Sunday, April 15, 2007

In The Dock: Guns 'N' Roses

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Guns 'N' Roses

The case for the prosecution (Del)

Guns 'N' Roses. I remember when they were huge, comfortably the biggest band in the world. My friends all loved them. Seduced, no doubt, by the bombastic tunes, the outlandish attire and, of course, the fact that they were, y'know, dangerous. An outlaw band. Bad to the bone. Too cool for school. I felt that I really should like Guns 'N' Roses. But I didn't. I really didn't. And I still don't.

The main reason for this is that I simply don't rate them. This is, of course, the most subjective part of my argument, and the one most easily dismissed. As with many of the acts prosecuted so far, you already know if you like them or not. If you're wavering, I'd hazard a guess that you're a fan of some of the stuff off of Appetite For Destruction ('Sweet Child Of Mine', 'Paradise City', etc), the so-absurd-it's-funny 'November Rain' and maybe 'Live And Let Die', 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' or one of their other covers (more on those to come...). And, well, fair play really. Their debut isn't a bad album really, as much as I'd love to hate it. There are a handful of good tunes on there. And coupled with the image and the hype, it made them the biggest band in the world. And this is where my latter day resentment kicks in. They simply didn't deserve to be.

Outlaw rock 'n' roll. The very idea makes me cringe. It is, of course, bollocks. It's all a lie. Rock 'n' roll had long since lost its ability to threaten the system by the time G'N'R turned up. Maybe in the 60s, maybe rock 'n' roll might have done something really revolutionary. Fact is, it really didn't. And although the moral majority might gnash and wail about Marilyn Manson, or Eminem, or whoever is the shocking flavour of the month, it's all hype, bombast and bullshit. Guns 'N' Roses were a group of smackheads who got lucky. They had a few tunes, and an interesting look that told made an A&R man's eyes light up with dollar signs. All they were interested in was money and fame and drugs. And they got it all in spades.

After all, they signed to the oh-so-outlaw Geffen Records and released Appetite... with a deliberately offensive cover. Ooohhh, shake ye pillars of society. They swore in interviews and were generally unpleasant. Testosterone-fuelled teens lapped it up. They even lapped up misogynistic crap like 'Get In The Ring' from the half-baked Use Your Illusion double release. G'N'R were as self-consciously "punk" as Donny Tourettes, and therefore just as contrived and false, which is arguably the completely opposite of what punk was supposed to be in the first place. The record company simply kept them drugged up and pushed them around the world on tour, submerged in a bubble so that they believed what little talent they had could be spread across two albums of tosh. Kerching!

For better or worse, the tidal wave of grunge wiped hair metal off the map. But, G'N'R are now held up as some sort of musical high water mark. Eh? Come on, people! They weren't very good! Axl Rose is clearly a tool! They made lots of money off the back of being nasty pieces of work with about three OK tunes! They padded out their sets with covers cos they couldn't be arsed to right their own songs! And, possibly the greatest crime of all, they took the reggae breakdown out of 'Live And Let Die'!

The final insult is that Axl is still dragging his tired corpse around the world, living off past glories so faded you can barely make them out. We're more likely to see actual democracy in China than the Chinese Democracy album. I actually feel for the fans who were seduced back in '87. They don't deserve this. Guns 'N' Roses are a textbook case of everything that I despise about rock 'n' roll.

No amount of rose tinted nostalgia can disguise the fact that Guns 'N' Roses were a far from great band who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Where there should be invention and creativity, there was intoxication and laziness, where there should be passion and ambition there was cynicism and diminishing returns.

Guns 'N' Roses, like the outlaws they always wanted to be, are guilty as hell.

The case for the defence (Phill)

You know where you are? You're in the jungle baby!

Guns 'N' Roses are the quintessential rock band. They took lots of drugs, drank lots of alcohol, swore like troopers, urinated on planes, looked ridiculous and wrote great songs.

When I defend Guns 'N' Roses I’m mainly defending the classic lineup of Axl Rose (lead vocalist), Slash (lead guitar), Duff McKagen (bass guitar), Izzy Stradlin (guitar) and Steven Adler / Matt Sorum (drums), plus the addition of Dizzy Reed (keyboards) – I am not talking about the Guns 'N' Roses of the late 90s and 21st century which is basically Axl and a bunch of random other people including a guy with a KFC bucket on his head. Although they were really good at the Leeds Festival in 2002!

