Reading Mick Wall’s excellent W. Axl Rose biography ‘W.A.R.’ last night got me thinking about the legacy of Guns N’ Roses and how people’s perceptions of the players involved have changed down the years.
Few would argue that ‘Appetite for Destruction’ is anything but one of the best metal debuts ever, posturing and full of attitude without the lipstick and make-up edge of many of the scenesters of the time, it was almost a punk record in the way that it exploded into the mainstream, oblivious to everything else that was going on, a collection of songs so powerful that there was nothing that could stop them being heard, even inter band arguments and drug habits that would have killed those with weaker constitutions.
It’s after this of course, that opinions begin to splinter. Some whine that side two of ‘GNR Lies’ was a watered down version of the stroppy band they fell in love with (Er, hello? ‘Used To Love Her’? The still furious and incendiary ‘One In A Million’? This is a band still at the top of its game) and that they were chewed up and spat out by the mainstream. This is clearly rubbish. What happened was that W Axl Rose was a visionary, not prepared to tread water for years raking in the royalties while miming ‘Paradise City’ at the Superbowl halftime show. Axl was instead looking at what Queen had done, a band that was fully capable of producing three minute pop nuggets whilst the next minute pushing the envelope so far that some would be left scratching their heads and wandering exactly what the hell was going on.
‘Use your Illusion I and II’ then. Still, they whined “Oh, couldn’t they have just released a classic single album?” Hmm, an interesting idea perhaps but how would you fill it? Just the full on rock tracks like ‘Right Next Door To Hell’ and ‘Back Off Bitch’? Would there be room for Izzy’s more laidback moments like the brilliant ‘Dust N Bones’? And most importantly, how many of Axl’s epics could make the cut if you only had two sides of vinyl to fill. No, Use Your Illusion wasn’t the sound of one man’s ego exploding, it was the sound of a songwriter in love with his art, someone who was looking outside of his genre, who wanted more than to be spending the rest of his days sipping whiskey at the Viper Room.
Okay, here’s the test – go write down your ten favourite Guns N’ Roses tracks. Done it? Good. Well, how many of them are from that ‘classic’ debut versus the Illusion records? Here, we’ve got two from ‘Appetite’ and a whole host of Axl classics from ‘Use Your Illusion’. Look at it like The Clash. Their debut is a storming thriller of a record, but it was never as interesting as ‘London Calling’ when ideas were just exploding like firecrackers, however punk or not they may be.
So what of the future? Well, I’ll still be first in line when ‘Chinese Democracy’ comes out, interested to hear what road Axl takes next. Meanwhile people will continue to whine that it’s not the real Guns N’ Roses whilst Slash beams down from every videogame billboard in the land, a pixellated cliché now safely nestled into the mainstream’s bosom. Your move, Axl. Good luck, buddy.
Oh and for the record, my ten favourite Guns N’ Roses tracks are:
‘Used To Love Her’
‘Get In The Ring’