The Chinese Democracy Years – 2002: The Queen Is Dead
The Chinese Democracy Years – 2002: The Queen Is Dead
The details surrounding Roy Thomas Baker’s dismissal are sketchy, as some have suggested he was fired ‘by accident’, after an apparent misunderstanding. His line was said to be that he’d be ‘fired only once’. Whatever the reason, sources close to the band have said he was kept on the payroll for months after he’d walked out, with hopes of him returning and finishing the job.
Interscope’s talent executive, Mark Williams was next in line to oversee the project. Williams, the latest A&R man, had a notable gap in his otherwise productive resume in around 2002 (on leaving the project, he would launch the solo career of No Doubt vocalist Gwen Stefani, sign M.I.A. to Interscope and be selected the number one A&R man in the world by HitQuarters in 2005). The album was now allegedly scheduled for the second half of 2002. From the looks of things, they were still keeping within Zutaut’s estimate for a September release.
The band announced some late summer festival dates for Japan and the UK (for the Carling Leeds Festival) and it was rumoured they would be doing a full US tour during autumn in the run-up to Christmas.“We expect to have the album released before the end of the year,” an insider at Sanctuary – the band’s management company – told metalhammer.co.uk.
In May, Richard Fortus was called to replace Paul Huge. “I had done a few sessions with Tommy Stinson and Brain. Tommy and I had been pretty good friends for awhile so when they were looking for someone, Tommy called and asked if I wanted to audition.”
In the summer, orchestrations were ordered for a total of eight tracks. Film music composer Marco Beltrami was asked to provide orchestral arrangements: “I met with Axl and he played me these songs, asked me my ideas about them, and I told him what I thought they needed.” Beltrami was given four songs to orchestrate, with the titles Seven, Thyme, The General and Leave Me Alone.
“They had finished tracks and then I added orchestral stuff on top of it. The music was eclectic at the time that I was doing it. They pretty much had the band tracks down, [but] there were no lyrics on the songs that I was working on. I thought the album was coming out in September.”
At around the same time, British arranger Paul Buckmaster worked on the songs The Blues, TWAT, Madagascar and Prostitute. “Prostitute is a mid-up, kind of biting, aggressive rhythm section,” he told website Sp1at. “The way I wrote for the string section (a 32-piece group, consisting of 10 first violins, eight second violins, six violas, and eight cellos) gives the song another dimension of ice and fire – kind of powerful.”
Both men are credited on the final album’s credits for ‘Orchestral arrangements’ on Street Of Dreams (previously known as The Blues), There Was A Time (aka TWAT), Madagascar and Prostitute.
As with Use Your Illusion I-II, Axl appeared to be nearing the finishing line as the tour crept closer. Once again, he seemingly had no qualms in possibly dropping the album to go on the road.
As the tour grew nearer, plans were put in doubt once again. An Indonesian promoter claimed that GN’R were expected to be playing in Australia then Korea before Indonesia in late September and that the album was scheduled for release in November.
In a week, the September slate was wiped clean. On the day the September cancellations were made official, Axl arrived in China. His cohorts would put out a press release following the performance in Hong Kong. All bets were off and the tour hadn’t even begun.
Axl: “[This is] a warm up, so we can have an understanding of how to start our fall tour. And that’s a warm up for the spring tour. This thing is starting now and much like Use Your Illusions that went for two and a half years, this thing is going to go off and on for the next two or three years, and we’ll see how it goes.
“Guns N’Roses will go back into the studio immediately following the [August] dates to put the final touches on the forthcoming Chinese Democracy album,” he said. “I gave into a lot of pressure on Illusions both internally in Guns and externally in the press, those albums suffered as a consequence, it’s not something I’m too excited to have to live with again.
“There are a lot of new songs that were just done in the last year that we feel that ‘okay, well that bumps a lot of stuff off the previous list’… I think that we’ll go on to write some very interesting things with Richard and he’s already done some rhythm work and some leads on the album… but it’s time to stop [adding new songs] now and wrap up the baby.”
On August 14, at the tour opener in China, Axl revealed that the cover art was indeed ready. During the gig, Axl told an anecdote about the cover art – and the picture that was indeed to become the eventual cover (the bicycle with the Guns N’Roses graffiti behind it) flashed up on the video screens. “I didn’t paint that myself, so one of you motherfuckers out there must have done it!”
In the UK, controversy reared its head when the GN’R show at Leeds Festival was delayed by over an hour resulting in an overrun for the organisers. The delay was apparently caused by set changes and the sizeable amount of extra equipment for both the Prodigy and GN’R sets. Slight over-runs throughout the day built up meaning that GN’R’s road crew couldn’t begin prepping the stage until 10.30pm meaning the band came on after 11pm – over an hour behind schedule and played for almost two hours, finishing just before 1am. (The show should have finished at midnight.)
During the last European show in Docklands Arena, London, Axl mentioned the idea of a multi-part album again: “There’s been some concern,” he said, “that if we play five or six new songs, then there can’t that many more on the album. Au contraire, mon frère. We’re just playing the songs we’re not considering putting out as singles or anything. So, you’ll get 18 songs, and about 10 extra tracks. And when that, when the record company feels that has run its course, then you’ll get it all over again. By that time, I should be done with the third album. So we’ll see if all goes well, boys and girls.”
In late September at the MTV annual awards show, rumours flew about a big finale. A screen lifted to reveal Axl in cornrows and a ’99 football shirt. GN’R played Welcome To The Jungle, Madagascar and Paradise City. He left the audience with a cryptic but tantalising message: ‘Round one’.”Plan B was still in the works: Do the mini-tour and the VMAs, head back to the studio, and complete the album for a November release. The new release date was rumoured to be December 10 with Catcher In The Rye as the first single beforehand. Ads were pulled at the last minute.
But according to an interview with keyboardist Dizzy Reed in Plain Dealer, the album hadn’t even been mixed yet.
At this time, Axl first alluded to Chinese Democracy being a trilogy of albums – which was also suggested by Sebastian Bach this year in Classic Rock 120: “Axl said, The General will be out in 2012 – it’s the end of the parable of the trilogy’. He’s like George Lucas, dude!”
Axl: “We come up with new ideas that we’re working on as we go, and it is a really, really slow process, because it’s kind of left more to ourselves in trying to figure it out. This is a collaborative effort with the players, but the players aren’t exactly sure how to try to win over the world Guns N’Roses-style. So that’s kind of my responsibility. It took a long time, but now it’s working, and I think we’ll have the right record, and the plan is to drop the record, have a bunch of extra tracks, and about a year or so down the road drop another record and drop a third record. This is a three-stage thing and we’ll be touring for a real long time.” So, the trilogy of albums was in place, then – if only in Axl’s mind.
In early November the cancellation of a GNR show in Vancouver, Canada resulted in a riot by around 9,000 fans. Box office windows were smashed, rock were thrown at police. The police with dogs waded into the ground and beat rioters to the ground with batons and attacked rioters with pepper spray. Another show at Philadelphia was cancelled following the support band when Axl refused to turn up.
Clear Channel and the band ended their tour affiliation without giving any details.
A spokesperson said, “they will return to the studio in January to put the finishing touches to Chinese Democracy, which the band is releasing in the spring.”