Appetite For Destruction is quite simply of the best albums of the 1980s and one of the best debut albums of all time – FACT!

Every single track is a stone cold classic. Axl’s vocal range and lyrics, Slash’s perfect guitar lines, solos and pinch harmonics. And the other fellas, they were good too. 'Nighttrain', 'Welcome To The Jungle'...

Slash and Axl were a great rock double act, a bit like Morrissey and Marr but with tattoos and a drug problem.

Even if they had never produced another album, their legendary status would have been secured. But then they went to release two albums on the same day – Use Your Illusion I and II. Of course there is the "legendary" 'November Rain' video, listed as the 9th most expensive ever made and worth every penny for the helicopter shots of Slash playing guitar in the desert.

And what about Slash? Stoke on Trent’s finest son. When he left the band they had to replace him with TWO guitarists, that’s how good he is.

The latest G'N'R album Chinese Democracy has been in production for over 10 years at a cost of about $13million. It’s probably the most expensive album that has never been released – take that Stone Roses!

I don’t really expect to win this, because to truly appreciate G'N'R you probably have to be a spotty 16-year-old living in Midwest America. However, Guns 'N' Roses were a great band – this you cannot deny.

And finally, don’t let the fact that Axl Rose is a ginger twat sway your opinion. Remember you can be a twat but still be in a great band.

* * * * *

Thanks to Del and Phill for their contributions. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...


Blogger James MacLaren said...

Sorry Phill, but I guess you saw this one coming...

I opened the page pretty sure of my vote for the prosecution. But there was a slight potential wobble, since I - like so many others - have to admit that there are about 3 good songs on 'Appetite'. No worries here though... by the time I hit the end of the prosecution, I was ready to cheer and head to the record store to burn copies.


(By the way, of all the crap LPs I had when I was a teenager, 'Appetite' is the ONLY one I have rebought recently and HAD to take back. As much as those three tracks are appealing the rest of it made me want to hurt people. And not in a good way.)

12:59 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

Hmmm. Tricky.


3:05 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

I can in fact deny that Guns and Roses are/were a great band, because they are/were not; there isn't a single good song on even their first album, and Del's masterful job only reminds me of how much I hate them. Guilty guilty guilty.

3:24 pm  
Blogger Stevious said...

I disagree very strongly with Del. There are NOT ANY good Gun's n Roses tracks.

Music by smackheads for retards.


7:18 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

I'd disagree with Del only so far as to say that I actualy like their cover of Live and Let Die.

Still remember friends of mine at school being paranoid that their parents would disapporve of them listening to music with swearing.

Clearly they were/are a big bag of toss.


8:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a smackhead so I must be a retard, at least I was when I was 12. I loved that band, even went to see them at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1991 or 92. They rocked and their pomp really appealed to my younger self, and then I went off them when I was 13, couldn't stand them any more and haven't really looked back since finding proper music. BUT, I still adore You Could Be Mine (I really like Terminator 2 tee hee), so on the strength of that I would say not guilty except I just read the lyrics.


9:56 am  
Blogger JonnyB said...

"every single track is a stone cold classic".

Nope. Sorry Phill.

They were a pretty good rock & roll band when they started out. But what's interesting listening to AFD now is the complete gulf in class between the 'classic tracks' and the rest of the album. It's like they chose three or four to really work on as singles, and stuck the rest on as they were.

Jungle/Sweet Child/Paradise City/Mr Brownstone is great pop music. But that, plus a couple of decent covers, does not a legendary band make. Guilty.

10:04 am  
Blogger swisslet said...

are guns'n'roses preposterous? Yes. Of course they are. Were they loathsome scumbags? Yes. Clearly.

Are they guilty?

Never in a million years.

I can see from the comments above that this isn't a popular opinion around here, but back in 1987, "Appetite for Destruction" was pretty much the only thing worth listening to. I listened to it recently to see if it had dated and if my 13 year old ears had been filled with cold custard, but no, it's still a great album. You may not care for them very much, and they may have been a bunch of junkie scum bags, but I'm sorry to tell you that I think this is one of the greatest rock albums ever recorded.

They went downhill after that, and you won't really hear me defending much of Use Your Illusions or the Spaghetti Incident or the saga around Chinese Democracy, but for a glorious 1-2 year period in the late 80s, these guys were untouchable.

A resounding NOT GUILTY from me. They were everything rock stars should be, and they actually had some talent to boot.


11:33 am  
Blogger JonnyB said...

Yep - I would second the above (without changing my verdict). The late eighties were a lousy time and it was a breath of fresh air then.

12:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the 12 year old Nick The Snick could see me now he'd probably be quite disappointed at how I'd turned out and how little I'd achieved in the intervening 16 years.

I'd hate to disappoint him even more by voting against his favourite band, even if I do realise now how silly they were.


3:33 pm  
Blogger swisslet said...

re. the dearth of good music released in the late 1980s:

"Appetite for Destruction" - release date of July 21st 1987.

In 1987 alone, The Smiths released:

"Shoplifters of the World Unite"
"The World Won't Listen"
"Louder than Bombs"
"Sheila Take a Bow"
"Girlfriend in a Coma"
"Strangeways Here We Come"
"I Started Something..."
"Last Night I Dreamt..."

They also split up. We also got our first glimpse of the Pixies with "Come on Pilgrim", New Order put out "Substance", the Pet Shop Boys "Actually", U2 "The Joshua Tree" and *ahem* Tiffany "Tiffany".

I didn't discover the Smiths until much, much later. Or most of the others. Probably because I was too busy listening to Guns N' Roses....

The 1980s produced a lot of shit, sure, but it also produced some classics. Although I'm not sure how I've ended up defending the 80s, to be honest.

My album of 1987 was G'n'R. No question. That I prefer "Strangeways..." now is neither here nor there.


6:16 pm  
Blogger Del said...

Bah. 1987 was all about Stock Aitken and Waterman, and don't you forget it.

12:37 am  
Blogger Kwok said...

This, is very very tough.

On the one hand, Axl Rose and Slash make me want to puke. If my arms were cannons, I'd be firing my fists into their dumb faces, repeatedly pummeling them into rubbery meat.

On the other, I have this unshakeable feeling that if I didn't get into Guns n Roses I would never have gotten into Nirvana. Is that possible? Could this loud angry band with nothing to say lead me to a loud angry band that told me everything?

I don't think I could have got from Kim Appleby to Kurt Cobain without Axl (plus others I guess), and since this is not beyond reasonable doubt I would have to say: Not Guilty.

(Truth be told, the room still stops a little when I hear the opening rift of Sweet Child of Mine. I still like Paradise City too, though anything else makes me want to melt my veins and dissolve my internal organs.)

9:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never ever got it. Guilty

12:21 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

In the main, an excellently constructed and argued prosecution case there Del (and a beautifully neat conclusion that instinctively made me want to agree with you), but I'm afraid it falls on deaf ears - like those of Wan, ears deafened by Guns 'N' Roses and everything that came after. I too made the seemingly bizarre leap from G'N'R to Nirvana and onwards.*

Subjectively, I'm with Phill - for me, Appetite For Destruction remains a great album, and one with more than three decent songs. I mean, have you heard 'Rocket Queen'?!! What a way to bow out!

Ultimately, too, they're inseparable from my childhood, responsible however indirectly for many of my tastes today. And I disagree with the point about "outlaw rock 'n' roll" - of course it's preposterous now, but (and you may scoff) at the time Appetite For Destruction came out, with its offensive cover and the shout of "FUCK OFF!" during the odious 'It's So Easy' (the album's one significant low point), it WAS something of a revelation to the ten-year-old me. The first hint that rock 'n' roll could be dangerous.

(Interestingly, it was Nirvana who then made me get rid of all my other albums, including everything I owned by Guns 'N' Roses - several years later I saw the errors of my ways and re-bought Appetite For Destruction, but the Use Your Illusion albums could stay out of my life. The odd half-decent moment, but 'Get In The Ring' in particular is utter crap.)

Not guilty.

11:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guilty. Don't need to say anymore because Del has already said it.

8:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish I had time to comment in full, but good arguments by both sides.

'AFD' was a landmark album of my dubious metal past, 'Lies' less so and I gave up on them after 'November Rain'. Initially that was enough to make me vote for the defence before reading the arguments, but I have to admit that I wavered.

I'm going to stay with the defence though simply because of the quality of 'AFD'. As the comments above demonstrate, it's such a classic album (if you like that sort of thing) that there could be a separate debate on the relative merits of individual tracks (for what it's worth I'd single out 'Mr Brownstone', 'It's So Easy' and 'Nighttrain' as my favourites; I've never really liked 'Rocket Queen' all that much).

Admittedly this doesn't sit easy with what I've said about Glasto and Bob Dylan (essentially 'Give Up') but that's because GNR can't really claim to have any impact on the world other than being a decent band at one point. There was no moral message. The only real agenda seemed to be one of hedonism which is pretty much what the genre required at that point.

On the subject of music by smackheads: The Velvets, The Mary Chain... pretty much everyone, to be honest. Is there room here for a discussion of the pros and cons of drugs and musicians?

Another day, maybe. Not guilty, despite the best attempts of various line-ups to piss it away.

11:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guilty as charged, although I do like Sweet Child of Mine and Paradise City. But what kind of name is Slash ? Was the drummer called Wazz ? It is also very difficult to think of them without bringing to mind French and Saunders.

4:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I am going to come across all Mojo now but 1987 was responsible for George Best by The Wedding Present, Sister by Sonic Youth, Public Enemy's best album, The aforementioned Smiths, True Faith by New Order, Eric B and Rakim, and the mighty Songs about F***ing by Big Black (who could teach Mr Rose a thing or two about inducing nosebleeds). Oh, and Talulah Gosh.
ie. I think it was a vintage year.

5:02 pm  
Blogger Mark said...

Guns N Roses? Not Guilty. Rock with classic tunes, and an awareness of how stupid rock actually is : they were in on the joke in a way that Ratt, Twisted Sister, Warrant, Poison and so forth never were. GNR were a parody of a metal band, who also were a damn good rock band, and who knew it. How anyone took the videos seriously, I have no idea - they certainly didn't. The new look GNR (and no, KFC Bucket Boy left four years ago) are one of the best rock bands I've ever seen. The opening chords of "Jungle" as they opened the show I did see are more thrilling than any other opening I've experienced - probably because they did so behind a wall of flame that you could feel the warmth from at the back of the hall.

GNR were a band that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the dross in their genre. And the newer material is astonishingly good. Search for "Better" on YouTube, and be intruiged.

Better :



8:48 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Martin: Very good point about music by smackheads. A world in which The Velvet Underground and The Jesus & Mary Chain never existed doesn't bear contemplating.

David: Good list 'n' all - but, personally speaking, appreciation of all that came later. As a nine year old, my 1987 was all about Appetite For Destruction.

Planet Me: "The opening chords of 'Jungle' as they opened the show I did see are more thrilling than any other opening I've experienced" - yes, I know exactly what you mean. When, after a ridiculously long wait at Leeds 2002, the first chords chimed out, guitarist Robin Finck walked out followed by the rest of the band and then the massive screens either side of the stage came on - well, it was incredible. Worth waiting fifteen years for - even if the motley rabble on stage bore practically no resemblance to the outfit who played on the album from which most of the set was taken.

11:52 am  
Blogger swisslet said...

I was lucky enough to see the (almost) classic line-up just before the release of "...illusions". 1992 at Wembley, I think. Matt Sorum might have been in the band by then, and this was Izzy Stradlin's last gig with them. They kept us waiting for hours and hours, but they were still fucking brilliant!

Those other great albums in 1987? I discovered most of them a lot later. I'm with Ben. This album was my 1987.


5:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Ben & ST - '87 might have been a good year, but it was GNR's year.

I saw them at Donington in '88; the rest of what was considered to be a good lineup at the time (Iron Maiden, Kiss, umm... Dave Lee Roth, ah... Megadeth and Helloween) shows what a breath of fresh air they were.

11:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For God sake i dont kow how anyone can not like Guns N Roses.It's not like they only did one genre of music! I'm only 14 and i absolutely adore them. Even my chavvy friends have to admit their pretty cool. And i must point out Axle Rose is the only hot ginger in the world (he looks great in hotpants). So what I'm trying to sum up is even though the prosecution set up a well structured argument in terms of puswasive writing the defence will always win my heart.

4:22 pm  
Anonymous Gus said...

anyone who doesn't like guns n roses must be a retard. Guns n roses are the best band in the world. i'm only 11 and i'm the biggest gn'r fan in the world. What's wrong with "get in the ring" it has a reallly catchy guitar line and i know all of the lyrics to every song they recorded off by heart and i'm 11 years old. you retards need to learn to appreciate good music more

8:25 am  

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