Paradise City

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (Super Deluxe 2018)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Appetite For Destruction (Originally 1987, 2018 Universal 4 CD/1 Blu-ray super deluxe edition)

Of course Axl Rose would be late for his own 30th anniversary.  And why not?  This set obviously took time to prepare for release so it’s better we have something that is not rushed out.

As Appetite is one of the most influential rock albums of all time, a super deluxe expanded edition is expected by now.  This album launched a million bands back in the 80s and 90s, most of whom looked and sounded like knockoffs.  Now you can deconstruct the album and hear how simple the formula actually was.  (Liberal doses of Aerosmith with punk sprinkled on top.)

The first disc in this well-stuffed box set is the 5.1 Blu-ray.  Why just listen in stereo when you can go full-bore with a surround sound mix?

This disc answers that question.  It’s because you can tinker too much with a 5.1 mix, and come out with something that is too different for a beloved classic original like Appetite.  This album was the roughest sounding thing Guns ever released.  Unfortunately the 5.1 mix sounds clean.  Too clean.  An artefact of not having to cram all that music into just two channels?

“Welcome to the Jungle’s” guitars come from behind.  Slowly turning, Axl surrounds you.  Then the mix plays it straight, though backing vocals are more prominent.  Hear Steven Adler’s reckless abandon up close and personal, the ride cymbal like his accelerated heartbeat.

It’s a good mix but some will find it too gimmicky and inconsistent, with guitars and vocals jabbing you unexpectedly from here and there.  It varies from song to song and it’s all a matter of taste.  You want to hear the 5.1 mix, but not so much that it changes parts of what you liked in a song.  Some tracks are a mixture of both approaches.  The intro to “Paradise City” is immaculately layered and laid out around you.  Then things consolidate when it’s time to rock.  Man, can you hear those guitars though!  Every Les Paul can be noted clearly and separately in your mind.  So can every vocal track; and there are a few.

There are even 5.1 bonus tracks.  “Shadow of Your Love” is one of them, being the big song they were promoting for this box set. “Patience” benefits from the 5.1 re-examination.  It’s a gimmick-free mix with sparse arrangement that sounds natural and familiar — like a band jamming on acoustics in a room with you.  This makes it the best one on the whole disc.  Even “Used to Love Her” has more prominent differences from the stereo mix, as does the acoustic “You’re Crazy”.  The last bonus track is “Move to the City”, also acoustic, and sounding like a big party jam.

Finally the Blu-ray disc includes all the music videos and even one for “It’s So Easy” that was made just for them and not MTV!  It could be the first documented appearance of Axl Rose in a kilt.

Unfortunately the 5.1 mix will most likely get less play than the good old stereo version, remastered on CD 1.  What can be said about Appetite for Destruction that hasn’t been said before?  All that sonic power is on the verge of overload in just two channels.  If you imagine yourself back in 1987, you can hear why this album made the impact it did.  It steered rock and roll back into a less cartoony, more dangerous direction.  Classic single after classic single still command the airwaves today.  In an unlikely twist, the back-to-basics, loose guitars of Slash and Izzy Stradlin are studied now like old Stones riffs.

The second CD (“B-Sides N’ EPs”) is brimming with extra value.  Most of the followup EP, GNR Lies is included…all except “One In A Million”, that is, which Axl promised he’d delete approximately 20 years ago.  With that EP still in print, nobody misses the track here.  Adding the Lies material as bonus tracks is cheating a little bit, but I suppose that EP was part of the Appetite album cycle.  Even though one track is deleted, the Lies stuff is expanded with bonus songs.  A sharp “live” version of “Shadow of Your Love” follows “Mama Kin”.  There’s also an alternate acoustic take of “You’re Crazy”.  Once you’re past the acoustic songs including “Patience” you’ll get some vintage live B-sides.  “It’s So Easy” is more vicious than the original, and sounds really live unlike the previous Lies songs like “Nice Boys”.  The rare “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is especially cool since it’s pre-Dizzy Reed and has no piano.  Otherwise the style of the eventual Illusions version is sketched out, right down to the “high, yai, yai yai yai” vocals.  Last on the CD is the live cover of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie”, foreshadowing Axl’s future as frontman of the Australian institution.  This classic version has been heavily bootlegged, but remastered on CD, it sounds so fresh.

