Chinese Democracy

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Chinese Democracy
GNRchinesedemocracy.jpg
Studio album by Guns N' Roses
Released November 23, 2008
Recorded 1997–February 2007
Studio
Genre
Length 71:18
Label Geffen, Black Frog
Producer
Guns N' Roses chronology
Greatest Hits
(2004)
Chinese Democracy
(2008)
Appetite for Democracy 3D
(2014)
Guns N' Roses studio album chronology
"The Spaghetti Incident?"
(1993) "The Spaghetti Incident?"1993
Chinese Democracy
(2008) Chinese Democracy2008
Singles from '
  1. "Chinese Democracy"
    Released: October 22, 2008
Alternate cover
Alternate cover

Chinese Democracy is the sixth studio album by American hard rock band Guns N' Roses. It was released on November 23, 2008, by Geffen Records. The album was the band's first studio album since "The Spaghetti Incident?" in November 1993, and their first album of original studio material since the simultaneous releases of Use Your Illusion I and II in September 1991. Although it debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Chinese Democracy domestically undersold expectations. It received generally favorable reviews from music critics. The album achieved international chart success and has sold over one million copies in Europe.

In 1994, Guns N' Roses' progress on a follow-up to "The Spaghetti Incident?" was halted due to creative differences between members of the band. Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum, and Gilby Clarke all resigned or were fired from the band in the mid-1990s. Lead singer Axl Rose and keyboardist Dizzy Reed were the only members from the previous lineup remaining by the time production had started. A new lineup, consisting of Rose, Reed, guitarists Robin Finck and Paul Tobias, bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Josh Freese, and keyboardist Chris Pitman began working on the album in 1997.

Initially intended to be released in 1999 or 2000, the album was re-recorded completely in 2000. The album was worked on by multiple lineups of the band, including later members Brain, Buckethead, Richard Fortus, Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, and Frank Ferrer. Personnel and legal reasons, as well as Rose's alleged perfectionism, caused the album to be delayed multiple times. The album missed an announced March 2007 release date, before being released in November 2008. With production costs reportedly eclipsing $13 million, the album is the most expensive rock album ever produced.

Background[edit]

Guns N' Roses began to sporadically write and record new music in 1994.[1] Bassist Duff McKagan said the band "was so stoned at that point that nothing got finished".[2] Guitarist Slash criticized Axl Rose for making the band seem "like a dictatorship".[3] Rose later stated about the dysfunction of the group at the time: "We still needed the collaboration of the band as a whole to write the best songs. Since none of that happened, that's the reason why that material got scrapped."[4]

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

Rose's childhood friend and Hollywood Rose collaborator Paul Tobias was brought in to replace Gilby Clarke, whose contract with the band was not renewed.[5] Due to creative differences with Rose and personal problems with Tobias, Slash quit the band in 1996.[6][7] McKagan left soon after and Sorum was fired in 1997.[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, rhythm guitarist 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.[3]

By August 1999, the band had recorded over 30 songs for the album, tentatively titled 2000 Intentions.[9] During a 1999 interview with MTV's Kurt Loder, Rose announced the title of the upcoming album to be Chinese Democracy, stating "there's a lot of Chinese democracy movements, and it's something that there's a lot of talk about, and it's something that will be nice to see. It could also just be like an ironic statement. I don't know, I just like the sound of it."[10] Rose also mentioned the album would feature "lot of different sounds. There's some heavy songs, there's a lot of aggressive songs, but they're all in different styles and different sounds. It is truly a melting pot."[10]

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 Axl Rose, Paul Tobias, Tommy Stinson, Dizzy Reed, Chris Pitman, and Josh Freese, along with then-former member Robin Finck. Dave Navarro and Gary Sunshine also recorded guitar parts for the song. "Oh My God" received mixed critical reception upon release and was described by Allmusic as "a less than satisfying comeback".[3][11] The song was the band's first release of new material with the new lineup.

