By now, you know Guns N’ Roses’ classic line-up is reuniting. And you know they’re receiving a warm welcome back to the jungle: a headlining slot at Coachella, a tentative North American stadium tour, and a steep price tag of $3 million a show. It seems many promoters and media outlets are pumped to see Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan slog through “Paradise City” one more time. But they really shouldn’t be. Because this Guns N’ Roses reunion will almost certainly be bad. Appallingly, unspeakably bad — for your ears and for the music industry in general.
Look, I get why people are excited to see GN’R squeeze into the leather chaps again. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a zeitgeist-defining, billboard-hogging, superstar rock band. They just don’t get made anymore — in our era of Spotify playlists and WinRAR downloads, the musical landscape is too fragmented and too fleeting for a single group to achieve Zeppelin-level ubiquity. Axl and co. partially fill that void — they remind us of a time when bands mattered. The problem is GN’R don’t matter anymore.
Here’s why that’s an issue: 2015 was the first year that old records outsold new ones. According to Nielsen data, catalogue albums (i.e. albums that were released over 18 months ago) moved 122.8 million copies in the U.S. last year, while current albums moved 118.5 million. Turns out Adele’s 25 has got nothing on AC/DC’s Greatest Hits. There are a number of reasons for this — everything from the demographic overlap between file-sharers and new music fans to the effects of the Long Tail. And then there’s the fact that, in our splintered cultureverse, the masses are more likely to shell out cash on familiar names than new whippersnappers. It’s the same reason the film and TV industries are obsessed with reboots — and we know how well those usually turn out.
Which brings us to the other concern: the GN’R reunion will likely sound ghastly. It’ll be the musical equivalent of Jurassic World — a giant, steaming turd that will nevertheless make boatloads of money. The band members are 20 years past their prime and have shared too much bad blood (see: that time Axl called Slash “a cancer”) to feign any chemistry. They’ve also aged horribly: Slash’s ability to do the Slash thing (i.e. run around the stage while shredding furiously) is limited by the fact that he’s got a pacemaker, and have you heard Axl sing lately? Take this clip of the poor guy attempting “Welcome to the Jungle,” from a few years back, as a case study.
This performance is tragic for many reasons. There’s the way Axl screams “YEE-HAW!” before launching into the tune, the way he gets winded almost immediately, and the moment at the 53-second mark where he clutches his chest and appears to almost have a heart attack. That’s not to mention the sad reality that his trademark high-octave rasp has devolved into a wispy, forced squawk more akin to a South Park parody of Axl Rose. Unless you’ve got an Appetite for Dejection, you do not want to buy tickets to a GN’R reunion tour. Not only is there a high likelihood of Axl failing to show up (as he did for his recent scheduled appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!), but seeing the dude attempt the old snake dance while in his Fat Elvis stage will be as thrilling as walking in on your parents having sex.
But, hey, we can’t knock GN’R for cashing in on a reunion. It’s what nearly every band does. The real misfortune is audiences would rather pay for these uninspired retreads than quality new music. In order to stay afloat, the record industry needs to keep cranking out fresh hits. It can’t move forward by fetishizing the past, because if there’s anything to learn from present-day Axl, it’s that even the rock gods of yore decay — and eventually die (see: Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie, Glenn Frey). Besides, rock n’ roll is meaningless without young, innovative iconoclasts full of piss and vinegar. So once the nostalgia dries up, where do we go? Where do we go now?