Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction Review
Appetite for Destruction Album Background
Guns N’ Roses in the 1980s, eh? They didn’t care who they upset, they didn’t play by the rules, they probably didn’t wash their hands after they’d been to the toilet. What a bunch of bad-arse muthas. In between not giving a jot and an unproven lack of personal hygiene, Guns N’ Roses managed to produce a genre straddling and, indeed, genre defining album with their debut, Appetite for Destruction.
In the second half of the 1980’s, rock and heavy metal was defined by poodle perms and hairspray of bands like Motley Crue and Poison and Bon Jovi at one end of the spectrum. At the heavier end Iron Maiden were in their pomp while young thrash bands like Slayer and Metallica (whatever happened to them?) where starting to make their mark. Somewhere in between Aerosmith were making a song-doctor assisted comeback and Van Halen were becoming rather bloated with Sammy Hagar out front. Guns N’ Roses entered the fray as survivors of two LA bands; Hollywood Rose and LA Guns. Sounding louder and more aggressive than the hairspray bands and more melodic and accessible than the metal bands, Guns N’ Roses took country-tinged classic rock and added a punky grit that made Appetite for Destruction an formidable debut. Add to this a reputation for hell raising that ensured tabloid coverage and an instantly recognisable image, Guns N’ Roses were unstoppable.
Signed to Geffen by A&R Man Tom Zutaut, the resulting Appetite for Destruction album is the one and only Guns N’ Roses full-length record to feature the classic line-up of Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (lead guitar), Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), Duff McKagan (bass guitar) and Steven Adler (drums). This is the incarnation of Guns N’ Roses that took the world by storm and they were like a cast of cartoon characters, an image supported by the cross and skull bones artwork of the album. The original cover artwork, based on the Robert Williams painting “Appetite for Destruction”, was demoted to the inside sleeve following the controversy surrounding its depiction of a machine-like structure and it’s heavily implied act of abuse. Axl later claimed that he had another idea for the cover artwork. He wanted a picture of the Space Shuttle Challanger explosion from 1986. Thankfully, their record label, Geffen, refused.
Geffen didn’t get everything right, however. They seriously considered ceasing to promote Appetite for Destruction once sales hit 200,000. This may now seem strange for an album that sold 18 million to become the biggest selling debut album ever in the USA and sold over 30 million worldwide.
Appetite for Destruction Songs
So much for the myth, what about the music? Appetite for Destruction is a twelve-song in-your-face assault of aggression and testosterone-fuelled bombast. Rumours abound that Paul Stanley from Kiss was being lined up to produce the album and Nikki Sixx claimed that he had refused the chance to be producer in his Heroin Diaries autobiography. In the end, producer Mike Clink did an admirable job of helping the band to recreate their highly melodic songs in the studio without losing their aggressive edge.
Split into sides “G” and “R” rather than the traditional “A” and “B”, side “G” for “Guns” deals with violence drugs while side “R” for “Roses” deals with love and sex. However, sometimes all four subjects seem to be discussed in one song. There is a nasty edge to the music on the Appetite for Destruction album that generally wasn’t to be found amongst Guns N’ Roses peers. It’s clear that beneath the youthful expressions of hell-raising that Axl and Co aren’t really having much fun.
The music on Appetite for destruction is driven by the twin-guitar attack of Izzy Stradlin and Slash who spit out riffs recycled from AC/DC to ZZ Top and given a punk edge. Slash in particular excels in the guitar hero mould with several innovative touches. Axl Rose’s delivery elevates the songs above their peers with his convincing delivery of sleazy city life.
Welcome to the Jungle
Starting off with the now-famous opening bars of Welcome to the Jungle and Axl’s demonic howl. The song delivers the first of many tales from the streets of LA as seen through Axl Rose’s rather cynical eyes. “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die!” he screams. It has to be said that right from the off, the music is loud and aggressive but there are also hooks aplenty. As with all great hard rock from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid to Aerosmith’s Rocks there was plenty going on in the music and there is finesse among the noise. Welcome to the Jungle has rightly become a classic and to think that Slash claimed it was written in just three hours.
It’s So Easy
It’s So Easy starts with Axl singing in a deeper detached yet menacing tone. This punky rocker was often the opener to Guns N’ Roses live shows as seen in several Appetite for Destruction-era live performances available on YouTube. Check these out for a contrast between the lean, mean Guns N’ Roses to the bloated monster they would become. The song shows a typical, if rather unpleasant misogyny and gives the first of many F-bombs on Appetite for Destruction. Slash rather charmingly later claimed the song was about being tired of chasing girls to the extent that he would approach women who wouldn’t fit his “normal” niche.
Nightrain is a typical sleazy Axl rap followed by some fine guitar show boating from Slash and Izzy as Guns N’ Roses pay tribute to “Night Train Express”, a brand of cheap Californian fortified wine through the age old rock n’ roll link with trains.
Out Ta Get Me
Out Ta Get Me is an early glimpse into Axl’s paranoia perhaps. Another uncompromising cut littered with many F-bombs and who can doubt Axl’s sincerity as he concludes the tacks closing salvo with “Take that one to heart”.
