Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction
Balancing genuine menace and chaos with a clear pop sensibility
The debut album from Guns N' Roses landed with a loud thunk in 1987, the year Mötley Crüe began its descent into its first dark period with the release of the unfortunate Girls, Girls, Girls and poppier acts like Europe and Poison were (perhaps inadvertently) playing up their campiest aspects with the heavy use of synthesizers and lip gloss. Appetite For Destruction planted its flag in a void; here was a hard-rock album with 12 songs that balanced genuine menace and chaos — not the "Satan's going to get you" kind, but the kind that could be lurking on the streets of Anycity, U.S.A. — with a clear pop sensibility.
Many of the monster riffs on Appetite have entered the pop-culture firmament for good; the sky-cracking guitar line that opens "Welcome to the Jungle" and announces the album's arrival; the pealing solo that starts "Sweet Child O' Mine," the bombastic party signal that pushes "Paradise City" along. Then there are the songs that weren't radio hits, but are easily recognizable to many; the half-sneering, half-agape "My Michelle," the predatory "It's So Easy," the heroin fable "Mr. Brownstone." And "Rocket Queen," the six-minute epic that closes out side two, probably realized Guns frontman Axl Rose's ambitions to make a grand, sweeping Rock Statement better than anything on either of the Use Your Illusion albums; in it, Rose's narrator's flips from nasty boy to emotional bedrock over guitars that sound like they were played with razor blades.
It's hard to not talk about Appetite without a bit of rumination on GNR Mach I, which seems so perfectly-calibrated it could have been the concoction of a twisted boy-band mogul. The caterwauling Rose and his fleet-fingered sidekick/foil Slash were the MTV era's analogue to the Toxic Twins, a pairing of nastiness and sweetness that was so well-blended it was up to the listener to figure out which was which. (Although it's a testament to Rose's particular brand of charisma that he could inspire arenas full of women to sing along with the line "Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you/ Besides, you ain't got nothin' better to do and I'm bored" as if it was a line nicked from a love letter). There was the aloof Izzy Stradlin, the high school friend of Rose's who provided the band with its Stones-like swagger; the Seattle expatriate Duff McKagan, who spent time knocking around that city's punk scene (he even drummed for the Fastbacks for a bit) before signing on to play bass; and the goofy Steven Adler, who despite his ever-present shaggy-dog grin could lay down intricate beats over which the rest of the guys did their thing.
That this version of the band didn't last very long is probably part of the point; indeed, some of those people clamoring for a reunion of the lineup now are probably looking to recapture a moment in time when things seemed both more grimy and more hopeful — when rock and roll could, conceivably, save the day. Or, failing that, one of those wearying hours before sunrise.