Guns N’ Roses - Appetite For Destruction
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
In the year 2002, you cannot defend Guns ‘N’ Roses. Their drug-fuelled antics were ridiculous, unimpressive retreads of those performed by every other rock band since the Crickets; the majority of their recorded output is laughable, bloated rubbish that was nurtured by unwarranted notions of self-confidence, pride and relevance; the on-going, unwanted tease of a new Guns ‘N’ Roses album -- perhaps the most bewildering and why-inducing rumour to ever circulate within the rock world -- would surely reek of reunion tour excrement if only the original Gunners’ line-up had included Buckethead, some Nine Inch Nails sidemen, a Replacement, Ziggy Marley, Max Headroom and Harrison Ford.
In the year 2002, however, you can confidently and justifiably defend Appetite For Destruction. Upon its release in 1987, Appetite was the first great glam record to be released in ages; more importantly, it may also have been the last. No band since has concocted a record that possessed the attitude, androgyny and danger displayed by the greats of glam: the New York Dolls, T. Rex, Nazareth, Cheap Trick. That is the company Guns ‘N’ Roses belonged to. Motivated (despite being terminally smashed), menacing (while slathering on make up) and sexual (even though they were all ugly and thin as syringes), GnR were, for a brief time, a real rock band, a scary rock band, a great rock band; with the exception of one or two of its tracks, Appetite For Destruction fully attests to this.
And it is not hair metal. GnR did succumb to hair metal trappings -- completely, soullessly, dicklessly-- but not until the two Use Your Illusion albums, two full servings of self-fellating wolfshit that featured awful power ballads, led to inexplicably stupid videos and fed the unkind perspectives that take aim on the band today. No band on the hair metal circuit had anything on Appetite-era Guns ‘N’ Roses. Cinderella, Motley Crue, Warrant, Poison, Def Leppard, Ratt, Dangerous Toys, White Lion and their back-combed ilk “wrote” “songs” about partying and its constituent parts, maybe taking a break to address society once in a while, but never more than once an album and never before side two. Most of the songs on Appetite For Destruction spit in the face of hair metal and paint pictures of L.A. and Hollywood that only true fear and loathing could accurately depict; portrayals of the undiluted horror that awaits any naïf foolish enough to board a bus in Indiana and step off in California. It is that unflinching, un-romanticized account of their surroundings that set Guns ‘N’ Roses apart. Whether talking about sex, drug abuse, crime or violence, Axl Rose’s disgust doesn’t just cut through, it slashes. A piercing, belligerent instrument of its own, Rose’s frustration (and his anger, and his bravado, and his crassness), when combined with the band’s explosive, barroom firebomb, the result is truly frightening: nihilism perpetrated by desperation, inadequacy and lust, the only tattoos found on Appetite For Destruction that matter.
Unlike most successful albums, Appetite’s singles provide valuable, easy insight into its greatness. “Welcome to the Jungle”’s opening refrain is one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in recent memory. True, its most common modern use is as a pump-up for hockey and football crowds, but as the introduction to a malevolent rock album, it is a dark, foreboding, electric necessity. The lyrics are seedy threats, the music is slippery but tightly wound; the song is audio slime. “Paradise City” is weakened by its chorus -- a cheap anthem -- but its placement next to the grim groove of the verse is a stroke of genius: an unselfconscious dream of a better life forced to share space with its lamentable antithesis. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” seems desperate for ridicule with its flat lyrics and sore-thumb glossiness, but those lame lyrics are terribly sad and that tasteless production can’t contain the harsh squall of uncertainty that concludes the song.
The album’s finest moments are found in the lesser-known songs. “It’s So Easy”, from its apocalyptic opening to its airy bridge to its classic lyrics (“turn around, bitch, I got a use for you”) is one of the most incredible examples of audio libido ever recorded. “Night Train” is a surprisingly wistful, emotional nosedive into excess and self-destruction. Rarely has carelessness sounded so rewarding. “My Michelle” is as gritty as anything on the album, a true-to-life biography of a band friend whose father actually did work in porno and whose mother did die of a heroin overdose. Some of the song’s poppiness seems garish, but its thudding verse is always around the corner. “You’re Crazy” is break-neck proof of the band’s punk influence and dynamic capabilities, “Mr. Brownstone” is about as fun an account of heroin addiction you’re likely to hear and “Out Ta Get Me”, despite its cartoonish moments, still contains one of the greatest utterances of the word “fuck” you will ever hear in a song.
The remaining three songs (not to give anti-Appetite zealots any extra ammo) are horrible. “Think About You” could be a Bryan Adams song, a failed attempt at rocking out the memories of a lost love that smacks of A&R; pressure. “Anything Goes” and “Rocket Queen”, the final two songs, are both about sex and are both incredibly stupid. Asshole-brag and cheese-a-thon, respectively, “Anything Goes” and “Rocket Queen” are shades of what Guns ‘N’ Roses would become -- a sad, brainless joke -- but even their unyielding retardedness cannot ruin what is still a great album. And if an album’s worst moments are not enough to significantly taint its overall quality, how can the subsequent output of the band who created it be used to question its merit?
It can’t. That’s why listening to Appetite For Destruction and hating Guns ‘N’ Roses doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It makes you right.
By: Clay Jarvis
Published on: 2003-09-01