Predicting Guns N’ Roses’ Future: Our Writers Answer Five Big Questions
In a classic rock year that's so far been dominated by sad news, the joyous return of Duff McKagan and Slash to Guns N' Roses and the almost universal praise for the group's current stadium tour has many of us excitedly pondering the group's future. So we asked our writers for their personal, unfiltered answers to five questions about what the coming months and years might hold for Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan and company. Here's what they said:
1) On a scale of 1-10, how surprised were you that Slash and Duff rejoined Guns N’ Roses, and that this tour has been both trouble-free and almost universally praised?
Nick DeRiso: I suppose I thought they’d get back together at some point. As long as there was money to be made, right? But that it would go so smoothly is certainly more than even the staunchest advocate could have hoped for. Perhaps time has healed old wounds.
Annie Zaleski: I'd separate this into two parts: I was a nine that Slash and McKagan rejoined, simply because the acrimony had run so deep, and everybody had so much else going on. In terms of it being trouble-free and praised? I'm about a five surprised. Everybody has grown up (and, in some cases, gotten sober), and there's too much at stake financially and reputation-wise to have the tour come off as anything less than clockwork.
Jeff Giles: Like everyone else, I scoffed at the first few rounds of reunion rumors — but by the time the official announcement came out, the whole thing seemed like such a certainty that it felt kind of anticlimactic. McKagan's been in the GNR orbit regularly enough that his involvement isn't much of a surprise either — but I admit I'm still kind of stunned to see Slash in the lineup. On the other hand, getting divorced is expensive. Rose has toured behind these songs enough that I think everyone knew the tour would at least be proficient, but the rave reviews have been at least mildly surprising. I mean, you can't go home again, right? As often as not, reunions fail to live up to the hype, and this one had more hype than most.
Matt Wardlaw: Pretty surprised. It's not so much of a surprise that Slash and McKagan were willing to come back – that always seemed somewhat possible – but it just didn't ever seem likely that Rose was going to let the ice thaw. I'm not really surprised that the tour has gone so well. I think it's pretty safe to say that there was no way that they were going to take this on the road, knowing people's expectations and memories – and not have it be 100 percent awesome.
Michael Christopher: Ten. For one thing, how in the world did Slash and Rose bury the hatchet? It can’t all be about money – though it can’t hurt – but the two genuinely seem to be enjoying themselves. I mean, did you see footage of when Rose went up and tickled Slash during “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” in Philly last week? One day we’ll hear the full story on how it all went down, and I can’t wait. McKagan isn’t as surprising, and it’s likely he helped alleviate tensions as a go-between for Slash and Rose. Promises of the tour being trouble free had to, at least in part, have been part of the tour negotiations. Times are much different now than in 1991; even though every single review mentions the fact Rose was on time for whatever gig is being covered, he hasn’t been tardy for years and really has no choice. Fans paying a couple hundred dollars or more to see this jaunt do not want to worry about missing work the next day or having to pay the sitter extra because the singer wasn’t feeling it until midnight. Plus, Rose seems to be a different, more mature person now.
Eduardo Rivadavia: I still can't quite believe they're actually doing it, so I guess that qualifies as a 10 on a 10 scale. Maybe it's the fact that there hasn't been trouble that makes the entire reunion somewhat surreal, because "trouble" was almost a standard dimension of GNR's career definition. But, for the time being, I know we can all live with them not being the most dangerous band in the world, if it means the reunion carrying on in peace.
Michael Gallucci: Seeing that GNR have become a Vegas attraction over the past few years, it was only a matter of time until Slash and McKagan returned. Slash's return is about a five or six on the surprised scale; McKagan, one. Slash's recent solo output amounts to way-too-long albums overstuffed with half-formed songs. His return was a wise career move, though I would have pegged it a couple years down the line. And remind me again what McKagan has been up to lately. I'm a little more surprised (say, a seven on that scale) that the tour has been relatively bump-free so far, but we still have some shows to go. To his credit, though, Axl Rose has become way more professional since his trouble-making days.
Matthew Wilkening: A very happy nine on them getting back together. Even though you can count the number of major classic rock bands that didn't eventually reunite in some form with one hand and still have some fingers left over, it certainly seemed possible there was enough animosity here to make this separation last forever. I'm not at all surprised that the shows have been great -- the Chinese Democracy tour was pretty cool, and ran right on schedule two of the three times I saw it, and Slash and McKagan never stopped working at a very high level. However, I was surprised by just how great it was and especially how much better Slash sounds on such a big stage.
