Tag Archives: Guns ‘N Roses

Rocks In The Attic #560: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Appetite For Destruction’ (1987)

RITA#560.jpgI saw something last night I thought I’d never see – Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the same stage together. It’s been a long time coming, but for a large part of the twenty five years since I first heard Appetite For Destruction, it seemed unlikely that a reunion would ever happen. Slash kept himself busy, playing in Velvet Revolver (with Duff) before going on to record several decent solo albums. Axl retained the Guns N’ Roses name, touring the band in the 21st century with a host of stand-in musicians and finally releasing the long-threatened Chinese Democracy album in 2008. The new Axl was a portly fellow, rumoured to have an addiction to fried chicken and was described by one audience member in London as ‘a gold lamé blob up on stage.’ A reunion seemed as unlikely as all four Beatles playing together on stage.

Then the unthinkable happened. In 2016 Axl, Slash and Duff patched up their differences and announced a reunion tour. Who needs differences anyway when you’ve got millions of dollars to earn touring the world as a nostalgia act? Plus, that fried chicken won’t buy itself…

rita560b
The initial reaction was one of cynicism. Surely Axl would keep everybody waiting like he did in his prima donna days during the 1990s. Would it be worth buying a ticket if it meant waiting around for a few hours in the rain, waiting for Axl to finally take off his bathrobe and finish that last bucket of KFC? Of course it would!

Then the unthinkable part two happened. Axl landed the job as stand-in vocalist for AC/DC. It seems that Brian Johnson’s eardrums had enough of his own high-pitched screaming and put up a protest. He got a sick note from his doctor, ruling him out of that band due to the threat of permanent hearing loss. Step up, Mr. Rose.

It still hasn’t really sunk in that this actually happened – Axl Rose singing with AC/DC sounds like such an off-the-wall idea. Comparable to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell singing in front of Rage Against The Machine. Oh wait, that actually happened too.

rita560c
What a great pairing – Axl DC – can it get any better? Brian Johnson’s vocals have never really fit the band if I have to be honest – there’s only so much shrieking I can handle, and after 1980’s Back In Black, there was a pretty consistent dip in quality. Other than Steven Tyler, Axl is the best choice to front Angus and company – he has the range to hit Brian Johnson’s high notes, and the ballsy tone to handle Bon Scott’s earlier material.

So the rock world waited with bated breath, and the unthinkable part three happened. Axl turned up on time and did his duty. No diva behaviour whatsoever – and best of all, his inclusion prompted the long-standing – and frankly, now quite boring – AC/DC set-list to change. They started playing songs they had rarely, if ever, played with Brian Johnson. Songs such as Riff Raff and Rock And Roll Damnation from 1978’s Powerage, If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) from 1979’s Highway To Hell, and 1975’s Live Wire (from the Australian T.N.T. album, or the international version of High Voltage). It was so refreshing to see these songs performed once again.

Then, one show into the GNR reunion tour, the unthinkable part four happened. Axl broke his foot. It’s still unclear how he did this – so one can only speculate that a bottle of Hot Sauce fell on his foot as he opened the fridge for a midnight feast of fried chicken. He ended up fulfilling the rest of GNR’s U.S. tour, and the remaining AC/DC dates sat on a throne of guitars borrowed from Dave Grohl.

Last night my wife took a bullet and stayed home to put the kids to bed so that I could go down early to catch the support band, Wolfmother. When I got to the stadium I spoke to a lovely lady named Lucy, who had endured a 9-hour bus trip from Gisborne to see the show. Crikey! She sat next to me as she rolled a joint, out of sight of the security staff, and in minutes we had bonded over our mutual dislike of Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers.

I was really looking forward to seeing Wolfmother after I caught them supporting Aerosmith in Dunedin back in 2013. At that concert, the sight of the band bouncing on to the stage like exuberant puppies made me smile. Four years later and they’ve reduced their ranks significantly. What was once a boisterous four- or five-piece back in 2013 has now distilled into a tight trio. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but it meant one member was pulling more than his fair share of the weight – bassist Ian Peres also played keyboards, incredibly both at the same time during some songs.

rita560a
Twenty minutes later and Guns N’ Fucking Roses emerged. My wife had made it with just minutes to spare, and thankfully she was there to see opener It’s So Easy. They followed this with Mr. Brownstone, and Western Springs went off like a firework.

