Well, it's here at last. Maybe the Olympics gave Axl Rose the kick in the ass he needed. Maybe it was the rumbles that Velvet Revolver was breaking up (they've been dropped by their label and bassist Duff has a new band), which are bound to start a new round of "will the original G N' R lineup reunite?" rumors. Whatever the reason, after 17 years, Rose has released his long-rumored opus and…it's pretty goddamn good.
If you've been harvesting the leaked versions of Guns N' Roses songs over the past year or two, you have nine of Chinese Democracy's 14 tracks already, more or less. Despite Rose's spin about how those versions were substandard demos, they don't sound that different from the final release. "Street of Dreams" was known for years as "The Blues," but the song itself is the same. The title track, "Better," "Madagascar" (which he's been playing live for years), "I.R.S." and "There Was a Time" haven't changed much, aside from elements moving up or down in the mix. But the genuinely new songs - "Shackler's Revenge," "Sorry," "Scraped" and "Prostitute" - will reward your patience.
If you haven't been paying attention to the rumors and the leaks, and you're just kind of popping your head up now, saying to yourself, "New Guns N' Roses album? Jeez, I haven't thought about those guys in years," you won't be disappointed by Chinese Democracy either. On the one hand, it doesn't sound like anything from the band's back catalog. On the other hand, it doesn't sound like Axl's been listening to any music made outside his bunker in the past 15 years. OK, "Shackler's Revenge" seems more than a little indebted to Nine Inch Nails and the solo work of Rob Zombie, but the post-grunge "alt-rock" movement that's given us stumblebum bands like Nickelback, Alter Bridge, Staind et al. has exerted absolutely no influence on him.
Somewhat surprisingly for a guy who's spent more than a decade in virtual isolation, Rose doesn't seem to have developed a taste for self-pity or introspection of any kind. He likes guitar solos. He likes thunderous drums and as many as five guitarists riffing away in unison. He likes epic, sweeping anthems that enthrall the arenas full of screaming fans inside his head. And he likes the piano, but even the ballads here eventually get up to a full, impressive roar.
This album won't reshape hard rock the way Appetite for Destruction did, but it's still quite an achievement. Despite the army of shifting personnel and the years-long recording process, it sounds unified and not tied to any particular time period. It's classicist and futuristic, angry and world-weary, but never rote or enervated.