano stuff first heard on the Illusion albums its clear that the band is going in a new musical direction and one that is somewhat unpredictable but very exciting.
Unfortunately, ‘Chinese Democracy’ is occasionally plagued by overproduction”biggest case in point Madagascar which the band has been playing live for the better part of this decade. The album version doesnt quite have the edge or raw emotion that was on display when played live. This really isn’t surprising for an album that has taken so long to make and has gone through a number of producers.
Thats a very small complaint about what is overall an amazing album. Theres nothing nostalgic about ‘Chinese Democracy., just the sound of a great band breaking new ground.
Ross Everett is a experienced freelance writer specializing in travel, poker and sports handicapping. He is a consulting handicapper for Anatta Sports where he is responsible for providing daily free sports picks. In his spare time he enjoys fine dining, fencing and deep sea diving. He lives in Las Vegas with four dogs and a pet coyote.