GNR Lies by Guns N’ Roses Review
GNR Lies Album Background
GNR Lies was the second official album from Guns N’ Roses. It was, in fact, an EP but was treated like an album on its release in late 1988, selling over five million units in the USA. Coming just a year after the release of Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses could be said to be prolific at the time. With seventeen years coming between the release of Use Your Illusion I, Use Your Illusion II and Chinese Democracy, this is not word to be associated with Guns N’ Roses nowadays.
The release of Lies could be seen as a cynical action at the time; it was released in time for Christmas 1988 at a time when the band had just made it big. The material consisted of four previously released tracks and even one of the new songs had been released previously on Appetite for Destruction, albeit in a different format. However, there is more than enough musical and song writing ability on Lies to avoid accusations of “rip off”. Added to that a large shovel-full of controversy and Lies becomes very interesting indeed.
The cover art is a parody of tabloid newspapers and incorporates some liner notes on the songs. The Guns N’ Roses Lies album cover underwent several modifications over the years as some of the mock headlines were replaced for less offensive statements. The original “Wife-beating has been around for 10,000 years” was replaced with “LIES LIES LIES” while “Ladies, welcome to the dark ages” was replaces with “Elephant gives birth to midget”. The people at Geffen clearly thought that a couple of quips about domestic abuse were not the way to sell records in 1988. The original headlines should provide some idea as to the kind of material on this GNR Lies album.
GNR Lies Songs
The first four tracks were from the previously released Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP while the last four were mainly acoustic numbers. The Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP from side was released on an “independent” label that was, in fact, an imprint of Geffen records and is nominally a “live” album but was in fact recorded in the studio with live sounds added later. So an independent live album that was neither independent or live. The game is up as regards to how live the recordings are on Nice Boys as Axl Rose can be heard on both lead and backing vocals!
In spite of the fact that side one of GNR Lies isn’t live after all, its a reminder that early Guns N’ Roses were a superior hard rock act. The four songs are a mixture of cover versions and songs salvaged from Axl and Izzy’s previous band and serve to show who the band’s influences were and where they came from.
Axl Rose has spoken of his desire to have re-recorded his vocals at a later session for the tracks on side two. He believes that his voice sounds worn as a result of the band’s intense touring schedule although he praises the sound of the band on these tracks.
Reckless Life kicks off GNR Lies album and is the first of the new/old songs. It’s OK but not great and is technically a cover version having been written and recorded by Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin while they were in Hollywood Rose.
The cover versions are the real highlight of the first side of GNR Lies. Their cover of Nice Boys sounds rather corny nowadays but still bristles with attitude. Nice Boys was originally recorded by Australian punk band Rose Tattoo featuring Angry Anderson on vocals. The Guns N’ Roses version is faithful to the original and who can doubt Axl when he screams “I’m not a nice boy and I never was”?
Move to the City
A rather unconvincing horn section on Move to the City is typical of Guns N’ Roses at this stage – promising but still finding their feet. Possibly an autobiographical song, there are much better tales of sleazy city life on Appetite for Destruction.
Mama Kin, originally from Aerosmith’s debut album is so good that it actually gives the original a run for its money. Punkier and harder than the original whilst retaining most of the simple rock n’ roll that made the Aerosmith version a winner, Mama Kin is the best of the “live” cuts on GNR Lies. Mama Kin’s tale of life on the road is a good fit with early Guns N’ Roses too.
Side two of GNR Lies kicks off with Patience, a big hit on its release in 1989. At the time of the single release, this was seen as a radical departure for Guns N’ Roses and showed the range of band’s song writing abilities. The song is acoustic and features no drums, a fact alluded to in the video where original Guns N’ Roses drummer, Steven Adler can be seen twiddling his thumbs. The video for Patience was shot in The Ambassador Hotel, the scene of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.
Tesla Guitarist Frank Hannon at one point claimed that Patience was a copy of Tesla song “Better Off Without You” but later apologized saying that only the end part bore any similarity.
