If ever there was a Spinal Tap story, this is it. The band was first called Axl, then Rose, then Hollywood Rose, then Axl quit & joined Tracii Guns' band, L.A.Guns. Then Axl left to rejoin Izzy in Hollywood Rose (bringing Tracii with him). The band was renamed to Guns n Roses. Before the first tour Tracii & the drummer backed out so they called in Slash and Steve Adler from another band that Duff was playing in called Road Crew. Slash and Steve joined the band two days before their first 1986 tour. Within a couple years they went from being Hollywood strip favorites to becaming one of the biggest band in the world.
Guns N' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (Geffen) 1987
Love it or hate it, "Appetite for Destruction" became one of the most important metal releases of the late 80's, helping to bring an entire second round of L.A. inspired metal sounds into the mainstream. I was working at a record store in Rochester, NY called Cavages when this disc came out. I was given a promo copy and immediately loved it. I mean, who can resist the infectious shimmy and shake of "Welcome to the Jungle", "Nightrain" and "Mr. Brownstone". It was amazing, that no one had yet heard of this band. It was months later before the album just exploded with popularity. Every magazine cover had Axle's ugly mug all over it and MTV and rock radio put "Welcome to the Jungle" on regular rotation. A few of the songs on this disc even sported some 'classic metal' riffs ("Paradise City", "My Michelle"), not unlike the stuff released on the band's previously released independent EP "Live Like a Suicide." If I am not mistake, the original record I remember having didn't have the cross cover, but rather a robot-like creature attacking another robot-like creature who had just rapped some woman. This image is included in the CD insert.
Guns N' Roses - Lies (Geffen) 1988
Basically a re-release of "Live Like a Suicide" with four new studio tracks tacked onto the end. Having a cover of Aerosmith's "Mama Kin" made this disc essential for me. However, the entire disc is actually a good listen. The four live tracks show Gn'R's roots really were in metal, as the three original tracks are much more 'classic metal' than anything the band would release after this EP. Axl Rose sings his brains out on these tracks with most of the vocals being in the higher range. Impressive! The last four tracks are a much more mellow affair. "Patience", an acoustic track, became a runaway hit, as did the incredibly insipid "Used to Love Her". Personally I can't stand this song due to the lyrics. I realize they are suppose to be tongue-in-cheek, but having those words echo through my head over and over again, just irritates me. "One In A Million" caused a bit of a controversy due to some racial slurs. Apparently this song also caused controversy within the band with Duff and Slash making public statements that they didn't agree with Axl's racial slur. Ahh, but controversy sells records, and Gn'R thrived on controversy.
Up to this point, GnR had released in reality only one album. That album had made them some of the biggest rock stars on the planet. It took almost four years for them to complete and release their follow-up, so it had be good...and it was. "Use Your Illusion I & II" were similtaneously released and in the U.S. half a million copies of each album were sold in TWO HOURS! ouch! Within a few days each disc was beyond platinum status. According to Martin Popoff's book "The Collector's Guide to Heavy Metal," each disc sold triple platinum in Canada in three days. However, I could give a hoot about record sales. I mean, geez, Britny Spears has sold platinum plus, so has Vanilla Ice, N'Sync and a host of other really crappy artists. No one ever said that the public had taste. Unfortunately hype sells records and at the time Guns N' Roses had the hype. However, I must confess, both discs are actually quite good. I mean, there are a few bad apples in the bunch, but overall, both I and II are rock solid throughout. The metal riffing of their first disc are all but gone for a bluesier, rock n' roll vibe that is squarely Aerosmith, but man do they do it so well.
Disc one is the heavier of the two, but both are varied and have an abundance of stlye, charisma and charm. Some of my favorite tracks on Illusion I are the the rockin' opening track "Right Next Door to Hell" and the equally rockin' "The Garden" This song, coincidently, features one of my favorite artists sharing the vocal limelight with Axl, Alice Cooper. "November Rain," a brilliant power ballad, is nothing short of a masterpiece! The Beatles cover "Live and Let Die" is also outstanding. There are a couple of silly fillers on this disc, like "Back off Bitch", a song that was either included to create some controversy or to show the band had a sense of humor. I tend to think it was the controversy.
