The messages started popping up on GNR related social media a week or so ago….”Destruction Is Coming.” I was assuming they were going to announce a plan to play Appetite For Destruction in it’s entirety on the seemingly endless (partial) reunion tour, reviewed previously on B&V (Concert Review: Guns n Roses, Kansas City, 29Jun16: The Power & The Glory). Secretly I was hoping it was an announcement that the original lineup of the band, who recorded Appetite, was reuniting – they were bringing back Izzy Stradlin on rhythm guitar and Steven Adler on drums. It turns out neither of my guesses was right. Instead, GNR are releasing a “Super Deluxe” edition of the album (as well as a skinny-ed down “Deluxe” version). So much for my prognostication skills.
It’s easy to forget, with the dissolution of the original band, the long lapses between albums, and the whole Chinese Democracy thing, that GNR were one of the greatest, most powerful bands of all time. When we speak of Appetite For Destruction we’re talking about the “Crown Jewels” of rock and roll. It’s the best selling debut album of any band, ever. It’s one of the greatest albums ever recorded in the medium of rock and roll, hard rock, or heavy metal. In plain words, it’s a fucking tour de force masterpiece. The chemistry of that original line up was lightning in a bottle. Steven Adler’s drumming had so much swing and elasticity it gave the music a dirty groove. Slash and Izzy Stradlin on lead and rhythm guitar rivals that of the Mick Taylor/Keith Richards era of the Stones. Duff McKagan brought the punk attitude and bottom end with his bass playing. And then there’s Axl Rose… how does one describe the power of those amazing vocals. Axl’s unique vocal style brought an unhinged vibe to this music that made it nothing short of breath taking.
The sound of GNR on that first album was dark, menacing and yes, dangerous. In the 80’s, there were a ton of hard rock/heavy metal hair bands who sang about chicks and partying and having a good time. While the themes of Guns N’ Roses’ music were similar, it never seemed like anybody was having that good of a time. It was the music of what happens when the party jumps the rails. It was harrowing shit, but yet enjoyable none the less. It was the most visceral music I’d heard up to that time. They combined the bombast of heavy metal, the attitude (and short song structure) of punk, the bloozey vibe of early Aerosmith and the swagger of a much more seasoned band. That’s a helluva lot to put into a debut album. The songs were about urban menace, “Welcome To the Jungle”; drinking or perhaps better said, alcoholism, “Nightrain”; and heroin, “Mr. Brownstone.” Holy shit was this stuff ground breaking in the late 80s. Tellingly, Guns N’ Roses were one of the few 80s hard rock bands to survive the Grunge takeover… They were just that great. Grunge couldn’t kill GNR, only Axl Rose could do that…
When Guns N’ Roses debut album came out in the summer of 1987, I was living in Boston working at the world famous Food Center Liquor Store. I didn’t hear a lot of music sitting in the back of the liquor store where my job was to refill the beer cooler and take the 5-cent per can deposit returns and sort them by brewer. Filthy work with dirty beer cans. After Boston, I went immediately into exile in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, the town that rock and roll forgot. In the Fall of 87 and the spring of 88, I was completely cut off from most new music. My only source of new music, other than reading Rolling Stone magazine, was MTV… who actually still played videos in those days. I don’t know if I miss sitting and vegging-out in front of hours of endless videos or I’m better off because that doesn’t happen any more… I’ll let history be the judge.
Getting my music knowledge from MTV was a bit of a curse. I literally saw the band before I heard the music. I watched the video of “Welcome to the Jungle” and Axl had his hair blown up in that 80s-rock star way and it made me think they were just another cut/paste 80s metal band. I didn’t pay any attention to that landmark tune, which tells you how much background noise was going on in my life. Then I saw the video for “Sweet Child of Mine” and thought, nice riff, it’s an ok ballad, cool guitar player in the top hat… Back then ballads rarely pierced my consciousness. Finally, laying on the couch one day, probably nursing a hangover, I had my arm across my eyes, and the video for “Paradise City” came on. Instead of looking, I just listened… and I liked what I heard. I peaked out from under my arm to see that it was GNR. Axl didn’t have his hair all teased up… and these guys rawked! It was in that moment, Guns N’ Roses finally clicked for me. I went out and bought Appetite on cassette… I was dating a virtuous woman in Shreveport and I needed something dangerous to listen to on the five hour drive. I can’t hear “Think About You” and not think of Shreveport… I’ve been a life-long Guns N’ Roses fan ever since.
Now, all these years later, GNR are revisiting Appetite For Destruction with these “Super Deluxe”/”Deluxe” versions. It looks like the “Super Deluxe” version breaks out like this: Disc 1, the original album, remastered; Disc 2 is described as “B-sides and EPs” but its basically the EP GNR Lies, which had a faux live side, (originally released as Live Like a Suicide) coupled with an acoustic side. Luckily they omit the offensive “One In A Million,” and hopefully that tune is confined to the history of bad decisions; Disc 3 looks like an early version of Appetite recorded in 86 at Sound City; and finally, Disc 4 looks like a grab bag of Demo’s and leftovers.
As part of all of this, GNR released a single, entitled “Shadow Of Your Love.” Apparently a few versions of this song have been released as B-sides. I had never heard it before and so immediately snatched it up. I’m not sure I’m down for the whole box set, but I love this track. It’s just so great to hear something from this era of the band, it hits you immediately. It’s a fast and hard tune. Axl sounds awesome. At different points he’s singing and others it feels like he’s screaming at you… ah, that good old school Axl. The guitar work is fast and stellar. Slash’s soloing is as melodic as ever. You’re not going to find an unearthed “Paradise City” in a box set like this, nobody is going to leave a stone-cold-classic in the can for thirty years, but this is a great compliment to the Appetite LP. And let’s face it, it doesn’t look like any new music is going to come out of GNR. I heard rumors that Axl is working Angus Young on an AC/DC album, but that’s a different post.
I don’t know if there’ll be enough interesting music to get me to buy the entire box set, but this nice little blast from the past was enough to make me curious enough to at least check it out.