Without wishing to overstate the case, there's an argument to be made that many of the most heated arguments on the forums attached to sputnikmusic.com, although petty and irrelevant to the outside observer, are in fact following in the footsteps of ancient philosophical thought. Whether or not the participants in the debates in question are aware of this is an interesting question, but, even by my standards of tangents in music reviews, utterly irrelevant. The debate over objective and subjective knowledge is one that remains as popular today as it has done throughout the recorded history of mankind, and it is perhaps inevitable that any debate about popular music will, at some stage, quite possibly involve this age-old favourite. I consider myself firmly in the camp that believes that there is simply no such thing as objectively good or bad music. There's one problem with this belief, however, namely that it makes mocking the taste of the people that have bought the most popular albums of all time rather more difficult than I might like. While there are many albums on the all-time best-selling list that astound me, there is a special place in my heart for both Appetite For Destruction
and Back In Black
. For while virtually no-one argues that the Titanic Soundtrack or Let's Talk About Love
by Celine Dion rank among the top albums of all time, these two hard rock albums have not only sold over 60 million copies between them, but are also frequently cited as among the best albums in the hard rock genre. To inexplicably quote James Lovell, "Houston, we have a problem".
This problem is perhaps shown most clearly in the very first song on the album, Welcome To The Jungle
. As the first song on the band’s first studio album, the standard approach to describing Welcome To The Jungle
tends to include words and phrases such as “explosive”, “wake-up call”, “shocking” and “introduction to Axl Rose’s yowling vocals”. Indeed, the song is often cited as among the most seminal moments of popular music in the 1980s, such is its alleged impact. If, however, the alleged impact of Welcome To The Jungle
were somehow surgically removed from the popular consciousness, all that is left is a song that’s more or less “hard rock by numbers”. It’s a song that is so fundamentally senseless and unpleasant, being full as it is of Axl Rose’s fratboy style boasting that it was actually used by the United States military during the 1989 invasion of Panama as part of a campaign to force Manuel Noriega from office. Let’s put it another way. Welcome To The Jungle
is so diabolically horrible that it forces dictators to leave office. It’s So Easy
is, if anything, even worse with the exception of the bridges when Axl decides to sing, rather than resort to atypically low, borderline spoken-word vocals. These moments provide hints of the melodies of which Guns N Roses were capable during the best moments of their career, but the song other than that is eminently forgettable.
Oddly enough, the same is true of many of the songs here. Given Slash’s reputation as one of the pre-eminent guitarists of the modern era, what’s striking about this album is how few of the songs are genuinely memorable. Admittedly, if you’ve listened to enough music it’s very possible to predict what the band’s going to do next at pretty much any point in any given song, but with the exception of Paradise City
, Sweet Child O’Mine
and Mr. Brownstone
, there’s a pronounced paucity of memorable moments of the album. Mr. Brownstone
, with Axl’s husky semi-rapped vocals heading into an all too brief chorus complement one of the few times when Slash seems to have made a conscious effort to try and make his solo fit the song, rather than simply record something and then shove it into a half-formed song. Mr. Brownstone
also helps showcase the oft-forgotten strength of Guns N Roses, namely the presence of Izzy Stradlin and Duff McKagan in the band. Although Axl Rose and Slash have always received most of the plaudits for their role within the band, the rhythm section of the group frequently seems to be holding in the band against the worst of their musical excesses, in an ironic case of life conspicuously not imitating art. Even on some of the album’s most forgettable moments (Out Ta Get Me
being a prime example), it is still notable how Stradlin provides the initial impetus for the song that gives the listener false hope that it won’t be an uninspired stomp through hard rock staples.
Virtually everything that could be written about Paradise City
has been written, and most of it remains true. It’s indisputably one of the biggest, most popular hard rock songs ever written, and the combination of one of the band’s best riffs, Axl showing that he can preen with the best of them, and the final two minutes of pure, unadulterated mayhem all make it quite probably the band’s finest six and three quarter minutes of their entire career. In between this and the restrained, all-conquering Sweet Child O’Mine
come My Michelle
and Think About You
, which suffer by comparison. While Think About You
is one of the stronger songs on the album, helped greatly by the sudden appearance of what sounds remarkably like a synthesizer, it also suffers from the repeated problem of the inappropriate Slash solo, although it is nevertheless an improvement on My Michelle
, which initially sounds as if it could be Guns N Roses exploring an entirely more introspective side to themselves courtesy of Stradlin’s subtle rhythm guitar before Axl starts singing about daddy working in porno, and Mummy dying because of heroin use. While much of the praise for Appetite For Destruction
takes into account the fact that it portrays a realistic account of life in certain areas of Los Angeles, Axl’s lyrics frequently become repetitive over the course of this album, losing whatever shock value they may once have possessed.
It would also be futile to pretend that my personal enjoyment of this album isn’t greatly effected by Axl Rose’s singing style itself, which is the single most divisive part of the music of Guns N Roses. Although there are songs on which it becomes tolerable, this owes in large part to the quality of the music behind him, which masks the full effect of his singing style. With anything other than the band behind him playing to the peak of their ability, however, his vocals often grate intensely on the listener, making getting through Appetite For Destruction
in its entirety more difficult than it might be thought.
The album itself, however, closes on a comparatively strong note courtesy of Rocket Queen
, although before that point both You’re Crazy
and Anything Goes
make a powerful case for sending the album back to the shops. Both songs add very little to the album, beyond realising while listening to the lyrics of You’re Crazy
that Axl is strangely capable of whining like a child deprived of his candy floss given his carefully crafted image over the rest of the album. Although Rocket Queen
itself features the famous orgasmic moaning interlude which is every bit as crass as it sounds on paper, the adventurous nature of the song, containing both distinct sides of Guns N Roses makes it one of their better experiments, while also making the dour, mindless nature of at least half of the songs on this album even less tolerable.
Although Appetite For Destruction
may not be the single most overrated album among otherwise rational music fans, I would have to say that it deserves an honourable mention. With perhaps three songs on here that come close to justifying its phenomenal sales record and critical acclaim, all too many of the remaining nine songs are the kind of song that could easily appear on the 6th or 7th album from a hard rock band that’s long passed over the hill. Having not been alive in the United States in 1987, I can’t possibly judge whether Appetite For Destruction
really made the cultural impact for which it is renowned, or, if it did, why it happened. But all my musical senses make it utterly inexplicable as to why it still frequently features prominently in lists of the best albums ever made.