I'm one of maybe four* people who loves Chinese Democracy, but I do, with all of my heart and head. As a musical genius losing his shit, it ranks with Brian Wilson on Smile and Alex Chilton on Third/Sister Lovers. It's a hide-the-knives depiction of a lonely millionaire from the heart of the man himself, as if The Great Gatsby were an autobiography or if Charles Foster Kane wrote Citizen Kane. It's the most expensive album of all time (a record that will surely stand in the post CD sales world), with more delays and lineup changes than I can count, yet it feels more personal and confessional than most sparse, lo-fi indie albums. How conscious Axl is of his status as arguably the world's craziest, sickest and loneliest international rock star is up for debate, but it's a question that keeps me coming back to Chinese Democracy and liking it more now than I did five years ago.
A friend recently asked me for a few good Apology Songs, and one of the first that I could think of was "Sorry." It might not be a great choice, since the chorus is "I'm sorry for you/Not sorry for me." But there's more to it--this is one of the only songs I've ever heard successfully express that moment when someone pretends to be angry at someone else because he can't deal with the pain of being angry at himself. "You talk too much, you say I do/The difference is nobody cares about you," Axl says, although obviously someone cared enough about the culprit to write a six-minute song about them.
"Sorry" doest not capture all of Axl's perversities, but it might come closer than any other work of art. He's reserved enough to embody a spacey, Wish You Were Here via Kid A vibe, yet still heated enough to threaten an ass-kicking and crazy enough to sing one lyric with a vampire accent. Maybe you believe him when he sings "It's harder to live with the truth about you/Than to live with the lies about me," but I know which one I would rather be.
*One of whom, interestingly, is Robert Christgau, who completely missed the boat on every other Guns N' Roses release but somehow was one of the only critics to get this one right.