The Album List: #85 Guns ‘N Roses “Appetite For Destruction”

WHOOOO! Play “Freebird”! No, wait, wrong overplayed power ballad.

I remember being eleven years old and thinking Guns N’ Roses were the greatest thing EVER! From the minute I heard “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, I was a fan. Granted, I later wised up and knew that Axl Rose was an asshole who had grand schemes but often fell short, and everyone who knows me knows what I thought of Chinese Democracy. But I return to that magnificent first record time and again. How often does a band get it so very right the first time?

Of course, I am also of the opinion that “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a classic song that transcends genre and time.  That song is just simply fantastic. Video for it under the cut.

Let’s just revel a moment in that fantastic power ballad guitar of Slash and be at one with beauty, shall we?

The album is a cacophony of guitars and power chords, solos and Axl’s wail. The man was once the great rock vocalist of the future. I lament all the time the eventual self-destruction of GNR, simply because it was inevitable but so unnecessary. They could have gotten their shit together and defied the expected story arc, but they instead became typical and ultimately disappointing. Their follow-up records were overblown messes with flashes of their former brilliance.

The metal genre is fractured and battle-scarred. I like most metal. I love some of it deeply ( Motorhead kicks ass). I bemoan the first heavy metal Grammy was given to Jethro fucking Tull. Flute solos are metal? Are you crazy? But when an album as accessible as Appetite For Destruction comes along and captures the imagination, you end up feeling like you are actually part of a movement. The success of GNR led to the eventual explosion of Metallica’s Black album a few years later, and Metallica were at the time a true speed metal band with a devout fan base. I don’t think “Enter Sandman” would exist if Metallica weren’t trying to figure out to outdo “Welcome To the Jungle” and its nightmare view of the world. In fact, listening to GNR and Metallica back to back shows two things- Slash is the best guitarist of the metal world and Axl has strange pop ambitions under those screaming riffs.

The album is essentially about two things- girls and escaping from life.  Sometimes Axl is escaping to the girl, sometimes he’s escaping from a girl, sometimes he’s not sure what the hell he’s doing. There is a lot of alcohol, sex, drugs, and depravity in this world, and the empty fun is relayed beautifully in songs like “Welcome To the Jungle”, “Mr. Brownstone” and “Nightrain” . There is the modern pastoral musings of “Paradise City”, the musings of love and affection on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Think about You”. It’s an album filled with the anger and demoralized attitude of one in their early twenties who just realized that the lifestyle you envisioned wasn’t as much fun as it seemed when you were sixteen, and heartbreak never actually gets easier. Mostly, though, it’s a fun record to listen to, because despite the agony of much of the lyrical content, the guitars just simply rule the musical world. No one has quite topped what Slash did on this record. It would be tough to do in any case.


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