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Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction - 25 Years On
Jimmy Martin , July 27th, 2012 04:04

Jimmy Martin examines the perfect storm of raunch, repulsiveness and riffs that went into "the greatest hard rock record of the 80s"

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Appetite For Destruction isn't just the greatest hard rock record of the 80s; it's the only good record Guns N' Roses would ever make. If this 25-years-old, 50-minutes-long tirade of kaleidoscopic raunch stands for anything today, it's as a cautionary tale of how bloated a band from humble origins can become. The story of Guns N' Roses is one in which any tawdry rags-to-riches trajectory would have to reconcile itself with the fact that the only real riches were to be found in a knackered pair of leather strides and an acrid bottle of wine.

The hoopla in the late 80s over Guns N' Roses sometimes seems hard to fathom in the here and now. Appetite For Destruction initially wasn't always reviewed well; august metal scribe Dave Ling was particularly harsh in Metal Hammer, essentially dubbing it a second-rate reheating of AC/DC, Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks' ideas. Yet within two years this unpleasant bunch of maladjusted wasters were being hailed as veritable messiahs, in a manner of such alacrity that their egos, and one in particular, have never fully recovered.

Perhaps the guiltiest party in their lauding would be former Jim Morrison biographer Danny Sugerman, who as a self-styled intellectual and longtime kneeler at the altar of rock mythos was so struck by the gaudy cavalcade of GN'F'N'R that he took it upon himself to write arguably the most ludicrous rock biography of all time; the prosaic title of 1991's The Days Of Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction disguises a work of such monumental foolhardy hubris that it's well worth snapping up the next time you spot it in your local Oxfam. Portraits of Byron and Rimbaud languish next to photos of Duff McKagan with comedian Andrew 'Dice' Clay, and talk of 'the quintessence of Dionysus', Nietzsche's anti-bourgeous ire, and T.S.Eliot's 'The Wasteland' share space with colour plates of Axl resplendent in stars-and-stripes leather jacket and cycling shorts.

What, besides a healthy publishing advance, would provoke even someone like Sugerman to do something like this? Warning signs were perhaps apparent in that he had been heavily involved with The Doors, unquestionably as a band the biggest bullshit magnet in rock history. Yet also, one is grudgingly forced to agree with Sugerman that GN'R had created arguably the most striking rock frissante of outrage and danger in at least a decade by effectively taking the decadence of the imperial period of The Rolling Stones and the raw nihilism of The Sex Pistols, and hammering them both together in ragged style.

Whilst the common consensus insists that Nevermind was what eliminated the MTV-hair-metal of the '80s, the truth is rather more complicated; as much as many were keen to play the two bands as diametrically opposed, the same punters were buying Guns N' Roses and Nirvana records. Moreover, rather than Nevermind being some grand moment at which middle America magically came to its senses, Appetite For Destruction, which was considerably both more unwashed and punk-rock in spirit than anything that had been as all-encompassing a hit in America thus far, was the first nail in the coffin of the production-line MTV-fodder that the band's contemporaries Poison and Ratt were peddling.

It was surely no coincidence that within a year of this album hitting No.1 on the Billboard album charts, even whilst Napalm Death's notoriously irascible drummer Mick Harris was physically destroying singer Lee Dorrian's tape copy of Appetite For Destruction with a baseball bat to the horror of his other bandmates (so appalled was he that a member of the band that performed 'Cock Rock Alienation' should be enjoying such a trifle), every rocker in Los Angeles was suddenly growing his fringe out and muttering things about going in a more bluesy direction, blind as ever to the reality that the kind of strange serendipity that led to Appetite's glory would be impossible to contrive.

Yet as might be expected for a work powered by unquantifiable serendipity, Appetite For Destruction is not a perfect album. Even its most giddy cheerleader would have to admit that the Izzy-penned 'Think About You' is ditzy filler at best, whilst the less-than-gentlemanly lyrics of 'Anything Goes', another undistinguished workout, have a tendency to stick uncomfortably in the craw. It's also debatable that the runaway-train mania of 'You're Crazy' actually worked way better played slow, as on the following year's Lies stopgap.

Moreover, it's easy now to see that the seeds of everything that would eventually fuel Guns N' Roses' descent into hubris, nullity and dull controversy, almost all of which are Axl's fault, are distinguishable even amidst this thrilling record. 'Out Ta Get Me', for example, remains a quite startling chronicle of a paranoid persecution complex that would later blossom into unbearably petulant and tedious tirades like 'Get In The Ring' and the impossible-to-parody 'My World', not to mention the cretinous and unforgivable 'One In A Million'. 'It's So Easy', a relentlessly ugly yet grimly compelling splurge of boyish posturing and dead-eyed misogyny, makes for particularly queasy listening in the here and now, in the tradition of 'Bodies' and even the worst of The Stranglers. Even the semi-legendary "FOOKOOF" that precedes the guitar solo sounds these days less like the thrilling transgression it appeared in the late 80s to a thirteen-year-old, and more like the havering of the proverbial one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest.