Axl did that jaunty side-to-side dance with his microphone stand, looking like a menopausal Nicole Kidman, Slash took all his solos with his guitar propped up on one elevated thigh, and Duff kept up on the bass, sticking his neck out to sing backing vocals.

The set-list was really strong with songs from Appetite For Destruction, and while I like most of the singles from the Use Your Illusion records, the songs from the debut record are just in a different class. They’re truly magical, and the whole of that first record is like lightning in a bottle.

I could never really work out why I liked Appetite so much more than the Use Your Illusion albums, and it wasn’t until I read Slash’s autobiography that I figured it out. Drummer Steven Adler – the one missing component that didn’t survive into that second line-up of the band – really provides the groove of ­Appetite. His replacement Matt Sorum is a powerhouse drummer himself, but Adler had something else – a swing that you don’t get with most 4/4 rock drummers. I’d have loved to have seen a full reunion with Adler on board, alongside original rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, but I’m more than happy to have seen three out of the original five.

rita560d
Covers were well-represented, not surprisingly for a band with only four albums of original material to their name. As well as the likely contenders – Live And Let Die and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – they also played the Misfit’s Attitude, the Who’s The Seeker, and in one really touching moment, a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here afforded Slash and rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus the opportunity for a lovely bit of guitar work. November Rain was prefaced with Axl playing the piano outro from Derek & The Domino’s Layla, and Slash played snippets of the Godfather theme, Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You before the night was through.

If I had one criticism, it was that the show could have easily been an hour shorter. After two hours when I told my wife that there was almost another hour left, she mimed shooting herself in the head (I noted that this was an odd thing to do in the presence of Duff McKagan, the last person to see Kurt Cobain alive; they found themselves sitting next to each other on a flight to Seattle where Cobain took his life a few days later).

At one point, the audience nearly chuckled themselves to death when Axl sang his big emotional number – This I Love, from the Chinese Democracy record. This was like bad wedding music; just awful and such a polar opposite to the youthful vibrance that is all over Appetite For Destruction.

Hit: Sweet Child O’Mine

Hidden Gem: Mr. Brownstone

Rocks In The Attic #424: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion II’ (1991)

RITA#424The companion piece to Use Your Illusion I, this one was always my favourite of the two, really just because it has You Could Be Mine on it. In the early ‘90s, when I first heard this album I was already a huge movie fan, and so I knew the song like the back of my hand from its appearance in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Listening to the album twenty four years later, it feels more and more bloated with every listen. The record kicks off with Civil War which immediately leaves a sour taste in my mouth, being the last song that Steven Adler played drums on before he was unceremoniously kicked out of the band. When they said goodbye to Adler, they also said goodbye to the one component that brought swing to the band.

Matt Sorum may be a fine replacement, but he’s nothing special – a rock by numbers drummer, with none of the groove that Adler splashed all over Appetite For Destruction. Adler is sorely missed, and instead of sounding sleazy, the overall sound is too polished, too safe to be considered dangerous. If anything, it just made me mad that people would lap this turgid crap up by the bucketload, but only a few years later one of my favourite British rock bands, the Wildhearts, would sell a decimal point worth of records in comparison – even though everything they released was innovative, energetic and more interesting. There are more riffs in one three-minute Wildhearts song than in an eight minute GNR epic like Estranged or November Rain.

Use Your Illusion II also gives us Get In The Ring – a huge, embarrassing mess of a song aimed at the band’s rock critics. In this sickeningly jolly, uptempo number, Axl Rose embraces his southern hick sensibilities and calls out several journalists who had stuck in his craw over the years. His vocals sound like the sort of thing you’d hear in a trailer park around midnight on a Friday, before the camera crew from Cops turns up, and an overweight police officer jumps on somebody and shouts “Stop resisting!” as he employs  excessive force. Instead of sounding dangerous, Axl sounds pitiful. What a way to prove your critics right.

I’ve never owned The Spaghetti Incident? I have no reason to. After this, GNR were dead to me. And I wouldn’t even consider listening to Chinese Democracy. What a fall from grace. At one point, Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world – but history keeps confirming that they really only had one great album.

