Friday, April 10, 2015

CD Odyssey Disc 724: Guns n Roses

Last weekend my friend Casey came over and patiently jammed with me for a couple of hours. This was a bit awkward for me, because Casey is a much better guitar player than me. I was all over the place, missing chords, changing in the wrong spot, etc. but Casey never once attempted to murder me. He'd just patiently say, 'once more' when I screwed up D minor for the 50th time. Now that’s friendship; it may be sainthood.

Disc 724 is…. GN’R Lies
Artist: Guns N’ Roses

Year of Release: 1986 and 1988

What’s up with the Cover? Designed to look like a tabloid, half the headlines are song titles and the other half are designed to mock actual tabloid headlines. In the bottom right hand corner you can write to Axl Rose for advice. Getting life advice from Axl Rose seems to me like learning how to chop wood from an axe murderer. you might get  some  insight into how to swing the thing, but you won’t be making any long term friends.

How I Came To Know It: I’ve had this record so long I don’t remember. I probably heard “Patience” on MuchMusic and bought the tape (yes I  had this on tape) shortly thereafter.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Guns N’ Roses albums, and I’d put “Lies” second behind only “Appetite For Destruction” (reviewed just over a year ago back at Disc 609).

Rating: 3 stars.

“GN’R Lies” is really two EPs pulled together into one regular length album. The first half is a four song live set originally recorded in 1986 and the second half is a four song acoustical set recorded in 1988.

The first half is fast-paced balls-to-the-wall rock and roll fury. This section captures the unmatched energy the band had in their early years. When I owned this on tape these songs didn’t appeal to me. They were a bit too unfocused and punk for my ear then.

Over twenty-five years later I like them a lot more and I can appreciate their controlled fury a lot more. The best of them is a cover of Aerosmith’s 1973 track, “Mama Kin,” but I prefer the original.

They also do a cover of “Nice Boys” which was originally by some obscure seventies Australian band called Rose Tattoo (thank you, Google). This is a song reminding us that nice boys don’t play rock and roll, as if our mothers haven’t already taught us that years ago.

None of these songs really blew me away back in 1988 and while they are slightly better now, they still don’t rock my world.

When the album shifts to acoustic it gets a lot better. The opening song of side two is the aforementioned “Patience” which has some lovely whistling to get it going. It is really fun to whistle along to this song if that is your thing. Today as I whistled along a group of young women were crossing traffic in front of the car. The timing was a bit awkward – would they think I was whistling at them? They were definitely whistle-worthy, but I have this thing that I only want a woman to think I’m whistling at her when I actually am.

But I digress…

Patience” is a pretty little song that is designed to get young girls to notice you. A real fireside ditty about how you’re willing to wait for that special girl, while laying some very thick romantic notions designed to ensure you don’t have to. For all its obvious artifice, it has a fine melody, and then with a minute to go it totally changes gears into something different but equally beautiful. Axl goes from pretending to be a sweet young boy, into his signature rock rasp. Nice boys may not play rock and roll but boys who play rock and roll get the girls anyway when they sing like this.

There is also an acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” which appears on the “Appetite for Destruction” in a much faster and louder version. “You’re Crazy” wasn’t one of my favourites on that record, but hearing it stripped down makes me appreciate it much more than before.

Despite the more relaxed feel to side two, it is clear the GNR boys are interested in shocking their audience. “Used To Love Her” is about killing and burying your loved on in the back yard. The band claims it is about a dog that wouldn’t stop barking, but the deliberate double meaning is obvious. Besides, how is killing and burying your dog in the back yard suddenly considered OK?

One in a Million” then ends the record (with more whistling). Axl Rose throws as much racism, homophobia and general xenophobia into one song as he can manage. The song has some great musicianship and Axl’s vocals are impressive, but it is so deliberately offensive that it is hard to recommend. So I won’t.

Overall “Lies” feels like a combination of the band trying to quickly build on “Appetite’s” commercial success and seeing how many of their recently enlarged fan base they could piss off at the same time. Consequently you get plenty of the edge that makes a successful rock album, but not enough of the heart that should go along with it.

Still, there are some really strong individual songs, and plenty of really nifty whistling.

Best tracks: Patience, Used to Love Her, You’re Crazy 

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