Back in October, Guns N’ Roses’ management issued a press statement addressing the release of the band’s oft-delayed, $15-million, dozen-years-in-the-making album, Chinese Democracy. It said: “The only comment at this time is that there are 13 Tuesdays left between now and the end of the year” — insinuating, it would seem, that the LP could finally see the light of day before the end of 2006.
“It will come out this year,” GN’R ringmaster Axl Rose has steadfastly insisted in interviews, during press junkets and even while unwinding at parties. He said so on Eddie Trunk’s radio show in May, and repeated it after his appearance at the VMAs on August 31.
Those claims are supported somewhat by the fact that the band has been gigging since the spring, both in the U.S. and abroad (see “Guns N’ Roses Hint At Democracy‘s Arrival, Add Tour Dates” ). Granted, GN’R also toured in 2002, the last time album-release speculation reached this height (see “It’s Extra Official: Promoter Says GN’R Tour Totally Off” ). Several tracks purported to be either from the album or demo versions of songs from it leaked in February (see “Are Guns N’ Roses Finally Coming Back? The Signs Are There …” ), which may lend some credence to his statements.
Sources close to Rose have supported his assertion, and in February, even former GN’R guitarist Slash told a British radio interviewer that he thought the album would be out this year — although he said March. Online rumors speculated a November 21 release — erroneously.
With just four Tuesdays left to go — one of them being the day after Christmas — and the band’s label maintaining that no release date is at hand, things are looking pretty glum for GN’R fans hoping to find Rose’s magnum opus under the tree. (While Tuesday releases are the industry standard, other days are possible: In 2004, Interscope Records rush-released Eminem’s Encore on a Friday in a leak-beating maneuver.)
It could still happen. But, to paraphrase one of Michael Corleone’s henchmen in “Godfather II,” it will be “difficult, but not impossible.”
Unless an ultra-top-secret marketing plan is in the works, the album would have to be released without the major promotional push such a hot-ticket item would normally have — an approach that failed dismally with Limp Bizkit’s stealthy 2005 release of The Unquestionable Truth, Pt. 1, which debuted with a thud at #24 on Billboard‘s album chart with just 37,000 copies sold.
None of the national retailers contacted by MTV News said they were aware of an official release date, and several major-label personnel declined even to speculate on the possibility of such a release happening before the end of this year.
One executive, Carl Severson, a former staffer at metal powerhouse Roadrunner Records who currently runs Ferret Records (and fronts metalcore act Nora), said he’s reasonably confident that the album won’t appear in ’06. “First of all, all the print advertisements would have to be done and turned in already [as required by magazines' publication deadlines] — and someone would have leaked those,” he explained. “Even if they were to do television spots, they’d have to be turning them in right now, just to get them to run the week before Christmas. If it is coming out this year, it’s pathetic.”
That hasn’t stopped online gambling sites like Bodog.com from getting in on the guessing game. There, one can bet on whether Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie will adopt again next year — and even what country the child will be from — and whether Chinese Democracy will hit stores “in its entirety” before the seal on 2007 is broken. As of Thursday (November 30), the odds were more or less equal.
“Basically, with wagers like this, you have to take into consideration as many sources as possible,” said Bodog spokesperson Greg Godden when discussing the method by which his firm sets odds on various events. “Things like Rolling Stone, MTV News, the Billboard charts and that kind of stuff. We do offer a wager on it, with the ‘Yes’ option at minus-130 — which is basically the same thing as a 56-percent chance the album will be released this year.”
The “No” option, he said, places minus-110 odds on the album’s release, or a 52-percent chance the album will not surface. But most visitors to Bodog’s site seem to “think it will come out some time this year,” with most of the bets being placed favoring a 2006 release.
Others beg to differ.
“There’s really no chance, bro,” said José Mangin, format manager for Sirius Satellite Radio’s Octane and Hard Attack channels. He considers the fact that he hasn’t received an advance copy for on-air play a telling sign. “We’re playing singles from albums that are coming out in February now — we were playing them in October. After all the millions of dollars the label has put into this project and this album, if it was coming out in December, I’d think they would at least want to give it proper promotion.”