In 2000, Rose hired guitarist Buckethead, and drummer Brain replaced Freese, who left to join A Perfect Circle.[12][13] Later on in 2000, Finck (having briefly left the band in 1999) rejoined the band as the third guitarist.[14] On January 1, 2001, Guns N' Roses played their first concert in over seven years at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, Nevada.[15] This was followed by their headlining performance at Rock in Rio III on January 14, 2001 in front of 190,000 people.[16] 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 a New York crowd.[17] The band canceled their tour in 2004 after Buckethead left the band.[18]

Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal replaced Buckethead and touring resumed in May 2006, with Bumblefoot adding guitar tracks to the album between legs of touring throughout the year.[19] Drummer Frank Ferrer replaced Brain in July 2006 and added his drum tracks to the album.[20] 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.[21][22]

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.[23]

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".[24][25] "Shackler's Revenge" was shortly followed by another release, "If the World", which plays during the closing credits of Body of Lies.[26] A firm release date was announced by Billboard in October 2008, set for November 23.[27] 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.[28][29] It was first played by the Opie and Anthony show on KROQ-FM. It was then followed by the second single "Better" on November 17, 2008.[30] "Street of Dreams" was then released as the third single as a promo single in March 2009. The entire album was released as downloadable content for the Rock Band series on April 14, 2009.[31]

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,[32] 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."[33] 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."[33]

Tommy Stinson, Chris Pitman, Dizzy Reed, Robin Finck, Josh Freese and Axl Rose (along with Paul Tobias, not pictured) were the first lineup of the band to start production on the album.

Recording[edit]

Long time Guns N' Roses producer Mike Clink was reported to have worked on the album during its conception.[34] Moby, Youth and Tim Palmer all briefly worked on the album.[35][36][37][38] According to Rolling Stone, engineer Andy Wallace, who had worked with 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, Eric Caudieux and Sean Beavan.[39] Caram Costanzo and Axl Rose are the final credited producers on the final album.[40]

Former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach recorded vocals on the song "Sorry".

The band has worked with numerous other artists during the recording process, including guitarists Brian May and Dave Navarro.[41][42] May recorded the lead guitar parts for the leaked song "Catcher in the Rye" in 1999;[41] however, May is not credited in the finished album,[43] and his performances were removed from the final release. Drummer Josh Freese's parts were scrapped and re-recorded note-for-note by Bryan "Brain" Mantia after Freese left the band in 1999.[44][45] Composers Marco Beltrami and Paul Buckmaster worked on orchestral arrangements for the album in the early 2000s.[42] In January 2007, former Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach recorded backing vocals for a song called "Sorry" at Electric Lady Studios.[46] Harpist Patti Hood (who had previously worked with Chris Pitman on the album Free Mars) also recorded parts for the album as did conductor Suzy Katayama.[47] The band used 15 studios during the recording of the album, including Capitol Studios, Cherokee Studios, Electric Lady Studios, Sunset Sound Recorders and The Village, among others.[40]

Bassist Tommy Stinson described the nature of the recording in a 2006 interview:

We did most of the music as a total collaborative effort a while back, most of the music was recorded (in 2001). In the last seven years, in the last four years (98-01), [the album]'s been pretty much done. It's been through a couple of producers' hands."

Brain stated he recorded his drum parts in eight months.[48] A chicken coop was installed in the studio at Buckethead's behest, with the guitarist claiming it helped him get into 'his own world to live in' and play better.[49] In a 2015 interview, guitarist Richard Fortus stated that Rose recorded his vocal parts in less than a week.[50]

Rose mentioned in a 1999 interview that the band recorded enough material for a double album.[10] He also mentioned recording sessions for Chinese Democracy resulted in "several albums" worth of material, including an album that is "more industrial and electronica-influenced than Chinese Democracy".[38] Sebastian Bach backed up this claim, stating that Chinese Democracy was to be the first in a trilogy of albums.[51] Early in the recording process, the band was said to have 60 songs in development.[3] Sources claimed the band's initial plans in 2001 were to record two albums, release Chinese Democracy, tour for a year or two, then release the second album without having to return to the studio.[52] Rose said in 2006 that the band had 32 songs in development at the time[53] as well as confirming the working titles of 10 songs in 2008.[54] Guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal stated in 2013 that an unreleased song "Atlas Shrugged" was a last second cut from the album due to time constraints with compact discs.[55] In a June 2014 interview, Rose stated a 'second part' of Chinese Democracy and a remix album of songs from the album were done and pending release.[56]

