Chuck Klosterman Likes “Chinese Democracy” Even Better Now That He’s Heard It

noah | November 19, 2008 10:00 am

When Rolling Stone plunked down the first review of Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy last week, we stacked it up against Chuck Klosterman’s 2006 April-Fool’s review of the album from Spin, and found a lot of similarities. Well, in a development that everyone should have probably expected, Klosterman himself has reviewed the album for The AV Club–which, of course, invites a comparison between his pre-listen writeup and what he thought after actually hearing the 14 tracks that Axl Rose has been laboring over for the past decade-plus. Chuck vs. Chuck, mano a mano, after the jump.

THE GRADE: Then: Three stars. Now: A-.

THE HISTORIC IMPORT Then: “There is really only one way for Chinese Democracy to avoid utter and absolute failure: It needs to be the greatest rock album ever made. Chinese Democracy is not the greatest rock album ever made.” Now: “The final truth is this: He makes the best songs. They sound the way I want songs to sound.”

THE ODD ANIMAL REFERENCE IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH Then: “If you purchased a kitten on the day that Use Your Illusion I & II arrived in stores, it’s probably dead by now.” Now: “Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? “

THE PONDEROUSNESS ABOUT PERFECTIONISM Then: “I get the impression most of the 13 songs were written between 1993 and 1999, and Rose merely spent six or seven years touching them up in the studio. One is forced to wonder if a track like ‘Madagascar’ was only recorded 75 or 80 times, which calls Axl’s alleged ‘maniacal perfectionism’ directly into question.” Now: “The explanation as to why Chinese Democracy took so long to complete is not simply because Axl Rose is an insecure perfectionist; it’s because Axl Rose self-identifies as a serious, unnatural artist. He can’t stop himself from anticipating every possible reaction and interpretation of his work. I suspect he cares less about the degree to which people like his music, and more about how it is taken, regardless of the listener’s ultimate judgment.”

THE INVITATIONS TO GET IN THE RING Then: “On the caustic rocker ‘Slash and Burned,’ Rose lashes out at his former bandmates now in Velvet Revolver with staggering specificity: ‘Your singer has cocaine eyes and a skeletonized trance / We’ll see if RCA recoups their advance.’ Rose has also retained his pathological distaste for the media, lyrically attacking the editors of Vanity Fair, MTV personality Sway, numerous teenage bloggers, and the city hall reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer (who, curiously, has never written about pop music).” Now: “The weirdest (yet more predictable) aspect of Chinese Democracy is the way 60 percent of the lyrics seem to actively comment on the process of making the album itself. … The craziest track, ‘Sorry,’ resembles spooky Pink Floyd and is probably directed toward former GNR drummer Steven Adler, although I suppose it might be about Slash or Stephanie Seymour or David Geffen. It could even be about Jon Pareles, for all I fucking know—Axl’s enemy list is pretty Nixonian at this point.”

THE FINAL VERDICT Then: “But a deeper quandary remains: Does Chinese Democracy accomplish its goal? After all this time and all that money, will this album truly bring democracy to China? I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Now: “Axl Rose put so much time and effort into proving that he was super-talented that the rest of humanity forgot he always had been. And that will hurt him. This record may tank commercially. Some people will slaughter Chinese Democracy, and for all the reasons you expect. But he did a good thing here. “

So yeah, I guess Chinese Democracy was a lot of things that Klosterman expected it to be–except better. (No pun intended, ha ha.)

Chuck Klosterman reviews Chinese Democracy [AV Club] Earlier: Chinese Democracy: The Reviews Are (And Were) In