The final two discs are all unreleased sessions from the legendary Sound City (and other studios).  Most of the Appetite songs are present in demo form but some, like “It’s So Easy”, “Brownstone” and “Sweet Child” are not.  The shape of the album was already arranged down to most of the guitar solos.  It’s less frantic and more rehearsed but it’s there in very close to final shape.  Elements that wouldn’t make the final cut, like some of Axl’s scatting a-la Steven Tyler on “Jungle”, are here to examine.  In the 1970s these Sound City sessions would have been good enough to release as an album!  In the 80s, they needed Mike Clink to make the album stand out and they did that.

Non-album material is here a-plenty.  The Sound City version of “Shadow of Your Love” on CD 3 is the B-side from the old “Live and Let Die” CD single, my personal favourite version for its reckless abandon.  The cleaner one on CD 4 is the one released as a single in 2018.  Then there’s a trashy punk metal version of Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” which could have been a fine B-side as well.  “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” on CD 3 is faster and different from the familiar bootlegged version (still unreleased).

The 4th CD is a mixed bag of demo sessions and unreleased songs, jams and acoustic versions.  Instrumental “Ain’t Going Down No More” sounds like an Aerosmith outtake riff, with cowbell out the wazoo.  “The Plague” has vocals but it’s quite clear why it was never released.  It could be the worst Guns N’ Roses song heard yet.  “New Work Tune” is just an acoustic riff that didn’t make it into anything.  There are, however, a couple tunes that did.  “Back Off Bitch” was reworked on Use Your Illusions, as was “November Rain”.  This old demo of “Back Off Bitch” is probably better than the final version because that’s Steven Adler on drums.  “November Rain” is particularly interesting because it’s present in both acoustic and piano forms.  You can hear how the song grew, but also that it wasn’t ready yet.

Three more versions of “Move to the City” (electric and two acoustic) are here in case you ever wanted a studio version of that song.  There are also studio takes of “Mama Kin” and “Reckless Life”.  It’s a bit much in terms of repeat, but at least all the versions are notably different from each other.  You’ll also have to hear an acoustic “You’re Crazy” one more time, but “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” is pretty cool and jam-like in acoustic form.

A box set at this price point always has paper extras inside:  replica posters, tickets, even Axl temporary tattoos.  Nothing of any particular value.  There are some posters and glossy photo prints.  There is even a reprint of the original controversial Robert WIlliams artwork.  What are you going to do with all this stuff? You’re not going to tape it to your walls. You’ll keep it safe and unseen in the box, of course.  That’s why it’s valueless to most of us.  There is also a massive hard cover photo book, in which you’ll find the CDs and Blu-ray.  It’s light on text but heavy on glossy photos and memorabilia scans.  (Within those scans, there’s plenty to read.)

The super deluxe Appetite For Destruction is of value to those who are going to listen to and appreciate all the different versions inside.  The 5.1 mix is disappointing but there will be those who love how different it sounds.  It’s not easy to consume all five discs in quick succession, but these bot sets rarely are.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Appetite For Destruction (1987 Geffen)

The first time I ever heard of Guns N’ Roses was from a rock magazine.  There was a picture of this weird looking lead singer with spiky red hair, and his name was “Axl”.  I immediately decided I didn’t like whoever he was, because he looked absolutely hammered, a complete mess.  And what kind of name was “Guns N’ Roses” for a band anyway?

MuchMusic began spinning their first video, “Welcome to the Jungle”, but only on the Pepsi Power Hour.  After a couple plays, I liked it.  I took Axl off the “banned” list and taped their video.  I asked my friend Scott if he liked Guns N’ Roses.  “They suck!” he answered.  A few months later, another video hit the airwaves and it was even better.  “Sweet Child O’ Mine” came out during the year of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, but wasn’t like either band.  I loved the tune; this band had potential!  Before I knew it, school was out for the summer.

A funny thing happened on summer break.  Guns N’ Roses became huge.  When I returned to school in the fall, guess what band Scott was suddenly in to?  Guns N’ Roses.*  Everybody was.  And nobody believed me that I liked them first.  “You probably don’t even know the words,” said one kid.

That was 30 years ago.  Jesus Murphy…30 years!

