GN’R's Chinese Democracy five years on
Chinese whispers: Axl Rose
Unbelievably, Guns N’ Roses’ ‘new’ album, Chinese Democracy, was released five years ago today – on November 23, 2008.
Here are 20 facts you may or may not know about this long-delayed and still-controversial release:
1. The album features five guitarists: Robin Finck, Paul Tobias/Huge, Buckethead, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal and Richard Fortus. Brian May not included…
2. Who is Paul Tobias/Huge? “Paul’s just a friend of Axl’s,” guitarist Slash once revealed. “He brought Paul in without telling me [while Slash was still a member of GN'R]. I got really angry, cos the main thing is the band – getting the band together. It’s not like you hire a bunch of session people and make Guns N’ Roses – it doesn’t work like that.” Famous last words!
3. Caram Costanzo, who has the main production credit alongside Axl Rose, engineered two Stone Temple Pilots albums with Scott Weiland on vocals. Don’t ask him who the better singer is…
4. Fourteen studios are listed in the album credits.
5. The album is generally thought to have been started in 1994, the same year that Kurt Cobain killed himself and Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa.
6. The song This I Love stems from 1993. How it survived, we’ll never know. Sounds like a bad show tune. Diabolical lyrics. Lots of piano and OTT strings. Overblown, over pretentious. Oh dear.
7. Zakk Wylde playting guitar in GN’R? It nearly happened. Following Gilby Clarke’s departure, in January 1995 the band regrouped for rehearsals with a new candidate for the vacant guitar spot. Zakk came down and “we jammed together for just over a week, we jammed over a whole bunch of shit and came out with three pretty cool ideas. One of the riffs ended up on the first Black Label Society record [Sonic Brew], on the track The Rose Petalled Garden. The stuff that I wanted to do, eventually, would have been like GN’R on steroids, man.” But Zakk was unable to get a straight answer on any commitment from the GN’R camp and gave up on the idea. He said: “I saw Axl [later] and I said: ‘What the fuck happened?” And Axl goes: ‘Well Zakk, I heard to wanted two million up front and your own tourbus.”
8. Shortly after the release of Chinese Democracy Axl called up uber-producer Bob Ezrin and asked him to tell him what he thought of the album. Bob told Axl he had just three good songs…
9. On January 13, 2006, Axl visited Korn’s tour launch party at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery and gave his first comments to the press in over three years. “People will hear [new GN'R} music this year," he predicted confidently. "We're working on 32 songs, and 26 are nearly done." Rolling Stone reported that among Rose's favourites were Better, There Was A Time and The Blues.
10. On June 18, 2008, a website called Antiquiet ran a story under the headline: 'We've Got Chinese Democracy And It"s Worth The Wait.' The site offered nine illegal tracks from the album. The man behind the leaks, Kevin 'Skwerl' Cogill, was later arrested.
11. Cogill got away with something of a light tap on the wrist. He was sentenced to two months of home confinement and must allow his computers to be searched by the government. This comes on top of being sentenced to a year of probation by a Los Angeles court. During sentencing, Cogill said: “I never intended to hurt the artist, I intended to promote the artist because I’m a fan.”
12. Former Gunner Gilby Clarke had his two cents on Chinese Democracy: “I listened to it on a long drive to Phoenix, Arizona. I think it’s very good and very imaginative. Axl’s vocals sound great and there’s some creative guitar playing on it also. But there was too many slow-to-midtempo songs on it for my taste and some of the solos are a little overdone; they don’t match the song. Some of the lyrics are a little redundant. I expected some resolution since it’s taken so long.”
13. The direction of Chinese Democracy became apparent when dance-rock supremo Moby entered into talks with Axl in February 1997. Moby said: “They’re writing with a lot of loops, and believe it or not, they’re doing it better than anybody I’ve heard lately.” One of the demos Moby might’ve been presented with was the work-in-progress track, Oh My God. “Musically the song was primarily written by Paul Huge [in 1997],” Axl said later, “with Dizzy Reed writing the musical hook of the chorus. Former member Duff McKagan as well as former employee Matt Sorum failed to see its potential and showed no interest in exploring, let alone recording the piece.”
14. On May Day 1998, Geffen Records officially acknowledged the departure of Slash and Duff from GN’R and Axl made a deal with Geffen “to deliver that new studio LP… no later than March 1, 1999” for which he would receive “a substantial advance from Geffen in return.” Of course, it didn’t happen.
15. In summer 1998 producer Youth (the former Killing Joke bassist, riding high after producing U2 and the Verve) was brought in. Youth tried to focus Axl on making new music, jamming in Axl’s kitchen on acoustic guitars, just to get him to sing again: “He hadn’t been singing for around 18 months,” Youth said later. “I think the record had turned into a real labour. He was stuck and didn’t know how to proceed, so he was avoiding it.” Frustrated, Youth eventually gave up on the GN’R production chores.
16. In late November 1999, Axl Rose played nearly a dozen tracks from the album for Rolling Stone, who reported: “Imagine Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti remixed by Beck and Trent Reznor, and you’ll have some sense of Axl’s new sound…”
17. A version of Chinese Democracy was completed and ready to be released in 2000; however, when producer Roy Thomas Baker was hired, he decided everything (reported to be up to 30 songs) needed re-recording.
18. On September 23, 2006, Axl threw a party at his mansion after playing KROQ’s Inland Invasion and played the full album in his pool room to guests, including Sebastian Bach. “It’s a very cool album,” said Bach. “There’s this one song called Sorry that’s almost like doom metal with Axl singing really clean over this grinding, slow beat that is fucking mean. I cannot get it out of my head.”
19. When Chinese Democracy finally came out, ex-drummer Matt Sorum wondered if Axl had taken his revenge, because on the sleeve Sorum is listed only as an ‘additional musician’. “Additional musician?!” snorted Sorum. “Suddenly I’m the tambourine player.”
20. In Classic Rock‘s review of Chinese Democracy, writer Jon Hotten concluded: “This record is the sound of no one saying no to Axl Rose for 14 years. It may never be as loved as Appetite For Destruction but decades from now people will still assemble around it and stare up at its baroque facade, confident that we won’t see its like too often.” If at all…