Guns N' Roses: Chinese Whispers
For the first time since 1994—back when the band featured guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum—Guns N’ Roses appeared to be going somewhere. Slash had left in 1996, Duff and Sorum in ’97. Slash’s replacement, Robin Finck, left in 1999 to tour with his former band, Nine Inch Nails, and returned in late 2000, the same year that Sorum’s replacement, Josh Freese, left. Second keyboardist Chris Pittman joined in 1998. A steady line of producers—including Moby, Mike Clink, Youth and Sean Beavan—came and went. No one had managed to deliver a finished product.
But in January 2001—buoyed by the reception that his new three-guitar lineup had received in Brazil and Las Vegas, and thrilled with the group’s efforts in an L.A. studio with legendary Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker—Axl was talking hopefully about Guns N’ Roses’ future. Speaking to an Argentine radio station on January 22, he gave a detailed explanation for the record’s delay. “We hadn’t written songs or recorded for many years,” he said. “There were band changes, and there were many changes in the record company. People in the record company had many opinions and they wanted to make the best possible record. Every time that we thought that we had the correct songs, somebody thought that we could make it better. We started over. We continued adding songs, continued recording and recording. I think that when we do release the album, it’s gonna be something that I’m gonna be proud of and confident in.”
On March 12, Rose’s assistant, Elizabeth “Beta” Lebeis, told a Brazilian newspaper that the album “will be amazing. It will be released in June or July. They already have 48 songs, and the record company is selecting the material.”
By July, the album still hadn’t appeared. Beta’s son Fernando, Axl’s friend and aide, gavean interview, commenting on reasons behind the album’s delay. “It’s like every time he tries to do something, [it] goes wrong,” he said. “Suddenly, the guy who’s responsible for some technical detail makes a mistake, for example. I can say it because [I’ve been] with [Rose] in the studio, and it’s unbelievable. It’s like something tries to [take] him away from this project.”
And yet, remarkably, by year’s end, Guns N’ Roses had a version of Chinese Democracy that was almost ready for release. This is the story of that year.
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