"Use Your Illusion II" is more bluesy, a tad more melancholy and contains more 'epic length' tracks than disc 1. "Illusion II" contains four songs that run over six minutes in length. The most well know of the batch being "Civil War" which was one of the songs that was released prior to the "Illusion" discs. Unlike disc one I think this one contains a fair amount of filler. The controversial "Get in the Ring" is just stupid, as is the punk-ish "Shotgun Blues." Both are just expletive soaked, juvenile attempts to show how 'street tough' the band is. Also, another version of "Don't Cry" reeks of filler. Still there is plenty of strong material on this disc as well. Duff McKagan's Johnny Thunders homage "So Fine" is cool, as is the aforementioned "Civil War". The band's cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was a huge hit for them and continues to get radio play almost a decade later. "Breakdown" has a bit of a cool Southern rock vibe and even has some banjo and Billy Gibbons-like vocals in parts ("Let Me Hear Ya Now"). One of the heavier numbers on the disc is "Locomotive" which also happens to be one of my favorite tracks on the disc. Overall, I lean a bit more towards disc one but both have their strengths and weaknesses, although the strengths on both tend to overshadow the weak spots. Neither disc, however, come close to touching the brilliance of "Appetite for Destruction."
Guns N' Roses - The Spaghetti Incident? (Geffen) 1993
This album caused a big stink because of the inclusion of a Charles Manson song. It was a publicity stunt that worked, but showed just how low a band would sink to sell records. What really sucks about that is that the Gunners really didn't need to do that. They were already the rage and the album was guaranteed to sell platinum without the extra track. In any case, "The Spaghetti Incident?" is a CD full of covers. GnR choose some odd songs to cover but play them all like they were just having fun. They play punk tracks from the Stooges, glam-rockers from the New York Dolls and rockers from Nazareth with the same conviction and attitude. Of the songs they chose, "Since I Don't Have You" was once of the worst. Not sure what they were thinking here. This song just sucks! The various punk covers work o.k. for the band. New Rose (the Damned), Raw Power (Iggy & the Stooges), Attitude (Misfits) and Black Leather (Sex Pistols) are all satisfactory covers although nothing outstanding either. Where the band excells is on the old rock classics, of which there is only one on this disc. I wish they would have chose to record more songs like Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog." The New York Dolls "Human Being" also fits the band's style a bit better than the punk songs. These are actually my two favorite songs on the album. It seems to me that GnR were trying to regain their 'from the streets' image that was lost over the years thanks to their mega-platinum selling albums, radio overkill, MTV overexposure and their hugely successful stadium tours. There are a few guests on this disc, including Micheal Monroe, who shares the vocal spot with Axle on The Dead Boys "Ain't It Fun." Duff also makes a vocal appearance taking over lead vocal duties on "New Rose". Duff actually handles all the instruments, as well as the vocals on the "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," a song written by and dedicated to Johnny Thunders. Unfortunately, this is just not a one of Guns n' Roses finer moments. However, worth the $2 I spent on it for the Nazareth and New York Dolls covers.
Guns N' Roses - Live Era '87-'93 (Geffen) 1993
A double live disc released in '99 that was suppose to prime channels for a new studio album, which as of 2003 still has not happened. There is certainly a wealth of material here and I can't complain about the song selections either. However, what's up with Axl's vocals sounding like they were recorded in some sort of box away from the band. Most likely the vocals were touched up in a studio. It's distracting to me how distant the vocals sound from the music. Surprisingly this disc is short of Axl's tempermental, juvenile rock star outbursts. It would have been interesting to have included a few of those times when 'ol Axl walked off stage. Despite my complaints however, this is actually an essential disc for long time GnR fans. GnR have long been a hardy and raunchy live band who usually did not fail to deliver on the stage. This disc is certainly testimony to that fact. I was surprised to hear GnR cover Black Sabbath's "It's Alright." I must have the "clean" version of this disc because the foul language is edited out and during "Used to Love Her" the word "kill" is horribly edited out. What was the point of that other than to make the song sound incredibly bad?
The last real Guns n’ Roses studio albums were released in 1991. Since then they released a handful of compilations, live albums, and a covers album. All said and done, "Chinese Democracy" is nearly 17 years in the making. There has been a lot of hype about this album for close to ten years, including how much money was spent on making this album. Of course with only Axl Rose left in the band, "Chinese Democracy" is a Guns n' Roses album in name only. What we have is an Axl solo album and a host of guest musicians including Robin Finck, Bumblefoot, Richard Fortus, Tommy Stinson, Dizzy Reed, Frank Ferrer, Bryan Mantia and Chris Pitman. So the question stands, does "Chinese Democracy" live up to the hype? Yes and no. Without the chemistry of the original band I honestly expected to be disappointed, and quite frankly, I was. This album doesn’t have anywhere near the balls of "Appetite for Destruction" or the better tracks from "Use Your Illusion". Much of this is overblown, dramatic, pop rock that lacks any real heaviness. Instead what we have is drum programming, orchestras, horns, sythns taking the place of that energy and charisma. Songs like " If The World" and "Madagascar" are just total bubblegum pop. I even hesitate to call these songs rock and roll. "This I Love" is a piano ballad that sounds like something written by Diane Warren. ("I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing" indeed!)