Welcome to the first installment of a
brand new monthly column: "The Best Album Ever Made".
Each month, a hybrid staffer defends a different record as
the greatest, most important album of all time. Maybe you
think there can be only one "best album", but we've
got a whole new math for the dubzips. As obnoxious and paradoxical
as it seems, we'll shove our judgements down your throat,
insisting each month that some album is better than all the
others ever made. Then, the next month, we'll change our minds.
This month, hybrid staff columnist Eryc Eyl insists
that Guns 'N' Roses 1987 debut full-length, Appetite for Destruction,
is the best album ever made.
Guns ‘N’ Roses ’s Appetite For
Destruction is the best album ever made. Brutal, offensive,
aggressive, cocky, and masterful, Appetite For Destruction
represents everything that every mediocre metal band (including
GNR itself) ever wanted to be. If it hadn’t been for a mainstream
musical coup called Nevermind, Appetite could
have heralded an era in hard rock, and the world of 90s hard
rock would have been very different indeed. Izzy Stradlin
probably would have kicked Stone Gossard’s pansy
You see, this record is the perfect slab
of mainstream metal. Granted, "metal" is a huge
category, and there are plenty of other greats in that category.
But "radio metal" is its own beast. In the pre-grunge
late 80s, that genre was exemplified by pabulum like Warrant
and Slaughter and Poison and Skid Row
and, well, you know the roster.
And then came Guns ‘N’ Roses: Axl’s
seething, Slash’s picking, Izzy’s riffing, Duff’s
thumping, and Steve’s clattering. They were rude, sleazy,
often sophomoric, and they sure weren’t pretty (unless you
count Axl’s big hair during the "live" segments
of the "Welcome To The Jungle" video). In other
words, they were rock and roll incarnate. In fact, one might
argue that something like Nevermind could not have
happened as a consumer phenomenon without someone like Guns
‘N’ Roses making the pop airwaves safe for real hard rock
again (interesting side note here: bassist Duff actually grew
up in Seattle and played drums for the Fartz, one of
the primary influences cited by grunge greats Mudhoney).
Appetite For Destruction was the
Gunners first real album, and it tore the wind right out from
beneath Kip’s Winger. "Welcome To The Jungle"
hit the radio first, but nobody really noticed. Then Geffen
decided to give the softer side a try and released "Sweet
Child O’ Mine" with a video, and the kids went crazy.
And with good reason.
Listen to it. It starts off with that Slash
guitar line that has now become a part of the rock guitar
lick pantheon, right up there with "Iron Man" and
"Smoke On The Water". It’s not exactly aggressive,
but it’s pretty obnoxious. Way up there in the register, it
sounds vaguely like "Taps" and vaguely like some
monophonic synthesizer arpeggio. Then it’s joined by Duff’s
mellifluous bass line, and Izzy chimes in with the chords.
Incredibly, a groove is built around Slash’s bleeping, and
finally gives way to a verse. Axl has never sounded more sincere:
She’s got a smile that it seems to me/Reminds me of childhood
memories/Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue
sky, or later, Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place/Where
as a child I’d hide/And pray for the thunder and the rain/To
quietly pass me by. And the melody of those verses is
truly hummable. Then the chorus comes in, and choruses never
were Axl’s forte. They’re all pretty rudimentary, but the
return of Slash’s guitar line really anchors this one and
makes it work. Slash’s guitar solos (there are two) are remarkably
understated. They aren’t bluesy, but their simplicity and
phrasing remind you that the blues are Slash’s first love.
After the second guitar solo has whipped the song into a frenzy
(this is no tepid metal lite ballad), the band breaks it down
for a haunting chant that expresses the desperation of young
love: Where do we go/Where do we go now/Sweet child o’
mine. This becomes Axl’s fadeout refrain as Slash really
lets go and the song achieves new heights of passion and agitation.
Then, like all of the great GNR songs, this one actually ends.
There’s no fade-and-repeat, and no cheesy cymbal roll. The
song just ends. And we try to catch our collective breath
before the next barrage begins (this one is the double-time
stomp haiku of "You’re Crazy").