2) Do you think this tour will mark the end of this reunion, or will they continue together for future tours? What about an album?
DeRiso: It’s hard to see this configuration staying together as a consistent thing, just because they’ve built up notable careers separate from one another. That said, an album would seem to be a natural outgrowth of such a successful enterprise – and it’s easy to see them getting together again to promote something like that before returning to their own projects. In that scenario, it makes good sense.
Zaleski: I do think that they'll continue for future tours. I feel like this summer tour was a test to gauge interest – and, clearly, it seems like demand is there. Ideally, I'd like to see an arena tour that hits more markets and cities they didn't get to this summer. As for an album – that I'm less sure about. I'd love to see something, but I'd have to think they'd want to release something that suits the caliber of the reunion, so I wouldn't expect anything soon, as they'd take their time with it.
Giles: I think they'd be foolish not to take this lineup back on the road. Everyone seems to be clicking so well, and they all have their side projects now — why not keep milking the cash cow by playing the catalog? As for an album, I think the question isn't "why not," but "why bother?" There's absolutely no way it'd ever come close to living up to the legacy they established with Appetite and Illusion. Rock records these days have their entire release cycles in the space of a week or two — little bit of hype, a couple of singles, a medium-sized sales splash (if you're lucky) and it's all quickly forgotten. I doubt these guys are dying to write together at this point; I think it's enough that they're finally honoring their past together.
Wardlaw: I think it seems pretty likely that we'll see the current GNR lineup go into the studio and make an album. What will be interesting is to see if they tackle stuff that Rose has already been working on, knowing how much completed stuff is allegedly in the can – or will they start fresh? It seems like the obvious scenario that would accelerate the process, would be to do take a hybrid approach and do a little of both. If they do that, hopefully Rose can stay out of his own way and actually let an album hit the shelves. Is a "surprise" GNR album release possible? That would be something.
Christopher: The energy and cohesion is way too high to simply part ways at the end of the tour, which at this point should go well into next year with a European leg and maybe (hopefully) a second run through North America. At that point, you’re creeping on a decade since Chinese Democracy. Heading into the studio makes the most sense, but then what does Rose do with all of the material he has that’s supposed to come out as a de facto second part to his magnum opus? Does it get reworked with Slash and McKagan? Do they start from scratch? The possibilities are there, but so are the roadblocks. Like everything else with GNR, despite what their opening song each night declares, it’s never easy. It won’t be the end though, especially as it’s been a massive boost to everyone’s respective ego and bank account, and as long as it continues at this smooth pace, they can tour again at the very least.
Rivadavia: I just had a disturbing mental image of Axl Rose pulling a Mike Love – i.e. kicking out McKagan and Slash and reverting to other lineups after benefiting from the reunion tour's success to reinvigorate the GNR brand. But I don't think that will happen, and have faith that the reunion will carry on after the tour and into the studio. Whether Slash and McKagan can put up with Rose dominating new album sessions (assuming he does; we could be witnessing the birth of a new, mellower Rose) is the bigger question mark, in my mind, so I'll cautiously put the odds of a brand new GNR LP at 50/50.
Gallucci: I don't think we've seen the end of this tour. I wouldn't be surprised if it was on and off the road in some form for the next two or three years. But I doubt we'll ever see an entire album by this lineup. How long did it take Chinese Democracy to come out? I'm guessing the next GNR album (if and when it ever shows up) will be a hodgepodge of material from different band lineups over the past decade.
Wilkening: Rose recently hinted at possibly working together on new music with Angus Young and AC/DC too, so that could slow things down. But I hope GNR keep going, and I'd love to hear what they come up with together in the studio. I think it's pretty silly of outsiders to pretend they know the internal dynamics of their collaborative process or not to give them all credit for being more mature then they were over 20 years ago by assuming they could never work together again. I also hope they find time to pursue their individual projects, particularly Rose's recently stated desire to work on film scores.
3) Will Izzy join the tour in any capacity? Are you satisfied with the two guest appearances Adler has made so far on this tour?
