LEAKED PEEK: Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy

A blow-by-blow critique
of new — as yet unreleased —Axl Rose material.

 

BY JOSE MARTINEZ

 

With the summer Olympic Games scheduled to start in Beijing on 08.08.08, now
seems like the perfect time for Chinese
Democracy
– W. Axl Rose style that is.

 

The long-awaited Guns N’ Roses record has been much talked
about; much maligned and ridiculed; and very much highly anticipated. Some
argue it’s no longer GNR with only Axl as the sole remaining original member.
Others say he’s the voice and face of the band, so their way of thinking, a la the first Nine Inch Nails’ record
credits, is that Axl Rose is Guns N’
Roses.

 

Whether or not we actually ever see (or hear) Chinese Democracy, it looks like that
iron fist isn’t letting up any time soon. Yet the fact remains that an album’s
worth of new Axl material has already been leaked on the Web. No one knows
exactly which songs will one day be on Chinese
Democracy
but it has started a firestorm of critiques; some love ‘em, some
hate ‘em.

 

Word has it this Fall Axl will release “Shackler’s
Revenge” – a track from the forthcoming Chinese Democracy that
has actually managed to stay under wraps and hasn’t been leaked yet. The song
will appear on the video game Rock Band 2,
slated for release for the Xbox 360 platform in September.

 

Otherwise, the last official Gun N’ Roses song released was
the industrial-inspired “Oh My God” from the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days. Since then Axl has taken
his new Gunners on tour around the world and performed several new songs. Those
who have played on the new tracks included guitarists Buckethead, Robin Finck, Ron “Bumblefoot”
Thal, Queen’s Brian May, as well as former Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson,
and long-time GNR keyboard player Dizzy Reed. Singer Sebastian Bach claims he
sang on a song called “Sorry” –
another track that has managed to stay leak-free. And Rolling Stone, way back when, mentioned hearing a song called “Oklahoma” that has also never
seen the light of day on the ‘net.

 

According to the former Skid Row singer,
“There [are] actually four albums that I’ve heard. Those are all albums, but I
don’t know which one is
Chinese Democracy; if it’s four parts or a four CDs set… but [Axl] played to me
four albums worth of finished material that’s incredible —  amazing attitude, very grand sounding like ‘
November Rain,’ big, huge, theatrical — but it’s got that bad ass attitude of Appetite.”

 

Following is my blow-by-blow take on the
nearly dozen tracks of leaked material that may or may not be on Chinese Democracy. All I can say is:
thank God for the Internet.

 

***

 

“Chinese
Democracy” –
The title-track to the long-awaited Axl Rose / GNR record 15
years in the making starts nice and quiet, then gets interrupted with a blaring
guitar riff, and finally, coming from the shadows, is that famous Axl Rose
growl. Singing in his “It’s So Easy” baritone voice, this song rocks, although
not in that classic venom-spewed Appetite
for Destruction
fashion. This one is a winner.

 

“Better”
A bit techno-based to start, this one begins (and ends) with Axl singing
in a high-pitched voice, “No one ever told when I was alone, they just thought
I’d know better, better,” before erupting into full rock form. Think GNR’s
“Yesterdays” but with more bite, especially when the chorus kicks in. Great,
unrelenting guitar work on this track, and when Axl lets out in classic voice:
“I never wanted you to be so full of anger, I never wanted you to be somebody
else, I never wanted you to be someone afraid to know themselves, I only wanted
you to see things for yourself,” well, you have another winner here.

 

“The
Blues” –
A beautiful piano-based song to start, this one also is very
reminiscent of “Yesterdays” from the Use
Your Illusion
era. When there was talk that Axl was going techno and
pushing Slash out of the classic GNR rock format, well, this one obviously
throws a monkey wrench to that rumor. Great track. Next!

 

“IRS” ­– A
nice southern twangy guitar lick starts this one off, as well as a very
high-pitched ’70-style Axl harmony before he kicks in with his familiar style.
Axl sounds a little too high-pitched on this one. (Dogs may howl if you blast
this one too loud.) And I’m not so crazy about the lines: “Gonna call the
President, gonna call myself a private eye, gonna need the IRS, gonna get the
FBI.” This is definitely a fine track, hardly filler material, but not classic
GNR.