The second real classic rock track that compete with any other track by any other artist of the genre is Mr Brownstone. It starts with a jungle drum tattoo coupled with a scratched guitar into before launching into a tale of drugs bringing our heroes down. “I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it so a little got more and more” – the first draft of the words were apparently written on a grocery bag. The deceptively dumb lyrics packing a hard punch, not least by Axl Rose’s utterly convincing vocal delivery. Axl’s menacing and believable voice is one of the many strengths of the band and this album and helped set them apart from their peers. The sincerity of the delivery was to cause problems later on the release of GNR Lies. Mr Brownstone is also remarkable for a quite splendid guitar break at around the half way point.
Paradise City is Guns N’ Roses anthem. A career defining song whose familiarity has inevitably bred a certain amount of contempt. This is a shame because at over six minutes long it is an extraordinary rock n’ roll song. From the chiming country guitar of the opening through Axl’s machine-gun delivery as he spits the streetwise lyrics to the manically satisfying guitar shredded finale, Paradise City is pure class. If you listen carefully you can hear that this is the only track on Appetite for Destruction to feature a synthesizer. Still the song the band (in whatever incarnation) chooses to close the set with. If you’re looking for the ultimate example of a rock classic, this is it.
The delicate, almost jangly intro to My Michelle kicks off side two of Appetite for Destruction. It’s a heart-warming tale of a girl whose, as Axl informs us from the off, “Daddy works in porno now that mommy’s not around/She used to love her heroin but now she’s underground”. Unbelievably, My Michelle was written about Axl and Slash’s friend Michelle Young who asked for a song to be written about her after hearing Elton John’s Rocket Man. It’s a rather more edgy affair than Rocket Man though and the the theme of grimy LA street life continues. Axl’s initial lyrics were too sweet to reflect the reality of Michelle’s and he met with opposition from the band who feared the brutal honesty of the re-write would upset their friend. After having his own second thoughts, Axl decied to show Michelle the song and she approved it, appreciating the honesty of the narrative.
Think About You
Think About You is possibly the weakest track on Appetite for Destruction. Written mainly by Izzy Stradlin, it’s rumoured that the song is about heroin but whatever it’s about, it’s the one song on the album that sounds like filler. Not bad but always one that I skip past or fast forward the cassette in the old days.
Sweet Child O’ Mine
No hint of filler about Sweet Child O’ Mine or so you would think. It seems one of Guns N’ Roses greatest hits is not loved by the band who claim that it started as a joke and have branded it “circus music”. From its classic and instantly recognisable guitar introduction to Axl’s “whoa whoa whoa sweet child o’ mi-ine” chorus. The final guitar solo on the track is now famous and demonstrates what a talented musician Slash is when he is this inspired. The radio edit featured a cut to the solo and other parts of the song to further incur the ire of Axl, irritated at the cuts in order to fit in more commercials. Along with Welcome to the Jungle and Paradise City, this is one of the songs on Appetite for Destruction that insured Guns N’ Roses rock immortality.
You’re Crazy is a speeded up punk song. A much slower and superior version, closer to the original composition, appears on GNR Lies. That version also features yet another superb Slash guitar solo.
The throwaway cheerful celebration of bedroom gymnastics that is Anything Goes is one of the oldest songs written by members of Guns N’ Roses. Anything Goes dates from 1981 when Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin were in Hollywood Rose and was originally titled “Your Way, My Way”.
Rocket Queen is an uncomfortable and stunning track to round off Appetite for Destruction. It’s an epic that captures Appetite for Destruction-era Guns N’ Roses in one song although it actually almost feels like three songs in one. An excellent guitar-drenched opening gives the platform for classic Axl posturing. Not afraid to tell the lady in his life how confident he is in his own skin and what he’s capable of. Or is it really an expression of weakness. Then follows an extended instrumental break with slide guitars and what sounds like a couple who are up to no good – either feigned or genuine. The final part of the song is an impassioned love song with Axl finishing up by declaring “all I ever wanted was for you to know that I care”. Funny way of showing it, mate!
Appetite for Destruction Album Conclusion
Guns N’ Roses were the last great rock band of the genre and Appetite for Destruction was the last great album. It’s doubtful that another band will ever have quite the same kind of impact on rock music as Guns N’ Roses did with Appetite for Destruction. Yes, their influences are apparent, Aerosmith, Hanoi Rocks, Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols. But there was enough originality and ingenuity in Guns N’ Roses to set them apart.
Put simply, Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction is a rock classic. If you like rock music and don’t own a copy then you should do. Just remember that this was 1987 pre-grunge and politically incorrect.
Rated Sound gives Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses a rating of 9/10.
Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction (1987) Track Listing
1. Welcome to the Jungle
2. It’s So Easy
4. Out Ta Get Me
5. Mr Brownstone
6. Paradise City
7. My Michelle
8. Think About You
9. Sweet Child O’ Mine
10. You’re Crazy
11. Anything Goes
12. Rocket Queen