Buckethead, Richard Fortus, Bryan "Brain" Mantia, Frank Ferrer and Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal" all joined the band at various points during production and worked on the album

Style and composition[edit]

In 1997, sources described the upcoming album as "sounding different from the sound you know ... definitely electronic influenced."[57][58] In July 1998, journalist Neil Strauss indicated that the album would be 'electronica influenced'.[59] 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."[60]

In 2003, DJ Eddie Trunk spoke about the demo of "I.R.S.", which was leaked on his radio show by New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza, 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."[61] 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.[53]

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."[62] 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'."[63] 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."[62]

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches are sampled on "Madagascar".

The album marked the band's expansion into industrial rock,[64][65][66][67][68] electronic rock[69][70] and nu metal,[45][65][71] while retaining the hard rock style of previous albums.[72] Critics noted stylistic similarities on the album to Queen, Wings and Andrew Lloyd Webber.[73][74][75][76] Rose cited influence of Dave Grohl's drumming on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in recording the title track of the album.[77] The song was inspired by the movie Kundun about the Dalai Lama.[78] The lyrics "Blame it on the Falun Gong, They've seen the end and you can't hold on now" from the song caused the album to be banned in China.[79] The industrial-flavored "Shackler's Revenge" was written in reaction to "the insanity of senseless school shootings and also the media trying desperately to make more out of one shooter's preference for the Guns song Brownstone to no avail", according to Rose.[80][81] Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho had written a play based on lyrics of the Guns N' Roses song "Mr. Brownstone".[82] "Better" is an electronic rock influenced song that features Rose singing in falsetto in the beginning of the track.[64][72]

"Street of Dreams", previously known as "The Blues" is a piano ballad that has been described as a pop oriented song similar to November Rain and The Garden with influences from Elton John.[72][83][84] "If The World" has guitarist Buckethead using a Flamenco guitar on the track and is described as having 'an electronic funk slither' and neo soul characteristics, as well as nu-metal and trip hop styles.[85][86]

"There Was a Time" is a heavily layered melody driven orchestral song with a mellotron, violins, choirs and multiple synthesizers.[84][87] "Catcher in the Rye" was written after Rose watched a documentary on Mark David Chapman and wanted to write a song in dedication to John Lennon; the song is meant to criticize the book The Catcher in the Rye.[88] "Scraped" takes the album back to an industrial rock style with Rose singing "Don't you try to stop us now" and "All things are possible, I am unstoppable."[72][84]

Discussing the origins of "Riad N' The Bedouins", Rose stated "Riad is the name my one time momentary brother-in-law of Erin Everly went by when I knew him. Of part Lebanese descent and a former student of Pepperdine University, he claims to be an international arms dealer".[89] Rose stated the song "Sorry" was about "anyone talking nonsense at mine and the public's expense."[88] "I.R.S." has Rose singing "Gonna call the President, Gonna call myself a Private Eye, Gonna need the IRS, Gonna get the FBI" over a guitar heavy track.[72][84]

"Madagascar" has been described as having a 'trip hop pulse' and its bridge features interwoven samples of quotes taken from the movies Mississippi Burning, Casualties of War, Cool Hand Luke, Braveheart, and Seven, and also contains several excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches "I Have a Dream" and "Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool".[90][91] "This I Love" is a song dating back to 1992 that Rose called "the heaviest thing I've written".[92] The song is a piano ballad with Rose singing to a former lover.[84] "Prostitute" is another orchestral lined power ballad that features the lyrics "Ask yourself, Why I would choose, To prostitute myself, To live with fortune and shame".[72][84] According to early producer Youth, Rose 'labored' over the song due to past successes weighing heavily on him.[93]

