Chinese Democracy

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This article is about the album. For the song, see Chinese Democracy (song). For the Chinese political movement, see Democracy in China.
Chinese Democracy
Studio album by Guns N' Roses
Released November 23, 2008
Recorded 1999–2008
Battery Soundtrack, Bennett House, Can Am, Capitol Studios, Cherokee Studios, Electric Lady Studios, IGA, The Palms, Rumbo, Sunset Sound Recorders, The Townhouse, The Village, Woodland Ranch
Genre Hard rock,[1] industrial rock[2]
Length 71:18
Label Geffen
Producer Axl Rose, Caram Costanzo
Guns N' Roses chronology
"The Spaghetti Incident?"
(1993)
Chinese Democracy
(2008)
TBA
(2015)
Singles from Chinese Democracy
  1. "Chinese Democracy"
    Released: October 22, 2008
  2. "Better"
    Released: November 17, 2008
  3. "Street of Dreams"
    Released: March 14, 2009

Chinese Democracy is the sixth studio album by American hard rock band Guns N' Roses, released in November 2008 on Geffen Records. It is the band's first studio album since "The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993), and their first album of original studio material since the simultaneous releases of Use Your Illusion I and II in September 1991. Despite debuting at number three on the Billboard 200 and being certified Platinum by the RIAA,[3] Chinese Democracy domestically undersold expectations.[4][5] It received generally favorable reviews from music critics. The album achieved international chart success and has sold over one million copies in Europe.

Background[edit]

Guns N' Roses began to write and record new music in 1994. Bassist Duff McKagan is quoted as saying, "[the] band was so stoned at that point that nothing got finished".[6] Guitarist Slash has criticized Axl Rose for making the band seem "like a dictatorship".[7] Slash quit the band in 1996, with drummer Matt Sorum and McKagan both leaving soon afterwards.[8] Slash was replaced by Nine Inch Nails touring guitarist Robin Finck, ex-Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson replaced McKagan, and Josh Freese joined as the drummer. In early 1998, the band—which comprised Rose, Finck, Stinson and Freese along with long-time Guns N' Roses associate Paul Tobias, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman—began recording at Rumbo Recorders, a state-of-the-art studio in the San Fernando Valley where Guns N' Roses had partially recorded parts for their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. During this time, Geffen paid Rose $1 million to try to finish the album, with a further $1 million if he handed it in to them by March 1, 1999.[7]

In 2000, Rose hired guitarist Buckethead, and drummer Bryan Mantia to replace Freese, who left to join A Perfect Circle. Later on in 2000, Finck rejoined the band as the third guitarist. On January 1, 2001, Guns N' Roses played their first concert in over seven years at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Nevada. This was followed by their headlining performance at Rock in Rio III on January 14, 2001 in front of 190,000 people.[9] On August 29, 2002, the band made a surprise visit to the MTV Video Music Awards, playing old songs along with a new "Madagascar" to an ecstatic New York crowd.[10]

Guns N' Roses at 2006's Download Festival, attending as a part of the Chinese Democracy tour.

Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal replaced the departed guitarist Buckethead and touring resumed in May 2006, with Bumblefoot adding guitar tracks to the album between legs of touring throughout the year. Drummer Frank Ferrer replaced departed Mantia in July and added his drum tracks to the album. On December 14, 2006, Rose published an open letter to the band's fans on their website, claiming that remaining tour's shows were taking up time the band needed to finish recording Chinese Democracy. Rose also revealed that the band had parted company with their manager Merck Mercuriadis, implying that the reason the album was not released in 2006 was Mercuriadis's fault (many times throughout 2006, Rose had said the album would be released that year). In the letter, Rose announced a tentative release date of March 6, 2007 for the album; however, the album was once again delayed.[11][12]

On February 22, 2007, the band's road manager, Del James, announced that all recording for the album had been completed and it was in the mixing process, James stated that there was no release date for the album but that things appeared to be moving on after a number of delays.[13]

On September 14, 2008, "Shackler's Revenge" was released on the music video game Rock Band 2, making it the band's first official release of new material since 1999's "Oh My God".[14] "Shackler's Revenge" was shortly followed by another release, "If the World", which plays during the closing credits of Body of Lies. A firm release date was announced by Billboard in October 2008, set for November 23.[15] In the US, the retail release is sold exclusively through Best Buy. The first single from the album, "Chinese Democracy", was released on October 22, 2008,[16] followed by the second single "Better" on November 17, 2008. The album was released as downloadable content for the Rock Band series on April 14, 2009.[17]

