Guns N’ Roses: Appetite For Destruction
Seminal rock LP, Appetite For Destruction gets the expansive reissue treatment. Simon Tucker takes us through his personal relationship with the album.
Nothing compares to your first. So they say. As we travel through life in a series of first-times, we chase and claw trying to recapture the lightning of that first time. The taste of something new. The stomach-flipping spark that bursts into life when you feel like you are stepping into an unfamiliar and exciting world that is dangerous, scary, and intoxicating. We are constantly provided with these moments as we learnt to stand and walk, talk and think. From the first time you caught a glimpse at a horror film which you had been strictly forbidden to watching to the crafty vomit inducing puff of a cigarette, we always gravitate towards things that deep inside we know we shouldn’t be experiencing. All life is like this, however, it is in the lands of sex and art where these evolutionary steps are taken within us and the two are often entwined.
Most of us have our eureka moment. That mind splitting moment where nothing will ever be the same again. People often mention Bowie’s famed appearance on Top of the Tops as Ziggy Stardust, draping a casual arm over Ronno’s shoulder, as the time when their fuse was lit. There are the tales of seeing Elvis’ hip-swivelling, Public Enemy’s “Too Black / Too Strong..” sample and the screaming Bomb Squad onslaught of Bring The Noise…the list is endless. Why talk about this? Well in 1989 and at the tender age of ten, my such epiphany happened. Everything about the sequence of events that led to this discovery now seems so wonderfully rebellious and childlike.
As the eldest child in my house, I had no elder brother or sister to influence my tastes. I have wonderful parents who always served up a varied mix of music, cinema and literature but it was theirs. Luckily for me then that I had two cousins who lived literally up the road to me on the one side who were (and remain) massive metal-heads and who schooled me in the classics and the hair-metal bands that were de-rigueur at that time whilst to the right of me I had my best friend Jason. Now the friendship with Jason was important enough but what Jason had that I didn’t was an older sister….who had a lot of friends. We always enjoyed their company for reasons that would only become apparent slightly later as the stirrings of puberty began in earnest.
Shiree not only had friends but she had a large record collection which we would often sneak a peek at when she was out. Albums by Iron Maiden were plentiful and deemed worthy of a few hours trying to decipher what the cover art meant but one day we came across an album sleeve that would change the course of my life in many ways….and not always for the better.
That album has now been reissued and it is Guns N’ Roses celebrated debut Appetite For Destruction. An album that remains as pivotal as it did on release but before we get to the reissue’s merits lets return to that bedroom. It was the artwork that first made us sit up and take notice. The cover had a woman lying on her back with her underwear around her ankles and a part of her breast showing(it was only later in life did I truly understand the problematic nature of the cover and some of the lyrical content). Over a fence was leaping a rabid, alien-like creature made out of flesh and knives whilst a skeletal figure, wearing a dirty brown coat, stood over the distressed woman. Framing the image on either side were the words “Guns N’ Roses” (left side) and the album title on the right. This painted cover was the moment we dipped our toes into the dark. When we turned it over we were in up to our ankles.
The photo of the band on the back of the sleeve was, and remains, as important as the music inside. Image is important in Rock n Roll and always will be. The band photo on the back of the album cover by Robert John remains an iconic shot of a band just about to smash into the living rooms of America and the rest of the world. The characters of the band are obvious just from a cursory glance. The look like a gang of outlaws from the cowboy movies and books we had been absorbing. Welcoming and intimidating in equal measure.
From left to right we see drummer Steven Adler all flowing golden locks, innocent smile, holding bongos. Up next we see Slash looking gorgeously wasted and nonplussed, staring at us like he is about to either vomit or attack us for violating his drinking time. Center of the image is bassist Duff “Rose” McKagan, handsome and serene, a soothing presence in the middle of this gang and the one guy who looks like you could reason with him. Izzy Stradlin, the unsung genius behind the group, sits face down with a cap covering his eyes as he hugs an acoustic guitar. Johnny Marr if he was LA born and struggling with a shyness that masks his talents. Then finally we have lead singer W. Axl Rose straddling a speaker holding a beer and looking seductive, effeminate and dangerous. The message Axl’s pose sends to the viewer is one of animal sexuality as his legs spread with confidence. Axl looks like he’d shag you, rob you, then run off with your mother.
Now we have absorbed the image it is time to put the needle on the record and what happened next is tattooed on my brain. From the moment Slash’s epic and cascading intro starts and the band slowly take their place we are placed dead centre into one of the most thrilling opening salvos to an album that has ever been created. Welcome To The Jungle remains one of the definitive statements by a rock group and listening to it now on this remastered version we get a far clearer picture of how important each member is to the sound outside of the media-spinning Slash/Axl axis. Adler’s drums snap hard on the snare bringing the song into focus as it shifts into its main body, McKagan’s bass playing is a revelation and something that becomes clearer as the album progresses. Stradlin layers textures, weaving in and out with Slash like the Richards/Wood combination and Axl’s voice is clearer and more central than it was on original release and listening again it serves as a stark reminder of what a fresh and original voice he had. Rose sang like he was tearing his throat out whilst helping to incite a rush of aggression in the listener. Welcome To The Jungle was his opening call-to-arms and the Jungle was a place I so wished I could now go.
