I’ve passed by this site before; you’re a twee indie-pop fan. What could you possibly know about the rock album? Well, I did play bass in an early-90’s thrash metal band.
Really? No, of course not. But not only are the mechanics of assimilating and appreciating recorded sound wide and fluid, certain records also formulate their presence in any musical line-up by virtue of their cultural impact – and there’s little doubt that Appetite For Destruction has a significant footprint.
But you’re still going to write unpleasant things about this record – I can tell. This Albums Revisited series – it’s far less about segregating LPs into two subjective piles; one labelled “Wow”, the other “Leave out for the garbage truck”. Rather, it’s an attempt to understand each record in a twenty-first century context. Appetite was released in 1987 – since when socio-cultural nuances have undergone a growth spurt. We may look broadly the same, but we’re a subtly different species to our counterparts of twenty-five-plus years ago.
Subtly different? For example, grunge redefined almost overnight our understanding of and relationship with heavy rock (a definition I’ll use in its broadest sense for this exercise). One Soundgarden riff, one Pearl Jam album, that Nirvana song – and suddenly the landscape had evolved, leaving the traditions of rock and metal to appear antiquated or one-dimensional.
I know a few Metallica fans who’ll take umbrage at that statement. And a healthy conversation it’ll be too, once serious heavy rock – Master Of Puppets, say – appear in this series.
OK; you’ve pressed play, dropped needle upon vinyl, or whatever else it is that you do. First impressions? As statements of intent go, the opening sequence of riffs on ‘Welcome To the Jungle’ are akin to the towering defences of some alien temple. Robust, daunting, full of muscle – they certainly grab the attention.
And then? Well, that’s the issue with the entire album, I guess; in terms of the dynamics of stadium rock, each track is pinioned to convention. You’re either escorted through the gates of this monolithic temple, or have somehow breached the walls of your own accord – only once into the compound, any sense of drama has strangely lifted.
Undramatic? The snarling lead guitar; the strut and pose not enough for you? I think that it’s something to do the attentions of commerciality; the way in which emotion is channelled into a very specific pattern. Appetite For Destruction is not an overt hair metal album, but neither does it sidestep genre posture. Remove Slash’s extravagant fretwork and Axl Rose’s hammed-up caterwauling, and you’re left with composition bereft of anything even vaguely profound to impart.
Even on ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’? Especially on ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’. As a track it’s elevated above the anodyne only because of its distinctive guitar motifs; the song itself is a remarkably insubstantial affair – if you don’t believe me, check out the various fey cover versions that litter the streaming site of your choice. Because once divorced from the apparel of sleazy rock n roll, notions of this ballad as a stock standard are enforced – reliant upon mawkish sentiment, and translatable into far less abrasive musical confines with ease.
Have you ever considered that you’re looking for something, or hoping for something in this record that was never designed to be there in the first place? If you mean understanding Appetite as just another mildly dumb, mid-80’s pseudo metal disc from the incestuous LA club scene of the time, then it makes far more sense… and also less sense, when listening in 2013, because it does sound of its time, submerged beneath so much more engaging subsequent rock sounds that have followed – listen to this, followed by either of the first two Queen Of The Stone Age albums, and Guns N’ Roses sound like a band who should be playing the Tuesday late slot in some grim titty bar near Los Angeles International.
I’m sure you find some fairly competent bands on the late shift in those LAX titty bars. Which is kind of the point I’m making; there’s nothing intrinsically offensive about this album (beyond the female objectification and that rather dodgy original cover). It is though difficult to comprehend why it became a global phenomenon.
What did the music press say at the time?‘Appetite’ is so captivating, so enthralling, so Goddamn exciting, because it’s so flexible, a veritable musical roller-coaster ride that dips and pivots, twists and turns and provides thrills and spills from head to toe, top to bottom – Kerrang
And the witty retort? That’s achingly similar to my review of 1987’s Up For A Bit With The Pastels.
Five word summary: Never slippery, especially when wet.