The Chinese Democracy Years – 2006: Here It Comes. Honest.
The Chinese Democracy Years – 2006: Here It Comes. Honest.
On January 13, 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 music this year,” he said. “We’re working on 32 songs, and 26 are nearly done”. Rolling Stone reported that ‘among Rose’s favourites are Better, There Was a Time and The Blues.’
In February, Axl had attended lingerie company Victoria’s Secret’s Valentine’s party, where Richard Fortus just happened to be one of the performing artists. According to the New York Times, “the braided rocker… was so eager to get inside the club that he offered the owners a little bribe – an exclusive listening party for his yet-to-be released album, Chinese Democracy.”
The DJ put the songs on with Axl kept insisting that he play one (anonymous) song over and over. “Everyone,” it was reported, “was surprised at how good it sounded.”
At a backstage party for Indianapolis-based roots blues trio The Big Damn Band, Axl produced a CD and previewed some of Chinese Democracy, again claiming it would be sold as a 3-disc collection. In mid-April, four warm-up shows in the Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, were announced. The shows would occur in between May 12 and 17. Meanwhile, a replacement was sought for Buckethead.
The four shows at the Hammerstein Ballroom inducted Bumblefoot as the new guitarist, Axl appeared on KROQ radio, and announced that the band would appear at the Inland Invasion festival on September 23.
DJ: “The CD is coming out later this year?”
Axl: “Yes, absolutely.”
Meanwhile, studio work was set to continue. Said Merck: “We were supposed to finish the album in May, before [the tour] started. We sent our engineers to New York, where we all waited, for over a month, for the muse to come but she never arrived.”
“There’s two records [where] the majority of the music’s done,” Axl told Eddie Trunk, “and the majority of the vocals are done. And there’s another half of a record that’s being worked on. There’s songs we’re still shuffling around, I mean we recorded about two and a half, three albums worth of material. So, there’s still stuff that’s gonna bounce between one and two.”
Some songs were, however, seemingly locked down for the first album. An official press release said: “Over the four nights [at the Hammerstein Ballroom], audiences were also treated to nearly half of the band’s upcoming new album, Chinese Democracy, with live performances of Chinese Democracy, Better, There was a Time, Madagascar, IRS and The Blues.”
(“We were actually working on a song a little bit tonight that’s not even on the first two records,” Axl told Eddie Trunk on May 5.)
In Newcastle on July 19, the set ended early due to objects thrown to the stage. However, the body of the tour remained intact, with the most memorable change coming up in the very end.
As a GN’R press release put it, “Guns N’ Roses completed their European Tour last night with their second consecutive sold-out show at London’s Wembley Arena… The final show at Wembley almost didn’t come to fruition as vocalist Axl Rose was diagnosed with low blood pressure and low blood sugar Sunday morning. He became ill after performing two concerts on Saturday night… the second an unannounced surprise semi- acoustic set.
“Rose became ill a couple of hours after the 75-minute performance ended, with a doctor being called to his hotel room… He made it through the two hour performance to the final song of the evening – Nightrain – before collapsing. The mic was handed to his friend, Sebastian Bach, who completed the performance with an encore of Paradise City.”
The first full-fledged European tour in nearly 15 years was over.
On September 23, 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.”
According to Merck, the reception seemed to spur Axl onwards: “Axl made a break through and got two or three very productive days under his belt.”
On October 18, Rolling Stone reported that engineer Andy Wallace “who mixed Nirvana’s Nevermind, is working on the project, according to a source close to the band. ‘We’re absolutely delighted with the mixes,’ the source says.” Knowing Axl’s fondness towards Dave Grohl’s drumming on Smells Like Teen Spirit, it was no surprise. (Wallace is indeed created with mixing Chinese Democracy, alongside Caram Costanzo and Axl.) Merck, meanwhile, claimed the band were “in the final stages of renegotiating our deal with our record label and it has been a long slow process… The discussion started over a year ago but did not become serious until they started hearing the mixes… The record company refused to conclude the renegotiation until we were ready to hand over the finished album.”
On October 8, a TV ad for Harley-Davidson featured Paradise City. An alternate version of the ad, it was announced, would premieres “the new, previously unreleased Guns N’Roses track Better”. On October 23, the Harley-Davidson website did in fact launch the Better version of the commercial at their website, only to swiftly recall it and reinstate the Paradise City one. Suddenly a leaked version of Better was available on the internet.
As for the album, a GN’R press release said, “the only comment at this time is that there are 13 Tuesdays left between now and the end of the year.” Merck followed that line too: “The album will come out this year,” he said in October. “There are 10 Tuesdays left before January. It will come out on one of them.”
It might even arrive in the shops announced, he claimed: “I don’t know that we will announce a release date,” Mercuriadis said. “You just might walk into your record shop one Tuesday and find it there.” A couple of months later, Merck was apologising for his “facetious comments”.
Axl himself suggested that all this talk of release dates had possibly been used “as a tool by management to sell this latest tour to the various promoters, and if this was the case, this was obviously unfair to them.”
Money certainly was tight, as Merck himself commented: “[In early October] I seriously considered postponing the start of the tour, again, as the album was of paramount importance but… we needed the money to be able to complete the album and keep the band alive.”
Merck was on his way out. “The last show Merck came [to] was Halifax, Nov 20,” said Beta Lebeis, Axl’s assistant and soon to be personal manager. “Merck was let go before Thanksgiving.”
On December 15, 2006, Axl posted an open letter to the official GN’R website, bad-mouthing
his former manager and stating, “An overall sense of a lack of respect by management for the band
and crew and each individual’s particular expertise… has resulted, unfortunately, in the end of both Guns’ and my managerial involvement with Merck Mercuriadis.”
“It takes approximately eight weeks for an album to hit the shelves once it has been turned in to the record company. For whatever reasons, it appears that it may have been mistakenly inferred by management that this time period could be condensed to three weeks. We do wish to announce a tentative release date of March 6.”
Sebastian Bach later claimed that Axl had insisted he sing vocals on Sorry and that he recorded them on New Year’s Day 2007. He has no credit on the released version.