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'Chinese Democracy' at long last!

While riding the school bus home one day in sixth grade, I was telling my butt-rock friend Maria about an awesome song I heard when I saw "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" in the theater, and lamenting the fact that I had no idea who the band was. A few months later, after I had forgotten about the tune, she pressed her copy of Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion II" into my hand. After once again hearing the rapid-fire drums that kick-start "You Could Be Mine," a diehard fan was born.

And now, 17 years later, I finally hold in my hands the latest album of new material from GnR – or more accurately, Axl Rose.

Prior to its release, I didn't seek out the leaked tracks. I didn't google any reviews. I wanted to hear the entire album with an unsullied opinion, save for the disappointment that Slash and Duff McKagan were no longer in the band. (Yes, I am such a big fan of the old GnR that I own not only the Velvet Revolver debut, but also Slash's Snakepit and Duff's solo album. Hey! I needed something to tide me over during that long wait.)

So what do I think?

That first -- and title -- track is freakin' awesome! It is exactly what I imagined the band's updated sound would be: a refreshed GnR that's modern but still rocks hard. My expectations weren't that high, but "Chinese Democracy" and the next two songs gave me hope that the rest of the album would be at least good, if not great.

But the more of the album I heard on first listen, the more disappointed I became. Where is the familiar raw, angry, honest feel that all the other albums -- and the first few tracks -- possessed? Where are all the songs, stacked one right after the other, that made me want to thrash around and scream profanities along with Axl and gang?

And more important, why are there all these songs that sound like they belong more on a pop-rock station or an elevator?! This is NOT the Guns N' Roses I grew up loving. This is a very cleaned up, soft effort that sounds more like an overly polished record-label product rather than the original artist I last heard in the early '90s.

Believe me, I expect artists to evolve, especially considering all the technological advancements available in studios now. I don't expect to hear the same album rehashed over and over again. Perhaps the change in the band's sound was too sudden for me between the "Illusion" albums and this one. Would I like "Democracy" more had Axl released some others in between that would have led me to this one? Maybe, maybe not.

I'm not saying I hate "Chinese Democracy." I've had the album for only 24 hours and have given it four spins so far. I like it a little bit more each time, but those too-smooth, light tunes catch me off guard every time. 

Perhaps all I need is a little patience. (Again.)