Yet his status as the most unfathomable pillock in rock history (or at least since Jim Morrison) notwithstanding, it's hard to deny that the equally charismatic and contemptible Axl made a fascinating figure in 1987. Part of both this album and Guns N' Roses' appeal derives from his tendency to yo-yo from macho rooster-strutting to emotional vulnerability; it's there in the two-act structure of two of the album's best songs, 'Rocket Queen' and 'Sweet Child O'Mine'. In the former Axl's swaggering bile gives way to a beguiling, boyish romance that ends the album on an oddly optimistic note. On the contrary, the mawkish Southern rock sentiments of the verses and chorus of the latter are thrown into relief by the brooding coda, and yet it's only the Slash solo's trajectory from plaintiveness to melancholy to fiery anger that can carry the song to its bittersweet conclusion; more than merely their biggest hit, 'Sweet Child O' Mine' was a classic example of the whole entourage's finesse writ large.

And really, what a band. Bash Street Kids mischief overloaded with The Warriors viciousness. Cliched rock personae reinvented anew through an '80s hall of mirrors, from Axl's Plant-esque wailing shaman via Izzy's Keef-esque insouciance and Duff's louche Seattle-scenester earthiness, then topped off with Slash, the inhuman beast whose surly demanour belied a style raw yet lyrical enough to transform him into a legend worthy of both teenage adulation and guitar mag bore-athons overnight.

Unlikely as it may seem though, it remains extremely tempting to surmise that it all started going wrong for Guns N' Roses when Steven Adler's flaxen mane disappeared into the sunset. The first member of GN'R to succumb to his drug habit and incur the wrath of the ginger prince, Adler's loose, behind-the-beat and intuitive style of drumming was a crucial part of Appetite For Destruction's swagger. What's more, his replacement Matt Sorum, hard-hitting rock pro that he may have been, in retrospect robbed them of a surprising proportion of their character and signaled a descent into stadium rock orthodoxy. Adler may have always looked like the least important member of the band, painted as a dumb pretty-boy along for the ride and certainly no Buddy Rich, yet this was a band-as-gang where the chemistry between the five scrappy, degenerate members was absolutely crucial, and hence every single line-up change essentialy diluted their initial potency exponentially throughout the following years.

Indeed, the palpable danger, the raw charisma, the uncontrived nonchalance, and the whole other rag-bag of accidental thrills were all long lost by the time the Use Your Illusion albums thundered into town a full four years later; a beastly and cumbersome parade of sound and fury ultimately signifying fuck all. Guns N' Roses had now been transformed into an Ozymandian colossus only good for furthering Axl Rose's dreams of the kind of elevated auteur status that he himself recognized in artists like Elton John and his other big faves 10CC, as his sidemen (and pretty soon that's all they were) started to look more like cheerful, old-fashioned jobbing musos by the day.

The legacy of Guns N' Roses, post-Illusion, often seems little more than sickening largesse, retrogressive redundance and a litany of unreconstituted clichés. The poor gluttons-for-punishment that hang around half-empty aircraft hangars in the second decade of the 21st century waiting for Axl and his coterie of hired goons to come onstage ought to realise that they're barely even there for a rock concert. The band that calls themselves Guns N' Roses in 2012 are a wake, more depressing even than a video-screen Elvis or a holographic 2Pac. Yet the sound of the Guns N' Roses of 1987 remains an elemental testimony to the glorious foolishness and grubby glory of rock & roll that glimmers beyond either time or reason. A band in the gutter, staring at the kerb, and tragically unaware that all the magic they needed was right before their bleary eyes.

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Jul 27, 2012 8:28am

think about you is a great song on this great record. with electric by the cult, this was a great soundtrack to the days back then. hotter than prince or the sisters of mercy

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The Nal
Jul 27, 2012 11:24am

Good article. Sweet Child O' Mine one of their best songs though? Nah.

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Jul 27, 2012 12:00pm

This was my soundtrack for carefree summer days of '96,rather than punk that my mates favored.had my tape of AFD totally worn out... Rocket Queen is their best track,for me at least.

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Reggie P
Jul 28, 2012 4:41pm

Fantastic piece. Interesting comparison to Nirvana which I can vouch for. Summer 1992 in suburban Benfleet,Essex at my friend's 13th birthday he had both albums blaring out one after the other on his ghetto blaster as we went wild on fizzy pop and burgers. Also hearing you on nasty piece of work, Fat Matt Sorum and Adler. Bit like Chad Channing and Grohl? On a seperate note, the song Better from Chinese Democracy is ace.

