The Most Expensive Album Ever Produced: Why Chinese Democracy is a Great Record
Throughout the history of recorded music, Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy is acknowledged as the most expensive album ever recorded.
With a cost of $13 million, Chinese Democracy was largely considered a major dud when it was released on Oct. 22, 2008, just ahead of the Christmas rush.
While it cost Geffen a fortune, there was no way that album was ever going to make money (it sold 2.6 million worldwide by Feb. 2009) as the music business was being overrun by digital piracy and online streaming.
Moreover, by the time it was finally released, Guns N’ Roses was an Axl Rose solo band after Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum quit or were fired prior to actual recording of Chinese Democracy, which began in 1997.
Cost-wise, the numbers are staggering:
- Guitar Techs — $6,000 per month
- Studio Engineer — $25,000 per month
- Studio Costs — $50,000 per month (14 different studios)
Not mention dozens of musicians and a massive assortment of assistant engineers who worked on the record.
Costs were so high, in fact, that Geffen took Chinese Democracy off its release list in 2005 and cut funding at the same time, stating “Having exceeded all budgeted and approved recording costs by millions of dollars, it is Mr. Rose’s obligation to fund and complete the album, not Geffen’s.”
Given the record label cut funding, it’s no surprise Rose took his band out on the road for 75 shows in 2006 (the most concerts in one year during the touring around Chinese Democracy) presumably to earn money to help cover costs.
During production, Rose stated he had recorded enough songs to make two albums, and he’s publicly stated another album will be released, but of course, nobody knows when. But, in and of itself, Chinese Democracy is a solid album.
Despite Costs Chinese Democracy A Great Album
While being a commercial flop (a relative term here given it did sell in the millions and Rose did no promotion for the album at all), and largely written off by critics at the time, Chinese Democracy is a very, very good record.
Naturally, given how long it took, it’s over-produced with plenty of digital augmentations, and is very far removed from Appetite For Destruction, but the songs are strong and the guitar playing from the likes of Buckethead, Robin Finck, Richard Fortus, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Paul Tobias is phenomenal.
The solos on “Better” courtesy of Buckethead and Finck are amazing, and a fine example of the playing on the album. Speaking of guitar solos, Finck’s work on “This I Love” takes it to another level. Mind-blowing.
A song like “If the World” shows Rose expanding his musical horizons with a distinct African/Middle Eastern influence to the track, which is a standout cut on the album.
“Riad N’ the Bedouins” is a kick ass song with more of an industrial feel to it, while “Sorry” is a power ballad with a great Buckethead solo.
One of the best songs on the Chinese Democracy is “Prostitute”, which closes the record. It’s Rose at his introspective best in a song that is both angry and reflective while combining an orchestra overtop of some seriously amazing guitar riffing.
So while many consider Chinese Democracy a throw-away album, it’s actually a fine piece of work. And it should be — it sure cost enough.
Originally published at www.rocknrollinsight.com on March 1, 2019.