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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 ass.

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.

Eryc Eyl

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