The era of the idealistic and insane rock star is dead, so music lovers who still cling to sincere, non-ironic rock grandiosity, should be thankful for Axel Rose. The chips have been stacked against this erratic visionary since 1995, and after millions of dollars, 30-plus collaborators, the spread of ProTools, it is without hesitation that we declare Chinese Democracy a success. It has the vengeance of Appetite For Destruction and the epic bamboozlery of Use Your Illusion, but within its veins runs the wallop of ’70s arena rock mixed with Stevie Wonder’s funk and Roger Waters’ pomposity. Basically, Chinese Democracy is a supersonic, fantastic fucking mess.
From the onset, you must know that this is Axel and some merry pranksters, not a band-band. Maybe a mini-cult. The album, which has taken over a decade to make, stars Dizzie Reed, Tommy Stinson, and a few other devoted (crazy?) musos, guys who have endured Indiana’s biggest rock star’s legendary temper tantrums, allegedly paralyzing migraines, bi-polar meltdowns, and fondness for stupid haircuts.
After the ax-work of Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Robin Finck, and Buckethead, Slash is but a footnote with a top hat. The riffs on the chugging “Riad N’ The Bedouins” and “Scraped” are as driving and hard as anything ever to come out of the Sunset Strip.
Axel used to be able to wring just the right amount of pathos out of a good power ballad, and while he’s lost just a little range, he can still deliver. Exhibit A: “Street Of Dreams.”
The single of the year has to be “There Was A Time,” a track so melodic and catchy it makes “Sweet Child O’ Mine” seem like a Capt. Beefheart improv odyssey, and “Catcher in the Rye” melds soulful rhythms with pianistic Elton John-isms, everything lit by the thunder of multi-tracked guitars and an Oasis-sized chorus. Real supernova stuff.
For detractors who yearn for more Appetite, go put another quart of oil in the Camaro. For naysayers who want a third Illusion, 1991 called. They want your stonewashed jeans back.
But for music fans who never gave up on ka-razy, Chinese Democracy is here.