Ah Guns N’ Roses, they kept us waiting, and waiting, only to get kicked off stage and have the power cut before we got to hear “Paradise City” and the rest of the band’s encore. Love them or hate them in their current form, it’s hard to deny that they made some pretty amazing records, and represented the zenith of the hedonistic rock aesthetic that Nirvana and Pearl Jam would overawe in the early 90s.
Truth be told there’s some pretty decent playing on 1993’s hold over record The Spaghetti Incident? A covers album it was supposed to plug the gap until GNR could get back on track and deliver their third proper album (counting Use Your Illusion as one project). Despite being well received at the time, this throwaway album failed to produce any lasting renditions of pre-established favourites. Guns, particularly Axl, proved flexible – turns out they could have been an amazing glam/punk band – but these tracks lack the craven sin of Appetite, the pomposity of Use Your Illusion, and the strangeness of Chinese Democracy. The Spaghetti Incident? might be a smoother start to finish ride than some other Guns work, but it’s also completely inconsequential, and honestly who really wants to listen to a bar room version of “Raw Power” anyway?
Yep it’s real and, other than making for a quirky little anecdote at the end of VH1 documentaries, Chinese Democracy has already been confided to the historical dustpan. Swept away, and quickly forgotten – now that the fanfare has died down and the overreaction has turned to indifference, we can admit that Chinese Democracy produced some pretty decent tunes. It certainly starts spritely enough: “Chinese Democracy” could have been a game changer in 1998, it would have been on trend and impactful. “Shackler’s Revenge” is over produced and over dramatic, but there is a strong pleading cry of a chorus in there, and a thudding riff. Had this been produced by Trent Reznor and released during the Manson years (1996-2001) it could have been a real statement. Sadly the production never lets up, and when Axl is given room to breathe he’s prone not only to preposterously unsubtle vocal takes, but labored songwriting. Not as bad as many of its critics make out, but a hugely flawed record that’s weighed down by its own crippling emotional baggage.
Despite “Don’t Damn Me’s” best efforts, Use Your Illusion I slips a spot and falls behind its more maligned companion piece. The harder of the two records feels less consequential in the long run, it might be an easier listen, but it struggles to leave a lasting impact. The album’s big bold moments all feel more suited to the mood of part II. Homophobe Axl Rose proves oddly adept at taking the straightest and most hedonistic rock sound and bending it to the whims of Freddie Mercury and Elton John. Rose proves quite the theatrical star, sounding tried on the admittedly exciting “Dust N’ Bones” and “Right Next Door To Hell”, Rose comes to life on the strained ballad “Don’t Cry” and the bloated but brilliant “November Rain”. The reason Use Your Illusion I misses out on the second places because of its inherent awkwardness. It never sits still, each band member is pulling in a different direction, and it numbs the lasting impact of the LP.
This was a genuinely tough call. Use Your Illusion II is more of an album than it’s predecessor – it makes total sense, comparatively at least. If the first installment sound conflicted and overwrought, then the second installment explains why. During the then three hardest years in band history, this was clearly the album that Axl Rose had in mind when he went into the studio. Add “November Rain” and “Coma” to the mix and you have the album Axl Rose has been trying to write since Appetite For Destruction. Bogged down with filler and pretention, Use Your Illusion II is strangely endearing and a substantial technical achievement. The fact that this bunch of drunken rats from the sewers of L.A. manage to hold together the near eight minute “Civil War” is a marvel – even the honky tonk piano works! The price we pay for such successes are the moments where Axl is neither intense nor overstretching his reach, “14 Years”, for example, is almost disappointingly pleasant and controlled. This can make Use Your Illusions II an incredibly hard slog, and the wait for the truly sumptuous moments (the brilliantly run of “Estranged”, “You Could Be Mine” and “Don’t Cry”) is long and at times frustrating.
1. Appetite For Destruction (1987)
I’ve had to write about this album many times, and I think, when writing for 411mania/music, I nailed why this record is GnRs best…because it’s so bloody loathsome. Here’s why:
“This really is a horrible record; it’s disgusting, it’s dirty, it’s sleazy, it’s debauched, it’s full to the brim with psychopaths, crack fiends, alcoholics, drug dealers, and people who’d sell your soul just as easily as they’d sell your body, hell they’ll probably do both a the same time, and cut you up for the privilege. To make matters worse, it’s played by a bunch of dirty and despicable street rats from L.A’s grimy underbelly. The whole album is trapped somewhere between a hellish nightmare and a state of pure ecstasy. You’re never quite sure whether Axl is crying out for help, warning you to stay the hell away, or enticing you in with crooked bloody fingers. This really should be one of the most depressing and sorrowful records of all time; but of course it’s not. Appetite For Destruction is one of the greatest records ever made. It’s 53:48 of pure hedonistic sin…Even if you’ll be praying for death to carry you away to the “Paradise City” by it’s climax. It has become the soundtrack to a million perfect summers, even if it was spawned out of a hellish existence.”
Despite a disappointing performance at Reading 2010, my opinion of Appetite hasn’t changed. David Hayter