Welcome To The Jungle may have been the point that plunged in to you but it is only the beginning as what happens next is nothing short of outstanding highs and lows. When you’re young you crave something that breaks down the invisible walls that surround you. With Appetite For Destruction, Guns N’ Roses gave me and many others the wrecking ball to do so.
Following …Jungle we get the driving bassline of It’s So Easy which is a perfect example of why GnR were able to cross over to the mainstream as not only does it display their speed-rock credentials with each member sounding like they are playing until they bleed it contains their duality highlighted by Rose in particular as not only does he deliver one of the bands most gleefully aggressive lyrics in “I see you standing up / You think you’re so cool / Why don’t you just / FUCK OFF” (which REALLY got my blood pumping when I was a ten-year-old child) he also slides into romantic mode as the song gets calmer and Rose tells us to “Come with me / Don’t ask me where ‘cos I don’t know / I’ll try to please you /I ain’t got no money but it GOES TO SHOW”. It’s So Easy is where GnR show us how they are the bastard sons of Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper. It sounds like it’s the heir apparent to Iggy & The Stooges Gimme Danger and it is that songs parent album, Raw Power, that Appetite so closely resembles only turning the chaotic edges of that album and adding more melody and finesse making it a more palatable listen for people afraid to trip into the Ig’s universe.
For a band so aggressive in their manner, GnR were obviously unashamed of their quest for the biggest stages possible. Their music suited the bars of the Sunset Strip as much as Wembley Stadium and it is on the albums two biggest singles where this is most apparent.
Paradise City and Sweet Child Of Mine are two sides of the same coin. They are both built to be sung along to with main guitar parts that chime like nursery rhymes, melodies that claw into your mind and sit there for the rest of your days. The former is twisted relation to Queen’s We Will Rock You but with added menace (it is also a song quite relevant now as Rose sings “Captain America’s been torn apart / A court jester with a broken heart”) whilst the latter at first seems like a gentle love song albeit one that builds to a karaoke destroying climax but is actually more insidious on further inspection with Axl singing about a love that is there but also distant, sadness running through the protagonists life.
The success of Paradise City and Sweet Child Of Mine helped catapult the album into the charts and they are a vital piece of the puzzle as they help smooth the rough edges out (see also I Think About You). If Appetite had just been full of songs as malevolent as My Michelle and Out Ta Get Me it would not have sold so well and would have stayed in the realms of the rock fan scene.
The climax of the album arrives in the shape of Rocket Queen and it is this song that the album should always be remembered for as it serves as a complete statement of what GnR were about and what they would go on to next. Rocket Queen is the first of the band’s “epic” songs which take in time changes and extended solos. It is dirt-funky one minute thanks again to the rhythm section of Adler and McKagan (whose bass playing here out funks Flea and displays the musicians unique style which is always unfairly overlooked when discussing the band) before it throws us into the middle of some kind of Quaalude sex scene complete with a female getting pleasured (yet another moment that caused some weird sensations in a ten-year-old Welsh boy) before it concludes with one of the most beautiful segments in not only GnR’s catalogue but in the world of 80s & 90s rock, period! It is this structure that the band would pursue on their next two albums with songs such as Estranged and November Rain (which actually dates from around the same time as Appetite) which left some fans a bit cold but this writer actually loved. As Axl signs off with the words “All I ever wanted was for you to know that I care” and the band finish as one we are left exhausted, ignited, confused and elated.
Appetite For Destruction is a schizophrenic album in many ways and it is not entirely problematic in this day and age. There is already clear-cut signs of narcissism and misogyny that can sometimes sting a bit when listening now but it also contains moments of concise beauty and friendly appeal. It cut through the poodle rock of Motley Crue and Skid Row like (switchblade) knife as those bands were all panto and panties whereas GnR were more daggers and rough sex. Much in the way The Libertines or Hip-hop would introduce us to a world that seemed glamorous from the outside yet contained a deeper, more ugly reality for those living that life, Appetite was more cinematic than a documentary. It showed us the bits that appealed to our more curious sides and even though we were intrigued we could keep a safe distance with the closest we got being drunken fumbles in lanes and swearing knowing no adult would hear us. It is obvious looking back why bands like Nirvana would overthrow the likes of GnR as they managed to still thrash away at electric guitars yet contained a more obvious sensitivity and awareness of women and gay rights.
The reissues of Appetite come with a slew of extras including the GnR Lies EP (although omitting the extremely problematic One In A Million) which are fans dream. I am writing this based only on the double LP and CD versions so the quality of the other extras are to be read about elsewhere.
Guns ‘N Roses would go on to make two more hit albums in the form of Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, the merits of which are to be saved for another time (I’m firmly in the positive opinion camp on this issue) and which didn’t contain the drumming of Steven Adler who was fired due to addiction issues which was like someone getting booted out of Morrissey’s band for eating tofu, before the collapsed in a heap of addiction and acrimony. Happily, three members (Rose, McKagan, Slash) are back together with many of the Illusion live band members playing under the GnR banner.
Whatever has gone on and whatever musical trends have come and gone, Appetite is a pivotal moment in rock. It is a debut made by people living on the edge with nothing except their sanity to lose. GnR threw everything at this album and it can be heard throughout every nuance of its running order especially on this fantastically remastered version.
Appetite For Destruction remains dangerous, beautiful, exotic, intoxicating and thrilling and every time I hear it sends me back to that bedroom where the journey first began so thanks Guns N’ Roses…you’ve got a lot to fucking answer for.