Are Guns N’ Roses Finally Coming Back? The Signs Are There …

A flurry of activity suggests a return, but no official word has come.

In the rock and roll realm, momentous band reunions and eagerly awaited album releases are, in most cases, preceded by weeks of unconfirmed rumors. With Guns N’ Roses — who, of course, are now Axl Rose and whoever’s still on the payroll — and the decade-in-the-making LP, Chinese Democracy, it’s been years of unconfirmed rumors, and all the talk of the album’s “imminent” release has left only red faces.

And while there’s been no official word from Axl’s camp, recent weeks have seen the biggest swirl of activity around the band since it actually toured — well, played a few dates and cancelled some more — late in 2002 (see “It’s Extra Official: Promoter Says GN’R Tour Totally Off” and “Fans Riot After Guns N’ Roses Tour Kickoff Canceled: Kurt Loder Reports” ). Some authentic-sounding leaked tracks, a couple of surprise public appearances from Axl, an impromptu album listening party in New York and several “confirmed” summer festival dates — including one accompanied by an official statement from the band’s management — have set the rumor mill into overdrive yet again.

Last week, three songs said to be from the Chinese Democracy sessions leaked online: “There Was a Time,” “The Blues” and “I.R.S.,” the latter being the same cut that surfaced more than two years ago on New York radio station Q104.3, compliments of former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza (see “New GN’R Tune Leaked By … Mets Catcher Mike Piazza?!,” ). A rough, minute-and-20-second excerpt of a fourth track called “Better” has also emerged.

The origin of the leaks is unknown, and most Web sites have since pulled the files and links to the downloadable tracks to evade litigation. The songs sound like a more evolved version of Guns N’ Roses, with a Nine Inch Nails-like lean toward brooding electronica. And if that’s not Axl singing, it’s a world-class impersonator.

“I.R.S.” had been added to the rotation bins of several rock radio stations across the country after the tracks leaked last week. But like the Web sites that had been offering downloads, those stations have, for the most part, stopped airing the track. However, enough stations reported playing “I.R.S.” to propel the song to the #49 spot on the radio trade magazine Radio & Records‘ Active Rock National Airplay chart for the week ending February 24; Geffen/ Interscope is listed as the band’s label.

GN’R’s management, the Sanctuary Group, has not confirmed that the songs are indeed by Guns N’ Roses, nor that they’re from Democracy. Other alleged tracks from the album that have leaked in recent years include “Catcher in the Rye,” “Riyadh and the Bedouins,” “Silkworms” and the album’s title track.

This week, the Web sites of several European festivals announced that GN’R have been added to their lineups: According to the sites, the band will be headlining the Rock in Rio festival in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 27; Italy’s Gods of Metal festival on June 3 and 4; Rock am Ring in Nurburgring, Germany, June 3 to 6; the NovaRock festival in Austria, June 15 to 17; and both GN’R and Metallica — a lethal combo, in light of their riotous co-headlining North American tour of 1992 — have been announced as headliners of this year’s Download Festival in England, June 9 to 11.

A press release issued Wednesday to the British media stated that Guns N’ Roses would close out the Download Festival on June 11. In it, Rose said, “The U.K. and Europe have always been special for me. After our last great shows there, we are all very excited and looking forward to getting back over there and in front of such great audiences. To be asked to headline [Download] is, for me, an honor and a privilege that none of us take for granted. We look forward to seeing all of you at Download.”

The release adds, “With this confirmation and the forthcoming release of Guns N’ Roses’ long-awaited new album, this certainly promises to be a great year for GN’R and their devoted fans.”

In addition, the online home of Irish concert organizers Aiken Promotions is publicizing a GN’R gig slated for June 9 in Dublin’s RDS Arena, with Mötley Crüe slated to open, however, representatives for the Crüe claimed to know nothing about the show.

Meanwhile, at press time, GN’R’s official Web site did not have a single posting in its “News” section, and likewise, when you click on “Tour Dates,” not one of the aforementioned festivals is listed; in its place, there’s a logo for the band’s aborted 2002 trek.

Veteran rock photographer Ross Halfin further fanned the flames with a February 3 post on his Web site speculating that that GN’R’s original lineup would reunite for the Download gig (instead of what is believed to be the group’s latest incarnation: Rose, bassist Tommy Stinson, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman, drummer Brian “Brain” Mantia and guitarists Richard Fortus and Robin Finck). However, Halfin removed the missive soon after his predictions started making the rounds on metal Web site forums.

Even former Axl ally Slash has been talking about Democracy in recent months. In two separate radio interviews, Slash said he’d heard the album, that it “sounds great” and that it would hit retail sometime in March. Slash declined MTV News’ request for further information.

Representatives for both Geffen and Interscope, the two labels most likely to release Chinese Democracy, said they know nothing about a release date for the album or even which label might put it out.

Finally, there’s the recent re-emergence of Axl himself. The reclusive rocker showed up for a party last month in Los Angeles celebrating Korn’s tour announcement. And during a weeklong visit to New York, which also saw him visiting a Victoria’s Secret event, he stopped into a New York nightclub reportedly to continue the celebration of his 44th birthday early on the morning of February 10 (although his birthday is actually Febuary 6).

At about 5:30 a.m., when Barry Mullineaux and Mike Satsky, owners of the club Stereo, opened their doors to Rose and a handful of his friends, who’d been booted from another club at the standard New York watering-hole closing time of 4 a.m. As a sign of his gratitude, Mullineaux said Rose sent someone to his hotel room to retrieve two CDs, each one containing 10 tracks.

“He was talking with everybody freely about how he’s been off for 10 years, and how even though Slash and the rest of the guys [have moved ahead with their careers by starting] Velvet Revolver, he’s been holding back,” explained Mullineaux. “He was freely answering questions about his work, the band, what happened with the split, the direction he’s headed in — and the music sounded great.”

Mullineaux, who said he manned the DJ booth and spun the discs for Rose, said several of the tracks reminded him of classic GN’R, with moments of uncharacteristic heaviness. Axl “kept telling me to put back track #3 — I guess that was his favorite song,” he said. “He wanted to play that one over and over, like six times. He was really getting into it and rockin’ out. Everybody was surprised at how good it sounded. And that third track, that was the song where his voice sounded the best; the smoothest.”

Merck Mercuriadis, Rose’s manager, declined requests for comment on multiple questions regarding the band’s forthcoming activities, including its current lineup, the festival appearances and the status of Chinese Democracy, saying only that the Sanctuary Group will “be issuing a press release in due course.”