Hit: You Could Be Mine

Hidden Gem: So Fine

Rocks In The Attic #341: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Everything Must Go’ (1996)

RITA#341I’ve been listening to the Manics a lot recently. I tend to listen to Pandora at work, the online radio station where you can tailor-make your own channel. The Manic Street Preachers channel throws up some good stuff, and some great related artists. I find most of the time though, it just shows how fantastic the Manics used to be, and how fantastically average they are now. This album signals the end of them being a relevant force in music, and it was all downhill from here.

I was in my first year at University when this was released in 1996. I wasn’t a Manics fan at the time, so the band sort of passed me by until I discovered the first three albums a year or so later (all off the back of hearing Faster from The Holy Bible – the highlight song from their greatest album). But I remember hearing A Design For Life a lot during my first freshers term, and seeing them perform it on things like TFI Friday.

I eventually got around to hearing the album, and it’s a solid album, nothing bad about it, but a huge step down from The Holy Bible. You can see why all the Britpop kids went for it at the time – all big choruses and a stadium rock, wall of sound production. In fact, as a first album by a new band (which to a lot of people, it would have been), it’s great. Maybe that’s what they should have done – in a Joy Division / New Order kind of way – rather than continuing as their established name, despite the loss of an integral member of the band.

Richey Edwards? Fantastic lyricist, terrible guitarist. Left his car near a known suicide spot on the eve of an American tour to support The Holy Bible (shades of Ian Curtis there). I love The Holy Bible so much – for me it’s been my favourite album released during my lifetime. I love everything about it – everything that’s dark and depressing about it, and the very real fact that maybe something had to happen to the tortured soul of Richey Edwards for it to be made. All true art is suffering, and the lyrics of The Holy Bible paint a picture of somebody having a hard time coping with the realities of life.

The beauty of The Holy Bible is why the big dumb pop sound on Everything Must Go annoys me so much. With The Holy Bible, the Manics were an edgy post-punk rock band (via Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica). With Everything Must Go, they turned towards the anthemic, everyman qualities of Springsteen, with a sound perfect for the hordes of pissed-up mad-fer-it lads, bored with Oasis and too ignorant to understand anything beyond the lyrical complexities of ‘I know a girl called Elsa / She’s into Alka Seltzer’.

Terrible. The beginning of the end. What a waste of a once-great band.

Hit: A Design For Life

Hidden Gem: Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky

Rocks In The Attic #161: Guns N’ Roses – ‘Use Your Illusion I’ (1991)

Yes, these albums are bloated and self-indulgent – but what an achievement. Well, if you like that sort of thing, that is.

The Use Your Illusion albums are generally considered to be two single albums – released on the same day in 1991 – and probably worthy of joining together and treating as a double album. But when you look at their running times, they’re double albums in their own right. The vinyl version of both albums come spread across two discs, explained by their lengthy running times – one hour and sixteen minutes for the first one, with the second one only a minute shorter. So if you stuck them together, they’d be a quadruple album (or looking at the size of the run-out grooves on some of the sides, they’d probably make them fit across three discs). I don’t know if anybody in their right minds would cope with that sort of running time.

Prior to the release of these albums, fans of Guns N’ Roses thought the sun shone out of their rock star arses. These albums prove otherwise. There’s a hell of a lot of filler on here, albeit alongside some killer singles and worthy album tracks. Yes, an accomplishment, but like most ‘double-albums’ it’s easy to see here how a single disc would have sufficed. Shit, a single disc of the best tracks here would probably rival Appetite For Destruction.

Mentioning Appetite also brings to mind one other notable downer about the Use Your Illusion albums – the sound. Production-wise, Appetite was gritty and sounded dirty as hell, but being the biggest rock band on the planet brings a curse – better equipment, better recording studios, bigger egos and an inability to self-judge in the same way that was possible when recording a debut album.

The music all sounds way too clean in comparison to Appetite – and the addition of keyboards and several other additional instruments takes the band further away from anything remotely cutting-edge or punk, and towards middle-of-the-road commercial acceptance.

Hit: November Rain

Hidden Gem: Dead Horse