Sunday, March 29, 2015

The 'Chinese Democracy' of various things

One of the most-anticipated and least-listened-to albums in rock history

This is what 14 years did to Axl Rose.
Remember Chinese Democracy? In case you've forgotten, it was a semi-popular 2008 album by Guns N' Roses. Previous to Chinese Democracy, GNR had not released a full-length studio recording since 1993's "The Spaghetti Incident?," so anticipation was fairly high when the LP first debuted.

It only reached #3 in America, but it went all the way to #1 in Argentina, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, and even Thailand. It got mostly favorable reviews domestically, and the title track was a mid-sized hit as well, reaching #34 on the charts.

In the seven years since its release, however, this noteworthy collection has largely been neglected. This is rather remarkable because, previous to its release, Chinese Democracy was one of the most infamous and written-about albums in the history of rock. The hour-long LP was 14 years (!) in the making, and by the time it came out, lead singer Axl Rose was the only original Gunner left in the lineup. The other musicians had either been fired or quit in disgust.

For years, rock magazines such as Rolling Stone dutifully reported all of the delays, missed deadlines, and outrageously mounting costs of the mysterious album, all of which were attributed to control freak Rose and his single-minded obsession with making Chinese Democracy absolutely perfect. Some writers even speculated that the album would never see legal release.

Finally, in 2008, Axl Rose proved the doubters wrong. What Rose had not predicted, however, was the implosion of the music industry, the decline of albums in favor of singles, and the general shift in audience interest away from heavy metal and towards pop and hip-hop. He'd made his masterpiece, but the general public had already moved on. After nearly a decade and a half of rumors and false starts, Chinese Democracy debuted to widespread indifference. Besides, no real album could possibly hope to compete with such hype and publicity.

Clearly, however, writers have not totally forgotten about Chinese Democracy, because they still use it as a metaphor for anything whose release is delayed for years and years. Some examples:

So in a weird way, Chinese Democracy did achieve a sort of immortality -- not as a piece of music, but as a figure of speech. Does that count as a triumph?