How Could ‘Chinese Democracy’ Have Been Improved?

By
The first alien to emerge from the ship wore a very unfashionable hat. Photo: Courtesy of Geffen

Axl Rose's thirteen-years-in-the-making opus Chinese Democracy finally leaked on Tuesday, and it's been in constant rotation on our iTunes since then. What do we think? Well, we tend to agree with critics like Chuck Klosterman and Rolling Stone's David Fricke, who didn't really specify anything they didn't like about the album but still docked it a couple of points on their rating scales — it's awesome but not quite perfect. (Evidently the Times' Jon Pareles wouldn't have been satisfied if angels had come down from Heaven and played the guitar solo from "Rocket Queen" in his living room — he calls it "a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production.") So what's wrong with it? How could Axl have made it better? Our suggestions, after the jump.

1. "Chinese Democracy"
We're already off on the wrong foot: Those dolphin sounds in the intro clearly should've been double-tracked.

2. "Shackler's Revenge"
The three wailing guitar solos are certainly a good start, but this song is simply begging for seven or eight more.

3. "Better"
4. "Street of Dreams"
We understand that these are supposed to be the radio singles, but how come Chinese Democracy doesn't have any epic-length "November Rain"–ish mini-operas? It would've been as simple as adding a French-horn coda and a synthesizer breakdown, and making Buckethead jump through a wedding cake.

5. "If the World"
With the wah-wah pedals, drum machines, classical guitars, orchestra, and jazz piano, this track is already pretty overstuffed — but how about a horn section, bagpipes, and some Indian percussion?

6. "There Was a Time"
Wow, this is more like it! We don't think we can even name an instrument that isn't in this arrangement. But, Axl — is that choir synthesized? Appalling.

7. "Catcher in the Rye"
This piano ballad is our favorite track so far, but, as has already been noted, it's not so dissimilar from other GNR favorites like "Yesterdays" or "Estranged." You know what would really spice things up? A xenophobic rant.

8. "Scraped"
9. "Riad N' the Bedouins"
These two songs were probably what people were afraid of when they heard "Oh My God" back in 1999 and thought Guns N' Roses had gone industrial metal. We might've swapped out the pair for a nice 35-minute sound collage.

10. "Sorry"
Why aren't there aren't any swear words on this album? This mournful ballad certainly could use a few.

11. "I.R.S.
Chinese Democracy's token "paranoid Axl" song. But wasn't it more fun when he used to call out his critics by name? If he'd done a standard LexisNexis search, he might've realized that, over these past couple of years, some wisecracking writers have been making light of his artistic process.

12. "Madagascar"
Is it just us, or would this song's last chorus be vastly improved by a boys' choir and the sound of cannon fire on the backbeats? Seems pretty obvious.

13. "This I Love"
Why isn't that harp turned up higher in the mix? If someone risks a back injury to haul their harp all the way from home to your secret, underground recording studio just to play on the two-minute outro of one song, you could at least do him or her the courtesy of making their playing louder than the bass player's on the final master. Harps are heavy, Axl.

14. "Prostitute"
Is this song actually sung to Jesus from the perspective of Mary Magdalene? Wow. That simply cannot be improved on.

How Axl Rose Spent All That Time [NYT]