 

Rhiad and the
Bedouins” –
I always thought this was a weak song when Axl first unveiled
it back at the new GNR debut New Year’s Eve 2001 show in Vegas. A little too
dancey and techno-driven for GNR purists, this version rocks better than I
originally remember the song. And Axl is hitting those notes we all remember so
well, albeit it a bit high these days. Again, this is definitely not filler
material but it’s not as strong as other new cuts.

 

“Madagascar” – Fans
may remember Axl singing this one at the MTV Video Music Awards some years
back. This one is epic; think along the lines of “Estranged” and “November
Rain.” Axl really hits a homerun here. The Martin Luther King, Jr. speech in
the middle of the song, along with several other samples, is a bit too U2esque,
but powerful nonetheless.

 

“TWAT (There Was A
Time)” –
Another incredible one here, although a departure from the classic
Guns sound. The drum machine beat and simple background (until the song kicks
in a minute into the track) gives it a different vibe. And you have to love
Axl’s sense of humor with the title of the track — that’s classic GNR. I love
the shrieking and shredding on this one; killer vocals and guitar work!

 

“Catcher in the Rye” – Internet rumors
say this one won’t be on Chinese
Democracy,
which would be a shame because it’s another behemoth.
Very much in that bigger-is-better “Estranged” vein. Destined to be a timeless
gem if it does see release.

 

“Silkworms”
Another one that never impressed me back when it was debuted at the start
of the new millennium, this one just spews venomous lyrics: “Screaming, fucking
banshee, you know that’s what you are, pussy for the maggots…what can I do with
a bitch like you?” Ouch! The music was written by Dizzy Reed and keyboardist
Chris Pittman, and they comes across as bad Wendy & Lisa from the Prince
camp (although, at least in the movie Purple
Rain
they did pen the epic song). This may have been written about former
girlfriend Stephanie Seymour since I could have sworn seeing her face on the
video montage back when they first played this song. Bitter much? Granted, I’ve
only been able to find live versions of this song so if it makes the record,
hopefully they have improved it.

 

“This
I Love” –
One of the newest leaks to hit the Web, this is also listed as
“Prostitute” on one site. Another beautiful winner here; think ballad with
balls! No one seems to do grandiose better than Axl. Again, not particularly
like anything on Appetite but it
really shows maturation in Axl. Think GNR meets Elton John meets Queen,
obviously two of Axl’s biggest influences. And the piano bit that ends the song
is just flat-out beautiful.

 

“If the
World” –
The Spanish flamenco style guitar riff that starts the song seems
to pick up where Illusion’s “Double Talkin’ Jive” left off. Nice
and sweet, this is a slow one with Axl at his raspy best here, switching from a
high-pitch shriek to a booze-induced growl.

 

***

 

Who knows if and when we’ll see Chinese Democracy, or what tracks will
make up the release but it seems like Axl Rose is off to a good start with the
leaked tracks I’ve found. My favorites are the epic ones like “Madagascar,” “TWAT,” “Catcher in the Rye” and “This I Love.” And
these new songs are long: the average
length is nearly 5 minutes;
Rhiad
and the Bedouins” is the shortest track at 3:47, while “TWAT” comes in at a
whopping 6:51.

 

According to Internet rumors, Axl has finally turned in the
record to the record label and is now strategizing a release plan. Funnily
enough, soft drink bottler Dr. Pepper thinks it has handed down a challenge,
saying it will give a free can of Dr Pepper to “everyone in America” — excluding ex-Guns members
Slash and Buckethead — if Chinese
Democracy
arrives anytime during the calendar year 2008. For now, the
waiting game continues but at least everyone in American can jump on the Net if
they so choose and get to hear new, gold-medal winning GNR songs.

 

 

[Los Angeles-based
Jose Martinez regularly blogs for BLURT — check his “Cineplexploitation” blog
elsewhere on this site. When asked who he wants to be when he grows up, Jose
quickly replied, “Slash. No — wait a minute. Make that Axl. No — Trent Reznor.
No, that’s not right. Aw hell, you know who I really wanna be? George Clinton!
Turn this mutha out, y’all!”]

 

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