Guns N' Roses 'n' melodrama

Times Staff Writer

Guns N' Roses took one step forward and one step back last week, entering the national sales chart at No. 3 with "Greatest Hits" the same day singer Axl Rose announced that the beleaguered band was canceling plans to venture out in public again to headline the annual Rock in Rio festival in Lisbon.

This week will provide a better idea of which direction the GNR career pendulum is swinging with second-week figures on the Geffen Records hits collection, whose release Rose and two of his estranged former bandmates unsuccessfully tried to stop.

Rose and fellow original members Slash and Duff McKagan argued in a lawsuit that the company was putting out the album without their input. Geffen officials countered that they wouldn't have released the album if Rose had delivered the long-promised album "Chinese Democracy," which has been in the works for seven years.

So just where is GNR's career today? Hard to say. After launching their first North American tour in 2002, Rose and a new lineup got the plug pulled by the tour's promoter after one month because of problems that plagued several shows.

The May 30 Lisbon appearance, which would have been its first concert since then, was called off because guitarist Buckethead quit.

Rose placed blame for the cancellation squarely on the guitarist, saying: "The band has been put in an untenable position by guitarist Buckethead and his untimely departure.... There is not a member of this camp that is not hurt, upset and ultimately disappointed by this event...."

So Buckethead is history, right? Hang on.

"We greatly appreciate Bucket's contributions and remain open to 'discussions' as there are obviously several issues to resolve," Rose added.

And "Chinese Democracy"? "We hope," Rose said, "to announce a release date within the next few months."

Rose's management said that's the only information available. Still, the No. 3 chart debut of the hits album is impressive for a group whose last studio collection, "The Spaghetti Incident?," came out more than a decade ago.

"Patching up their differences only long enough to try to stop this album from coming out may just have served to draw more attention to it and may have helped market it," says Billboard charts editor Geoff Mayfield.

"To a degree, they'll have to start over with the group," Mayfield adds of prospects for a comeback. "There would be some people -- Axl faithful -- who would buy [a new studio album] on faith, but I think it's been a long time. Older fans of the band may have moved on to other stuff."

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