The songs ranked from #79 to #1
76. “This I Love” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
The oppressively overdramatic — yes, even by GN’R standards — climax to Chinese Democracy,
and the biggest reason the album feels 40 minutes longer than it
actually is. Axl always had Andrew Lloyd Weber pretensions, but his
unflattering Phantom envy was never clearer than him howling,
“So if she’s somewhere near me / I hope to God she hears me” from some
subterranean studio. — A.U.
71. “Riad N’ the Bedouins” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
An incomprehensible character theme for the rock opera that Chinese Democracy
most decidedly was not, making the album’s second side as confusing as
the end of the “Estranged” video. Best remembered today for getting the band sued for plagiarizing nu-gaze producer Ulrich Schnauss, of all people. — A.U.
68. “Prostitute” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
The Chinese Democracy closer, and for at least its first minute, probably the only GN’R song that would ever make sense as One Tree Hill
montage music. “If my intentions are misunderstood, please be kind,”
Axl pleads, seemingly unaware that he’s already at least 20 years too
late. — A.U.
62. “Scraped” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Choral vocal echoes like something from a Kate Bush record explode
into the band’s best-ever Soundgarden impersonation, Axl spewing, “All
things are possible / I am unstoppable.” — A.U.
57. “Street of Dreams” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Nobody knows what it means to walk along the lonely street of dreams quite like William Bruce Rose, though this Chinese Democracy deep cut is actually more Bruce Springsteen than David Coverdale,
all racing piano and burrowing regret. Largely powerful stuff, though
you have to imagine Geffen execs hearing lyrics like “What this means to
me / Is more than I know you believe” and rolling their eyes at the $13
million and 15 years in sunk cost. — A.U.
51. "I.R.S." (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Love it or hate it, Chinese Democracy is many things and
simple is not one of them. The blessedly uncomplicated “I.R.S.” is a
sane four-and-a-half minutes, a sane four chords, and, despite a handful
of interstitial trip-hop moments, it boils down to a riff that isn’t
all that far removed from “In Bloom” — as well as the most memorable
chorus on the least-hooky arena-monster album of all time. And it helps
for believability that Axl Rose probably really has conversed
with at least one president, a private eye, definitely the I.R.S., and
the F.B.I. isn’t out of the question, either. — D.W.
50. “If the World” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Despite actually having a hit covering one of the damn things, nobody
would ever shortlist Guns N’ Roses for a potential Bond theme — they
could be sexy, dangerous, and sweeping, but rarely all three at the same
time, and never in a way vague enough to be equally applicable to a
debonair British spy and a maniacal displaced hayseed. “If the World”
was probably as close as they came, with a slinking groove halfway
between Moon Safari and “Come Undone,” Axl hypothesizing, “If
the world would end today / Then the dreams we had would all just slip
away.” A mite too fatalistic for Bond, but certainly beautiful and
blustery enough. — A.U.
45. “Sorry” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Undoubtedly the list of people it’s too late for Axl to say sorry to
is a long one, but it should come as little surprise that the title here
isn’t one of apology, but one of patronizing sympathy — “I’m sorry for
you, not sorry for me / You don’t know who you can trust now, or you
should believe.” The potential vileness is undercut by one of Chinese Democracy’s
finest arrangements, a sublime, patient power-ballad crawl that feels
more like one of Layne Staley’s quietly guttural howls than Axl’s usual
brand of widescreen self-pity. — A.U.
39. “Madagascar” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
The closest thing Chinese Democracy has to an “Estranged,” Axl delivering his most frail and confused vocal since the fraught UYI
climax over a “Stairway to Heaven”-like melody, if not “Stairway”
grandiosity. It doesn’t need all those movie snippets and MLK samples in
the bridge, certainly, but with our protagonist croaking, “I can’t find
my way back anymore,” it’s affecting end-credits music to the GN’R
story. — A.U.
