While Guns N' Roses devotees greeted Chinese Democracy's release with euphoria on Nov. 23, the mood away from party central was bittersweet. After all, it's the end of an era — rock history's most spectacular lost album is now readily available.
Now that the record is out, we have to adjust to a world where "Madagascar" can blast out of the same woofers as the new Taylor Swift single. As fans weigh the new G N' R album riff by riff, the question remains: Will Chinese Democracy meet expectations? Or, like these six wrongheaded masterpieces, will we wish it had stayed buried in the forgiving vaults of music lore?
Brian Wilson, Sweet Insanity
Forget SMiLE. The real curio locked away inside the lab of the Beach Boy boffin is this 1991 solo album, the culmination of Wilson's unethical business partnership with his psychologist, Eugene Landy.
From the mid-'70s to the early '90s, Wilson was under Landy's meds-induced spell. They wrote dozens of songs together, while Landy bled Wilson out of millions in therapy fees. Sweet Insanity, the pair's would-be opus, was a stab at updating the Beach Boys' sound in the age of Bel Biv DeVoe. "Smart Girls," the proposed first single, featured a handful of classic Beach Boys songs chopped and looped around a new jack beat. The only surviving trace of the album is a promo sampler hastily sent to radio before Wilson delivered the final master tapes to his label. After Sire swiftly rejected the work, Landy was hit with a restraining order filed by Wilson's family and promptly lost his practitioner's license. It would take another decade for Wilson to see Landy as the shyster he was. Sweet Insanity or mere stupidity? Luckily, it's a question we'll never have to grapple with.
Weezer, Songs from the Black Hole
On the heels of one of the best-selling rock debuts of the '90s, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo planned to devote the band's entire second album to a classic theme: intergalactic shagging. Pulling it off would've been a feat of Styx-esque indulgence. "There's this crew," Cuomo explained of the lost work to Rolling Stone last year, "three guys and two girls and a mechanoid that are on this mission in space to rescue somebody, or something." He stretched that premise over 20 songs, the majority of which ("Come to My Pod," "Oh No, This Is Not for Me," and "Tired of Sex" were among the tracks leaked online in 2001) examined the new rock star's conflicted take on groupiedom. As if the final arena-rock word on the subject hadn't already been delivered by KISS' "Plaster Caster." Sans mechanoid, of course.
Pink Floyd, Household Objects
The phenomenal success of Dark Side of the Moon would have crippled a lesser band's creativity. Pink Floyd, on the other hand, merely came up lame. In 1973, the art-rock icons began an album they planned to compose and play on whatever nonmusical objects lay about their homes. With hindsight, we can safely assume this included lots and lots of drugs. Which is why they didn't get much further than tapping a wine glass with a wet finger, a session that David Gilmore noted (in a 1999 Q interview) turns up on Dark Side's eventual follow-up, the only slightly less absurd Wish You Were Here.
Beastie Boys, White House
In his recent book The Greatest Music Never Sold, music journalist Dan LeRoy delved into the mystery surrounding this skeleton from the Beastie Boys' closet. It turns out the trio's abandoned house album was merely an act of supreme thuggery by Russell Simmons, the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings. After the Beasties defected from Def Jam to record Paul's Boutique for another label, Simmons hired Public Enemy's Chuck D to mix vocal outtakes from their multiplatinum debut, Licensed to Ill, with cookie-cutter house music. When D realized Simmons' intent (Beastie Boy Mike Diamond claims the record would have ended the trio's career), he backed out. Time to get ill, indeed.
After 1986's Lovesexy, Prince wrote and produced two albums that he left unreleased — the legendary Dream Factory and the less celebrated Camille. Camille was the persona he adopted by the magic of sped-up vocal tapes. Whether Prince was playing at being Diana Ross or David Saville is unclear. Much of Dream Factory and Camille were eventually reworked into Crystal Ball, his mid-'90s clearinghouse for abandoned ideas.
R.E.M., Murmur (Martin Rushent sessions)
That's the same Rushent who had just come off his career peak — the Human League's 1981 synth-pop standard-bearer Dare. By the time the sessions for R.E.M.'s debut wrapped, good sense had prevailed and the album was rerecorded minus the lip gloss and with garage-rocker Mitch Easter. The rough mixes remain a coveted — if not cherished — bootleg among fans of the Athens, Georgia, legends.