Album artwork[edit]

The album's cover art features a sepia photo bicycle resting against a wall with a large wicker basket, the band's name is graffitied on the wall.[94][95] Photographer Terry Hardin took the photo in Kowloon Walled City.[96] Three red communist stars are above the letters GNR on the side, with the band name and album title vertically listed.[97] According to artistic director Ryan Corey, Rose had the idea of the bike cover since the inception of the album.[98] Rose had shown album artwork similar to the final cover to a crowd at a 2002 concert in Hong Kong.[99]

Chinese artist Chen Zhuo was approached by Rose to use a painting of Tiananmen Square as an amusement park for the album cover, but declined the offer.[97] Shi Lifeng's "Controlling No. 3" was used as an alternate cover that Rose chose for an "art edition".[100][98] It was officially used for the Rock Band 2 download and released on CD in small quantities.[98] The booklet features several peices by Lifeng, including a bloodied fist holding up a star covered by flailing figure.[101] Additionally, photos of the Hong Kong skyline and the Chinese military appear in the booklet.[102]

Release delays[edit]

In a Rolling Stone interview in 2000, Rose mentioned that part of the delay of the album was him "educating himself about the technology that's come to define rock", stating, "It's like from scratch, learning how to work with something, and not wanting it just to be something you did on a computer."[38] The album was reportedly near completion in mid-2000 when producer Roy Thomas Baker convinced Rose to re-record the entire album, causing further delays.[103][104] In 2004, bassist Tommy Stinson stated that the album was "almost done" and that it was held back by "legal issues".[39] Stinson also said delays were caused by Rose making sure every band member had a say in each song, mentioning that "it's a lengthy process because you have to get eight people to basically write a song together that everyone likes."[39] Stinson also stated Rose was a perfectionist and an engineer involved on the album claimed that "Axl wanted to make the best record that had ever been made. It's an impossible task. You could go on infinitely, which is what they've done."[3][39] Geffen A&R Tom Zutaut stated the record "could have been out by September 2002".[105]

Rose released a statement in an August 2002 post on the Guns N' Roses website saying, "We feel that we have clarity as to the album we're trying to make, we're wrapping it up. We've sorted it down to what songs are on the record, what the sequence of the songs is. The album art is ready."[106] However, shortly afterwards, Rose told MTV News "You'll see [the album], but I don't know if 'soon' is the word".[107] Dizzy Reed mentioned in November 2002 that the album "should be in stores by June (2003)" and stating there were only "a few odds and ends left to do, a couple of finishing touches, a couple of vocals – and we need to mix it."[108] Rose also confirmed the plans for multiple albums and stated that a part of the delay was due to lack of support from the label to older bands, saying, "I've had to do way more jobs in it than I'm supposed to. I've had to be manager, A&R man, producer, sole lyric writer, and a lot of other things."[108] An editor from antiMUSIC claimed Rose told him in an informal chat in June 2003 that "he wants to make sure it is a perfect as possible before it is released".[109] In mid-2003, the band reportedly started the process of re-recording the album again.[110] Shortly after Buckethead left the band in March 2004, Rose released a statement saying, "Guns will be moving forward, we hope to announce a release date within the next few months."[111] Stinson claimed the album would be in the mastering stages by November 2004.[112]

By 2005, Geffen had taken Chinese Democracy off of its release schedule, and pulled funding, stating, "Having exceeded all budgeted and approved recording costs by millions of dollars, it is Mr. Rose's obligation to fund and complete the album, not Geffen's."[3] Around then, manager Merck Mercuriadis stated that "The 'Chinese Democracy' album is very close to being completed".[3] 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."[3] (Michael Jackson's Invincible allegedly had a $30 million production.[113]) 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".[114] At one point, the band was using a budget of almost $250,000 a month.[103] Geffen A&R Tom Zutuat mentioned the band spent thousands of dollars a month on rented gear that went unused.[115] Rose has mentioned that the expense of the record would be negated by the recording sessions yielding multiple albums.[38]

a patch with "GN'R" on it, a keychain, a shirt, a bandana, a sticker all with the same logo and a cd – items from the collector's edition of Chinese Democracy.
Items from the collector's edition of Chinese Democracy.

