Monday, November 24, 2008

Why Now?

What Really Led To Chinese Democracy's Impending Release?

One of the strangest narratives surrounding Sunday’s release of Chinese Democracy is that the music itself is something of a non-event, thanks to the circulation of live nu-GNR bootlegs and leaks of in-progress tracks. In fact, enough questions have been answered about how Chinese Democracy sounds that a bigger question looms: Why now? Why, out of all the dates on the calendar, would Axl Rose decide that November 2008 felt like a good time to drop an album?

Only Axl knows for sure. But part of the answer may lie in the idea that Chinese Democracy had, thanks to its many delays, transformed from an album - slash - punchline into a vehicle for Axl to resolve festering disputes and debts tied to his six-year stint as a client of the Sanctuary Group. Sanctuary, an ambitious British artist management firm, spent years - and a small fortune - trying to branch into various segments of the music business. As financial disaster loomed last year, Sanctuary sold itself to Universal Music Group - which, you may remember, is the same company that puts out Guns N’ Roses’ music.

Axl effectively fired Sanctuary as his management firm in December 2006, after months of speculation and public comments from the company’s top manager, Merck Mercuriadis, trumpeting the imminent release of Chinese Democracy. Rose, in an open letter posted on the band’s Web site, cited “an overall sense of a lack of respect by management for the band and crew and each individual's particular expertise” as part of the reasons behind Mercuriadis’ firing. (He also claimed that the album would come out March 6, 2007. The best intentions…)

But Axl couldn’t completely kick Sanctuary to the curb - during his time as a client, he struck deals with Sanctuary subsidiaries and affiliates that resulted in them overseeing his music - publishing rights and the production of Guns N’ Roses merchandise. And since at least early 2004 (when Universal’s Geffen Records made clear it wouldn’t underwrite additional production costs for Chinese Democracy) Sanctuary had functioned as Rose’s bank as well, deferring or delaying some commissions for managing him and offering other financial support. According to sources familiar with the situation, Axl’s tab reached well into the seven-figure mark.

By the time Axl announced his firing of Mercuriadis, not only had he piled up a debt to the management company, he had been dragged into a series of disputes - public and private - tied to the publishing and merch deals. In 2005, ex-bandmates Slash and Duff filed a lawsuit alleging that he had switched publishers without their approval and pocketed the royalties, and there was a separate feud brewing where they raised similar charges about his dealings with Sanctuary’s merchandise unit, Bravado.

But two crucial events changed the course of Rose’s career: Sanctuary’s buyout; and Rose finding his way to the management fold of music heavyweight Irving Azoff and longtime hard-rock mastermind Andy Gould. Universal was in a position to sweep away all of Rose’s disputes at once, and Azoff was keen to deal - as it turned out, the number to remember in the Chinese Democracy saga isn’t 17, but 360.

Word is it was Azoff who initiated the push to resolve all the issues at once, in a negotiation led on the Universal side by the corporation’s president, Zach Horowitz - though who was leveraging who depends on who you ask. After months of back and forth, a deal was worked out to resolve all of Axl’s disputes, with Chinese Democracy - and a nice “thanks for the retail exclusive” check from Best Buy - underwriting the peace agreements. Slash and Duff are receiving a little payback for their troubles from Axl’s Sanctuary deals, and Axl himself received a new advance, though the currently undisclosed figure is said to be somewhat less than it would have been if he didn’t have to give something up to settle the outstanding debts.

It’s possible that the satisfaction of clearing both his books and his legal docket all by simply stepping away from the mixing board and saying “OK, I’m done” had no bearing on Axl’s decision to finally put out Chinese Democracy. But is it likely?

(And, of course, whether Chinese Democracy finally being off Axl's back will result in Guns N’ Roses’ next album coming out before the end of this decade is a question that should at least wait until Sunday's one-day SoundScan estimates are out.)



Mack Arillo said...

Quite illuminating, really.

Anonymous said...

As promised, here's my review on Chinese Democracy now that i have the CD on my hands and i've been listening to it non-stop for 2 days.

When i heard all the album, i just broke down and cried. Since being a Gn'R fan from early days - 13 - whenever i'd listen to Velvet Revolver i always get that feeling when your mother and father got divorced and now they get to marry another person. You feel happy for the guy, acknowledging that they should be able to move on...but deep down inside there's some sadness that you don't get your family back.

So that's the way i felt when i got to the end of the album. It's in your face: Guns n' Roses are dead.

Chinese Democracy might as well be Axl's solo album. This summer, while packing things up, i reran VHS tapes and found a Axl's interview with Kurt Loader. Asked about a solo album (this is 1991, right before Izzy left) he mentioned that he wasn't willing to do a solo album, but still they were people we would like to do music with besides GN'R. So there, Axl, your "dream" did come true: you're now allowed to play with 5 different guitar players, 2/3 keyboadists and special FX, 2 drummers and a orchestra, without having pain in the ass like Slash, or Duff (or even Matt) tell you "what does it have to do with rock n' roll?!". So there, Axl, i hope you're happy with this. To me, the absence of yan in your yin just caused you to detour. "I hope to God she hears me"?: i hope to God that IZZY hears you.

So it's true: this is not Guns n' Roses. And it's abusive of Axl to keep calling it Guns n' Roses. The sad part of it all is that i don't think it was for commercial reasons, name rights and so on. A Axl Rose solo album would just as easily be sold as such. Gn'R fans are loyal, just look at Izzy's career ou even Velvet Revolver. There was no need to keep going the name if Axl's not willing to - at least - get Izzy back FOR GOOD.

That is not to say that Chinese Democracy is a bad album, because is not Guns n' Roses. It is a good album, something i never saw labeled but that i'd call: epic rock.

Excelent tracks: Chinese Democracy, There Was a Time, Madagascar

Good tracks: Catcher in the Rye, Street of Dreams, IRS, Better. Prostitute

Medium tracks: Sorry: bad beginning, middle and final parts ok.

Still assessing Shackler's Revenge, Scraped, Rhiad and The Bedouins.

Strange and unclassifiable tracks: This I Love. This sounds like a song from a musical. The final part of the melody is great, but the rest...It reminds me of november rain, but should have been better off being out of this album.

One more note for lyrics and songwritting. Songs like Chinese Democracy, Madagascar, TWAT, Catcher in the Rye show the word genius Axl is. The rest, though, especially "This i love", "If the world" seem repetitive about the same issue and become somehow monotonous because of that.

All in all: a great album, groundbreaking in some ways. Sounds like UIY would have been without Izzy and Duff (since it seems to me Bumblefoot has done the solo parts rather weel).

I can't stop hearing it. Thank you Axl, for sharing your art with the rest of the world. But i just hope you get "divorced" from the "new wife" and get back together with - at least - Izzy, so what you call Guns n' Roses can have something of...Guns n' Roses.


Anonymous said...

Crap review.

Mack Arillo said...

I hear that there's 1 extra track coming, either a Best Buy or an iTunes exclusive, maybe a B-side to a single.

Mack Arillo said...

Now Axl is suing Dr. Pepper:

Anonymous said...

Robus said...

Chinese Democracy has already got a gold status in Poland. :)

One picture is more than thousand words:

Today I'm getting my copy ;) Shipping should arrive in few hours.