Collectibles #27: Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy Box Set (2008)
So the long-awaited sixth studio album by Guns N' Roses came and went without much fuss. It had been 17 years since GNR released Use Your Illusion I and II simultaneously, not counting the covers albm The Spaghetti Incident in 1993.
Chinese Democracy is reportedly the most expensive album in history, even eclipsing Michael Jackson's Invincible album, which at one time, was in a race competing with Chinese Democracy as the album to be released later (Invincible lost, and was released in 2001, 6 years after HIStory).
During those 17 years, GNR underwent multiple lineup changes. Gone were lead guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum. Legions of stand-in members also came and went, e.g. Buckethead, Nine Inch Nails' touring guitarist Robin Finck etc. As a result, the final band members who were credited on Chinese Democracy came up to 12 people. Only Axl Rose remains as the original member of GNR.
2008 was a year of comeback of the 80s rock bands, where AC/DC and Metallica also launched huge comeback albums. AC/DC's Black Ice was their first album in 8 years and it was a huge success, selling 6 million copies worldwide to date. Metallica's Death Magnetic was their first since 2003's lacklustre St. Anger, and it performed reasonably well, selling about 4.5 million copies to date. In comparison, Chinese Democracy has sold about 2.6 million copies.
Like AC/DC, GNR also tied-up an exclusive release with one major retailer in the US. Whereas AC/DC achieved great success with Walmart, GNR's venture with Best Buy did much less business.
Some analyts were saying that Best Buy did not put in their full effort into promoting the album, where upon stepping into the store, you could not feel or see the presence of one of the biggest albums of all time finally hitting the shelves. Others blamed the cold reception on Axl Rose's unwillingness to promote the album.
I think it's a combination of factors. In this day and age, people don't really buy albums anymore, even though it might be a blockbuster release from one of the biggest rock bands. As such, you got to promote the hell out of it. Present an award on music award shows. Be seen at high-profile parties. Perform free concerts all around the country. Appear on every talk show possible. You just got to do it. U2 are damn good at this.
But at the end of the day, I firmly believe that if the music is good, it will sell by itself. Word of mouth is the most important factor. To many fans, Chinese Democracy just simply wasn't good enough, compared to their earlier efforts. And for an album 17 years in the making, they deserved better.
This limited edition box set contains a T-shirt, bandana, iron-on patch and keychain. Compared to Metallica's Death Magnetic coffin box (to be featured at a later date), this one is nowhere as elegant or exquisite, so it's two down for GNR. Boo hoo.