CD of the week: Guns N' Roses: Chinese Democracy

(Geffen)

When the chips are down, volumes go up to 11, or so runs the theory that metal is the soundtrack to recession. Recent huge releases from Metallica and AC/ DC appear to bolster it. The latter have shifted five million CDs - a format deemed hopelessly outmoded in the digital age. Guns N'Roses' long-awaited new album looks set to follow suit.

In fact, metal sells well in boom or bust. But timing is key. This three-pronged assault from metal's biggest guns is actually designed to stimulate sales when consumer spending on fun is down. How better to tempt music fans than with the Holy Grail of metal? Fourteen years, five producers and nearly £10m in the making, fans joked that the one-party state would collapse in China before Chinese Democracy came out. Rock blinked first.

If metal flourishes in hard times, runs the wisdom, it's because we need rowdy escapism. But unlike AC/DC's strutting opus, the Guns' sixth outing is no party record. With his tight face and tighter corn rows, it always seemed unlikely that Axl would ever again shake his scrawny mane and squeal like he did in the Gunners' prime. Fourteen overlong electronic experiments bear out this fear.

Chinese Democracy packs both volume and aggression, but its pleasures are buried in the rubble of 14 different studios and a surfeit of Nine Inch Nails-style industrial rock. There are traces of Roses's old balls-out balladeering on 'Catcher in the Rye'; a killer chorus soups up 'Shackler's Revenge'; 'IRS' almost sounds like a proper Guns song, with Rose's blood vessel-busting wail taking its cues from Robert Plant.

Nostalgia aside, the most riveting song here is 'Sorry' - a song so bitter and brooding it cannot be about a mere girl. Former axeman Slash must feel gratified that it has taken no fewer than five guitarists to replace him and Izzy Stradlin.

Aping Led Zeppelin is one thing; aping NIN is quite another. Although Trent Reznor's industrial outfit aren't short of fans, it feels deeply wrong for Axl Rose to be cribbing from a one-trick pony with a computer. It happens again and again on Chinese Democracy, a mish-mash of portentous digitals in search of a purpose. Chinese Democracy will sell well, but, like China herself, perhaps, it won't rock our way out of the doldrums.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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