Guns N’ Roses returned to the U.S. pop charts this week with their first studio album in 17 years … but had to settle for a disappointing No. 3 slot.
“Chinese Democracy” sold a modest 261,000 copies. The tally paled against those of the band’s last studio efforts, “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II,” which debuted at Nos. 2 and 1, respectively, with sales of 685,000 and 770,000 after being released on the same day in 1991.
Best Buy Senior Entertainment Officer Gary Arnold had predicted “Chinese Democracy” would be the week’s top seller, but it ended up being bested by Kanye West’s new release “808s & Heartbreak” with 450,000 copies and country star Taylor Swift’s former champ “Fearless” with 267,000.
What happened? Wasn’t “Chinese Democracy” one of the most-anticipated and talked-about albums of all time? Wasn’t it so steeped in myth and lore that a massive debut week was all but assured? Maybe not.
The October release of AC/DC’s “Black Ice,” while not a perfect comparison, comes to mind. Like Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC was a band that had been off the radar for a while and opted to partner with one retailer — Wal-Mart — for the release of its own long-awaited new album. “Ice” ultimately chilled with 784,000 copies in its debut week — the veteran group’s best sales frame since tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan started in 1991.
And now we have GNR’s album, in an exclusive deal with Best Buy (and iTunes). And it starts with much less.
So, why didn’t GNR’s number even get close to AC/DC’s?
Wal-Mart gave AC/DC the red-carpet treatment. The retail giant made sure the album had the appearance of an event record — something every Wal-Mart shopper needed to own. If that didn’t convince consumers, maybe their famed store-within-a-store display did.
But at Best Buy, based on reports from Billboard staffers on the ground during release week, the promotion was on a smaller scale.
Beyond the retail promotion of “Chinese Democracy,” what about the intangibles?
Maybe the public got tired of waiting for an album that was probably never going to live up to their expectations? Maybe fans were turned off by the ever-shifting lineup of band members? Maybe it would have sold more had reclusive frontman Axl Rose and his bandmates made a promotional appearance in support of the release? Perhaps it would have started stronger had it been available to all retailers?
Or, maybe pundits should just take a step back, breathe and see where the album goes from here. There very well may be quite a long, healthy road ahead for “Chinese Democracy.”
West may have also been disappointed with the 450,000 start for “808s & Heartbreak.” Many pundits, including some at his Universal Music Group label, had expected his fourth album to have a better week.
His last album, “Graduation,” started at No. 1 with 957,000 last year. Before that, “Late Registration,” chalked up an 860,000-unit entry at No. 1 in 2005. His freshman effort, “The College Dropout,” started at No. 2 with 441,000 in 2004.