Review Summary: Hollow bells and whistles surround GNR's beloved debut.
I’ve sat and mulled over my approach to this re-release of GNR’s most highly regarded debut album for quite some time. There’s just so many ways in which I could talk about it: do I go into detail on the die-hard only extras that come with the insultingly overpriced “Super Deluxe Edition” boxset; spend half of it surmising the remaining members are literally only in this touring and re-release cycle because of money troubles (that food isn’t going to pay for itself, is it Axl？); or do I talk about how this album fares against the test of time？ To be honest, I find the last aspect far more fascinating, given how the perceptions of an album, or one’s opinion, can change over the course of a decade or two. Sure, the album’s effect on music at the time of its release is absolute – there’s no discussion there – but with progression comes change and nothing more so than one person’s opinion. For me, my introduction into rock ‘n roll actually stemmed from hearing Guns ‘N Roses for the first time. They were my first rock band and I’ve never looked back since. The first time I put Use Your Illusion I
into the CD player and had my mind blown – the attitude, the guitar playing, Axl’s wailed snarls, it all columnated into the band having a certified place in my heart forever. So, hopefully, this revelation will dilute the enraged masses intent on grabbing a gardening tool from the shed once they’ve read where this is going. Simply put, I was a fervent lover of this band’s work in my adolescence. But
that doesn’t stop the question that lingers: looking at how far the musical landscape has changed, as well as my own musical tastes, ‘how has Appetite for Destruction
fared in 31 years？’
The short answer is it remains the hard slab of sleazy rock ‘n roll I remember it being. “Paradise City” is still one of their most cleverly written songs to date – be it down to the iconic reverb-soaked guitar introduction that welcomes the drums, the capricious turn into an energetic and grooving verse, as well as its rewarding chorus, or the frantically quickened outro – it all works synergistically to be a greater sum of its parts and results in one of the finest rock tunes to ever be devised. And the thing is, Appetite for Destruction
is littered in moments like this throughout its 12-track duration: the oozing attitude and energetic bounce that comes from “Welcome to the Jungle”; “Sweet Child O’ Mine” for one of the most recognisably perfect solos in rock music; Duff’s grooving bassline and Axl’s excellent harmonisation with the guitars on “Nightrain”; or “Rocket Queen” – despite it being a product of its time with now cute 80s aesthetic production choices like the chorus-laden vocals in the verse – for having a dangerous snarl and bite complete with furious solos, a punchy, pocketed rhythm section and a really catchy and grimy vocal performance. These tracks make as compilation worthy moments that transcend the time barrier and reside next to the likes of “Stairway to Heaven”, “Free Bird” or “Paranoid”. But even with all this smoke blowing let’s not lose our focus, there’s still half an album’s worth of songs to look at here, which, quite frankly, can’t hold their weight in memorability.
I mean, let’s get to brass-tacks here, the band is recognised far more for their melancholic ballads of “November Rain”, “Don’t Cry” and “Civil War” than for the more serrated hard-rock tunes. They have touched upon greatness with the likes of “You Could Be Mine” and “Welcome to the Jungle”, but these guys work best when they’re making moody epics over an ascendency for hard-rock and punk riffs. And, unfortunately, that’s where this album puts its focus, resulting in a pretty flaccid experience by 2018’s standards. “Out Ta Get Me” has a few decent ideas at the heart of it; the same kind of gnarly energy “Welcome to the Jungle” has, containing a brace of Slash’s chocked blues solos and a hard-hitting rhythm section, but as a collective it falls flat as a complete track with its limp vocal hooks that boarder on irritating and a lack of memorable moments in the instrumental department. The same can be said for “Mr. Brownstone” and “Think About You”, they have a good dose of quality elements but they don’t have the finesse to reach the same heights as “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, while the remainder of the tracks become devoid of anything substantial to latch onto.
Which brings us onto the justification and re-purchasing of this album. ‘Remastered’ has been coined for this package and truth be told, I found little to no differences to the overall sound and presentation of the album – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as a lot of remastered albums lose the core element and character of what makes the original masters so great, but we’re looking at this as a product which states something has been changed, and as far as I can tell there’s little to no work being made in the overhaul department. As for the other three discs, which contain an intimidating number of B-sides, unreleased and live tracks, the overall impression is one of scraping the barrel. Disc 2 is literally just G ‘N R Lies
with the added addition of a 2018 live recording to the B-side “Shadow of Your Love” being slipped into the middle of the original tracklisting, as well as three live recordings of “It’s So Easy”, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Whole Lotta Rosie” (taken at London’s The Marquee Club in 1987) being placed at the end. It’s not a bad little collection for those that haven’t heard G ‘N R Lies
, capturing a bombastic energy which shows good reason as to why these guys got so big back in the day, but for those revisiting the EP the four live tracks are serviceable albeit giving little incentive to go listen to the disc if the EP never did much for you the first time.
The remaining two discs offer up very vulnerable versions to most of Appetite for Destruction
’s tracks, as well as acoustic versions to the likes of “November Rain”. These two discs are a novelty, though I personally didn’t enjoy – or see the point in – the Sound City Sessions tracks, I did appreciate the various iterations for tracks like “Move to the City” and “November Rain”. But like I’ve said already, these bonuses feel like scrape-the-barrel add-ons – a lot of which feeling like they probably shouldn’t have seen the light of day but were released to pad out the “deluxe editions” of this re-release. Sure, if you’re a hardcore fan of the band I can see some appeal in hearing these tender versions, but for anyone else there’s little reason to listen to them.
Overall, the album itself has held up valiantly in its three decades of life, of course not without showing a few signs of age. At the end of the day, the songs people recognise them for remain unscathed, but to the layman of the tracks in-between they vary in quality and relevance. Still, this is a seminal milestone in rock’s history and deserves to be acknowledged as such. Checking out the album if you haven’t yet is essential, checking out the complete package to this is a different story. A lot of the “unheard” bonus material repeats itself from different angles, while the remainder of its material has been used in other albums. But if you’re the type of person who has to listen to absolutely every version of every GNR song, this has some interesting stuff to unearth.
FORMAT//EDITIONS: DIGITAL/̶/̶C̶D̶/̶/̶V̶I̶N̶Y̶L̶/̶/̶T̶H̶E̶ ̶U̶L̶T̶I̶M̶A̶T̶E̶ ̶F̶'̶N̶ ̶B̶O̶X̶/̶/̶T̶H̶E̶ ̶S̶U̶P̶E̶R̶ ̶D̶E̶L̶U̶X̶E̶
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A
ALBUM STREAM//PURCHASE: https://www.gunsnroses.com/