Chinese Autocracy

Leave it to Axl Rose to illustrate what an ill-conceived corporate orgy the mainstream recording industry has become.

The new album, "Chinese Democracy," was finally released last month to a relatively minor applause. It didn't manage to top the Billboard chart, thanks largely to the retail exclusivity agreement Axl made with Best Buy (who, beyond a cardboard standee in the store failed to promote the album). The now-public feud with Dr. Pepper--that's right, Guns N' Roses is feuding with Dr. Pepper--has failed to draw much beyond a snicker.

Back in March, Dr. Pepper (or rather their parent company) offered a free can of soda to everyone in the country if Axl would get off his ever-widening can and put out the damn album, already. The band denied having anything to do with it, until Dr. Pepper--stymied by the calling of their bluff, apparently--was unprepared to meet the demand the offer sparked. Now GN'R are upset that their image has been, ahem, tarnished by what Axl's lawyers are calling a "fiasco."

But really, the Guns N' Roses frontman has always been a representative of the absurd and indulgent qualities that made late 20th century rock so ridiculous. Small wonder that rock was easily and deservedly supplanted by rap as the soundtrack the kids opted to bop to. At least guys named Diddy and Fiddy can get an album out now and then, and without so much self-congratulatory pomp and fanfare. They're businessmen, these rappers; the rock gods of the late 80s and 90s took themselves way too seriously to compete.

Perhaps nobody's ego loomed larger in the haunting of mainstream metal--the term used here ceremonially; nobody, in this age of Deathklok, considers "Paradise City" much shy of silly--than Axl's. "Chinese Democracy" finally dropped last month after a seventeen year gestation, dizzying series of lineup rearrangements and corporate tie-in snafus. Seventeen years. If you had a kid when the last album came out, chances are you're too old to care and your ingrate offpsring is, at best, wondering why people were so infatuated with a man named Rose as Children of Bodom blast-beat their earbuds into oblivion.

This album was threatening to be the mythologized and legendary modern equivalent of "Smile" which, for the uninitiated, was the long-lost Beach Boys opus that Brian Wilson worked on, schizophrenia in full bloom, for some untold number of years. Like that album, "Chinese Democracy" was, upon its final release, something of a disappointing reality check where legend would have probably served better.

The actual album sounds completely overdone: overproduced, overhyped, everyhing sounds too Pro-Tools'd and the endless lineup changes make every song sound like it's got at least fifteen people shredding as hard as they can simultaneously. Half the album sounds like it was made specifically to go with the opening credits of a summer blockbuster, and i suspect that was a purposeful move. Jerry Bruckheimer is probably pondering the use of "If the World" for his next title sequence as we speak.

Don't get me wrong, though: if you liked GN'R before, I can't see any reason you wouldn't still. I imagine this holiday season I'll hear a couple of the songs repeated at nauseum at the trashier bars and roadhouses up in Placerville, just like that "Crazy Bitch" song by Buckcherry threatened to drive me away from drinking last year. The goons up in the hill are nothing if not insistent on their favorite jams.

So am I, actually. But I can't conceive of a reason for anything from "Chinese Democracy" to make its way into my standard rotation. I've barely managed to play the damn thing all the way through.