Plenty of people have been talking lately about when, if, how or whether the long-delayed Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy will come out. Axl Rose hasn't been one of them.
But in an open letter posted Thursday on GunsNRoses.com credited to the enigmatic lead singer, Rose announced that the band would be canceling four upcoming West Coast shows in January, that he'd split with longtime manager Merck Mercuriadis and — oh yeah, that the album will be released ... on March 6.
Frustratingly for fans, despite the lucid, humbling language used by Rose in the lengthy missive, the only promise was that the band would try its hardest to meet that date.
"That being said, this is not a promise, a lie or a guarantee but we do wish to announce a tentative release date of March 6th," Rose wrote. "This is the first time we have done this publicly for this album. Any and all other dates have been made up by others for their own reasons. We would like to assure the fans that though tentative, everything in our power will be done to meet this date. Once it is finalized and official you will be notified. If we are delayed for unseen reasons you will also be notified as soon as possible in regard to a new date and the album will be released as shortly thereafter as is possible. We thank you for your patience."
A spokesperson for Rose's label could not be reached for comment at press time to verify that the letter was from Rose or that the March release date had been penciled in.
In explaining the cancelation of the four dates — three in California on January 10 (Sacramento), January 11 (Bakersfield) and January 16 (San Diego) and one in Nevada on January 13 (Reno) — Rose said the shows were sacrificed in order to ensure the proper eight-week setup time for Democracy by the band and its record company. "Due to the schedule of these particular shows valuable time needed by the band and record company for the proper setup and release of the album Chinese Democracy would be lost," he explained. "Rather than delay the album yet again, all involved have decided to remove these shows from GNR's schedule."
Over the years, plenty of people have talked about the tortuous journey that Democracy has taken, from the reportedly bloated budget of more than $13 million — which would make it one of the most expensive albums ever made — to the decade-plus process of recording with a rotating cast of guitarists and side men that has left Rose as the only original member of the group (see "Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy In 2006: What Are The Odds?").
"To say the making of this album has been an unbearably long and incomprehensible journey would be an understatement," Rose wrote. "Overcoming the endless and seemingly insanity of the obstacles faced by all involved, not withstanding the emotional challenges endured by everyone: the fans, the band, our road crew and business team has at many times seemed for all like a bad dream where one wakes up only to find they are still in the nightmare and unfortunately this time it has been played out for over a decade in real life.
"The true ongoing behind-the-scenes triumphs and casualties are much more complicated than any negative speculation that media or otherwise has managed to hit upon. For much of the time some form or another of legalities have been taking place that really the best way to deal with publicly was to keep our mouths shut in an attempt to ensure the best outcome and especially one that wouldn't jeopardize the band or the album."
Rose, who has often been content in the past to let others speculate as he stayed silent about the band and the album, was uncharacteristically chatty in the note, opening a door into some of the behind-the-scenes intrigue that has fueled the numerous delays in the release of Democracy.
"When I agreed to do our recent North American tour I agreed with the understanding that I and my manager Merck Mercuriadis were in full agreement as to our strategy, touring plans and most importantly that any and all things needed to release the album at the latest by Dec. 26th were to be in place," Rose said, confirming personally for the first time that a solid 2006 release date was set for the record.
"Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case, and not only do I regret to say that again the album will not be released by the end of the year but that, though many things went extremely well and were very exciting, there were in our opinion unnecessary and avoidable complications on our tour having to do with the tour routing, scheduling and album and video plans that played hell on all involved especially our crew," he said. "This was compounded by an overall sense of a lack of respect by management for the band and crew and each individual's particular expertise that has resulted unfortunately in the end of both GUNS and my relationship in having a management or sense of band involvement with Merck Mercuriadis."
In addition to announcing his split with Mercuriadis — who hinted earlier this year that the record would possibly "just appear" on one of the then 13 Tuesdays left (see "Guns N' Roses Hint At Democracy's Arrival, Add Tour Dates") — Rose chalked up some of the delays in the album's release to unnamed "certain minor, and by that I do mean minor, things and or additions as well as contract negotiations," which he now said have been scheduled.
"Both the band and I, along with our record company, feel that this record deserves the proper setup and promotion not the '13 Tuesdays left' and 'it may just appear in your record store' approach offered by management," he said, taking a swing at Mercuriadis and suggesting that the tease from former management may have been used as a strategy to help sell the band's latest tour to promoters. "The stress of dealing with this situation has been considerable for everyone as well as to the band themselves as a whole but that this was more importantly in our opinion something utterly insane to do to our fans."
Mercuriadis matched Rose's lengthy open letter with one of his own Thursday night, in which he claimed the "13 Tuesdays" comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, that the album didn't make its 2006 release because Rose was unable to finish the final few days work on it and that while he considers Rose to be one of the greatest vocalists of all time, he is disappointed by the singer's statement.
Referring to a note he said he sent to Rose earlier this week in which he alluded to the "issues that exist been Axl and myself," Mercuriadis said he set out the March release date and album roll-out in much the same way as Rose does in his letter.
"The reality is all of this year's touring was planned and agreed between Axl and myself, with a view to the album being in the stores before the 31st of December '06," Mercuriadis wrote in a letter posted to several GN'R fansites Thursday night. "This was confirmed by Axl in numerous interviews — most famously at the MTV Video Music Awards (see "Pharrell Shows Off Dirty Mouth, Al Gore Chills With 'Jackass' Crew: VMAs Backstage"). We planned the tour in February, just after Axl's birthday, and we were supposed to finish the album in May, before it started." Mercuriadis said recording engineers were sent to New York before the tour started, where they waited more than a month for the "muse to come but she never arrived." He said sessions were then set up in London in August, again fruitless, which led to Labor Day dates being postponed so the band could return to Los Angeles to work on the final two or three days of recording that needed to be completed.
Following a "breakthrough" that led to a few productive days in the studio, the muse reportedly disappeared again as the tour started, so there was no single to support it and the album remained a few days short of completion. "By the way, none of the above is meant as a criticism of Axl," Mercuriadis wrote. "It is the reality of trying to create something special under incredible pressure from the public — that wants and DEMANDS the record — and the record industry — that NEEDS it. The creative process is not something you can dictate, and Axl is a true artist."
Mercuriadis said he considered pulling the plug on the fall tour to push for the album's completion, but given the band's checkered track record with canceling shows, which "left us with very little good will with you, the fans," GN'R was forced to push ahead — if only because they needed the money to complete the album and keep the band alive since their label would not talk to them about a marketing campaign, video treatments or renegotiations until the album was in hand.
Though he said he felt disappointed by Rose's missive, Mercuriadis wrote that he's confident that when Chinese Democracy does finally hit the streets in March it will be "one of the best albums ever made" by "one of the greatest vocalists and frontmen."
In the end, Rose said, "it's just an album," but one that he, the band and the label believe is a true Guns N' Roses one. "Ultimately the public will decide and regardless of the outcome our hearts, lives and our passion has been put into this project every step of the way."