China, My China
Music criticism usually lands somewhere between snark and self-indulgence—neither one of which is that compelling—but every once in a while, the stars align and someone writes something so great it justifies the whole enterprise. And hopefully, it has a few jokes about Axl Rose’s corn rows.
The long-delayed Gun and Roses album Chinese Democracy is currently making the review circuit, and fate brought it into the pale hands of one Chuck Klosterman, an occasional Esquire essayist and all-around metal savant. In other words, it’s a dinosaur rock critic reviewing a dinosaur rock album, and they’re both giving it all they’ve got.
It might be the best record review we’ve ever read. You get the feeling that Klosterman spent a solid week listening to the album on repeat and drinking enough coffee to kill a horse. In his own words, “I’ve thought about this record more than I’ve thought about China, and maybe as much as I’ve thought about the principles of democracy.”
Don’t worry, Chuck. It shows.
Here’s the essay reduced to a series of Debord-style koans:
Reviewing Chinese Democracy is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all?
At this juncture in history, rocking is not enough.
A song like “Shackler’s Revenge” is initially average, until you get to the solo—then it becomes the sonic equivalent of a Russian robot wrestling a reticulating python.
Sometimes it seems like Axl believes every single Guns N’ Roses song needs to employ every single thing that Guns N’ Roses has the capacity to do.
His ambition is noble, yet wildly unrealistic. It’s like if Jeff Lynne tried to make Out Of The Blue sound more like Fun House, except with jazz drumming and a girl singer from Motown.
What finally made [Axl] decide, “You know, I’ve weighed all my options and all their potential consequences, and I’m going with the Mexican vampire accent”?
- — Russell Brandom