DeRiso: The appearance of Steven Adler only adds to any longtime fan’s desire to see Izzy Stradlin onstage with Guns N’ Roses again. It’s the last missing piece, especially if you’re going to keep playing "Double Talkin’ Jive." Considering Stradlin’s more recent return to music, there has to be a way to make something happen – even if it’s just a one-off turn at a future show. That would finally complete the circle once more.
Zaleski: I could see Stradlin maybe hopping on in L.A., but that's about it. He likes keeping a low profile! I'm also satisfied with Adler's appearances. He sounded great and was having a blast – as was the rest of the band – so it was the happy ending we all wanted to see.
Giles: Stradlin seems perfectly content lurking under the radar and releasing music when he feels like it, and given that he left the band of his own accord before the wheels really fell off, it seems like a pretty safe bet that he doesn't feel like he has a ton of unfinished business. Adler is another story, on the other hand, and I'd love to see him play a bigger role in this unlikely second act.
Wardlaw: I don't know that we'll see Stradlin. The door is certainly open, because as we know, he's shared the stage with Rose in recent years. He definitely marches to the beat of his own drum, and if we see him, it would be temporary, I think. I'd be more excited about the potential of him joining the GNR guys in the studio to do some writing/recording. As far as Adler, it's cool that he got to get on the stage, period. But it would be great if they would just make it a regular segment of the show ... and maybe change up the tunes that they jam on.
Christopher: Some of the markets have reportedly been soft sales-wise. If Stradlin were going to take part on a recurring basis, I feel like he would’ve done it by now to drive ticket sales. Most people are expecting him to show up – if anywhere – during the Los Angeles shows or maybe New York in some capacity. But he’s a weird/private/unpredictable dude, so who knows? He might pop up in Curitiba, Brazil, in November, do “14 Years” and not be heard from again for a decade, and it would be completely normal. The Adler thing is just bizarre. Two shows and done? Why bother? And why Cincinnati and Nashville of all places? His role since the beginning has been mired in mystery. Was he initially set to take on a larger part but shelved due to the confirmed back injury and possible surgery? It would be nice to see him out there more, even if it’s two songs a night; his presence brings an added element of jubilance to the proceedings. Short answer: no, not satisfied.
Rivadavia: My gut tells me that Stradlin will continue resisting all overtures to perform on the current tour. Maybe he'll break down if they play next to his house and they drag him onstage for one encore. But if the reunion continues to thrive, then I could see him making a cameo on a new album, maybe even agreeing to a limited tour of mega-stadiums down the line. It's all about finding the right pay for play balance that works for him. Adler did better than I expected in his two appearances so far, and I'd expect to see more of him as the reunion efforts keep gaining momentum and making believers out of the cynics. His presence is another score for legitimizing the whole enterprise.
Gallucci: I'm pretty sure Izzy Stradlin will join the band onstage for a song here and there before the tour finally wraps up. Not in This Lifetime seems just as much about goodwill as it does nostalgia. I don't feel one way or the other about Steven Adler's appearances. GNR drummers serve the same purpose most rock 'n' roll drummers have served since the beginning of time (or whenever rock 'n' roll was invented): helping to lay down a foundation. Anyone can do it. I don't care if Adler is up there, or Matt Sorum, or whoever may step in next.
Wilkening: I think they handled the Adler thing very nicely, whether or not that continues at other shows. It'd be fun to see Stradlin pop up, but the guy is pretty clearly happily living his own life in his own way. If they do make another record, I'd love to see what would happen if Stradlin contributed to the songwriting process. His name is on many of the best GNR songs. But I think the "original lineup or bust" people are kinda selfish. Why would you want your favorite artists working together if they're not happy doing so? Then again, I have my own highly hypocritical exception to that rule: David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen. Tough s--- if you (maybe) don't get along so great anymore .. make another album!
4) Let's play set list doctor. Take one song out of their typical nightly show, and replace it with one they haven't played yet.
DeRiso: “So Fine.” Because, Duff. Also, it easily bests most any Chinese Democracy song.
Zaleski: I'm going to take out the cover of the Who's "The Seeker" and sub in "Garden of Eden," a song they rarely ever played live. It's a tough song, because it's fast and has a ton of lyrics, but I think with the way the band is performing and the combination of players on stage, they could tackle it.