I could yammer on and on about Appetite for Destruction.  For example, we could discuss these subjects:

  • How Guns went against the grain but changed the game.
  • Mike Clink’s sharp anti-80s production.  (Did you know Paul Stanley wanted to produce Appetite?)
  • The iconic album cover.
  • Slash’s immense influence on guitar players, including making the Gibson Les Paul the guitar to play again.
  • The under appreciated songwriting of Mr. Izzy Stradlin’.
  • The unstoppable rhythm section of Duff “Rose” McKagan and Steven “Popcorn” Adler.
  • That Duff McKagan is uber-talented and his backing vocals are a crucial part of Guns’ sound.
  • The single-minded, focused and unified direction of Appetite.
  • How their ample use of the “f word” drove the censors crazy.
  • Cowbell.
  • Riffs.
  • The all-important role of lead singer and frontman W. Axl Rose in their rise to stardom.
  • How Axl and Slash became the Steven Tyler and Joe Perry for a new generation.
  • That ten thousand bands followed in their wake when the sleazy side of the Sunset Strip became the hottest new trend.

We could talk about all those things until we’re blue in the face; each one would make for a fine subject for an article in their own right.  Or, perhaps I could talk about some of my more controversial opinions:

  • That Appetite is great, but Illusions are better.
  • The best song is not one of the singles, but in fact the last track, the sprawling “Rocket Queen”.
  • Even Appetite has filler, in this case “Anything Goes” and “Think About You”.
  • That Izzy was the most talented member.

I could do that, or I could even go through Appetite track by track.  It would be cool to analyze the riffage, anger and rock power of tracks like “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain”, “Out Ta Get Me” and “You’re Crazy”.  We could discuss that Guns groove that is the basis of the legendary “Mr. Brownstone”.  The simmering , biting intensity of “My Michelle”.  We could, or you could click on any of the numerous articles from rock magazines that do the same thing.

Maybe yammering about Appetite isn’t as important as the memories associated with it.  I’ve shared this story before, but my favourite memory of this album goes back to highschool.  When the album hit it big, virtually everybody I knew had a copy.  One guy named Anand liked studying to Appetite.  He had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement doing his homework with “Out Ta Get Me” playing.   His kid brother kept coming around to bug him, as kid brothers do.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to “Out Ta Get Me”, and returned upstairs.  When the parents heard the kid singing “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent,” Anand got grounded.  (He got grounded a lot, though.)

Appetite for Destruction has sold 18 million copies in the US, with another few million sold overseas.  It’s one of the select albums to go Diamond (1 million copies) in Canada.  That’s a lot of people with memories of Appetite for Destruction (even though about five copies were actually bought by myself).  I’m not the only one with stories.  So how do I go about reviewing Appetite for Destruction?

Like anything else, I guess:  on a scale of 5:

4.5/5 stars

 

* Scott responds: “In my defence, I heard ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ first, and wasn’t into the power ballad thing. It was when I saw the video for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ that I changed my opinion, and after getting the album — the imported banned cover — that I became a huge fan. I didn’t jump on no band wagon!”

 

REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – New York, New York (Live at the Ritz 1988)

NEW RELEASE

GUNS N’ ROSES – New York, New York (Live at the Ritz 1988 – FM Radio Broadcast, Gossip)

SAM_1729‘Twas Scott who alerted me to the release of this classic Guns N’ Roses concert on CD.  A few tracks from the gig are missing, most notably “Shadow of Your Love”, but most of what I remember seeing on MuchMusic back in the 80’s is intact.  Although I do not recall seeing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” on the TV version, I used to love this concert.  I watched it over and over.  I had seen it over half a dozen times before I even bought Appetite for Destruction.  I dubbed an audio version to cassette, before my buddy T-Rev recorded the entire show for me later on.  I used to know these versions better than the originals.  It’s a pleasure to finally have them on CD.

Remember the sound of the guitars being picked up in the darkness before Duff’s opening bassline to “It’s So Easy”?  I don’t think I’d seen a band on TV before who seemed so…dangerous.  The sound of Duff singing the backing vocals are another element I distinctly remember.  Axl could get pretty mobile on stage, and his vocals often fell apart mid-sentence, while Duff held it all together.  He was Guns’ secret weapon, Duff McKagan.   Up next in the spotlight is Slash with those chugging, scraping guitars on “Mr. Brownstone”.    Axl then delivers his first classic monologue of the evening:

“I don’t know what by chance the television audience will see…what anyone will see…but what we’ll see tonight…is that we wanna dedicate this song to the people who try to hold you back!  The people that tell you how to live!  People that tell you how to dress!  People that tell you how to talk!  People that tell you what you can say and what you can’t say.  I personally don’t need that!  Those are the kind of people that been getting me down.  They make me feel like somebody…somebody out there….is ‘Out Ta Get Me’!”

