When an album takes longer to finish than the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, lofty expectations are part of the deal. "Chinese Democracy" may not be high art, but for any GNR fan, it was certainly worth the wait.
The quality of the music was never much in question, seeing as Axl Rose had ample time to perfect it. The going concern has always been: With Rose as the only original member involved, is this to be considered a legitimate Guns N' Roses album?
Slash, Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagen are all gone, chased off by their control-freak frontman at worst; or just long since moved on to the next thing. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed stuck it out with Rose over the years, but he didn't join the band until "Use Your Illusion" I and II in the early 1990s.
But where "Chinese Democracy" is technically more a Rose solo project than a Guns N' Roses album, it at least feels like the singer paying homage to his former band. Forgetting that for a moment, it is one heckuva record.
Rose's high-pitched, staccato delivery sounds strong as ever, and other GNR touchstones are revisited — from the six-minute piano ballad ("Sorry" is no "November Rain," but it has that feel) to a sampling of the same "failure to communicate" bit from "Cool Hand Luke" that he used as the introduction to "Civil War" in 1993.
The perfection of its warp-speed guitar solos, ambition of its proglike twists and turns, and flawlessness of its production are in line with the endless years "Chinese Democracy" took to make. Considering the carousel of characters who brought something to bear here, however, it's not surprising that its weakness is that the sum of these superior parts does not equate as a whole.
Maybe under normal time constraints, this would be considered a masterwork. Given the protracted production and soaring costs — an estimated $13 million — "Chinese Democracy," at best, meets expectations.
Check this track out: "Madagascar" will easily fit into a playlist OF GNR's best. No surprise — Axl has played it live over the last couple of years.