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Jul 31, 2012 8:05am

At Jilly's rock club in Manchester 1987-1991 you could play any track from AFD and fill the dance floor ... just like round the corner at the Hangout (1989-90) you could play all of Bummed and Stone Roses ... was I alone enjoying both

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Jul 31, 2012 8:27am

My Michelle was always my favourite closely followed by Paradise City ... we were young, having a good time and not thinking too much ... I had a listen to the album again and it seems fairly vital ... I don't own anything else by G'n'R ... Godflesh/Palace/Codeine/Morbid Angel were more important by then

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Jul 31, 2012 8:06pm

That was by far the absolute WORST review I have ever read of a GREAT album, from a GREAT band. But hey, that is my opinion and you are entitled to yours.

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Aug 17, 2012 2:46pm

Perhaps a bit too verbose for an article on Guns N' Roses wouldn't you say? Throwing in the odd swear word every now and then doesn't make it any easier to read either.

Some very good points made though.

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potion lords
Aug 21, 2012 7:44pm

A well written and funny piece.

Excellent point about Adler and Sorum.

I would say the GNR song that has best lasted the test of time is One In A Million, just because it's raw acoustic hate sounds so refreshingly misguided in this day and age.

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Aug 24, 2012 10:51pm

Fucking atrocious LA hair metal shite

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Gary Clark
Aug 25, 2012 7:01pm

Music Journalists??!! wrong within 2 sentences - this is not the only good record Guns n Roses ever made simple as that. fuckin 'rock journalists' they make you sick

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Robert Gordon
Aug 26, 2012 5:43am

Good article, Jimmy. And good point about the band diminishing when the chemistry was changed with the firing of Adler. However, I think the MVP of the band, the man that gave GNR its rock n' roll (vs. arena rock) edge, was Izzy Stradlin. I love the Ju Ju Hounds album he put out as well as his other solo albums I've heard. The fatal blow to this once great band came when Stradlin left because he could no longer endure Rose's primadonna antics.

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John Blonde
Aug 29, 2012 5:37pm

Duff's intro bass line on "Sweet Child o' Mine" is better than all of Lies and Use Your Illusion combined.

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Apr 7, 2014 10:03am

Never thought Think About You to be filler

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Apr 18, 2014 1:09am

Anyone that says "Sweet Child O' Mine" is the best song on Appetite is a

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Apr 18, 2014 1:28am

Anyone that says "Sweet Child O' Mine" is the best song on Appetite has a vagina. I believe The Indigo Girls are still touring. I suggest you catch a few shows to get your testosterone back on the level with a post-menopausal lesbian. And by the way, fuck Jim Morrison and The Doors.

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Aug 26, 2014 7:29am

Good review and I agree with most of it, but I do have a few problems with your evaluation:

1. A4D is by far GNR's best album, but not their only good one. Lies and both UYI's are good albums, though not in the same league as GNR's debut.

2. "Kaleidoscopic raunch?" What does that even mean? "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Think About You," & "Paradise City," are raunch? How?

3. Why is A4D a "cautionary tale" of how bloated a formerly humble band can be? Every album after A4D could symbolize that description, but A4D sounds quite the contrary to what a bloated band might sound like. That's why it was heads and shoulders above the bloated bands saturating the airwaves at the time.

4. "The Doors, unquestionably as a band the biggest bullshit magnet in rock history."
Unquestionably? Really? I'm no Doors fan and I agree that they were a bullshit magnet, but your presumptive hyperbole is unwarranted. I'd nominate KISS's Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley as bigger bullshit magnets than the Doors and Jim Morrison. Gene and Paul are the Magnetic Dip Poles of planet rock.

5. " ... Appetite For Destruction is not a perfect album."
What is a "perfect album?" I ask this not in defense of A4D, but as an aesthete. Perfection is a subjective ideal that does not exist in the real world.

6. "Even its most giddy cheerleader would have to admit that the Izzy-penned 'Think About You' is ditzy filler at best ..."
No. Nobody has to admit that, giddy cheerleader or not. That is your -- YOUR -- opinion, not an objective fact. Also, Izzy penned a lot of A4D's songs, the same number that Axl did, 9.

7. " ... the cretinous and unforgivable 'One In A Million'."
Elton John disagrees. Why do song lyrics not enjoy the same artistic license that films and other works of fiction do, where a POV is expressed that may or may not reflect the personal opinions of the author/composer?

8. It's funny that you chastise some songs on the album for their moral decadence, then praise the only song where an actual contemptible act is taking place. Those sex sounds in "Rocket Queen" are real, a recording of Axl screwing drummer Steven Adler's girlfriend in the studio. True story. Look it up. It is a great song, though.

I have got to quit reading music reviews! Even the reviews that I mostly agree with, like this one, annoy the hell out of me. They all read like they're composed by an English major armed with a thesaurus who's getting paid just for his/her ability to hurl faux-poetic word vomit.

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