In October 2006, Rolling Stone claimed the album had a "firm" release date of November 21, 2006.[116] 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, the first time the band had publicly named a release date.[21]

Despite Rose's announcement, the album was once again delayed. Rose recorded the final vocal tracks in January 2007.[117] 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."[23] 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."[118] 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 finally been handed over to Geffen Records, but was then delayed because the label and Rose could not agree on the marketing of the album.[119] 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."[120] 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".[36] 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.[121]

Controversy and lawsuits[edit]

Leak by Kevin Cogill[edit]

Music blogger Kevin Cogill streamed nine tracks of Chinese Democracy on his website Antiquiet for 'an hour or two' in June 2008.[122][123] The website server crashed shortly after the leak because of the high user traffic, and the tracks were removed later. In August, the FBI, under the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, arrested Cogill for pre-releasing copyrighted material.[124] According to Techdirt, Cogill's arrest unintentionally resulted in a large boost in illegal downloads of the album.[125] They also revealed that UMG showed Best Buy search engine traffic results shortly after the case to capitalize on the interest and help them with the distribution deal.[126] In November he agreed to plead guilty to one federal count of copyright infringement, later brought down to a misdemeanor.[127][128] Former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash commented on the case, stating "I hope he rots in jail. It's going to affect the sales of the record, and it's not fair."[129] Prosecutors initially aimed for 6 months jail time, but the charges were brought down to a misdemeanor copyright infringement charge.[130][131] Cogill was sentenced to two months house arrest and was required to produce an anti-piracy video with the RIAA.[132] Cogill claimed he never did the video with the RIAA due to them not wanting to spend money on production costs.[133]

In 2014, Cogill revealed that he could not be charged for pre-releasing copyrighted material, because the court could not prove that the album was being prepared for commercial distribution, stating "the US government would have to prove, in court, that Chinese Democracy was really coming. And no one at the RIAA or the label had informed the government that these songs had been lying around for 14 years. Only that they had cost $12 million."[126]

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.[134][135] 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".[136] After it was announced that the album would be released in 2008, Dr Pepper confirmed that it would uphold its pledge.[137] 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."[138] 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.[139][140] 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.[141]

Other Issues[edit]

The album is banned in the People's Republic of China due to perceived criticism in its title track of the Chinese government and reference to the Falun Gong.[142] The Communist Party of China said through media that it "turns its spear point on China".[143][144]

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".[145] 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."[146] Guns N' Roses vigorously denied 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.[147]

In May 2010, former manager Irving Azoff's company Front Line Management sued Rose over unpaid concert fees.[148][149][150] Shortly afterwards, Rose filed a $5 million counter-lawsuit against Azoff, claiming among others that Azoff 'sabotaged' the release of Chinese Democracy.[151][152] The suit claimed Azoff had "purposefully spoiled the Chinese Democracy album art, botched a sales deal with Best Buy, and even leaked songs online."[153] The lawsuit was settled "to the mutual satisfaction of the parties" in 2011.[154][155]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
AnyDecentMusic? 5.8/10[156]
Metacritic 64/100[157]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[90]
The A.V. Club A–[158]
Consequence of Sound B[159]
The Guardian 3/5 stars[85]
Mojo 3/5 stars[160]
Pitchfork 5.8/10[161]
Q 2/5 stars[162]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars[72]
Slant Magazine 2.5/5 stars[163]
Spin 7/10[67]

