Time for a follow-up post on the now week-old Chinese Democracy. Interesting to hear everyone's comments and I hope there will be more.
#1 song that has grown on me: Catcher in the Rye. It's definitely the most upbeat, fun song on the album (relative statement of course) and it's slowly infectious. There's no clear-cut chorus (which is the case on a number of tracks) and that makes the gratification come with time, which I like.
Other songs that have grown on me: Chinese Democracy (the song), Prostitute, and the two songs I was most dismissive of, If the World and This I Love.
Regarding If the World specifically. This melody is great. The lyrics aren't half bad either. I think the style is a little campy with the Spanish guitar and the cliché piano runs. That still holds it back somewhat for me. But this song has really grown on me. I love the way it builds over the course of the track.
Another song that I fundamentally like but have trouble with stylistically: Shackler's Revenge. I love the chorus to this song and I love that Axl uses a number of his old "voices" here-- particularly the "It's So Easy" voice. I don't love the industrial sheen and the solo is too heavy on shredder gimmicks. This one is all Bumblefoot, which concerns me because he's the only lead guitarist who's still in the band. (BTW, Alex, if you're still reading, I feel like so many of your criticisms are specifically about the production values of this one track. You should listen to the whole album several more times and get back to us.)
One element that's not holding up with repeated listens: Lyrics on Sorry and This I Love. I normally don't care about lyrics (I often don't even bother to discern them in the first place.) However, the lyrics to Sorry are almost impossible to like. Axl is always going to be self-righteous, but normally he's so much more clever about it. This one is just petty and spiteful. And This I Love has some lame rhyming couplets that remind me of Meat Loaf. Way too cliché for the guy who wrote Don't Damn Me, Bad Apples, Rocket Queen, and Paradise City.
Other criticisms that remain: Orchestral arrangements. First they're so heavily compressed that they sound like keyboard patches. This is a shame because most of the guitars and vocals aren't compressed and build really nicely. I love songs like Street of Dreams or Prostitute that don't even reach their dynamic peak until about 3 minutes in. But the "orchestra" sounds like it's coming from a different album. Also, the arrangements are boring. None of the songs truly benefit from all that extra weight. Riad N' the Bedouins comes close but that track is so damn awesome, it wouldn't matter either way.
Regarding the guitarists: I'm really impressed with Buckethead on this album. He's the most versatile of all the players. Overall, Robin Finck disappoints me. His solo on This I Love is pretty good, especially when the drums kick in, but on almost every track, the guy falls back on what I'd call "blues-isms." He shows no ability for legato phrasing, which was Slash's calling card. His (Slash's) solos weren't lightning fast like Buckethead or Bumblefoot or Butterballs or whatever, but they were so damn fluid. Robin Finck, by contrast, does the same thing every time: Bluesy bend on one note and then slide into a new one, with a little bit of palm muting for effect. He sounds more like B.B. King than Slash and I don't think it always fits.
Buckethead's stuff is better. His solos are the most "singable" of the three (though not approaching Slash) and he has the best sense of when to hold a note and when to shred. Alex, you know I hate 4-fingered tapping as much as anyone (certainly more than you do), but it totally works on Better. In fact, you couldn't have the chorus to that song without those tapping runs.
My jury is out on Bumblefoot. I like him when he slows down and plays within the guitar's normal range, but he does seem to love the squealing effects more than the other two combined. That said, he appears to be the guy going forward, so we'll just have to hope for the best.
I don't think I like Chris Pitman. He seems to be the one who's providing all the industrial elements and I'm not sure what he contributes beyond that. He's all over Madagascar, which might now be my least favorite track on the album. He's now been in the band longer than anyone except for Dizzy, so I'm guessing he's here to stay. I'm guessing that he's the guy Slash and Duff most object to when they listen to this.
I think this record is remarkably strong. I stand by my previous declaration that Riad, Street of Dreams, Better and There Was A Time are all stellar. And I'm getting ready to add Catcher in the Rye and the title track to that list. Really the only tracks that I'm not fully on board with are Sorry (for the lyrics) and Madagascar (for a variety of reasons.)
I've been listening to this record every day-- at a pace I haven't matched since Sky Blue Sky-- and I find it to be very rewarding. And no, I can't really think about the 17 years part when I listen to this, because even the worst tracks are better than anything Slash, Duff, Izzy, Steven Adler, whoever else... has done in that time.