Saturday, September 24, 2016

1987 - Appetite for Destruction

It's interesting to note the diversity of the two LPs that vie for the top spot in 1987: Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction and The Pet Shop Boys' Actually. One truly brought legit heavy metal to the masses, the other single-handedly created EDM (Electonic Dance Music). As a poseur more into The Cult With No Name than I'd like to remember, my circle of friends, colloquially known in L.A. as the Depkids, was more than disconcerted when Appetite arrived and we realized that something key had happened without us. We hung out at The Roxy and The New Florentine Gardens bopping around to Haircut One Hundred and Altered Images (it was a phase); this instead was the stuff of the Starwood, a club we were less than welcome (even punks liked us more than the metalheads). So despite its importance as a dance era catalyst, Actually is 1987's also ran. Appetite for Destruction, with hits (that’s right, heavy metal hits) "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City," and "Sweet Child o' Mine," looms much larger. By injecting riff-driven pop tunes with snarky punk energy, the quintet veered rock 'n' roll into raw, primal territory that had been (pretty) vacant since the 70s. The facts? Ferocious, intensely melodramatic rock 'n' roll checked with a melodic sense of romanticism that Axl Rose desperately tried to hide with his bad-boy image (subsequently mimicked by anyone with access to a bandana and quirky dance moves). This was heavy metal for the masses. "Sweet Child O'Mine" became an instant hit, quite justly - the guitar intro remaining one of the definitive statements of the '80s - resuscitating the stagnating hard rock scene. Yearning, love-sickness, joy and sadness blend in the first half of this classic track, destroyed in the final act by a blast of angst as Slash and Izzy Stradlin tear the romance apart, augmenting Rose's pained shrieks with devastating guitar.

Oddly, Guns N' Roses is stronger in its subtleties than its excesses - the lovely acoustic guitar that punctuates the chorus of "Think about You," for example, is contrary to the fire-breathing electric-guitar riffs of "Paradise City," a tune that promises dreams and hope while offering neither. GNR had a voice as well as a persona. Don't get this wrong, Appetite is no hidden intellectual gem; one indeed has to weed through lines like "Panties 'round your knees with your ass in the breeze." As such, Appetite is difficult to judge cerebrally (are we supposed to?); once you get past the adrenaline and some silliness, though, there are subtle, thoughtful undertones throughout. Axl's frenzied, impossibly versatile voice screamed higher and more powerfully than any other hair band frontman of his time, and Slash's guitar set a standard for excellence. Without lipstick or spandex, Guns N' Roses kicked every other ass without posturing.  

At a time when pop was dominated by dance music, new wave and pop-metal, Guns N' Roses brought raw, ugly rock 'n' roll crashing back into the charts. They were not nice boys; nice boys don't play rock 'n' roll. They were ugly, misogynistic, and violent; they were also funny, vulnerable, and occasionally sensitive, as their breakthrough hit,"Sweet Child O'Mine," made clear as Axl screeched out his tales of sex, drugs, and apathy in the big city. Guns N' Roses' music was basic and gritty, with a solid hard, bluesy base; they were dark, sleazy, dirty, and honest - everything that heavy metal should be. There was something refreshing about a band who could provoke everything from devotion to hatred in the same breath. There hadn't been a hard rock band this raw or talented in years, and they were given added weight by Axl Rose 's primal rage, the sound of confused, frustrated white trash vying for his piece of the pie.