Update, 5:00 p.m.: The GnR MySpace page now has full-length versions of 6 songs available. Earlier today, five of them were only 90 seconds long. The change, alas, makes at least part of my post irrelevant. Still, Imeem has songs available that the GnR MySpace page does not.
I never even considered buying this album. I never loved the band, and I've managed to ignore the hype completely until now. Then Chuck Klosterman's review made me curious. I like Klosterman's books. We're about the same age. His musical tastes in high school would have been mine, if I hadn't been so stubborn about listening only to "real" metal and classic rock. (No synths! Motley Crue sucks!)
So I headed over to the Chinese Democracy MySpace page, which lets you stream one full-length song, "Better," and 90-second samples of a few other songs.
The trouble is, 90 seconds isn't enough. Each time, you'll think, "oh, this song, I know exactly how this is going to go." But you don't. As Klosterman put it, Axl seemed to believe that every song needed to showcase every single thing that GnR is capable of doing. And that's changed a lot since the Slash/Duff days. There's late '90s Top Forty-style pop. (I swear I heard a Justin Timberlake influence.) Dance beats. A vampire accent. (Why? Who knows.) Tweaky stereo production touches all over the place. Guitar solos that don't just sound like Jimmy Page watered down to the 10th degree, but are abstract and angular and downright weird. And of course plenty of hard rock riffs (a dead art) and funny lyrics.
So forget MySpace, and head over to Imeem. Run a search on Chinese Democracy and listen to full-length versions--quick, before they disappear. There are some fakes and live versions and songs that didn't make the album, so you can use this Best Buy page as a guide to see what tracks are really on the record.
If, like me, you've got a soft spot for highly overproduced complicated "maximal" rock music--think Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Queen, ELO, Queensryche--as opposed to the minimal punk rock-inspired stuff that the typical rock critic loves--you'll keep listening. If you don't like his voice--I don't, except when he sings in a weird character voice--wait for the instrumental parts. Or marvel at the production. Or count the simultaneous guitar lines and wonder which ones were played by Buckethead as opposed to the four other guitarists who played on the record. Ponder exactly which parts of "Riad 'n' The Bedouins" were written by ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson. Marvel at how Axl pokes fun at his record company (ies?) with lines like "all I've got is precious time." Scoff, if you must, at the sentimental piano lines.
But you know what? The hype is justified. I don't necessarily mean that this is the greatest album of all time. Simply that it's so huge, so sprawling, so bizarre, that a massive multiyear hype storm seems just about right. Chinese Democracy is probably one of the last albums that will ever take rock and roll so seriously, that says "hey, if Hollywood can spend $100 million on the latest idiotic special-effects vehicle, why can't I spend $13 million on a sound recording?" All you struggling never-signed beer-money-budget musicians know exactly what I mean.