Played using three acoustic guitars, the inspiration for the song has conflicting explanations. The most common is that Axl Rose wrote Patience about his troubled relationship with Erin Everly. However, the band have also claimed that Izzy Stradlin wrote Patience about an ex-girlfriend.
Used to Love Her
A mild amount of controversy surrounded Used to Love Her as it could (and perhaps should) be interpreted as misogynistic with its chorus of “I used to love her but I had to kill her”. However, Axl advises us to “take it for what it is” during the last part of the song and the liner notes suggest that it is merely intended as a joke. Slash offered the explanation that the song was actually about Axl’s dog which may or may not be supported by the line “She bit so much, she drove me nuts”. Izzy Stradlin suggested that it was Axl’s response to a rather wet song he heard on the radio about a man being dumped by his girlfriend. Whatever the song is about, it can’t be denied that it’s the second time on the album that Aerosmith‘s Mama Kin riff is heard or that Slash plays a fine solo break.
You’re Crazy offers a slowed down, mainly acoustic version of the song in contrast to the fast, electric version included on Appetite for Destruction. For all of the slow pace, the song has more power that the earlier version and Axl provides a great unhinged vocal. The GNR Lies arrangement also gives Slash the platform to show what a great guitarist he is with yet another sparkling solo. Overall a much better reading of the song than the Appetite for Destruction version.
One in a Million
If Used to Love Her provided a mild dose of controversy, One in a Million served up an overdose. The liner notes anticipated the whirlwind of criticism and condemnation that was to follow with something of a half-hearted apology in advance. Supposedly inspired by some real-life events that happened to Axl Rose, the song gave Axl the chance to vent his spleen but make no mistake, nothing excuses the racist or homophobic sentiments included in the song.
One in a Million was the first Guns N’ Roses song that Axl Rose wrote on his own. A taste of things to come when Chinese Democracy is considered. None of the songs on that album contain such direct or offensive material but it is basically and Axl Rose solo project expressing his paranoia.
The rest of the band was rumoured to be against the inclusion of One in a Million on GNR Lies but Axl’s insistence won out. Slash, the band’s mixed-race guitarist was supposedly especially uncomfortable with the song.
One of Axl’s excuses was that John Lennon had used the N-word in a song on his Some Time in New York City Album and he used the word in reference to this. The album covers certainly look similar too whether by accident or design as seen below but this still does not justify the use of the word.
Not content with casual racism, Axl then goes onto make a blatantly homophobic statement and a link this and immigrants spreading disease in a clear reference to AIDS. Somewhat ironic for someone of Scottish and Polish decent, perhaps?
The questions about the song have circled around the song for years. Was Axl singing in character and did he really mean it? As ever, Axl certainly sounds like he means it and it is one of his strengths as a great rock singer that undoes him here: his sincerity. In interesting article was published in the LA Times at the time about the furure caused by Guns N’ Roses Lies Album but perhaps Ace music reviewer Robert Christgau put it best in his review of GNR Lies when he said One in a Million “is disgusting because it’s heartfelt and disgusting again because it’s a grandstand play. ”.
GNR Lies Album Conclusion
On a positive note, there was enough proof on Lies that Guns N’ Roses were a cut above most of the metal/hard rock bands around at the time. The acoustic numbers added a new level of subtlety to the music (even if the lyrics sometimes did the opposite) and the fake live cuts showed a rock band in its prime.
In spite of its controversy, it’s flaws and the nagging feeling that GNR Lies is a stop-gap album there are some good performances on here. Lies would have scored higher but for the sentiments expressed on One in a Million.
Rated Sound gives Guns N’ Roses GNR Lies a rating of 6/10.
Guns N’ Roses GNR Lies (1988) Track Listing
1. Reckless Life
2. Nice Boys
3. Move to the City
4. Mama Kin
6. Used to Love Her
7. You’re Crazy
8. One in a Million