Inspired by their mutual love of the INXS record Kick, Matt and Jeff have decided to take another listen to their favorite classic and forgotten records from the 80s. This is the Faith Project, and it is 100% guaranteed to contain absolutely no analysis of George Michael’s Faith.
I never had a metal phase. Well, that’s not entirely true: I had a brief flirtation with best-forgotten hair metal bands like White Lion and Kingdom Come in the ’80s, but in my defense I only listened to them because I wanted my older sister to think I was cool. (Didn’t work.) But the real metal bands, your Metallicas, your Iron Maidens, your Slayers … I never felt pulled to those bands as a way of working out my adolescent male angst. Instead, I went straight from pop to the Sex Pistols and Ramones, and from then on my tastes were pretty well focused on punk and what was once called “college rock.” I guess I’ve always preferred the scariness of shitty recordings and bad singing to the scariness of wicked guitar solos and evil lyrics.
So then, what to make of my 23-year (gulp) love affair with Appetite for Destruction? If I don’t particularly feel drawn to metal, what is it about this record that still keeps me enthralled every time I hear it?
Well, for starters, where does Appetite even fit in the rock music spectrum? Is it hair metal? Metal metal? Glam? Hard rock? Dirty blues? Punk? Pop? In truth, it’s a little of everything, and that’s what makes it such a fascinating record 23 (stop saying that!) years after its release.
The record starts with “Welcome to the Jungle.” You’ve heard “Welcome to the Jungle” a million times. You’ve heard it so much that you don’t even think about it. Well, take a couple of minutes and listen again. Ignore the hair. Or rather, contextualize the hair.
Conclusion: That is a weird fucking song. From the truly scary lyrics – is there any line in pop music creepier than “I’m gonna watch you bleed”? – to Axl’s bizarre sex groans during the (first!) guitar solo to the tribal drumming of the “You know where you are?” section, “Welcome to the Jungle” is an epically strange and disturbing pop song. It’s also maybe kind of perfect.
Most bands would kill to have one song as strong as “Welcome to the Jungle.” But GnR’s just getting started. They come out of the gate with “Jungle” and just keep on going, one rock classic after another. And it’s not just the rave-ups … GnR are one of the few hard bands with ballads that sound just as tough as the rockers. I mean, come on. “Sweet Child O’ Mine?” Ladies, can you imagine Axl Rose dancing with Mr. Brownstone all night and then getting up in your face and screaming about how your eyes have a brain? Terrifying! And yet so, so beautiful.
What most amazes me about Appetite, upon my most recent revisit, is just how shocking this album is. And I quote “My Michelle”: “Your daddy works in porno/now that mommy’s not around/she used to love her heroin/but now she’s underground.” That is terrible! Not terrible as in a terrible lyric … it’s a great lyric … but terrible as in what the Hell is going on in that family? Mom dies of a heroin overdose and Dad is like, “guess I might as well get into porno now.” What kind of world does Axl Rose live in that he thinks this is a pretty good thing to sing about?
And what about that singing? The first time I heard GnR, I thought they had two different vocalists. Axl’s vocals sound like they were beamed down from the Olympus Mons by ancient space harridans. Again, I refer you to “Welcome to the Jungle.” Who decides to sing a chorus like that? “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na knees, knees / Mm-wah!” I know it sounds normal to you now, because it has become part of the rock vernacular … but if you can listen to that song with fresh ears, it really is quite odd.
It’s amazing that this is one of America’s favorite albums of all time. The number eleven best-selling record, in fact. There are other hard rock albums that rank higher – Led Zeppelin IV & AC/DC’s Back in Black – but neither of those can hold a candle to the nihilism, sleaze, and anger of Appetite. It’s filthy, it’s ugly, it’s gritty, it’s dark, yet it is also impossible to resist. Whether you’re a Kylie Minogue fanatic or the hardest indie-stalwart, chances are there’s a place in your heart reserved for Appetite. And if there isn’t, Axl’s got some advice for you:
“I see you standing there … you think you’re so cool. Why don’t you just … FUCK OFF!”
Preach, Brother Rose. Preach. And rap!