Saturday, January 12, 2008

Chuck Klosterman 2000

Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction (1987, Geffen)

Well, this is pretty much it.
Appetite for Destruction is the singular answer to the question, "Why did hair metal need to exist?" After all the coke and the car wrecks and the screaming and the creaming and the musical masturbation and the pentagrams and the dead hookers, this is what we are left with — the best record of the 1980s, regardless of genre.

If asked to list the ten best rock albums of all time, this is the only pop metal release that might make the list; it's certainly the only Reagan-era material that can compete with the White Album and Rumours and Electric Warrior. Appetite for Destruction is an Exile on Main Street for all the kids born in '72, except Appetite rocks harder and doesn't get boring in the middle. It bastardizes every early Aerosmith record, but all the lyrics are smarter and Axl is a better dancer.

Part of the credit for the success of this five-headed juggernaut has to go to Nigel Dick, the faceless fellow who directed all the videos for GNR's early singles. One needs to remember that Appetite was out for almost a year before it cracked the Billboard Top 10 in 1988. Most people assume that this was because of the single "Sweet Child 0' Mine," but the real reason was the video for "Welcome to the Jungle." The first fifteen seconds of that vid explain everything we need to know:

Axl gets off a bus in downtown L.A. with a piece of friggin' hay in his mouth (and evidently, he didn't do much chewing during the twenty-six-hour bus ride from Indiana, because it still looks pretty fresh). The first time I heard this song, I was riding the Octopus at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, and I had no idea what the fuck it was supposed to be about—but I still kinda liked it. When I saw this video two months later, I realized that Axl wasn't welcoming me to the jungle, people were welcoming him. Suddenly, the whole album made a lot more sense: Axl Rose was screaming because he was scared.

From the brazen misogyny of "It's So Easy" to the pleading vulnerability of "Rocket Queen," the album is a relentless exercise in high-concept sleaze. "Nightrain" is my personal favorite; Axl insists he's "one bad mutha," and he proves it by waking up his whore and making her buy four dollar wine with her Visa card. "Mr. Brownstone" is hard funk on hard drugs, and it cleverly tells us how rock stars are supposed to live — you wake up at seven, you get out of bed at nine, and you always take the stage two hours late. "Paradise City" is probably the musical high point; it has GNR's signature soft-heavy-soft vocal sequence and the best chorus in metal history. "Paradise City" still seems like a disco classic waiting to happen.

The flip side is a little dirtier, starting with the unsettling "My Michele" and the semisweet "Think About You." The material is dark and purposefully hidden (kind of like Slash's eyes, I suppose), and the drums are ferocious; it sounds like Steven Adler is setting off cherry bombs in his drum kit. And through it all, the guitar playing is stellar. On Appetite for Destruction, Slash invented a new style of playing that's best described as "blues punk." He simultaneously sounds raw and polished — the master craftsman who came to work loaded. It was a style that sold 15 million records, but almost nobody managed to copy it (including Slash, who never really got it right again — even when he consciously tried on 1993's The Spaghetti Incident?).

There are those who will argue that the best thing that could have happened to Guns N' Roses would have been death, probably in about 1991. They were certainly on the right path (in fact, the rumor persists that David Geffen wanted Use Your Illusion to be a double album because he suspected someone in the band would be dead before they could cut anything else). From a romantic (read: selfish) perspective, there's some truth to this argument; it would be nice if Appetite for Destruction was all we really knew about this band of gypsies; Axl would have never lost his hair and the Gunners would have never become such bloated disasters.

Since Rose legally obtained the rights to the name Guns N' Roses in 1991, GNR is Axl Rose for all practical (and impractical) purposes. Put Axl onstage with the starting five of the Quad City Thunder, and that qualifies as "the new Guns N' Roses." The group still exists, but it's almost like comparing Jefferson Airplane to Starship:

As I write this, the ever-evolving lineup consists of Axl, Dizzy Reed, former Replacements' bassist Tommy Stinson, Buckethead (a robot-obsessed guitar freak who wears a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his dome), Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, Brian "Brain" Mantia (the drummer from Primus who replaced Josh Freese, the guy from the Vandals who played on the new Guns record but has also quit the band since the album's completion), and what amounts to Axl's buddies from high school.

The next album's working title is Chinese Democracy and it's rumored to be aggressive industrial metal in the spirit of Led Zeppelin, filtered through the sensibilities of Stevie Wonder; I can only imagine what this will be like, although it's safe to assume it will be twice as good as Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, three times as good Slash's Snakepit, and five hundred times better than anything Duff McKagan ever released. But it will never be as good as this, and I suspect Axle' knows it.

(This analysis was somewhat complicated by the May 11, 2000, issue of Rolling Stone magazine, which essentially described Rose as a nocturnal New Age freak who spends much of his time in Sedona, a pseudo-spiritual Narnia in the Arizona desert. The article implied Chinese Democracy will probably never be released, but I'm confident it will eventually come out—however, I have no clue when that will be. When I started writing this manuscript in 1998, I jokingly said I wanted to have it published before the next GNR record, and (at this point) I think I still have a legitimate shot.)

SOURCE: Chuck Klosterman, Fargo Rock City

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