NEW YORK TIMES: “Chinese Democracy” (Geffen) is the Titanic of rock albums: the ship, not the movie, although like the film it’s a monumental studio production. It’s outsize, lavish, obsessive, technologically advanced and, all too clearly, the end of an era. It’s also a shipwreck, capsized by pretensions and top-heavy production. In its 14 songs there are glimpses of heartfelt ferocity and despair, along with bursts of remarkable musicianship. But they are overwhelmed by countless layers of studio diddling and a tone of curdled self-pity. The album concludes with five bombastic power ballads in a row. “Chinese Democracy” sounds like a loud last gasp from the reign of the indulged pop star: the kind of musician whose blockbuster early success could once assure loyal audiences, bountiful royalties, escalating ambitions and dangerously open-ended deadlines.
For years Mr. Rose has been tagged the Howard Hughes of rock, as his manager at the time was already complaining in 2001. That didn’t have to be a bad thing; estrangement and obsession have spawned great songs. But “Chinese Democracy,” though it’s a remarkable artifact of excess, is a letdown. Mr. Rose’s version of Guns N’ Roses, with sidemen he can fire rather than partners, leaves his worst impulses unchecked. The craziness on “Chinese Democracy” isn’t the wild, brawling arrogance that the young Mr. Rose and his rowdy ’80s band mates gave the fledgling Guns N’ Roses. It’s the maniacal attention to detail that’s possible in the era of Pro Tools: the infinitude of tiny tweaks available for every instant of a track, the chance to reshape every sound and reshuffle every setting, to test every guitar solo ever played on a song — or all of them at once — and then throw on a string arrangement for good measure. That microscopic focus is obvious throughout “Chinese Democracy”; every note sounds honed, polished, aimed — and then crammed into a song that’s already brimming with other virtuosity. At points where the mix goes truly haywire, like the end of “Catcher in the Rye,” a Meat Loaf song title sums things up: “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.” MORE
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