Wardlaw: I'd love to see them swap out "My Michelle" for "You're Crazy." Parents, cover your kids ears for this one.
Christopher: “Dead Horse” for “Double Talkin’ Jive.”
Rivadavia: I wish they would start by playing half as many covers. The set is a wonderful reminder of just how many great songs GNR wrote, so why so many covers? As for original GNR tunes, I'll cast a vote for adding "Pretty Tied Up" in place of "Chinese Democracy."
Gallucci: I'd like to see them break out another one of the covers they've recorded: "Since I Don't Have You," "Ain't It Fun," "Hair of the Dog." Hell, I'd even settle for "Sympathy for the Devil." Cut one of the Chinese Democracy tracks, like "Sorry" (just keep the title track in the set). Nobody wants to hear those.
Wilkening; As much as I love and was actually hoping for them to play "Better," it fell rather flat in terms of audience response the two times I've seen this tour live. I'd pop pretty hard for "Locomotive."
5) True or False: Guns N’ Roses were, and will remain, the last band who earned a full, permanent spot in the classic rock universe.
DeRiso: It’s a hard question. For some, the core FM era will always take precedent. In this calculation, bands like U2, Metallica and, yes, Guns N' Roses, will always be considered interlopers. For others, these late-period contributors gave classic rock a needed boost. That includes me. In keeping, I’d have to open the window of eligibility further still – at least into the ‘90s, with acts like Pearl Jam.
Zaleski: False. They're *one* of the last bands. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day and even Soundgarden I think are all primed for classic rock immortality, if they're not there already.
Giles: This is a cop out, but I'm torn. You can make an argument for a number of acts — Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, even the Black Keys — but I'm not sure I feel strongly enough about any of their legacies to take a stand for their "full, permanent" inclusion in the canon. In terms of cultural impact, I don't think any of them have approached (or will approach) GNR's impact.
Wardlaw: Maybe not the last one, but they certainly are one of the only ones that come to mind that have a catalog that has made a cultural impact (and continues to do so) on the level of the classic rock titans that built the format.
Christopher: True. Without a doubt. Metallica technically earned it after, but have been around longer, so GNR is the last to earn a spot. Pulling from just the first three albums and one EP, those recordings are such landmarks in the canon of hard rock. They are up there with Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Van Halen, and they did it with such little source material. There is a very long list of songs from Guns N’ Roses that will always be discovered by new generations, young musicians needing inspiration and kids looking to rebel against their parents by blasting “Out Ta Get Me” at 100 decibels.
Rivadavia: For our own good, I hope they're not the last band to earn this sort of standing! GNR weren't thought of as a classic rock band in their time, but they have obviously grown into that category and I think that supports the modern definition of "classic rock" as something that extends beyond the '60s or '70s and applies to most all guitar-driven music created in the post-Beatles era. Heck, ask most folks and I bet they'd consider the '90s grunge bands as "classic rock" these days (the Foo Fighters probably qualify too). And there will always be vintage-sounding, retro-rocking outfits, from the Black Crowes to the Darkness, harking back to the sounds and spirit of classic rock, once the more limited genre bands fall by the wayside of fashions. So here's hoping younger bands keep cropping up to stoke classic rock's flames ... I mean, I'm still holding out hope that Danko Jones will finally rule the world someday.
Gallucci: True. Classic rock was a rotting corpse and had given way to new forms of rock 'n' roll by the end of the '80s. Guns N' Roses are probably the last of a breed that you can just call a straight-up rock 'n' roll band without using some sort of hyphenated description (i.e.. alt-rock, nu-metal, etc.). Even Pearl Jam cross genres.
Wilkening: Depends on whether or not you want to credit Metallica with a pre-Black Album entry point. But yeah, it looks they're the last two. Which is a shame we're all responsible for – listeners and industry alike – as there are plenty of great bands from the '90s and beyond who maybe could have blossomed into bigger and better things and kept the genre alive for future generations if given a bit more love and support. As for the "grunge" stars such as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, I think they fell just short, although they certainly have huge followings and bright futures. Speaking specifically in terms of this genre, they certainly aren't getting any of their new stuff on classic rock radio, and their old hits seem to be sprinkled into playlists rather than making up a main piece of the pie.
Guns N' Roses Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide (We Think)