It's been just over a week since the official release of Chinese Democracy. Since that time, it seems like every critic (save me, a couple newspaper reporters and David Fricke at Rolling Stone) has panned the album as a critical failure. To all those critics, I have one thing to say:
Give me a break.
Seriously, Chinese Democracy has sold between 300,000 and 500,000 copies in one week. In this age of massive file theft, I think that is pretty good. Motley Crue's most recent Saints of Los Angeles has sold around 250,000 copies - total - in the past six months or so since its release.
Does selling half a million records in one week with zero official publicity constitute a failure?
Every so-called music fan in the rock world has said "...But Appetite for Destruction sold 28 million copies..." Yeah, 28 million copies in two freaking decades! And that album wasn't an overnight success, either. If it wasn't for MTV, Guns n' Roses might not still be a household name.
For Axl Rose to literally seep back into 100% hiding just as Chinese Democracy hits stores shelves is unprecedented. In this day and age, every musician - no matter the genre - is paraded in front of the media like a massive Macy's float. The sad fact of the matter is that kids care about music less today than in years past. There are more distractions but also more responsibilities. I took lessons and belonged to clubs, but I sure as hell wasn't taxied between clarinet lessons, soccer practice, 4-H, dance class, bass instruction...the list goes on. After school and private lessons there just might be enough time for an hour in front of the television or with a video game. While Guitar Hero has introduced Glam to a new and very young audience, these are the songs we've all known and loved for years now. While it's always fun to discover a new band - it's harder to appeal to a kid that doesn't even know your massive hits. So, I love Chinese Democracy. I also know every other Guns n' Roses album like the back of my hand. You don't have to sell me on the brand. I'm the target market: die-hard rock fan, past history, has some disposable money.
If a 12 year is playing Guitar Hero and hears "Sweet Child O' Mine" she might think the song is awesome - and be inclined to pick up Appetite for Destruction. Will she pick up Chinese Democracy, too? I'm not sure.
Everyone on Metal Sludge is mocking Axl Rose, saying that he spent too much time on Chinese Democracy and, as a result, the music industry left him behind.
Again, give me a break.
For anyone to actually think Axl Rose doesn't realize that the music industry has changed since before Appetite is crazy. I mean, literally loony. Please believe, I am certain with all my being Axl Rose knows very well the current mismanaged state of the music industry. What no one has really considered is the fact that maybe Axl finally allowed the release of Chinese Democracy at this current time of economic collapse as a means of punishment to the very suits that would just as soon suck his blood dry than see him succeed. Music is a business and it is cut throat. It is no accident that musicians have to work night and day to make a living these days at their art. Record label executives ignored the initial threat of downloading and failed to find a way to make a true profit on file sharing - before it got way out of hand. Now, most wouldn't even dream of paying for new music. I'm in the minority that is 100% opposed to illegal downloading but even I can admit it's intoxicating to think of building a massive music library - that didn't cost a damn dime.
Back to the punishment.
What if Axl seriously decided to release Chinese Democracy and intentionally went missing? He hasn't done a single interview in support of the release. There are no official announcements regarding a supporting tour. There are just the constant and tiresome rumors of an "original" GnR lineup reunion. From Axl's perspective, he knew the album would sell fairly decently out of the gate just on hype alone. I'm sure he also knows that if he went on David Letterman or MTV or even CNN - he could sell a few more copies. There wasn't even a massive online campaign for Chinese Democracy - pretty odd considering how bad the label wants to recoup some of the money that went into funding the epic work.
Axl isn't stupid. His lack of self-promotion is very calculated. I also think it's a big "Screw You" to Geffen Records - and everyone else in the music business.
Back to the naysayers and the constant "failure" refrain. Any band in this day and age would (should!) be excited with half a million sales out of the gate. Sure, it isn't 28 million. Then again, this isn't 1988, either. No one rushes the door of a music shop to grab the latest release at midnight. People don't cruise city blocks, speakers blaring. MTV doesn't air music videos. The golden age of recorded music is behind us - and Axl knows it, too. He's just waiting and watching -- and I'm fairly certain we haven't heard the last of him. Something big is coming - and it's probably going to blindside every last one of us.