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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Welcome To The Jungle

From The New York Times:
In 1997 Todd Sullivan, who was then a talent executive for the [Geffen] company, sent Mr. Rose a sampling of CD's produced by different people, and encouraged him to choose one to work on "Chinese Democracy." Mr. Sullivan says he received a call informing him that Mr. Rose had run over the albums with a car. . . .

. . .The singer had encouraged everyone in the band's camp to record their ideas for riffs and jams, hours and hours of song fragments that he hoped to process into full compositions. "Most of the stuff he had played me was just sketches," Mr. Sullivan recalled. "I said, 'Look, Axl, this is some really great, promising stuff here. Why don't you consider just bearing down and completing some of these songs?' He goes, 'Hmm, bear down and complete some of these songs?' Next day I get a call from Eddie" - Eddie Rosenblatt, the Geffen chairman - "saying I was off the project."

A difficult-to-work-with lead singer is only part of the reason that Chinese Democracy is being dubbed "the most expensive album never made." Started in 1994, the album has gone through producer after producer, various corporate mergers, the entire original lineup of Guns 'N' Roses (with the exception of Axl), and fourteen million dollars in production costs.
Around the start of 1998 Mr. Rose moved the band that he had assembled to Rumbo Recorders, a three-room studio deep in the San Fernando Valley where Guns N' Roses had recorded parts for its blockbuster debut, "Appetite for Destruction." The crew turned the studio into a rock star's playground: tapestries, green and yellow lights, state-of-the-art computer equipment and as many as 60 guitars at the ready, according to people involved in the production. But Mr. Rose wasn't there for fun and games. "What Axl wanted to do," one recording expert who was there recalls, "was to make the best record that had ever been made. It's an impossible task. You could go on infinitely, which is what they've done."

OK, but how could you rack up fourteen million dollars just to produce an album?
With the band's return [in 2001], Mr. Rose's machinery cranked up again. One internal cost analysis from the period pegs the operation's monthly tab at a staggering $244,000. It included more than $50,000 in studio time at the Village, a more modern studio where Mr. Baker had moved the band. It also included a combined payroll for seven band members that exceeded $62,000, with the star players earning roughly $11,000 each. Guitar technicians earned about $6,000 per month, while the album's main engineer was paid $14,000 per month and a recording software engineer was paid $25,000 a month, the document stated.

Oh. I see. But a label can't just let him do that forever, can they? Eventually they'll get sick of him wasting money and give him the boot, right?
"HAVING EXCEEDED ALL budgeted and approved recording costs by millions of dollars," the label wrote in a letter dated Feb. 2 , 2004, "it is Mr. Rose's obligation to fund and complete the album, not Geffen's." The tab at Village studio was closed out, and Mr. Rose tried a brief stint recording at the label's in-house studio before that too was ended. The band's computer gear, guitars and keyboards were packed away. Over a legal challenge by Mr. Rose, the label issued a greatest-hits compilation, in search of even a modest return on their eight-figure investment.

Released in March of 2004, it turned out to be a surprisingly strong seller, racking up sales of more than 1.8 million copies even without any new music or promotional efforts by the original band. The original band's debut, "Appetite for Destruction," which has sold 15 million copies, remains popular and racked up sales of another 192,000 copies last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It is a sign that Mr. Rose's audience still waits.

Maybe it's just me, but if this album is ever released, it seems like it will be the most over-anticipated release in history. Axl mentioned the idea of making it a triple-album release, and has said that there could be sixty or more tracks that could be released for the album. Triple-album? There is no worse format. How can you maintain yourself for sixty tracks?1 This from a guy who previously dated the late porn star Savannah (who killed herself after she got into a disfiguring car accident), who has done every drug under the sun, who has a "rumored interest in plastic surgery and "past-life regression" therapy," and who has a fourteen-million dollar-ego to live up to. I guess part of the album's mystique is its eccentricity.

1Possible exception: 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields.


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