Tuesday, April 8, 2014

CD Odyssey Disc 609: Guns N Roses

While I’m randomly listening to a particular album as per CD Odyssey rules (newbies see sidebar) I am usually grooving on something else on my ‘spare’ time as well.

This week it has been a combination of indie band The New Pornographers (I am really digging their 2007 album “Challengers”), early LL Cool J (both “Bigger and Deffer” and “Walking With A Panther”) and most recently Salt N’ Pepa’s “Blacks’ Magic” and “Very Necessary.”

None of these remotely prepares me to write a review about this next artist. At least Salt N’ Pepa uses the abbreviation ‘n’. I guess that’s something.

Disc 609 is…. Appetite For Destruction
Artist: Guns ‘N’ Roses

Year of Release: 1987

What’s up with the Cover? The ingrate-full dead? Here we have the band represented as skulls (with hair) on a Celtic cross. In addition to being a pretty cool cover, it is heartening to find that while you can’t take most of your possessions with you into the afterlife, hats and bandannas are allowed. Like the devil himself was going to pry-bar Slash’s top hat off his head.

How I Came To Know It:  I’ve had this album so long I can’t remember how I heard of it. I didn’t buy it immediately when it came out – I probably got it in late 1988 or early 1989 (then on cassette) – I think the song that sealed the deal was “Paradise City.”

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Guns ‘N’ Roses albums (what’s with the ‘n’?).  Of those four, “Appetite For Destruction” is my favourite.

Rating:  4 stars

In 1987 hard rock and heavy metal were in a bit of a crisis. Bands like White Lion and Poison had sucked the edge out of the music I had grown up with and while stalwarts Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were still rocking hard they were starting to fade. Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie” was just around the corner. Yikes.

Grunge would soon sweep out the trash with a new approach to sounding hard, but it handed really landed yet with any force. Even if it had, I wouldn’t appreciate how good it was for another ten years. Fortunately, in between all the mascara of hair metal and the moping that was grunge, there was an album that refused to surrender the keys to rock and roll. With “Appetite For Destruction”, GNR refused to open up and say aah when they still could draw breath and unleash a primal scream or two.

This album is filled with the visceral energy hard rock needs to work. Unlike horses, it is OK to ride rock hard and put it away wet, and that’s what GNR does here. The music is fast and furious and yet punctuated in places with a surprisingly sweet and mournful guitar played by Slash (who, ironically, had been passed over to be Poison’s lead guitar years earlier).

Slash isn’t one of my favourite guitar players, but he has his own distinct style; a strange cross between crunchy rhythm and the aforementioned soulful melodies. The most famous of these is “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” which has a guitar riff so well known it is instantly recognizable twenty-five years after this album first landed. In addition to once again reflecting GNR’s general refusal to spell whole words, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was also criminally overplayed both on radio and video. That despite all of this I still enjoy listening to it, is a a testament to what a pretty song it is.

Welcome to the Jungle” hasn’t aged quite as well, and like a few tracks on “Appetite For Destruction” it seems a little desperate in its angriest places, but there is no denying it is and always will be one of rock’s most recognizable anthems, warts and all.

The third big hit, “Paradise City” is the one that inspired me to buy the album, and I still think the best of the three. Unlike later records, there are no ballads on “Appetite” but the beginning of “Paradise City” comes about as close as you can. That is until it is overrun by the boundless energy suffused throughout the whole record and transforms into yet another furious rock anthem. Axl Rose sings the chorus over and over again, faster and faster, as Slash lays down a perfectly complimentary guitar lick on top of the mix.

There are plenty of good tracks on “Appetite” apart from the three big hits, however. “Mr. Brownstone” is a gritty little track about heroin with a grim downscale moving guitar riff that mirrors the song’s descent into the wreckage drug addiction makes of your life. “Nightrain” (which again, could use another letter) is another fine deep cut, complete with energetically played cowbell.

Axl Rose has a classic rock front man’s screech, and more than anything his vibrato is what gives the band its signature sound. Also, who among us has not tried to imitate that cobra-sway moves he does while singing, It is like he has no spine and his head is trying to free itself from his shoulders and float away. They used to play “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at clubs all the time and the dance floor would invariably be loaded with young guys trying their best to pull of the Axl-sway.  Sometimes they’d be lucky enough to be holding onto a girl and sometimes they’d just be holding onto themselves.

It’s So Easy”, “Out Ta Get Me” and “My Michelle” all work really hard to show how angry the band is. It occasionally seems a bit forced but most of the time it just seems like Axl is genuinely furious and furious makes for good rock and roll.

The album has warts, for sure, but I don’t think you can make an album like this without warts. Weaker compositions, like “Anything Goes” and “It’s So Easy” are weak in the right way; they feel a bit raw, but that helps keep the raw vibe of the record alive. Also, no one can say, “You think you’re so cool. Why don’t you just…fuck off!” quite like Axl Rose. He is a classically trained Vulgarian. Axl swears like Barry Sanders scores a touchdown; natural and easy, like he’s done it before and he’ll do it again.

For Guns N’ Roses, it was pretty much downhill from here, but “Appetite For Destruction” got them started so high up that there was still plenty of good music left in them before they finally grounded out. But I’ll talk about those albums when I roll them.

Best tracks:   Welcome to the Jungle, Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone, Paradise City, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Rocket Queen

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