When Guns N’ Roses last played these parts — nearly four years ago to the day, on Nov. 21, 2002 — the group was in the midst of its first tour in many years. And fans were anxiously awaiting the release of “Chinese Democracy,” its fi rst album of new material since 1993.
GNR rolls into the town again this weekend, on its fi rst tour in many — well, four — years. And fans are still waiting for “Chinese Democracy.”
Welcome to the jungle, indeed — except that things usually happen in a jungle.
GNR has been one of rock’s rolling soap operas almost since the group’s 1985 formation in Los Angeles. Debauchery, internal dissension and erratic behavior — not the least of which is frontman Axl Rose’s flexible (i.e. late) stage arrivals — have stamped a well-deserved “buyer beware” designation on anything the band does, mitigated by a bad boy legend that helps as much, if not more, than it hurts the group’s reputation.
These days only Rose remains from GNR’s original lineup, which sold more than 80 million albums between 1986-93 and launched stillactive hits such as “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Paradise City” and “Patience.” The group’s 2004 “Greatest Hits” album has sold nearly 3.3 million copies.
There were heavy rumors — heavier than usual, in fact — that “Chinese Democracy” would see the light of day this year after 12 years of recording and a reported $13 million in production costs, some of which came from Rose himself. GNR manager Merck Mercuriadis even told Rolling Stone magazine that rather than formally announcing a release date, “you might just walk into your record shop one Tuesday and find it there.”
Rose reportedly played the album in its entirety during a party at his house on Sept. 23, and Sebastian Bach, the former Skid Row frontman who’s opening for GNR this year, pronounced it “mindblowing ... a very cool album.”
So far, however, “Chinese Democracy” has not surfaced, and the Canadian division of Universal Music, GNR’s label, recently announced that “We have no indication a Guns N’ Roses record will be released this year.”
Southfield-based radio consultant Fred Jacobs says that for GNR supporters, the long wait is “akin to how Charlie Brown must feel when Lucy promises to not take away the football — and then she does anyway. You keep thinking that this time it’s for real, but then something goes wrong and you get burned.”
He also notes, “While there are lots of hopeful fans out there, and some radio programmers, too, many are also disgusted with the whole thing. Eventually, the rock world gave up on Sly Stone, too. Axl Rose has some ’splainin’ to do — or at least needs to show up and sound great.”
Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal, another of GNR’s support acts, is optimistic that will be the case.
“I think it’s inevitable,” he says. “I think it’s Axl’s reality that still generates a lot of curiosity; (the band) has this power you can’t quite fi gure out.
“So I have great hope (‘Chinese Democracy’) will be some bad-ass, amazing monstrosity of rock ’n’ roll.”
The well-credentialed current lineup of GNR — which features former members of nine inch nails, the Replacements, Primus, Psychedelic Furs and others — is playing some of the new songs in concert, including “Chinese Democracy’s” title track. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who’s been with GNR since 1990, describes the album as “a pretty intense musical journey. It takes you to some interesting places. ... There’s something for everybody. If you’re a Guns fan, if you’re an Axl fan, you’ll love it all.”
Bassist Tommy Stinson, formerly of the Replacements and his own bands Perfect and Bash ’n’ Pop, says the album covers “a wide spectrum of things” that “touches on a lot of different elements of old Guns N’ Roses in some ways. And in other ways it touches with more current-sounding music.”
The primary difference, he adds, is in the lyrics.
“It’s a lot deeper,” Stinson says. “I’m sure 15 years ago, when they did ‘Appetite For Destruction,’ that’s where (Rose’s) head was at — the sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll kind of lyrical content. But a lot of it now is deeper, in a lot of ways more optimistic, and touching on more social issues that are important as well.”
When we’ll actually hear those thoughts is still up in the air, and GNR’s members profess to be as in the dark about release plans for the album as everybody else. But Stinson says that Rose’s irreverence for music business convention is half the fun of being in the band.
“I just think he’s (gutsy) as hell,” Stinson says. “He’s not afraid to just go for it. It doesn’t make sense in a traditional rock way, but he’s got ideas that are way huger than life. “And if anyone can pull it off ... I just thought, ‘Wow, here’s the guy who seems to have the most (guts) of anyone I’ve ever known. So let’s go!’ ”
Guns N’ Roses, Sebastian Bach, Eagles of Death Metal and Suicide Girls perform at 8 p.m. Saturday (November 25th) at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $39.50-$77.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www. palacenet.com.
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