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Between rock and a long wait

By Tom Colls
Today Programme

Axl Rose
Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose is famously shy of the media
For the patient fans of US rock group Guns N' Roses, the 14 year wait for their next album, Chinese Democracy, has finally come to an end.

The album has been so long in the making and postponed so many times that US drink manufacturer Dr Pepper offered a free can of fizzy drink to every person in the US if the album was released in 2008. Now they have had to honour that promise.

Rock music journalist Paul Elliott is one of the few people to have interviewed reclusive Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose, and maintains he is the greatest rock star of a generation.

He could not believe his eyes when the recording company sent a copy of the album, but the excitement was tinged with disappointment.

"It was a legendary album even before it came out. It was legendary for not being released. Now it's just another album," he says.

To say the making of this album has been an unbearably long and incomprehensible journey would be an understatement
Axl Rose in a letter to fans
"For it to live up to the hype and the weight of expectation it had to be like Zeppelin's IV, Queen's A Day at the Races and AC/DC's Back in Black all rolled into one. And its not as good as any of those."

The 14-year history of Chinese Democracy is shrouded in mystery, in part because of the extreme privacy of lead singer Axl Rose, the only remaining member of the original band and the creative mastermind of the project.

"Everyone has this image of Axl Rose as being like like Citizen Kane - the mad genius, locked away in his ivory tower trying to work on this masterpiece," says Mr Elliott.

On the band's website in 2006, Axl Rose apologised to fans for another delay in the album's release, describing it as "an unbearably long and incomprehensible journey" with "endless and seemingly insane amount of obstacles" to overcome.

"At many times it seemed like a bad dream in which one wakes up only to find that they are still in the nightmare," he wrote.

But what could possibly have delayed the release of an album for so long?

"The only person who could explain why it took so long is the one person who isn't voicing his opinion on it," says Mr Elliott.

Rock and Roll

Stone Roses in 1989
The Stone Roses second album was greeted with mediocre reviews
For some bands, album delays are caused by sheer rock and roll excess.

This appears to be one of the main reasons for the five and a half years it took Manchester band The Stone Roses to complete their second album Second Coming.

"There is no doubt that The Stone Roses enjoyed themselves in an unbelievable manner. They became their own worst enemies in terms of their excesses," says Mojo editor Phil Alexander.

But, unlike his old band-mates, Axl Rose has never been associated with the extremes of the rock and roll lifestyle. In a 1989 interview he said he never took drugs when he was touring because it was bad for his throat, and felt that the best attitude towards drugs was to "do things in moderation, and just be careful."


Def Leppard on Top of the Pops
Def Leppard's album Hysteria was worth the wait - it sold more copies than any of their earlier albums
Other groups cannot be blamed for a gap between albums.

Fans of Def Leppard had to wait four years for a follow up to the rock band's 1983 album Pyromania because that was the time it took drummer Rick Allen to relearn the drums after losing his arm in a car crash.

Mojo editor Phil Alexander describes it as "an incredibly humanising story".

"The tragedy of a kid that young, coming back home for Christmas and being involved in a car crash.

"Most bands would have considered the guy would never drum again, and got another drummer. But Def Leppard regrouped and came back stronger."

Musical differences

Some of the longest waits come when bands break up altogether and then reform years later when tensions have calmed down.

Jazz-rock band Steely Dan waited 20 years before recording a follow up to 1980's album Gaucho.

Brian Wilson on stage at Glastonbury
Brian Wilson wins the race for the longest wait for an album
But the all time record goes to Smile, by former Beach Boy Brian Wilson.

Wilson first began working on his "teenage symphony to God" in 1966, but the other Beach Boys were unhappy with the results and shelved the album.

In 2004, 37 years after work first began on the album, Brian Wilson released Smile as a solo album to wide-spread critical acclaim.

Like the Beach Boys, the original line up of Guns N' Roses has completely collapsed, but as Axl Rose owns the band name and has continued without the other members, he can't use that as an excuse.

In fact, Guns N' Roses expert Paul Elliott doesn't believe there were any problems like these with the release of Chinese Democracy.

"I'm not aware of any legal or other reason why the album couldn't come out," he says.

"It was more like Axl Rose was just constantly fiddling with it."

As the weight of expectation grew, Axl Rose kept on changing and re-arranging his songs, bringing in new band members (including a cameo from Queen guitarist Brian May which has not made the final cut) and re-recording tracks until everything was exactly how he wanted it.

In the end, says Phil Alexander, the fact that it took so long to make is one of the greatest achievements of Chinese Democracy.

"He's done what he wanted to do. Most musicians in 2008 don't have the power or the will to do that," he says.

"Everything has become so sanitised, it's good that there are still people out there who are willing to break the rules."

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