Back in elementary school, the teacher told us to bring things of that time period the following day that would be put into a box to be sealed and buried, only to be opened decades later. To me, Chinese Democracy (Geffen, 2008) is the recorded embodiment of a time capsule. You speak of Axel like you speak of Bo Jackson, some legend who could do anything of the days of yore. So, to the world’s surprise, someone opened that time capsule and let things out finally, releasing the album fourteen years after its conception.
It seems some things have leaked into the capsule during its time underground and unseen. Shackler’s Revenge holds electronic industrial hints of Stabbing Westward and Orgy, circa 1997. Later on, nu-metal seems to sneak through as on There Was A Time with the drum machine that soon, thankfully, drops out of sight but lingers on the mind. It’s akin to a rough guide to metal and hard rock of the past 20 years, if you pick the elements apart.
Better starts the misgivings on the album. The song is solid, but cannot be taken so seriously with the introductory, lost sounding Axel combined with feigned drum machine kicking it off. Without this elaboration, Better would be simply better. This recurs often where, taking a step back and allowing ‘less is more’ to take over would’ve generated a tighter, concise track. Axel’s walking a line between orchestrated and the classic music of his prior albums. Not every track can elicit November Rain, but it seems he tries to force that grandiosity. (If The World is a perfect example. Reworked, cutting the awkward Spanish guitar and providing a more fluid, full sound to the rather stifled string section would have generated a gorgeous song.)
I can’t say it’s not a buy, as this album resting on my desk is like possessing the Loch Ness Monster. You’ve heard the rumors and can’t believe your ears. Axel has done very well this time around, but needed to step back, clear his perfectionism (so I hear) to allow moments like Catcher in the Rye to step up and show what he can produce. He’s still got it, look at Scraped; it’s concise, driving forward and won’t stop for anything, none of those sidewinding, cinematic endeavors of previous tracks. It’s Guns N’ Roses where they should be.
This unearthed album, finally seeing the light of day, is as hard to recommend as it is as hard not to. Lyrically, Axel could’ve done far, far better. Musically, it’s the uncompromising work of a multitude of contributors, producers, and Axel that shows the multiple facets. Although flawed, there’s still a few rough diamonds-unfortunately less than anticipated. Though, time will tell.