Youth prevails in a battle of late-year mega albums. 

I have a theory that when J.D. Salinger dies, we'll find out that he's been writing books throughout the decades of his seclusion. What works might a talented, creative mind make once the harsh light of celebrity and expectation is deflected? Postmortem, the writer will be published again, and we'll all say: Holy crap, Salinger's been holding out on us.

For about 14 years, I've been similarly fascinated by and anxious for the Axl Rose/Guns N' Roses follow-up, Chinese Democracy. Admittedly, the anticipation is relative: Axl isn't exactly Salinger, and The Spaghetti Incident? wasn't exactly The Catcher in the Rye.

The history of the album is too voluminous to recount here, but suffice to say it's been troubled: band members Slash and Duff McKagan breaking off; a shroud of rumors about a revolving door of musicians and a tower of dollars invested with no payoff; Rose in the studio for months on end; false starts and delays by record-label knife fights; and revivification in the mind's eye by the occasional Rolling Stone dispatch and Bigfoot-like sightings of a reconstituted Guns N' Roses. Add it up, and you get a punchline.

And now, a teenager's life later, Chinese Democracy has dropped. That's right, high-school-era Greg Akers: Chinese Democracy came out! And the album is ... roundly average? Good thing my expectations burned away years ago.

To call Chinese Democracy overproduced would be a statement of, um, Chinese Democracy proportions. It's unquestioningly the most overproduced album in the history of rock-and-roll. (If it can't match Brian Wilson's Smile in years of gestation, it wallops it in man-hours dedicated to it.)

Chinese Democracy sounds like it came out in 1997 — and that wasn't exactly a banner year for popular music. It's a mix of industrial rock, post-grunge hair-band guitar-solo yawns, electronica drum machines, and orchestral Guns N' Roses theatrics. Heck, there might even be a little Babyface R&B in there.

In other words, this is your typical sophomore slump writ mythical. — Greg Akers

Grade: C+

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