A scan of the lyrics last night revealed a lot of emotional words from Axl, repetitive, not particularly poetic when reading the CD liner notes. But when you listen to the words at the same time as the music, they seem real and you can tell Axl is releasing a lot of pent up feeling - about an old girlfriend, band members, other nemisises - it's hard to tell. But he is raging against someone or something through the whole album, himself maybe.
The opening song 'Chinese Democracy' is a strong opener. 'Shackler's Revenge' is so-so. The first great song IMHO is 'Better', which has some classic Axl wailing, bits of Smashing Pumpkins-like techno experimentation, and a slinky snaking guitar solo a la Slash. 'Street of Dreams' is a rocking ballard, with Axl bitterly bemoaning a lost love. This song highlights that Axl hasn't lost his ability to belt out a song with those unique and great tonsils of his. Axl Rose has one of the best and most distinctive voices in rock, and this song showcases that.
'If the world' is another Axl wailer. 'There was a Time' is a straight out awesome song. The ending, with Axl screeching "I would do anything for yooooouu, there was a time" is sublime. That line probably sums up the lyrics on this album too - wistfully looks back at the past, very pure feelings, Axl thinks someone/something has debased that purity, he is bitter about it, but also he's trying to look forward and (14 years later, let's not forget!!) trying to get his life back on track. People give Axl a lot of shit for being a dictator, egomaniac and a bigot etc. But at heart this song makes you believe that his intentions were always pure, and that his non-compromising position on love, record-making, relationships, are worth it in the end. Whether they actually are or not is still open to debate.
'Catcher in the Rye' is a good strong tune, with literary pretensions in the lyrics and some Slash guitar noodling at the end to wrap it up in a lively manner. 'Scraped' isn't the best song here, but it's ok. 'Riad n' The Bedouins' seems like a dig at his former bandmates - an angry song, not one of the better ones on the album. 'Sorry' is one of Axl's bitter songs.
'I.R.S.' is a good rocker, with a classic Axl Wail and Slash-y guitar licks to close it out. 'Madagascar' features a number of Axl's custom "mwwwooooahs" and other moans and shivers. It's another bombastic rock ballard, with several layers of production in it (and Axl doing harmonies, another thing he does well on GnR records). What distinguishes it though is the media quotations from Martin Luther King and others - and the "what we have here is a failure to communicate" line from Civil War returns.
'This I love' starts out with Axl at the piano, belting out a ballard a la Queen - or maybe more like Queen if they had done a Broadway show. It's a lovely tune though, and again nice guitar work when it comes in (I think it's Buckethead, but who knows as there are loads of guitarists credited on this album). Axl's romanticism and idealism is to the fore again, and sense of loss that this relationship slipped away.
The last song, 'Prostitute', is a solid song to end the album.
Overall, this is a good album by Guns n' Roses, Axl's version of it that is. Very centered on Axl obviously, and so the themes in it are all about his life, his lost loves, and his struggles over past 15 years or so. That's probably why the album ends up working, because it tells an interesting story about the life of one of modern rock's distinctive characters. Love him or not, Axl Rose finally delivered the album he's been wanting to put out for a decade and a half. For that reason, I think this is a record to be thankful for.
p.s. now I'm going to go read other reviews. I've resisted the urge to read Rolling Stone et al, as I wanted this to be my unswayed opinion :-)