In case you haven't heard, the new Guns N' Roses album, Chinese Democracy, came out this past weekend. I really didn't think it was going to ever happen – even when I had the CD case in my hand, I was half expecting to get to the car and find nothing in it but a note that said "ha ha! Gotcha!"
So after seventeen years (or is it fifteen or thirteen?), everyone else is going to be picking apart the album song by song, and I'm content to let them do that. Instead, let me offer up a listener's guide that will help prep you for your listen:
1) Sorry to disappoint, but this just isn't classic Guns n' Roses. Got it? The album is NOT going to be Appetite for Destruction Part 2. (though "Bigger Appetite" would have been an awesome name for it)
2) If you want to hear retro music, then listen to something that came out then. Rose has been sitting in a studio full of computers and post-post-modern guitarists for the past decade. The stuff isn't gonna sound like Los Angeles, circa 1986
3) It is never, ever going to be as good as you want it to be
4) No album is ever going to be as good as it should be after 10+ years of tinkering with it
5) Songs from Use Your Illusion I & II to listen to in preparation of the new album: "Breakdown" "Locomotive" "Estranged" "Garden of Eden" "Coma" "Civil War" "You Could Be Mine" and of course, "My World." That will pretty much put you in the right mindset.
5) Give it time. With all those instruments and over a decade of writing and re-writing, the album is going to be like an oyster: a bit of work to get inside, but worth it… if you like oysters.
As far as what I think, I've listened to it in its entirety twice so far, and while it doesn't have that immediate energy and throat-grabbing sound of "classic" GnR, this does NOT mean it is a bad album. There is some good stuff on there, and not just the easy ones to point out, like the rockers "Chinese Democracy" and "Shacklers Revenge." I'm on my third go around now, and instead of being sick of listening to it, I'm finding more and more to like.
No, its not Appetite For Destruction, but I think that another AFD is nearly impossible – that was a drug- and alcohol-fueled ball of energy that was on the verge of running off the tracks, which was pretty much the point. It was a reflection of a particular time and place in the band's life and in culture in general.
Maybe Chinese Democracy is the same, with its electronic loops and editing. Or maybe that's what Rose wanted, and after 17 years of culture moving faster and faster, he just couldn't keep up any more and this is the best he can do. Maybe if we can do the next one in, say, two years, it'll get only better.