[The Epics] Guns N’ Roses: Appetite For Destruction
I was a simple youngster at age 12. The Beatles had just hit me, and I was still reeling from their impact to my musical solar plexus. But the Beatles were all bright and shiny pop, and I lived in preteen ignorance of the barrage of rebel rock ’n’ roll and wailing guitars that was to accost me soon after. Like most albums I will be writing about in this section, ‘Appetite’ marks some significant movement in my autobiographical soundtrack. For the first time, I recognized true rock ’n’ roll decadence.
I must confess that at the first listen, ‘Appetite’ did nothing for me. It actually repulsed me a smidgeon. The guitars were too loud and the vocals too brash for my softer rock sensibilities. The heaviest thing I had heard to date was “Comfortably Numb�?, so the leap to GN’R territory was ill advised, perhaps. I promptly laid the thing aside, making sure to hide the cover since my mother had never been a big fan of skulls, crosses and other such devilish devices. (Incidentally, to this day, my friend’s mother believes that I am a staunch Satanist after discovering that I’d lent ‘Appetite’ to him.)
But something about the album took me back to it soon after, and on my second attempt, the effect was ruthless. ‘Appetite’ had little evidence of the pretentious double entendre of GN’R’s cock rock contemporaries, and it introduced me to something that was unapologetically violent and pornophonic. “Why don’t you just… FUCK OFF!” screams Axl. Yeah. Why don’t people just fuck off sometimes? I wasn’t an angsty teen by any stretch, but the sheer insolence of this record made me sit up and listen. It was as much a rite of passage as stashed porn or cracking vocal cords.
The echoing interplay of Izzy Stradlin’s and Slash’s guitars on “Welcome to the Jungle”, the infectious stomp of “Mr. Brownstone�?s Bo Diddley-isms, and the oddly choral harmonies of “Paradise City” showed a band that bore the tattered standard of musical experimentalism in an industry-saturated MTV era. There were no vague allusions to booze, drugs and sex, but real, wicked tales from a shockingly real, wicked world. They didn’t just strut their stuff, they lived it. Axl sings with fear-tinged aggression about his life on the street, making urgent, manic statements in a time when slickness was the norm. But despite the realism behind the content, GN’R never took themselves too seriously. It wasn’t till the ‘Illusions’ era that the delusions of grandeur occurred.
But all the punk aggressiveness and old-school riffing that ‘Appetite’ is immersed in does not take away from its considerable sophistication. Looking past Slash’s much-cloned soloing reveals Stradlin’s unyielding rhythm guitars and excellent songwriting prowess, backed by the illustriously blonde rhythm section of drummer Steven Adler and bassist Duff McKagan. There were melodic shades to the album as well. Songs like “Rocket Queen” and “It’s So Easy” interrupt their hedonism for sweet balladic bridges. That brings us, sadly, to the sickeningly anthemic “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Let’s pause for a moment, reflecting in silent disgust at the death of this song at the hands of MTV overplay and noisome cover bands, and move on. The only track on the album showing more mediocrity than “Sweet Child” is the rather excessive version of “You’re Crazy”. The half-time groove of the ‘GN’R Lies’ version of this song is infinitely better. But these are merely small eddies in a tide that swept a generation off its feet, and GN’R towards international superstardom.
More than a decade has passed since I first heard ‘Appetite’ and its grit and immediacy has not faded. I can think of no other hard rock album (other than AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’, of course) that has made a more endearingly abrasive dent in the shiny, squeaky clean world of ’80s rock.