Shortly before the album's release, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig offered three versions of the album for approval to co-producers Axl Rose and Caram Costanzo, and they selected the one with no dynamic-range compression,[18] to avoid being involved in the ongoing loudness war. Ludwig wrote, "I was floored when I heard they decided to go with my full dynamics version and the loudness-for-loudness-sake versions be damned."[19] Ludwig feels that the "fan and press backlash against the recent heavily compressed recordings finally set the context for someone to take a stand and return to putting music and dynamics above sheer level."[19]

Recording[edit]

A version of Chinese Democracy was completed and ready to be released in 2000; however, when Roy Thomas Baker was hired, he decided everything (reported to be up to 30 songs) needed re-recording.[20] Long time Guns N' Roses producer Mike Clink was reported to have worked on the album during its conception. Moby and Youth turned down offers to work on the album.[21] According to Rolling Stone, engineer Andy Wallace, who had worked with many notable bands such as Nirvana, Sepultura, Slayer and Bad Religion, was working on the album in 2006. Other producers who have worked on the album include Bob Ezrin and Sean Beavan.[22]

The band has worked with numerous other artists during Chinese Democracy's recording process, including guitarists Brian May and Dave Navarro.[23][24] May recorded the lead guitar parts for the leaked song "Catcher In the Rye" in 1999;[23] however, May is not credited in the finished album,[25] and his performances were removed from the final release. Composers Marco Beltrami and Paul Buckmaster worked on orchestral arrangements for the album in the early 2000s.[24] In January 2007, former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach recorded backing vocals for a song called "Sorry" at Electric Lady Studios.[26] Harpist Patti Hood has also recorded parts for the album.[27]

Music[edit]

Sample of "Chinese Democracy" from Chinese Democracy. It is the first single released by Guns N' Roses since 1999.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

In 1999, the industrial metal song "Oh My God" was released on the soundtrack of the movie End of Days and played over the movie's end credits. It featured current Guns N' Roses members Axl Rose, Tommy Stinson, Dizzy Reed, and Chris Pitman, along with former members Robin Finck, Paul Tobias, and Josh Freese. Dave Navarro and Gary Sunshine also recorded guitar parts for the song. "Oh My God" was unpopular upon its release and was described by Allmusic as "a less than satisfying comeback".[7][28] The sound of Chinese Democracy was often reported to be industrial rock music similar to Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, a style of which Rose had long been a fan. However, in a 2001 interview with an Argentine radio station, Rose stated the album was not industrial, and would vary in styles, stating "It is not industrial, the closest thing to that was perhaps "Oh My God", but there are some songs that won't be on the album that were this way. There will be all kinds of styles, many influences as blues, mixed in the songs."[29]

In 2003, DJ Eddie Trunk spoke about the demo of "I.R.S.", which was leaked on his radio show, stating "It reminded me of Use Your Illusion-era stuff, with some modern flairs to it. The song had a loop track in the beginning, but then, when it kicked in, it was that same dramatic Guns N' Roses hard rock."[30] During the launch party for Korn's 2006 tour, Rose conducted an interview with Rolling Stone and told the magazine:

It's a very complex record, I'm trying to do something different. Some of the arrangements are kind of like Queen. Some people are going to say, 'It doesn't sound like Axl Rose, it doesn't sound like Guns N' Roses.' But you'll like at least a few songs on there.[31]

In a Rolling Stone article in 2006, former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach described the album as "epic" and "mind-blowing" and added "It's a very cool album—it's badass with killer screams, killer guitar riffs, but it's got a totally modern sound. The word for it is ‘grand.' It's fucking epic. He's reinvented himself yet again."[32] Bach has also described the album as having "the rawness and the power of Appetite for Destruction, but it also has the grandiosity of 'November Rain'."[33] He went on to describe the song "Sorry", which he sings backing vocals on, stating "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."[32]

Delays[edit]

According to a March 2005 New York Times article, production costs for the album had reached $13 million, making it probably the most expensive recording "never made."[7] Then-Guns N' Roses manager Merck Mercuriadis, however, rejected the claims made by the article in a letter and claimed that the newspaper's sources had not been involved with the project for "six to nine years".[34]

Rose issued a press release on Guns N' Roses' official website on December 14, 2006. Entitled "An open letter to the fans from Axl", Rose announced the cancellation of four concerts that were scheduled for January 2007. He stated that if the band fulfilled the concerts, "valuable time needed by the band and record company for the proper setup and release of the album Chinese Democracy would have been lost". Also in the letter, he confirmed that Guns N' Roses had parted company with Mercuriadis. Rose blamed much of the album's delay on Mercuriadis. Rose also announced a tentative release date for Chinese Democracy of March 6, 2007, and remarked that it was the first time the band had publicly named a release date for the album.[11]