Funny story about this song.  I had a highschool buddy named Anand who was the first kid I knew in our class to get Appetite.  Anand had strict parents.  One day he was down in the basement studying, rocking out to Appetite.  His little brother strolled in during his homework, and kept coming around to bug him.  He hung around long enough to learn the words to some songs, and returned upstairs to his parents singing, “They’re out to get me! I’m fucking innocent!”  Anand got grounded.

Needless to say the chorus to this amazing song was beeped when I first saw it on TV.  I loved it anyway.  That Izzy Stradlin riff kicks it classic-style, while Duff once again holds down the backing vocals.  Slash is shambolic, losing control several times but always pulling it back together, cig in mouth the whole time.  I love this one big sour chord he hits at 2:25 into the song.  If I remember he almost fell at that moment in the show; the audience were pulling at his guitar, but all you can hear is this big awful chord. Then it happens again at 3:00!  And again at 3:10!  The whole solo is a fucking disaster, and that must have been fun for the people in the front row.  Guns N’ Roses were so in the face of the crowd that there was constant physical contact.  That’s a fucking concert.

“Sweet Child” comes early in the set, and obviously it’s not nearly as sweet as the album version, and Axl’s hoarse.   Still, Axl hoarse in 1988 is something very different from 2014, and it sounds great to these ears.  “My Michelle” is credited on the back cover as written by Rose and “Stardlin”, making obvious that this is not an official release.  I hope Izzy Stardlin gets paid his due royalties.  The band get more and more reckless/loose/inebriated as the concert goes on.  Again it’s McKagan who seems to be holding it together and cheerleading from behind.

A very intense version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” follows which I am less familiar with because it didn’t make the TV version I had seen.  Axl dedicates this to a friend named Todd who had “danced a little bit too hard with Mr. Brownstone”.  Needless to say, it’s very cool hearing this song played by the classic five piece lineup.  With Steven Adler on drums, it’s more to the point.  The arrangement is slightly different than what you know from the Use Your Illusion I album, but it still has the slow singalong  part that later evolved into the “reggae” section that they were known to play live later on.  Axl was a charismatic frontman and this was his moment to show off his power over an audience.

His next introduction was another memorable one:

 “About five or six years ago I hitchhiked here, and ended up stuck out…in the middle of this place.  Climbed up out of the freeway, and this little old black man comes up to me and my friend with our backpacks and about ten bucks between us…and he goes, ‘You know where you are?!  You in the jungle, baby!  You’re gonna die!’  That’s a true story, that ain’t no lie.  So ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, rats!”

This was the only tune of theirs that I knew really well back in early ’88.  It is played tight, possibly the only song of the night that is.  There’s magic in hearing this lineup play this song, their song.  And speaking of them, I always enjoy Axl’s band introductions:  Mr. Duff “Rose” McKagan on bass guitar.  Mr. Steven “Popcorn” Adler on the drums.  Mr. Izzy Stradlin on the white guitar.  Axl says he and Izzy have been together for 13 years.   He saves the most recognizable member for last:

“And last, but definitely not least…in a world that he did not create, but he will go through it as if it was his own making…half man, half beast…I’m not sure what it is, but whatever it is, it’s weird and it’s pissed off and it calls itself Slash.”


Slash then introduces a song about “a walk in the park”, called “Nightrain”.  Of the songs they played that night I thought “Nightrain” was a little less than great.  It always seems to be the one I wait to finish.  Then, Slash opens “Paradise City” with a little surf rock guitar before the classic opening lick.  This is the song where things got a little out of control for W. Axl Rose.  Doing his trademark slinky snake dance, he got a little too close to the crowd and was pulled in.  The band kept on playing and Slash took an extended solo, but you can see Axl trying to climb out. Security finally pulled him up, and then you can see Axl getting his bearings and checking himself over.  His shirt and several pieces of jewelry were ripped off, but as soon as Axl sees that he is OK, he resumes snake dancing and finishes the song!  Slash’s solo during Axl’s “down time” remains a show highlight, as does Axl’s quick recovery!

For encores you get Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin” (dedicated to Steven Tyler) and “Rocket Queen”.  The former is fast and tight, and the latter is epic and ominous.  It is a natural closer, especially with Slash’s extended soloing.  Axl delivers the closing in full-on ragged scream mode, as it should be.

I’m very glad to have this time capsule of a concert in my CD collection.  Highly recommended.

4/5 stars

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