Obviously I was the perfect age to be a Guns N’ Roses fan – you can be a fan of any music at any age, but it was my timing to be getting turned onto the band at a time when I was learning so much about rock and pop (and rap) music and everything was starting to blur in the happiest of ways and the band’s early, vital work seemed ever so slightly naughty. And that was part of the rush.
I saw the band at the height of its fame. And though, in many senses, I had moved on – their greatest hits almost annoying due to classic rock ubiquity – I realised I still held a lighter aloft for the ballads when news of the long-delayed, near-mythical Chinese Democracy album started to seem ‘real’.
Axl had famously gone reclusive, fired and fell out with the band and was stacking guitarists up on top of each other, recording and recording and nothing was good enough. It appeared that for over a decade the only things he listened to was his own music and the odd bit of Elton John.
I went from not really caring about Chinese Democracy to being very excited when the record company sent a sample track. After that I put a block on any reviews or mentions and waited. And waited. Maybe it was the last album I eagerly purchased on the day of release (probably was, come to think of it). I turned up with my money, bought a CD in 2008. And nervously listened.
I was pretty hooked straight away – writing this at the end of the “opening weekend” where I must have played the album a half-dozen times or so…
Look, it was never a perfect album. It was a bit of a sprawling mess (natch). It was (and is) too long and the opening track is not at all great; so that’s a bad start.
But there’s something to this album that I like – and I wanted to cut through the media-mess of Axl as the angry recluse that had gone mad. That story was funny for a bit and probably accurate. But it meant the album never stood a chance.
I wanted this album to stand a chance.
And some days I still think it’s something of a lost classic. Or near enough to a hit. A charming mess.
I like that it’s recognisably Guns N’ Roses even though it’s really only Axl; and maybe in the end that’s really all that’s needed – though a reformed “Classic” line-up (or 3/5s of it) that now exists again probably cancels that point.
The sprawl of this album, its widescreen moments, is exactly what makes it great to me. The fascinating solipsism – Axl creating song that could only really come from melding parts of other Guns songs together. In some way this is like the non-singles from the Illusion albums rebuilt. And better.
I bought the album on double-vinyl a few months into my first dedicated run of appreciation. Having four sides of wax made it a better listen, you could skip whole sides, or rework the tracklist (you could even imagine how many times Axl had done that in the delay and build-up, shifting tracks like building blocks).
The general consensus is that I’m wrong, the media was right. This is a fucking strange mess of an album that arrived too late and that not many really ever wanted. When it did arrive no one really knew what to do with it beyond agree with the default-setting of panning it.
Well, some days I fight on. Sure that this is the second-best Guns N’ Roses album. (And I know that doesn’t mean it’s a slam-dunk at all). Other times I think, actually, The Spaghetti Incident? is the second-best Gunners record. So maybe that further explains my appetite for delusion.