Despite Rose's announcement, the album was once again delayed. On February 22, 2007, the band's road manager, Del James, issued a press release definitively stating that all recording for the album had been completed. James elaborated, "There is no official release date, as the band is currently mixing, but after some delays and scheduling difficulties, things appear to be moving along."[13]

In a 2007 interview, Sebastian Bach claimed Rose had planned to have the album released by Christmas 2007: "I know Axl was very serious about putting something out before Christmas. He was talking to me about it. He was talking about finishing liner notes." Bach also said that Chinese Democracy's delay might be because of business problems: "I think there's a lot of business shit that goes on with him. It's just not as easy. It's a little more complicated than people think."[35] Little was said about the record after this, and 2007 saw no official release of the new material.

In January 2008, rumors arose that Chinese Democracy had been handed over to Geffen Records, but had been delayed because the label and Rose could not agree on the marketing of the album.[36] Eddie Trunk also claimed Geffen might have the album: "I hear the new GNR CD is actually done, but the delay in release is not the bands [sic] issues but the label. There is so much money tied up in this record that in todays [sic] business it will be virtually impossible to be profitable, meaning the label might want to sell it off but can not [sic] find a buyer since nobody buys CDs anymore. Problem might not be Axl this time around and might keep this CD in limbo for more years to come. Hopefully it gets resolved."[37] However, in a February 2008 interview with Classic Rock Magazine, Rose's personal manager, Beta Lebeis, debunked Trunk's suggestion and was quoted as saying, "We're currently in negotiations with the record label".[38]

In late 2012, Rose told USA Today he didn't write any music "for years" in the mid-1990s because of criticism from bandmates Slash and Duff McKagan, as well as ex-fiancee Stephanie Seymour.[39]

Controversy and lawsuits[edit]

Leak by Kevin Cogill[edit]

Music blogger Kevin Cogill published several tracks of Chinese Democracy in his website in June 2008. The website server crashed shortly after the leak because of the high user traffic, and the tracks were removed later. In August, the FBI arrested Cogill for pre-releasing copyrighted material.[40] In October he agreed to plead guilty for misdemeanor, and spent two months under house arrest. In 2014, Cogill revealed that he could not be charged for pre-releasing copyrighted material, because the band did not intend to release the album to the public.[41]

Dr Pepper promotion[edit]

On March 26, 2008, various media outlets reported that Dr Pepper would offer a free can of Dr Pepper to everyone in America —excluding former Guns N' Roses guitarists Buckethead and Slash— if the band released Chinese Democracy in 2008.[42][43] Later on March 26, Rose replied to Dr Pepper on Guns N' Roses' official website and spoke of his surprise at Dr Pepper's support. Rose also said he would share his Dr Pepper with Buckethead as "some of Buckethead's performances are on Chinese Democracy".[44] After it was announced that the album would be released in 2008, Dr Pepper confirmed that it would uphold its pledge.[45] However, Dr Pepper's online distribution of free coupons upon the album's release November 23, 2008 proved less than adequate. Lawyers for the band threatened Dr Pepper's parent company with a lawsuit just two days after the album's release. In a letter to Dr Pepper, Rose's lawyer Alan Gutman said "The redemption scheme your company clumsily implemented for this offer was an unmitigated disaster which defrauded consumers and, in the eyes of vocal fans, ruined Chinese Democracy's release."[46] Rose's lawyer also demanded that the company make a full-page apology that would appear in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times.[47][48]

Later, in an online interview with a fan message forum, Rose stated he specifically told his lawyers it was a non-issue and was taken off-guard by their actions. He believed they should be focused on the record release.[49]

Censorship in the People's Republic of China[edit]

The album is banned in the People's Republic of China, due to perceived criticism in its title track of the Government of the People's Republic of China and reference to the Falun Gong.[50] The Chinese government said through media that it "turns its spear point on China".[51][52]

Schnauss lawsuit[edit]

