After seventeen years and countless millions of dollars, Guns N' Roses' sixth studio album, Chinese Democracy, has finally arrived. Pity those who wagered actual democracy would make it to China before singer Axl Rose (the band's sole remaining original member) allowed this Howard Hughes-ian project to see the light of day.
And the verdict? Mixed! Gone is the Sunset Strip guitar grime of Appetite for Destruction, replaced by an army of ProTools-packing shredders, three ''digital editors,'' and a dude responsible for choral arrangements. This is unapologetically huge music, not fit for tiny iPod earbuds. At times it's possible to hear the world-changing CD that Rose whose banshee howl remains gloriously intact must have had in his tightly braided skull all these years. The blistering ''Shackler's Revenge'' rides a sinister riff to headbanging heaven, while the piano-heavy ''Catcher in the Rye'' showcases GN'R at their '70s-aping stadium best. But too often quantity gets in the way of quality: No rock cliché from the last decade goes unrepresented (hip-hop loops, nü-metal skronk), and did ''Madagascar'' really need a horn section and Martin Luther King Jr. samples?
But Rose is obstinate as ever in middle age, sneering at how meek music has become in his absence: ''You talk too much/You say I do/Difference is nobody cares about you,'' he gloats on ''Sorry.'' For good or ill, he's the last of his kind. We can't wait to hear what he does next hopefully sometime before President Chelsea Clinton takes office in 2025. B-
DOWNLOAD THIS: ''Catcher in the Rye''
Hear the entire album before its Nov. 23 release at MySpace Music.