Of course, this is no normal album, and Axl has, in his own unique ways, been promoting the heck out of it for years, especially in the past few months. One could even argue that the album is more famous for its non-appearance than anything else.
“Everyone knows the name,” said M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, who toured Europe with GN’R this summer (and formed some five years after Rose began work on Chinese Democracy). “It’s already more famous as a record that hasn’t been released yet: Everyone knows of Chinese Democracy, but no one has heard it. That’s kind of crazy.”
Shadows said he thinks it’s unlikely that Chinese Democracy will come out this year, but it may come soon. “When you’ve got as much money as Axl, and with as many records as he’s sold, he’s probably just sitting there going, ‘I don’t need to release this record.’ It does seem closer, though. A couple years ago, when people were saying it was coming out, I knew it wasn’t. But now that the demos have been leaked, and I heard [go-to mixer] Andy Wallace is mixing it — you know when you’ve got Andy Wallace mixing stuff, it means it’s getting closer, at least.”
“Will it come out? Hard to say,” speculated Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello. “Axl is clearly talented … and troubled: a combination often found among the best lead singers. If he can overcome his fears about the album’s relevance or commercial prospects or whatever the underlying problem is, and just release it, then we would all be glad to hear it and can get on with our lives.”
Indeed, while anticipation for the album remains remarkably high for a dozen-odd-years-in-gestation work, one wonders just how long Rose can tantalize his fans with false alarms before they stop caring.
“I’d like to say that I believe it will come out this year. But this has got to be, what, the fourth or fifth or maybe-even-more-than-that time that this has been announced as coming out,” said Kelli Malella, Metal Blade Records’ director of publicity and a longtime GN’R fan. “Part of me thinks, ‘OK, they’re touring so it’s got to be coming out,’ but they’ve done that a couple of times already. So if I put my money on it, I think it will be delayed again. I guess I’ve just lost hope.”
Shawn Callahan, drummer for GN’R cover band Appetite for Destruction, is similarly pessimistic. “I mean, maybe there’s a 50-50 chance it comes out before the end of the year, but I’m still skeptical,” he sighed. “A lot of this might just be hype, but I think it remains to be seen if people will be buying this album.”
And after all the buildup, how could the album not be disappointing? Mangin said the listener response to the leaked tracks (which Octane was playing before the label sent a cease-and-desist letter) was meek, at best. “It really didn’t get a huge, like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome [reaction],’ ” he said. “No one was flooding the phone lines or the e-mails, saying they need it and they can’t stop waiting for it.”
“Do we really care at this point?,” wondered Slipknot’s Shawn “Clown” Crahan. “No disrespect, but I stopped looking at my calendar when the real [original] band was done. That was the real excitement. That was the real magic. That was the real truth. I’m kind of bored with it.”
Severson agreed, adding that Axl may have tinkered the album to death.
“There’s absolutely no way that it’s going to be good enough to merit 10 years in the making,” he said. “You know why [Axl has] changed producers [so many times]? Because the material’s not good enough and he keeps trying someone who’s going to fix it. He keeps trying to get the right record.”
“I think after you take a certain amount of time, you might start feeling a little insecure about it,” Shadows added. “You feel like it’s never quite done. To me, it doesn’t really matter at this point how good it is. A lot of people are going to say it wasn’t worth the wait. I think it will be a great record, and I think for people to embrace it, they’re just going to have to take it for what it is. It’s just a rock record, and they need to listen to it like that. You can totally overthink sh–.”
Of course, anything is possible with Axl Rose — including another dozen years of overthinking sh–. The album could appear tomorrow — or on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve or 2010, or never. It’s hard not to think that the mystique surrounding Chinese Democracy — the thrill of anticipation, Axl’s quixotic rebelliousness, the album’s sheer elusiveness — is as much, if not more, of its appeal as the music.
“Axl is his own dude,” Mangin said. “He’s going to do what he wants. And I respect that.”