Democracy now! Or, ancient Chinese secret, huh?

by Jeff Vrabel

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

23 November 2008


First things first: Of course “Chinese Democracy” isn’t worth it. Second things second: Unless you spend a lot of time in the company of William Shatner, this may be one of the most ridiculous audio recordings you ever absorb in your life.

This should be no surprise. If it arrives as threatened on Sunday, “Chinese Democracy,” the uproariously long-in-coming Guns N’ Roses disc that has been rattling around the parts of Axl Rose’s brain that didn’t contain dolphins or kilts for almost 20 years, will be the first new GNR music since 19-tapdancing-91.

You remember ‘91: The Not-Appalling President Bush was in office, “The Simpsons” had been on for about two years and Miley Cyrus did not yet exist. And some of us were preternaturally doofusy high school stick figures, basically 120 lbs. of braces and nose, who shuffled down to Camelot Music to pick up “Use Your Illusion I” and “II,” the only things we’d listen to for the subsequent 18 months. That was followed by “The Spaghetti Incident?”, the kind of inessential tossoff of punk covers (and one destructive run through “Hair of the Dog”) you release to buy some time to write the next record; little did I know that by the time the next quote-fingers “official” GNR arrived, I’d absorb it sitting at a fluorescent-lit desk at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday through trebly iPod headphones while playing catch-up at work because I dropped my kid off late at pre-K.

So now here comes “Democracy,” about which the only really positive buzz seems to be regarding the free Dr. Peppers we’re all getting. Over the past six or seven years, all but a handful of its 14 tracks have leaked out in some form or another, either via the usual means (some dude who is currently losing his pants to GNR lawyers put nine songs online this year) or some bizarro-world farce that you have to preface by swearing you’re not drunk (the track “I.R.S.” was accidentally leaked to a NYC DJ by Mike Piazza). Also, like the cast of “ER,” the Kansas City Royals and the Senate, no one has any idea who’s even in the band at this point. (Rose fired Buckethead a few years back by claiming the zany guitarist was “unreliable.” Axl Rose calling someone unreliable is like when Appalling President Bush said we were all addicted to fossil fuels, but whatever.)

And the songs themselves are just-south-of-unbearably wacky messes, chopped and scattered and super-produced to within an inch of their lives; if there are 14 tracks here (it sounds like there are pieces of about 400). Sure, there are some hair-raising moments: The title track is a frothy stomper that features the riff from “Rock You Like A Hurricane” and about 24 vocal tracks, but it works up a solid lather, while “Shackler’s Revenge,” the track coming out on “Rock Band 2,” is fierce electro-tinged banger.

But “Chinese Democracy,” aside from bearing almost zero resemblance to anything you remember GNR for (except when they steal Elton John’s piano), contains some of the most mind-blowingly indulgent ridiculousness you will ever hear - distracting electronic sound effects; Axl’s ever-changing vocals, which at one point resemble that of Borat; an MLK speech sample; whatever “Riad N’ The Bedouins” (no, really) is supposed to be - and unpleasant rockers that give the uncomfortable feeling that the guy once responsible for “Welcome to the Jungle” is playing catch-up to Linkin Park.

Which brings me to a plea to Axl: You still have two days - please, do not put this record out. As an unreleased album it’s a legend, a myth that the New York Times estimated in 2005 had already cost $13 million to not release. It’s Brian Wilson’s “Smile,” or Prince’s dirty “Black Album” - both of which, when they did see the light of day, lost their well-marinated bootleg mojo. You can still leave it, hidden and mysterious, so it’s not subjected to being picked apart or, worse yet, forgotten, like the most recent discs by the Who, the fake Queen or the Rolling Stones.

The best thing you have is the myth, and the worst thing you can do is write an ending to it - ask George Lucas. I say this because I care, and I don’t want to worry about you, because worryin’s a waste of my time.

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