Guns N Roses – Chinese Democracy (Universal)

Two pieces of vinyl, 14 slices of Axl and friends, 15 years in the making and what have we got? As exciting and demanding an album as you’ll hear all year from the master of suspense and the king of hype.

We all know that no expense has been spared putting together this fascinating record of the ‘reclusive years’ and the production is more polished than an Axl earring. The multi-layered vocals, head-to-head guitar solos and thumping bass lines could have come straight from a Mutt Lange-era Def Leppard disc. Yes, Chinese Democracy might have cost millions but it’s not all money wasted – in fact some of it has been invested in making this sound like the only way forward for 21st century rock.

The opening track is one of the weakest but it gives us a taste of some truly superb axe work from Robert Finck and Buckethead. Now here at rushonrock we’ve never been convinced that either belong in rock’s big league but their solo work is simply awe-inspiring from the off. Ironically on a record that’s supposed to be all about one man, it’s his canny choice of fellow musicians which makes an instant impression.

Scheckler’s Revenge steps up the pace with its Prodigy meets ZZ Top intro and it’s no wonder this fast-paced thriller is the track of choice for the video game chiefs. Nestled alongside Better, with it’s R&B flavour, it kickstarts what turns out to be a brilliant album. Axl’s vocals start to soar as he does his best impression of a rocking Usher but once again the main guitar solo steals the limelight. Straight out of a 1980s hair metal anthem it’s as good as fret burning will ever get.

The first side of the vinyl issue concludes with Street Of Dreams and with the piano hook there’s no escaping the comparisons with November Rain. It seems lazy to mention that GNR standard here but there’s no avoiding the fact that the style and development of both tunes doesn’t differ wildly. Track four would sit well on either Use Your Illusion records and has the potential to become a modern classic. It’s that good.

Flipping over to side two and we get another delightful dose of Dizzy Reed at his ivory-tinkling best but why does Axl feel the need to sound like Alexander O’Neal? If The World is guaranteed to divide the GNR community with it’s 70s-lite soul-influenced intro and slow-burning rock credentials. Hmm. But then we move seamlessly into There Was A Time and a haunting choral intro and driving drumbeat which comes over all Madonna. It’s amazing stuff from the GNR frontman but once the Appetite-style guitars kick in it really works. When people talk about the ‘Wow Factor’ this must be what they mean. Oh, and there’s yet more monumental solo action just for good measure.

With Catcher In The Rye the quality continues. There’s an argument this record lacks the urgency of Appetite but then that was an album made by five guys with no experience, no money and no fear. Despite the generation gap, Chinese Democracy is exactly the kind of professional piece of work you’d expect after the Use Your Illusion experiment and all things being equal this is exactly the type of GNR song which should have found its way onto turntables sometime around 1995.

But the fact remains that this is 2008 and times change, even in the world of classic rock. Scraped could be Axl’s response to the here and now – even if it was originally conceived way back ( and who really knows?) – and it mixes an industrial flavour with some Love/Hate-style licks to keep fans of all ages coming back for more. Then there’s the guitars…

Riad N’ The Bedouins is ambitious, both in terms of the title and the composition. But it’s not a rushonrock favourite simply because it sounds like it belongs on a low budget sci-fi soundtrack – not on one of the most essential rock records in a generation. For now it’s filed under ‘potential growers’ but we’re not excpecting any green shoots of optimism any time soon.

Sorry is no apology of a song. In fact quite the opposite. It’s an immense body of work in its own right and even features backing vocals from rushonrock favourite Sebastian Bach. Imagine this being belted out in arenas across the world and you can almost imagine Axl reinvented as the gargantuan rock God he once was. And Buckethead’s solo? Bloody hell!

I.R.S. is an old song and sounds like it. Side four can’t come soon enough.

And so to Madagascar which surely has nothing to do with the kids’ favourite of the same name. But then just maybe…It’s another track straight out of the Use Your Illusion stable of mid-tempo, super-produced slickathons and that’s just fine by us. But the kids who crave Appetite Pt2 will be tearing out their carefully crimped hair from under the nearest bandana. With its laid back melody and relaxed approach this is more Paradise Hamlet than Paradise City and more befits a multi-millionaire with time and a huge budget on his hands.

This I Love is where Axl lets his voice really do the talking. We’re a sucker for the ballads and this is the ballad. It sounds uncannily like one of the show tunes big mate Bach used to belt out before returning to his rock roots but it’s awesome, emotional and pure Axl. And yes, Finck saves the best for almost last with the tear-jerking solo to end all solos. Buckethead must be a little jealous.

Prostitute might have been better with a scratch right through it. But we can forgive the great man one real dud after a deluge of pure dynamite.

Yes, as much as rushonrock was expecting an overblown arse of a record we can confidently hail Chinese Democracy as a outstanding triumph for the dreadlocked one. Dislike this and you’re in deep trouble. Deep trouble.

So is it the album of the year, the decade, the millennium? Er no. Tesla’s Forever More is even better but you know that already. Of its type Chinese Democracy is as good as a rock record could possibly get. Phew. Catch the first review of 2023’s follow-up here first.