"Appetite for Destruction," 30 years old, was so breathtakingly brash and catchy no one could beat itby Jay Elwes / July 17, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Los Angeles poodle rock circuit was a pretty crowded scene back in the late 1980s. Bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe—yes, those are umlauts—were wowing the LA crowds with their tight trousers and squealing guitars, spending almost as much money on hairspray as on drink. But one band went on to eclipse them all, releasing a debut record 30 years ago so breathtaking, so extraordinary and so brilliantly sordid that, at a stroke, it made the others look pale by comparison.
That band’s name was Guns N’ Roses and the record they made was Appetite for Destruction, a colossal blastwave of rock’n’roll that seemed to wake the world from its mid-80s, Huey Lewis-induced torpor. Threatening, seedy and very rude, it was everything that teenage boys wanted out of music. The guitars were loud, the drums were loud, the whole thing was deafening, brash and overdone. What’s more, the album was jam-packed with catchy pop hits. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” went to number one in the United States and across the globe. The football-terrace chant of “Paradise City” became something approaching a rock anthem. To celebrate its 30th birthday, the band has emerged from retirement to go on a world tour.
Appetite for Destruction sold 30m copies and made the band superstars: Axl Rose, vocals; Slash, lead guitar; Duff McKagan, bass; Izzy Stradlin, rhythm guitar; and Steven Adler, drums—the five boys had made a world-beating album of unaffected, straight-faced rock.
And no one else would ever do it again. If we date the start of rock’n’roll with Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock in 1957, Appetite for Destruction arrived exactly halfway between then and now. And it was the last great rock’n’roll album to dominate popular culture. In the decades since, other bands went on to play loud guitars and make era-defining records, but all of them—from the Stone Roses to the White Stripes—made music that was subtly influenced by styles other than rock. Even the likes of Oasis had a sentimental side. Appetite for Destruction had none of that. It was an exercise in total directness. The music, the lyrics and the character of the sound held no ambiguities—the entire record was what you might call a single entendre: it was all on the surface, up-front and screamed into the listener’s face. When you recall that before Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, rock’n’roll was a euphemism for sex, you are reminded of the form’s unvarnished origins. Nothing since has come close to matching the purity of the rock that Guns N’ Roses achieved in the 12 tracks they unleashed in 1987. If you’re not sure what that “purity” consists of, the opening lyrics of “Nightrain” should make things pretty clear: