Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
“All I’ve got is precious time,” Axl Rose snarls on Chinese Democracy’s title track, seemingly with a wink and a nod to the album’s infamous history. But Rose’s time can’t be that precious if this is the best he can do with his tyrannical grip on GNR. Almost every song on the album is the sonic equivalent of an M.C. Escher painting, leaving the listener unsure whether the next 16 measures will morph into nü-metal chug or an inverted staircase.
The galloping “Riad n’ the Bedouins” grasps at the grandeur of Appetite for Destruction
and promptly collapses beneath meandering intros and outros and
interchangeable riffs. “Shackler’s Revenge” alternates between
industrial sludge and a schlocky chord progression before hitting the
reset the button for the next schizophrenic repetition.
Yet Mr. Rose has few doubts about his own importance: he sees a kindred repressed artist in J.D. Salinger on “Catcher in the Rye,” and the bombastic sample of MLK on “Madagascar” is only slightly more brazen than the song’s reuse of the same snippet of Cool Hand Luke from Use Your Illusion II. The album’s closing half-hour chokes on a string of ballads; a maudlin last gasp tangled with five-guitar barrages.
“I bet you think I’m doing this for my health,” Rose quips defensively, overeager to play autobiographer. Too bad the epitaph’s already scrawled in Chinese Democracy’s anachronistic margins: a bottomless pit dug by disposable income, a persecution complex and egomania.