In October 2009, electronic musician Ulrich Schnauss's record labels, Independiente and Domino, sued Guns N' Roses, alleging that the band had committed copyright infringement by using portions of his compositions in the song "Riad 'n the Bedouins".[53] The suit alleges that the portions used were from Schnauss' 2001 Wherever You Are and 2003 A Strangely Isolated Place. Brian Caplan, attorney for Domino, stated that they first contacted the Geffen label on February 26. The label "attempted to explain [the samples] away", Caplan told the New York Daily News "They tried to justify it."[54] Guns N' Roses vigorously denies the allegations. Guns N' Roses manager Irving Azoff stated that "The snippets of 'ambient noise' in question were provided by a member of the album's production team who has assured us that these few seconds of sound were obtained legitimately." Going further, he added "While the band resents the implication that they would ever use another artist's work improperly and are assessing possible counterclaims, they are confident this situation will be satisfactorily resolved." The two labels are seeking $1 million in damages against Geffen for the unauthorized use of the composition samples.[55]

Commercial performance[edit]

The album was initially released November 22, 2008, in Germany,[56] Switzerland,[57] and Austria.[58] It was released on November 23, 2008, worldwide, except in the United Kingdom on November 24, 2008.[59] Chinese Democracy debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 261,000 copies in its first week, well below expectations.[4][60][61] The album also debuted at #2 on the UK Albums Chart.[62] Chinese Democracy was certified Platinum by the RIAA on February 3, 2009, having shipped one million copies in the United States.[3][63]

The album secured an IFPI European Platinum Award, having sold more than one million copies in Europe,[64][65] and had sold 2.6 million units worldwide as of February 2009, according to Universal Music.[63] The album also reached triple platinum certification in Canada, as well as platinum certifications in many other countries, including Finland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.[66] It was certified gold in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Brazil, and Colombia.[66] It re-entered the US Billboard 200 again in the week ending April 3, 2011, selling 3,200 copies, enough for the 198th position. At that date, the album had sold 614,000 copies in the US according to Nielsen Soundscan.[67] In the UK, it has sold 365,899 copies as of July 2014.[68]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[69]
The A.V. Club A–[70]
Robert Christgau B+[71]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[72]
Mojo 3/5 stars[73]
Pitchfork Media 5.8/10[74]
Q 2/5 stars[75]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[1]
Slant Magazine 2.5/5 stars[76]
Spin 7/10[77]

Chinese Democracy received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 64, based on 28 reviews.[78] Mikael Wood of Spin said that Rose's vocals are "still astounding" and felt that the songs' "memorable melodies" overcome the album's "aural onslaught."[77] Los Angeles Times writer Ann Powers called it "a test for contemporary ears", but ultimately viewed it as "a cyborgian blend of pop expressiveness, traditional rock bravado and Brian Wilson-style beautiful weirdness".[79] Chuck Klosterman, writing for The A.V. Club, said that Rose's "curious (and absolutely unnecessary) decisions throughout the assembly of this project ... works to his advantage as often as it detracts from the larger experience."[70] David Fricke, writing for Rolling Stone, commended Rose's unrestrained approach and called it "a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record."[1] Rolling Stone later ranked the album number 12 on its year-end list of 2008's best albums.[80] MSN Music's Robert Christgau said that Rose succeeds on "his own totally irrelevant terms" and asserted, "Since he's no longer capable of leading young white males astray, this effort isn't just pleasurable artistically. It's touching on a human level. Noble, even. I didn't think he had it in him."[71]

In a mixed review, Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune found Axl Rose's production overembellished and wrote that "Rose throws everything he’s got into these songs, but his shock-and-awe arrangements suggest he’s really trying to cover something up".[81] Kitty Empire, writing for The Observer, accused Rose of "cribbing" from the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails and observed "a mish-mash of portentous digitals in search of a purpose."[2] Rob Harvilla of The Village Voice viewed the album as overcooked and called it "a hilariously painstaking attempt to synthesize that lightning, a lost cause taken to delirious extremes, a fascinating catastrophe inspiring equal parts awe and pity."[82] Slant Magazine's Casey Boland found its songs "grandiose, overwrought, overblown, superfluous and occasionally among the greatest songs Rose has recorded to date."[76] Jon Pareles, writing for The New York Times, believed that it would have been perceived as a "transitional album" by the band even if they had released it in 2000, and mused: "Sometime during the years of work, theatricality and razzle-dazzle replaced heart."[83] Rock biographer Stephen Davis was more vitriolic and named Chinese Democracy "the worst album ever".[84]

Opinions of former band members[edit]

Duff McKagan praised the album, saying that "Axl sounds amazing" and "I think Axl's finally made the record he always wanted to".[85] Slash reacted positively to the title track,[86] and after the full album was released, the guitarist only said it was "exactly what I thought it would sound like", with many synthesizers and digital augmentation.[87]