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.[157] 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".[76] Chuck Klosterman, writing for The A.V. Club, reacted positively to the vocals and guitar parts, but criticized some production elements.[158] Rolling Stone writer David Fricke commended Rose's unrestrained approach and called it "a great, audacious, unhinged and uncompromising hard-rock record."[72] Rolling Stone later ranked the album number 12 on its year-end list of 2008's best albums.[164] 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."[165] Sputnikmusic praised the album as more consistent than previous albums.[68] MOJO magazine praised the album's ambitiousness.[160] In a 2015 look back, Artistdirect praised the album as timeless.[166]

In a mixed review, Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot found Axl Rose's production over-embellished.[167] The Guardian criticized the album's incohesiveness, mentioning it sounded like a compilation album, as well as calling the album "exhausting to listen to", but praised Rose's melodies.[85] Pitchfork complimented the vocals on the album, but criticized the album as sounding dated.[161] Q considered the album overproduced, stating "by throwing everything at the wall and nailing up the stuff that didn't stick, [Rose has] done himself a grand disservice".[162] Kitty Empire, writing for The Observer, accused Rose of "cribbing" from the industrial rock of Nine Inch Nails.[66] The New York Times described the album as 'a transitional album'.[168] Rock biographer Stephen Davis was more vitriolic and named Chinese Democracy "the worst album ever".[169]

The album was nominated for the Juno Award for International Album of the Year in 2009, losing to Coldplay's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. [170][171] The song "If The World" was nominated for "Best Original Song" at the 13th Satellite Awards, losing to Another Way to Die.[172]

Former band members' opinions[edit]

Duff McKagan praised the album, saying that "Axl sounds amazing" and "I think Axl's finally made the record he always wanted to".[173] Slash reacted positively to the title track, stating "That sounds cool. It's good to hear Axl's voice again, y'know?"[174] When the album was released, Slash responded by saying "It's a really good record. It's very different from what the original Guns N' Roses sounded like, but it's a great statement by Axl... It's a record that the original Guns N' Roses could never possibly make. And at the same time it just shows you how brilliant Axl is."[175] In a later interview, Slash stated the album was "exactly what I thought it would sound like," with many synthesizers and digital augmentations.[176] Izzy Stradlin, soon after the album was released, said "I have listened to some tracks off the record and I enjoyed them" and "I like what I've heard."[177][178] Steven Adler said he "didn't like the album, not one bit."[179] Gilby Clarke stated "I think it's a really good record – I honestly do. I think it's a great record... Knowing what I know what direction he wanted to take the band, I think he hit the nail on the head; I think he did a great job"[180] Matt Sorum called the album a 'toe-tapper'.[181] Early Guns N' Roses guitarist Tracii Guns said he thought the album was "over-indulgent, sterile and not that exciting."[182]

Commercial performance[edit]

Best Buy purchased 1.3 million copies of the album from UMG upfront before release, with a pledge not to return any excess copies.[183] The album was initially released November 22, 2008, in Germany,[184] Switzerland,[185] and Austria.[186] It was released on November 23, 2008, worldwide, except in the United Kingdom, where it was released the following day.[187] Chinese Democracy debuted at number three on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 261,000 copies in its first week, well below expectations.[188][189][190][191] The album also debuted at number two on the UK Albums Chart.[192] Second Week sales dropped significantly in the United States, dropping from #3 to #18 on the Billboard chart, a 78 percent drop.[193] The programming director at KLOS-FM opined that the low sales were due to the album being released during the holiday season as well as a lackluster lead single.[193] Critics also noted Rose's lack of promotional appearances as a factor.[193][194]

After selling 21,000 copies its sixth week charting at #30, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), passing the 500,000 shipped mark on January 7, 2009.[195] Chinese Democracy was certified Platinum by the RIAA on February 3, 2009, having shipped one million copies in the United States.[196][197] The album placed 55th on the 2009 Billboard 200 Year End charts.[198]

The album secured an IFPI European Platinum Award, having sold more than one million copies in Europe,[199][200] and had sold 2.6 million units worldwide as of February 2009, according to Universal Music.[197] 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.[201] It was certified gold in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Brazil, and Colombia.[201] After Best Buy clearanced the album for $2 in April 2011, 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.[202] In the UK, it has sold 365,899 copies as of July 2014.[203] As of March 2018, the album has sold 2,740,000 copies worldwide.[204]

Track listing[edit]

Songwriting credits via ASCAP.

