measuring works of art, whatever form they be, can be done in a number of ways. to measure it by the time it takes to complete, however, isn't a very good one. think about it, what is it that you have read, watched, heard or gazed upon and thought "gee, it's good, but it could have been great if it was done a bit quicker."?
that said, there must be someone somewhere within Geffen records that regrets saying "take your time, Axl, deliver the album when you're happy with it.".
for all the bizarre, wild, inaccurate and oddly true stories that have circulated for the last 15 or so years about the making of Chinese Democracy, there really has only been one proper concern - why, if there have been tracks in circulation (by means of both bootlegs on the interwebnet thingie and and Axl doing the odd gig) since the late '90s, has it only been released on November 24 2008? considering Axl's general dislike for interviews (Rolling Stone magazine and an Uzi spring to mind here), we won't find out from him, and the many people that have been involved in the project have a somewhat tainted view of the experience.
Slash, the former Guns N Roses guitarist, has perhaps more reason than most to be bitter and twisted about anything featuring Axl, in particular with regards to his old band. this being the case, we should follow his lead, and his thoughts are just be glad that the album is out.
now, don't let the positive tone above mislead you. i am no Axl apologist. i had the dubious pleasure of seeing Axl with the band in the middle of 1992. it was a time when his ego had been allowed to, or possibly massaged to bloat out of all proportion. i got to witness the temper tantrums, storming off stage when someone looked at him funny, the whole lot. i pretty much became disillusioned with the band rather than take up their invite to use my illusion, and more or less went off them until Michele walked into my life with her love of the band.
there was one redeeming part of that gig, when i think back to it. well, one redeeming act from Axl; you couldn't fault the rest of the then "classic" G N R lineup. when Axl stared out into the crowd, in a manner that the likes of Liam Gallagher would learn and mimic in the years that followed, and introduced himself as "your pal Axl", well, he pretty much had you in the palm of his hand. not since the days of Freddie Mercury has a frontman been able to stand in front of thousands and intimidate them. that's the magic of Axl, and that's why, in the end, you actually do care for what the man is doing.
as for the bizarre stories of what he's been doing whilst out of the limelight if not out of thought, well, they are entertaining but utter nonsense. lazy journalists have called him a "recluse", much like they did with Kubrick, Brando and of course The King. much like those gifted artists, what one loses sight of when being critical is that the world needs or needed them a good deal more than they needed the world. when The King wished to see President Nixon, he didn't wait for an invite; he had his people call the White House and tell them to get ready for the arrival, which they promptly did. so when Axl wants to see something in the world, he doesn't go anywhere himself as he does not need to, you get a call, you go. the long list of people who have answered his call in regards of making Chinese Democracy bears this out, i think you will find.
right, if you want a lame joke, with an introduction to rival the length of the production of the album, is this Chinese Democracy album any good then? well, with the mythology it has built up, it was not going to be a bland, middle of the road average effort. it was going to be a colossal mess or it was going to be mindbogglingly spectacular. if i tell you that this album should have every editor of every magazine quickly re-working their "best of the year" album lists to have this firmly at number one, i presume you can presume we are talking of the latter option here.
when you put the album on, the first minute or so give you an "oh dear" feeling. we seem to start the title track off with a quasi-mystical intro sound, echoing Spinal Tap's intro to Stonehenge. this passes, perhaps thankfully, and off we go with a sound that makes it clear not all of Trent Reznor's participation or ideas were rejected, and for good measure some of the ideas that the Beastie Boys have about metal guitar are modified to fit in. lyrically the song Chinese Democracy has been discussed a fair bit, but not many have noted that these are some of the broadest commentary strokes Axl Rose has spread across vinyl - Appetite For Destruction was hardly loaded with socio-political concerns now was it?
that said, Axl has not turned into Bono or Jim Kerr, and as far as i have been able to pick up, it's just the subject of the title song that Axl feels of a mind to comment on with relevance to the world around him. the rest is Axl being Axl, brooding, beautiful, witty, reflective Axl.
the masterpiece of the album for me would be the remarkable track There Was A Time. in regards of the oddly true tales of the making of this album, the 30+ musicians and producers credited to this song alone is quite formidable reading in the booklet. the song doesn't suffer as a consequence of mass involvement. now the lyrics of this one are rather tricky. on the one side, it sounds like a heart bleeding with the lament of regret. Axl appears to be reminiscing about someone or perhaps a group of people, regretting it all in a "wrong place, wrong time" sort of manner. it could be a lost love, it could be the old band mates, it could be us humble fans. we will never know. but then again, if one makes an acronym of the song title, maybe i've got it all wrong and this is a real good go at one person in particular, that particular information being known to Axl and maybe the recipient.
i'm not going to go track by track, but one last honourable mention for one more gem, Sorry. Axl does like to do his ballad type tracks, and on this one he gets it spot on. again, this is aimed at either a really, really wide audience or just one person in specific, but no matter, it's soul bearing from Axl like we've seldom heard before, a brooding bass all but burying his defiant, strong will.
oh, go on then, one more track - forget the poor bootlegs that have surfaced of Madagascar, wait until you get a load of how the version Axl intended to be heard sounds.
a rumour from the recordings that would seem to be true is that he had his musicians play, re-play, record and re-record the whole of the Appetite album. in hindsight, a masterstroke. i am no muso, but to my music fan ears, it simply sounds like Guns N Roses. it doesn't matter that there's no Slash, Stradlin, Duff; the music is true to the name.
all the debates and lazy reviews about how Chinese Democracy will "be no Appetite For Destruction" are a waste of time. this is its own thing, and going on the reports i have read it is selling by the bucket load, or bucket head, if you will. it looks like it could well sell enough to see Axl walk into Geffen records and say "told you so, see you again in 15 years". i'd rather we didn't lose him again, quite frankly, but if for some bizarre reason he decides to make this his only effort for a decade or so, well, it underlines what i said before - as much has Axl Rose can annoy and frustrate the average music fan, nothing he does (or doesn't do) changes the fact that the world needs Axl Rose more than Axl Rose needs the world.
there's only one way i can sign off this review of sorts, really. if you are not one of the estimated 300,000+ who have bought this album during the 3 days it has been available, then go and buy it. now.