The trouble with spending 15 years on a record — and it has been that long since Guns N' Roses released its last official new release, the punk covers album, The Spaghetti Incident — is that, when said album finally sees the light of day, unless it's another Beggars Banquet or Led Zeppelin II, or at the very least Appetite For Destruction, the critics are very likely going to hammer it down like an unfortunate cockroach in a hotel kitchen. Add the fact that only Axl Rose and arguably keyboardist Dizzy Reed remain from the classic that classic GN'R line-up, and it's fair to say that the vultures have been circling for months now, gleefully waiting to pick this record apart.
So the big question is: Has Rose yet again succeeded in sticking his middle finger in everyone's faces? Does Chinese Democracy sound like it took a decade and a half to make?
Well, not exactly. The key to enjoying this album, however, is to remember that this is a very different Guns N' Roses from the band that recorded that brilliant debut album. Even if Slash, Duff and Izzy were still in the band, that ragtag group of snotty kids is long gone. The two Velvet Revolver albums proved that everyone involved (well, maybe not Scott Weiland … but he's not part of this particular story) has done a lot of growing up. What remains the same, however, is that Axl Rose still has a deep love of orchestral rock, even if this album finds him updating the classic Guns sound with crunchy-as-hell riffs and, in places, semi-industrial production.
Most importantly, the songs are frankly brilliant. The title track is a crushing statement of intent, with Rose letting off steam and taking no prisoners. The slower songs, including "Better" and "Catcher in the Rye," bring back memories of such epic classics as "November Rain" and "Estranged". Best of all, though, is "I.R.S.", a song that features Rose screaming for all he's worth and a hook that won't quit.
So, is this a real Guns N' Roses record? Who knows? And who cares? Whatever it is, it's a contender for album of the year, as far as this critic is concerned, and that in itself is more than most of us expected.