All lyrics written by Axl Rose. "Madagascar" contains samples of speeches written by Martin Luther King, Jr..

No. Title Music Length
1. "Chinese Democracy" 4:43
2. "Shackler's Revenge"
3:37
3. "Better"
  • Rose
  • Finck
4:58
4. "Street of Dreams"
  • Rose
  • Finck
  • Reed
  • Stinson
  • Tobias
4:46
5. "If the World" 4:54
6. "There Was a Time"
  • Rose
  • Tobias
  • Reed
  • Stinson
6:41
7. "Catcher in the Rye"
  • Rose
  • Stinson
  • Reed
  • Finck
  • Tobias
5:53
8. "Scraped"
  • Rose
  • Carroll
  • Costanzo
3:30
9. "Riad N' the Bedouins"
  • Rose
  • Finck
  • Reed
  • Stinson
  • Tobias
4:10
10. "Sorry"
  • Rose
  • Carroll
  • 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
  • Finck
  • Tobias
6:15
Total length: 71:18

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[205]

Production

  • Caram Costanzo – engineering and digital editing (all tracks), arrangements (tracks 2, 3, 6, 8 and 14), initial production (track 8), sub drums (track 13), production, mixing
  • Roy Thomas Baker – additional production and preproduction
  • Engineering: Jeff "Critter" Newell, Dan Monti, Jeremy Blair
  • Eric Caudieux – digital editing (all tracks), drum machine and drum programming (track 5), arrangements (tracks 6), sub drums (track 13), additional production, Pro Tools engineering
  • Sean Beavan – recording and digital editing (tracks 1, 4–6, 9, 11, 12 and 14), arrangements (tracks 1, 4, 6, 9 and 11), initial production (tracks 4–6, 11 and 12), additional production
  • Youth – initial arrangement suggestions, Additional Demo Pre-production (track 12)
  • Pete Scaturro – arrangements and initial production (tracks 2 and 10), keyboards, digital editing and engineering (track 10)
  • Billy Howerdel – recording and editing (track 6), Logic Pro engineering
  • Stuart White – Logic Pro engineering
  • John O'Mahony – Pro Tools mixing
  • Engineering Assistance: Okhee Kim, Andy Gwynn, Brian Monteath, Dave Dominguez, Jose Borges, Joe Peluso, Christian Baker, James Musshorn, Jan Petrov, JeffRobinette, Bob Koszela, Paul Payne, Mark Gray, Xavier Albira, Dror Mohar, Eric Tabala, Shawn Berman, Donald Clark, Shinnosuke Miyazawa, Vanessa Parr, John Beene, Al Perrotta
  • Additional Pro Tools: Greg Morgenstein, Paul DeCarli, Billy Bowers, Justin Walden, Rail Jon Rogut, Isaac Abolin
  • Andy Wallace – mixing
  • Mixing Assistance: Mike Scielzi, Paul Suarez
  • Bob Ludwigmastering

Charts[edit]

Singles[edit]

Year Single Peak chart positions
US
[245]
US
Main

[246]
AUS
[247]
AUT
[248]
GER
[249]
IRE
[250]
NL
[251]
NZ
[252]
SWE
[253]
SWI
[254]
UK
[255]
2008 "Chinese Democracy" 34 5 54 26 38 3 15 27 3 11 27
2018 "Better" 18
2009 "Street of Dreams"
"–" denotes releases that did not chart.

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Australia (ARIA)[256] Platinum 70,000^
Belgium (BEA)[257] Gold 15,000*
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[258] Gold 15,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[259] Platinum 32,610[259]
Germany (BVMI)[260] Gold 100,000^
Ireland (IRMA)[261] Platinum 15,000
New Zealand (RMNZ)[262] Platinum 15,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[263] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[264] Platinum 1,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

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External links[edit]