Forget Chinese Democracy the album; it’s time they turned this overblown joke into a movie. I can see it now: Academy Award nominee Tim Roth stars as Axl Rose in Just Another Sunday: The True Story of Chinese Democracy. Our film opens in 1994, the year the original Guns n’ Roses began work on their sixth studio album. Tensions are running high, and soon Axl’s band mates desert him. Alone in the studio, Rose tries to put together a rock masterpiece—not to mention the pieces of his life. Years pass, and while the outside world drastically changes, the greatest personal advancement the reclusive rocker makes is getting cornrows. Roth leads an all-star cast including Vin Diesel as Slash, Ed Norton as Moby, and Paul Giamatti as the marketing whiz at Dr. Pepper who figured out how to cash in on this madness.
This film will never happen, sadly, because no ninety minutes could ever quite capture the twisted insanity of living through the past fourteen years of GNR lies concerning Chinese Democracy. I feel that shortly after all the key players die, someone will write an amazing book chronicling the entire ridiculous saga of this infamously late album. I foresee passages where a wild-eyed and paranoid Sebastian Bach is tearing through the streets of Long Island at three in the morning in an IROC Z, desperately searching for Mike Piazza’s mailbox before Axl calls him again. Meanwhile, the Chinese Democracy expense reports force David Geffen to hire a nurse to check his blood pressure every hour. Blacking out has become a daily routine for the high-powered exec, and he’s considering legal action against Axl for stress-induced medical problems. Shit, I might have to write this book.
There have been all sorts of demo leaks over the years, but this week nine very polished recordings surfaced that experts / insiders / rock pundits claim are from the final version of Chinese Democracy. There’s no way to confirm the legitimacy of these nasty cuts, but to these ears, they sound like the real deal. Still, I’ll be fair to W.A.R. I’ll give these not necessarily real tracks a not necessarily real review. Here now, the thoughts I jotted down the first couple of times I listened to the group of songs I now dub Possible Sixth Album Studio Cuts From A Band Whose Name Rhymes With Puns n’ Hoses:
“Better” – Starts out like some half-baked Linkin Park yazz. Oh shit, there’s our boy Axl, sounding a little older, not necessarily any wiser, but still that screeching parrot we began championing in 1987. I can see this song getting spins on modern rock radio. Not exactly the powerful opener Axl needs to sell the fact GNR is back in full effect, but it gets the job done.
“Chinese Democracy” – A classic Axl scream launches another so-so electro-tinged hard rocker. The solo is pretty hot. Overall, though, this one isn’t lighting a fire under my ass.
“IRS” – The lyrics are kind of dopey (Axl threatening to call various branches of the government), but the melody is kind of catchy and it almost sounds like Slash playing the solo. We’re warming up.
“Madagascar” – The requisite monster ballad. Axl kind of sounds like Joe Cocker on this one. By that I mean I’m not exactly sure what the hell he’s saying. I caught at least one line: “Forgive them that tear down my soul.” Deep, man. Holy shit, there are MLK sound clips in this one! Oh, and a call back to “Civil War!” Snap! Someone get the laptop away from Axl.
“Riyadh & The Bedouins” – Why is every song starting with some dumb electronic noodling? Oh wow, this is the real rocker, the almost-Appetite boogie-woogie bitch-slap everyone and their mama’s gonna be waiting for. Is it wrong that I want to compare this to Velvet Revolver? The sound is pretty close. Take that for what you will. If this was the only song on the album, it might be a best seller.
“This I Love” – Something’s weird with Axl’s voice. He keeps hitting this weird spot in almost every song where he’s almost out of tune. It’s strange. Could be a vocoder / auto tune, but he sounds like he’s barely using it. Anyway, this song is mediocre slop somewhere between Coldplay and every not famous song Skid Row ever wrote. Again, though, the solo is ace. I wish I knew who was playing all these great solos – Buckethead or Bumblefoot. God, what stupid names. Dude, the outro is like a minute long. Who does Axl think he is, the Damned?
“If The World (Would End Today)” – This is fucking porn music. This is literally after midnight Showtime no penetration perfect hair and makeup porn music. Awful. It’s making me think of hunky nineties dudes going at it with girls who look like the wife on “King of Queens.” Hope this gets you laid, Axl.
“The Blues” – Ah, a piano. How refreshing. First line: Axl sounds like a scared hobbit. Second line: chainsaw voice. Third line: back to hobbit voice. Fourth line: you guessed it – chainsaw. Not as seamless as you used to be, bro. Melody-wise, this song is searching for a payoff it never finds.
“There Was A Time” – You know, maybe Axl is using a vocoder on all these songs. That or he’s been hanging out with goats too much. He really sells it at the end, but so what? The song has all the catchiness of a whale fart. I’m just not feeling it. Not feeling it, dawg!
Axl, Axl, Axl. I’m getting tired of typing that motherfucker’s name, but there’s no avoiding it. The focus is completely on him. Chinese Democracy isn’t about the return of the band we used to know as Guns n’ Roses. It’s about the vindication of this crazy, braided ginger who drove all his friends out of the greatest sleaze rock band of the eighties, replaced them with ringers, and wasted a decade and thirteen million dollars making one record. Can he pull it off? Will it be worth the wait?
See, that’s the fucked up thing. Currently, the GNR lineup includes former members of the Replacements, Nine Inch Nails, and Primus, three of the most important / interesting / influential bands of the past thirty years. There’s a member of the fucking Replacements in Guns n’ Roses now, but no one cares! Axl’s the pilot of this wayward ship. He handpicked these guys. It would be one thing if they all met in a club and decided to form a band. Nope, Rose went all George Steinbrenner, scooping up free agents to replace the lost talent. Their failure is really his.
So you can’t really listen to these songs and not think entirely about the screechy little Indiana bitch. They really should have dropped the famous moniker and adopted something more appropriate, like the Rockin’ Axl Rose Review or Axl’s Night Train or the Goddamn Freckle Fucks. I can see that last one tattooed on a biker’s arm for sure.
Anyway, the songs. Overall, not too bad. The brand new Guns n’ Roses better be sitting on a few real phenoms, though. If the nine tunes I just downloaded really are the bulk of Chinese Democracy, Axl and his Get Fresh Crew are gonna need a couple of honest to God homeruns to clinch this rock n’ roll pennant.
When I say “homerun,” I’m talking about something like 1999’s “Oh My God,” the very first offering from the Slash-less, Duff-less, Gilby Clarke-less, and Matt Sorum-less GNR (recorded for the End of Days soundtrack). There was still some magic left in the ol’ kilt when they recorded that lean, mean rocker. Everything here sounds bloated and stupid next to it. Bloated and stupid is okay (“Estranged”) so long as you have something really ball-smashing to balance it out (“You Could Be Mine”).
In the end, I think the most we can hope for from Chinese Democracy is that it comes out this year so we can get our free Dr Pepper. Don’t worry, Slash. I’ll pour some of mine out for you.