Friday, June 6th 2008
The Truth: Guns N' Roses
I stole Appetite For Destruction off of my Mom when I was 11. And apparently, I stole every single one of my dance moves from Axl Rose. As much as I wish I was Nikki Sixx, Axl is the #1 influence behind any action I would describe as ‘rocking.’ From rocking out in my bedroom, to rocking some ripped jeans, to rocking a slice of pizza. I’ve ventured onto sweaty, Budweiser-soaked arena floors to see Guns N’ Roses- an honor very few bands get from me- even after an attempt in Philadelphia ended in a riot that erupted around our center floor seats when word got around that Axl wasn’t coming. As was customary on that particular tour.
Since I was 14, I’ve been waiting for the new Guns N’ Roses album, and I’ve always known its name: Chinese Democracy. The phrase is now more universally defined as the new Guns N’ Roses album than as the actual political movement in China that inspired the titling. And over the years, the phrase has developed a second meaning: It can also be used as an adjective, to describe something eternally “in the works,” promised countless times, yet never, ever, ever delivered. As in, “that raise I need is fucking chinese democracy,” or “that big break your boyfriend’s shitty band swears is going to happen is totally chinese democracy, tell him to get a fucking job.”
I’ve been waiting, literally half of my entire life. In 2002, Axl unveiled a new band, and they played some shows- and some new songs. I thought it was coming. In 2003, a song leaked. A bunch more leaked in 2006. We could taste it. Word was that Axl was planning a Christmas ’06 release, and he confirmed that rumor by promising it’d be out before year’s end in a radio show interview. On December 14th, as time ran out to deliver on that promise, Axl announced the cancellation of the last few shows of a successful North American tour so he could (for real this time) finish the album, which he said would finally be released on March 6th, 2007. On February 22nd, road manager Del James announced that Chinese Democracy’s recording was complete- and that it was being mixed. But March 6th came and went. As 2008 rolled in, there was still no new Guns N’ Roses album. But then in April, the second biggest possible headline related to Chinese Democracy appeared on every music newswire in existence: The album has been finished and delivered by Axl to Geffen.
So what’s the hold-up? Well, Axl is negotiating with the label on how to release it.
Here’s what we know: Over the past 14 years, it’s cost the labels a whole holy shitload of cash. In March 2005, the figure was reported as $13 million by the New York Times- a figure not disputed by former manager Merck Mercuriadis when he attacked the piece and the journalist responsible. We also know that the album could very well be much larger than your average album, which could complicate the release strategy. In 2007 Sebastian Bach claimed that Chinese Democracy would be a three-album trilogy, with the third installment hitting in 2012. In a video interview more recently, Bach claimed it was actually “four records’ worth of material.” These details are unconfirmable, but in my travels in and out of the music industry I’ve encountered more than a few people that have been involved in the massive project at different stages, and I’ve heard from many of them that Axl had about 100 songs in the works. I’ve read that other sources have mentioned two (not so) short lists of songs, 20 a-list, and 40 b-list.
Part of the reason Axl split with Mercuriadis was that they seemed to be on opposite sides of one idea: JUST RELEASE THE FUCKING ALBUM. In the written statement announcing the March 6th, 2007 release date, Axl stated, “Both the band and I, along with our record company, feel that this record deserves the proper setup and promotion, not the… ‘it may just appear in your record store’ approach offered by management.” Axl claimed that this was just a ploy to help sell a tour to promoters, but it might not be a crazy idea. In an attempt to recoup some of their eight-figure investment after closing out Axl’s tab in 2004, Geffen put together a greatest hits compilation, with not a single new or previously unreleased track, or any promotional efforts by the band. It sold more than 1.8 million copies. It was the world’s ninth-highest selling album that year. But of course that album had one thing that Chinese Democracy probably won’t have: Welcome To The Jungle.
The bottom line is that the only way that Geffen will ever make that $13 million back is if the album is good. If it’s not, no marketing campaign possibly devisable on any plane of reality could generate that kind of money before word would get around that it wasn’t worth 15 bucks. Appetite For Destruction still sells 5,000 or 6,000 copies each week. Fuck first week sales- the first year that Chinese Democracy is out barely matters. When this much time, effort, and money has gone into it, the only way it’s going to return the investment is if it continues to sell and sell for years to come.
But another thing that I keep hearing from everyone involved is that it is good. Very good. While working at Universal, I encountered an exec who had heard a bunch of the songs. When I asked him flat out if it was any good, he solemnly lowered his eyes and tone, and said, “Seriously? It’s some of the best fucking music I’ve ever heard in my life.” And others echoed this sort of praise. In fact I haven’t even read a single report of anyone listening to the album properly by the grace of Axl, and not loving every minute of it. I caught the new band live here in Los Angeles on the 2006 tour with Sebastian Bach, and though I went in completely cynical and unenthusiastic, I was blown away by how awesome they were, how great the new band sounded, and I found myself wanting Chinese Democracy more than ever before.
So just release the fucking album. Go nuts on the packaging if you want Axl, but please don’t subject us to some drawn-out hype ramp-up to a release date months down the line. You already have our attention and we’ve been waiting long enough. Geffen, do yourself a favor, don’t waste another day or another million bucks on promotion this album just doesn’t need. When this album drops, everyone will hear about it. And the more you dick around with the details, the more likely the album is to leak on the internet, spoiling whatever big plans you’re cooking up anyway. And when it comes down to it, there’s been so much hype and so many broken promises, noone’s going to believe a billboard like the one above until the album is sitting in front of them on a shelf in a store or an iTunes shopping cart.