Monday, April 7, 2008

Peak: Fever in the funk house, Pt. 2 - Appetite for Destruction

Or: how I fill up 2 GB.

(Just to refresh, in lieu of any real creative thoughts to post on this blog, I'm going through my diminutive iPod (2 GB) album by album, alphabetically, and writing about each one. This is entry #2; #1 was Duane Allman: An Anthology)

Album title: Appetite for Destruction
Artist: Guns ‘n’ Roses
Released: 1987
Track listing:
1. Welcome to the Jungle
2. It’s So Easy
3. Nightrain
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 review:
Guns N' Roses' debut, Appetite for Destruction was a turning point for hard rock in the late '80s — it was a dirty, dangerous, and mean record in a time when heavy metal meant nothing but a good time. On the surface, Guns N' Roses may appear to celebrate the same things as their peers — namely, sex, liquor, drugs, and rock & roll — but there is a nasty edge to their songs, since Axl Rose doesn't see much fun in the urban sprawl of L.A. and its parade of heavy metal thugs, cheap women, booze, and crime. The music is as nasty as the lyrics, wallowing in a bluesy, metallic hard rock borrowed from Aerosmith, AC/DC, and countless faceless hard rock bands of the early '80s. It's a primal, sleazy sound that adds grit to already grim tales. It also makes Rose's misogyny, fear, and anger hard to dismiss as merely an artistic statement; this is music that sounds lived-in. And that's exactly why Appetite for Destruction is such a powerful record — not only does Rose have fears, but he also is vulnerable, particularly on the power ballad "Sweet Child O' Mine." He also has a talent for conveying the fears and horrors of the decaying inner city, whether it's on the charging "Welcome to the Jungle," the heroin ode "Mr. Brownstone," or "Paradise City," which simply wants out. But as good as Rose's lyrics and screeching vocals are, they wouldn't be nearly as effective without the twin-guitar interplay of Slash and Izzy Stradlin, who spit out riffs and solos better than any band since the Rolling Stones, and that's what makes Appetite for Destruction the best metal record of the late '80s.

The greatest hard rock album of all time? Personally, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better. From the opening strains of "Welcome to the Jungle" (which is tailor-made for sporting events, particularly face-offs or third downs when your team is on defense) to the oft-overlooked but multi-faceted "Rocket Queen," Appetite just doesn't quit. In fact, Appetite is so good that even the "commercial" hits like "Paradise City" or "Sweet Child O' Mine" are great songs.

And it's always portentous when an album's initial cover art is denied by the record company. In the case of Appetite, it seems that the band's vision (which apparently features a robot rapist facing impending doom) was a bit too much for Geffen.

But if Geffen was put off by that cover image, it's hard to think that they could have imagined the power lying in the record's grooves. You know all the cliches you hear about "Welcome to the Jungle" depicting the sordid underbelly of urban life? Those cliches are true: that's what the song does with wild, ruthless, concrete jungle poetry. "Nightrain" is even more charming when you know that the tune is a love song for cheap wine; it makes one long to sing "I'm on a Thunderbird!"

"Mr. Brownstone" has always been a personal favorite, with its metal-groove homage to narcotics, and for me "Paradise City" will always conjure memories of driving into Pittsburgh on the Parkway East, coming around the bend before the Oakland exit with the city appearing before you. Paradise city indeed...

"My Michelle" has some of my favorite balls-out G'N'R riffs, but nothing needs to be said about the riffs in "Sweet Child." That's just one of those songs that demands to be played loud at all times. It seems to me that even when G'N'R tried to be sappy on Appetite, they just couldn't help but rock like crazy.

Really, I could go on and on about Appetite, but there's no substitute for just listening to the thing. It's strong, angry, powerful, fearful, insightful, poetic, charming, and most of all, rocking. On occasion I have delved into a "who's better" conversation debating G'N'R versus Led Zeppelin, and while many have scorned even the thought of such a contest, I think that Appetite ranks damn close to anything Zep did. Maybe G'N'R can't quite top Physical Graffiti, but to produce something like Appetite in the midst of the nonsense 1980's speaks to how creative Axl, Slash, Izzy, and the rest really were.

I have a hard time picking a highlight on Appetite, so I'll just go with the longest track. And the next time you're driving into Pittsburgh from the east, just as you're coming around the bend and the city is unfolding in front of you, put this song on and thank God that cities like Pittsburgh and bands like G'N'R, past their prime as they may be, made you who you are today.

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