36. “Chinese Democracy” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Sure, Axl snoozed long enough that System of a Down swiped his big fakeout-pause intro seven years before Chinese Democracy, but Chinese Democracy
also gestated long enough that nu-metal thermodynamics no longer had
any sway over whether or not his songs were good. This album was never
going to be timely, so let ‘er rip. We’re all better off that his
lyrical shortcomings limit the Kundun-inspired title track to
taunts like “It would take a lot more time than you have got for
masturbation,” which don’t distract from Buckethead and Robin Finck’s
Tom Morello-influenced squealing. They try to do for the Great Wall what
U2 did for Berlin, failing miserably under a sky full of extravagant
guitar fireworks. — D.W.
30. “There Was a Time” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
This is the one that really delivers everything Chinese Democracy
promised, with a choir, some looped tintinnabulations, a sea of
distorted guitar roil, and orchestral interjections poking out like
shark fins. Bluesy piano and slyly cinematic passages set up the highest
notes Axl’s full-health throat has ever belted, and the stratospheric,
take-me-higher solo makes an honest shot at toppling “November Rain”
from its post in Valhalla. You bet your ass it’s seven minutes long,
used to be titled “T.W.A.T.,” and includes more parts than a class
production of Rent. — D.W.
26. “Catcher in the Rye” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
It’s easy to picture Axl empathizing with J.D. Salinger and his most
famous protagonist even before he disappeared from the public eye for
the better part of two decades. But ironically, “Catcher” was meant as
something of a takedown of Salinger’s definitive work — “utter garbage,”
he called it in a 2008 online chat,
explaining that the song’s outro was written as a tribute to John
Lennon after seeing a program about assassin (and Salinger devotee) Mark
David Chapman. It’s a rare GN’R expression of sympathy for the victims
rather than the abusers, and one of the band’s most compassionate
overall songs, demonstrating more humanity in a stretch of Oasis-like
“Na na naaaa naaaa“s than on entire sides of earlier records. — A.U.
18. “Shackler’s Revenge” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
In some ways, this Rock Band-debuted single is just a steroidal
update of what the flailing, pointless “Oh My God” was probably
supposed to be: screeching Deftones opening riff, programmed industrial
funkadoodles last heard in 1997, and disco midsection, check, check,
double-check. But in other ways, there’s just no other band that sounds
like this. None of their hair-metal contemporaries cared about
technology or progress like GN’R’s reclusive frontman, and no Nine Inch
Nails disciples have a world-class singer to build soaring melodies or
laser-beam soloing around. So here’s an unholy marriage of the two, with
a twist on what sounds like a classic Axl-denial-zonked chorus of “I
don’t believe there’s a reason”: He called it his response to school
shootings. It’s a step toward solicitude, the last thing anyone expected
from Chinese Democracy. — D.W.
6. “Better” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
Many Guns N’ Roses songs realign themselves several times through
melodic sections, mean rejoinders and thrashing turns from one movement
to the other, usually on the back of a virtuosic, bleeding-rainbow
guitar solo. The unexpected highlight of the band’s most-resented album
compresses these parts into a crowded, claustrophobic elevator where
they’re forced to sit more still than they prefer, and they rage
appropriately within the confines of the glass. Not quite a power
ballad, “Better” nonetheless has a salty sadness streaking down its
bulging neck veins — it’s closer to something Henry Rollins would shout
outside a recent ex’s window. But therein lies the gift of this band,
who serve as the adenoidal voice of the overly heard. Males in extremis
have commanded artistic situations in such wide-ranging works as Raging Bull and The Marshall Mathers LP.
And longtime contributor, first-time caller Axl Rose’s high-pitched
sputtering through artless bits like “I never wanted you to be so full
of anger” might help convince you that bitterness can have soul. — D.W.
Compiled from this article
Well done, Robin! "Better" comes just after "Sweet Child of Mine"!
Some surprises... "Shackler's Revenge" did a lot better than "Catcher in the Rye"; "This I Love" is at the bottom of the list, well behind "Scraped". It should have been the other way around...
As for other GN'R classics, "Paradise City" didn't do as well as "Get in the Ring"...