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics written by Axl Rose

No. Title Music Length
1. "Chinese Democracy"   Rose, Josh Freese 4:43
2. "Shackler's Revenge"   Rose, Buckethead, Caram Costanzo, Bryan Mantia, Pete Scaturro 3:37
3. "Better"   Rose, Robin Finck 4:58
4. "Street of Dreams"   Rose, Tommy Stinson, Dizzy Reed 4:46
5. "If the World"   Rose, Chris Pitman 4:54
6. "There Was a Time"   Rose, Paul Tobias, Reed 6:41
7. "Catcher in the Rye"   Rose, Tobias 5:53
8. "Scraped"   Rose, Buckethead, Costanzo 3:30
9. "Riad N' the Bedouins"   Rose, Stinson 4:10
10. "Sorry"   Rose, Buckethead, Mantia, Scaturro 6:14
11. "I.R.S."   Rose, Tobias, Reed 4:28
12. "Madagascar"   Rose, Pitman 5:38
13. "This I Love"   Rose 5:34
14. "Prostitute"   Rose, Tobias 6:15
Total length:
71:18

Personnel[edit]

Guns N' Roses
Former member contributors
Session musicians
  • Sebastian Bach – background vocals on "Sorry"
  • Pete Scaturro – keyboards on "Sorry"
  • Suzy Katayama – French horns on "Madagascar"
  • Patti Hood – harp on "This I Love"
Additional personnel
  • Pete Scaturro – arrangements on tracks 2 and 10; digital editing and additional engineering on track 10; initial production on tracks 2 and 10
  • Caram Costanzo – digital editing on all tracks; arrangements on tracks 2, 6 and 8; drum arrangements on tracks 3, 6 and 14; sub drums on track 13; production; mixing; engineering; initial production on track 8
  • Eric Caudieux – digital editing on all tracks; additional drum programming on track 5; arrangements on track 6; sub drums on track 13; Pro Tools engineering; additional production
  • Andy Wallace – Mixing
  • Dan Monti – engineering
  • Bob Ludwig – mastering
  • Roy Thomas Baker – Initial album production
  • Sean Beavan – arrangements on tracks 1, 4, 6, 9 and 11; digital editing on tracks 1, 4 to 6, 9, 11, 12 and 14; initial production on tracks 5 and 12; additional Pro Tools, drum arrangement
  • Paul Buckmaster – Orchestra conductor, Orchestral arrangement on track 14, Initial Symphonic arrangements on tracks 4, 6, 12
  • Marco Beltrami – Additional Orchestral arrangements on tracks 4, 6, 12 and 14; Orchestral arrangement on track 13
  • Suzy Katayama – Orchestra contractor, French horns on track 12; Brass section arrangements on tracks 6, 12 and 13; Choral arrangements on tracks 6 and 13
  • Billy Howerdel – digital editing on track 6

Chart positions[edit]

Album[edit]

Year Chart Peak position
2008 European Top 100 1[88]
Argentina Albums Chart 1[89]
Canadian Albums Chart 1[90]
Finnish Albums Chart 1[91]
New Zealand Albums Chart 1[92]
Polish Albums Chart 1[93]
Slovene Albums Chart 1[94]
Swiss Albums Chart 1[95]
Taiwanese G-music Western Chart 1[96]
UK Albums Chart 2[62]
German Albums Chart 2[95]
Norwegian Albums Chart 2[95]
U.S. Billboard 200 3[60]
Australian Albums Chart 3[97]
Austrian Albums Chart 3[95]
Irish Albums Chart 3[98]
Israeli Albums Chart 3[99]
Italian Albums Chart 3[100]
Japanese Oricon Albums Chart 3[101]
Belgian Albums Chart 2[102]
Dutch Albums Chart 4[103]
Hungarian Albums Chart 4[95]
Mexican Albums Chart 3[104]
Russian Albums Chart 4[105]
Swedish Albums Chart 4[95]
Danish Albums Chart 7[106]
Portuguese Albums Chart 9[95]
French Albums Chart 5[95]
Greek Albums Chart 10[107]

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2009) Position
Swiss Albums Chart[108] 89

Singles[edit]

Year Song Chart Peak position
2008 "Chinese Democracy" Billboard Hot 100 34[109]
Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 5[110]
Hot Modern Rock Tracks 24[111]
Canadian Hot 100 10[111]
UK Singles Chart 27[112]
Australian ARIA Singles Chart 54[113]
Norwegian Top 20 1[114]
Swedish Singles Chart 3[115]
Finnish Singles Chart 3[116]

Promos[edit]

Year Song Chart Peak position
2008 "Better" Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 3[117]
2009 "Street of Dreams" Canadian Song Charts 44

References[edit]

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