Once "Sweet Child" created the
necessary buzz, Geffen re-released "Welcome To The Jungle",
Axl’s anthem about life in the big city (let’s not forget
that Axl and Izzy were once small-town corndogs from Lafayette,
Indiana, named William Bailey née Rose and Jeff Isbell;
Slash was born in England, but grew up in Hollywood as Saul
Hudson). "Jungle" rocks relentlessly and simply
with a straightforward don’t-give-a-fuck swagger normally
associated with L.A. punks (check out The Spaghetti Incident
for the parade of hits that pays tribute to some of the
Gunners key influences, such as The Damned, The
Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Misfits,
Fear, UK Subs, the Dead Boys, and the
Runaways). This is part of the important attitude that
Guns brought back into metal, and it’s an important opener
for Appetite, setting the stage for truly bad ass rock
and roll. The tune lets you know that, despite occasional
fashion mistakes, Guns ‘N’ Roses is a no-hairspray zone.
There are too many great songs here. There’s
the dirty boogie of "It’s So Easy" (where lyrics
like Turn around bitch I got a use for you indicate
that GNR may have been aware of what their compatriots in
Compton were cooking up) and "Nightrain" (one of
the worst choruses ever). The "Paranoid" blues of
"Out Ta Get Me" is smart enough to end with a punk
revision of its own chorus: They’re out to get me/They
won’t catch me/I’m fuckin' innocent/So you can suck me.
"Paradise City" was a radio hit, with its beautiful
chorused guitar opening, its driving shuffle verses, and its
harmonized, almost-Allman, chanted chorus. Slash’s
arpeggiated picking again opens "My Michelle", which
is possibly one of the most rocking tracks on the album (again,
let’s ignore the chorus). It drips with sleaze and slime,
musically and lyrically: Your daddy works in porno/Now
that mommy’s not around/She used to love her heroin/But now
she’s underground. This is the underside of polite culture
that Guns ‘N’ Roses loved to mine for material. It was never
quite clear whether their interest was actual or anthropological,
but it’s only rock and roll. The album closer, "Rocket
Queen" is strange one, a six-minute character study of
an underage hustler. Its bass-driven rhythmic shuffle keeps
the tune bopping until a breakdown at the halfway point. Here,
the tune suddenly becomes an early 60s, Brill Building ballad
in which the narrator switches from being a hustler to being
a sympathetic would-be friend to that hustler, and the music
becomes a crooning paean to something like friendship in a
cruel, cruel world.
The best track on Appetite For Destruction,
though, is the Bo Diddley rock of "Mr.
Brownstone". The familiar beat of the verses may remind
us of a simpler time, but the lyrics and the dark chorus remind
us that it’s a lot harder to do the Hand Jive with a needle
in your arm. That’s the real beauty of the song: Guns ‘N’
Roses is able to start with one of the most recognizable rhythms
in rock and roll history, one used with great success by everyone
from its originator (arguably, Bo Diddley) to Buddy
Holly to the Rolling Stones (covering
Holly’s "Not Fade Away") to George Michael,
and turns it into a gritty, head-banging anthem with the addition
of some mean guitars, some sinister subject matter, and a
whole lot of attitude (homework: listen to this track, then
listen to George Michael’s "Faith" single from
the same year; compare and contrast).
With Appetite For Destruction, Guns
‘N’ Roses kicked out the jams of poseur pop metal and brought
the real thing to the masses. In an era when the hardest rock
your pop radio station could stomach was the tired riffs (and
even more tired faces) of bands like Whitesnake and
the recycled clichés (and recycled songs) of bands
like Great White, GNR forced open the doors
and made hard rock seem cool again. Perhaps because Guns ‘N’
Roses stuck closer to their punk roots than to the same old
Zeppelin and Aerosmith poses, they were able
to steer clear of the hackneyed tricks of the radio metal
trade, at least for one bright, brilliant moment in time,
preserved on one bright, brilliant album.
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