Thursday 28 July 2022

Guns n Roses - Appetite For Destruction

is 35 years old.

It's also an album I actively avoided for the first 15 years of it's life, telling anyone who would listen it was derivative, ramshackle, with painful squawky vocals, playing to the lowest common denominator rawk etc
I also saw them live at Monsters Of Rock Donnington 1988 - they were good, but not impressive (or maybe my own prejudices and a hangover clouded objective judgement)

But ... I admit I was wrong, and biased, and basically a bit daft
(still got a slight issue with Axl Rose's vocal though)

The rise of the band is also quite impressive - forming in 1984, settling on the "classic" line-up (ie the one that recorded 'Appetite For Destruction') by mid-85, signing a $75,000 deal with Geffen in early 1986, releasing their first single in late 1986, and then unleashing the monster in mid-1987, which would go on to sell in excess of 30,000,000.

So what was all the fuss about?

When I first heard the debut EP - 'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide' - I struggled to understand the Kerrang-driven fuss about the band.  2 cover versions plus 2 so-so originals.
It honestly felt like a triumph of substance over style - Aerosmith riffs layed over Hanoi Rocks meets Motley Crue, with Hair Metal aspirations
(yes, I was that reductive about it).

So did my opinions sway when the album was released?  Nah, even the release of "Welcome To The Jungle" - which, be honest, is one heck of an opening track - altered the stance.
The next single - "Sweet Child O' Mine" - caught the public and airwave attention (and no doubt drove further album sales), but still I remained steadfast.
Then came "Paradise City" - in retrospect, an object lesson in how to do stadium rock - and I admit to a little wavering ....

However, I have made my grumpy stand and I must stick to it.

Right the way through 'GnR Lies' in 1988 (basically 'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide' plus 4 new acoustic recordings), through 1991 when I did actually buy 'Use Your Illusion I' and 'Use Your Illusion II' in one massive Our Price trip
(also purchased: Metallica 'Metallica', Spin Doctors 'Pocket Full of Kryptonite', Pearl Jam 'Ten', Pixies 'Trompe le Monde', Nirvana 'Nevermind' and Primal Scream 'Screamadelica' - I think I was feeling very flush that day)

And still 'Appetite For Destruction' was not on my shelf.
Until one day in the early 2000s when idly browsing HMV and the 4 for £20 section - I'd got 3 in my sweaty mitts and needed a makeweight.  Why did I choose an album I'd ignored for so long - no idea, but I'm glad my prejudices subsided.

Not everything is a winner, but it all hangs together, and it's the sheer energy that wins out.

Opening with a slight guitar riff that builds and you may think "I've heard all these tropes before" - and then wallop - the whole thing kicks in.  Here's your introduction to what follows over the next 40 minutes.

The next few tracks though suffer in comparison to "Jungle" - they're good, they're full of attitude and energy, but just don't have the sheer power promised.

"Paradise City" which follows lifts the album from the doldrums, and could very well be the centerpiece of the whole album.  In fact from this track (which originally closed side 1) what follows - "My Michelle", "Think About You", "Sweet Child o' Mine", "You're Crazy" - is certainly one of the best "5 tracks in the middle of an album" runs out there.

By the end, the band is spent - surely there is no more energy to give (and see below - there wasn't much more career to give either).  And no doubt the listener is in a similar frame of mind.

The sheer power of this debut though made it somewhat difficult to maintain that level - and the band never did.  Amidst drug and drink problems, personal relationships, media attention, shifting line-ups, self-indulgence, they never managed to hit these heights again.

After the double (released as 2 single albums) "Use Your Illusion" came "The Spaghetti Incident?" - an album of covers which sort of bookends (with  'Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide'), and the long promised, talked up, re-recorded, delayed, re-hashed, 15 years late 'Chinese Democracy' - which when it did arrive was frankly not worth the wait.

I'll say it again - I was wrong.  'Appetite For Destruction' is a superb piece of work, and rightly deserving of the plaudits.

Welcome To The Jungle

Sweet Child o' Mine

Paradise City

Monday 11 July 2022

Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band - Dear Scott

We're now over halfway through 2022, so I think I'm relatively safe in making this prediction: I've just been listening to the Album Of The Year.

Michael Head has been doing the rounds since the early 80s - first as a member of The Pale Fountains, then in Shack.  When Shack folded ("went on hiatus" is the usual phrase), he struck out on his own with Michael Head Introducing The Strands for a single album until Shack re-formed, folded again and he convened the Red Elastic Band.
His past ventures have often been critically acclaimed, but rarely passing over into commercial success.  This may explain why I was unaware of his work until introduced to this album - and now I really believe I need to do some archive digging (The Pale Fountains were pretty good weren't they - how did I miss them?  Not reading the NME in 1985 I suppose)

And so to this one - his tenth under various guises - and the opening two tracks "Kismet" and "Broken Beauty" could well be enough to secure the annual crown on their own, but what follows just reinforces the contention.

The whole album is fully formed, brimming with light and warmth, but also has passing weariness, and a brittle human condition feeling about it.  And Bill Ryder-Jones production just lifts and shines everything - not a trace of mud herein.
Right from the start, the influences are worn on the sleeve - Love very much in evidence, but at times sounding like a bastard son of Love, The Byrds, The Coral, Richard Hawley and Scott Walker.
At this point I should qualify that the Dear Scott of the title is not Walker, but F Scott Fitzgerald. 

Dear Scott refers to novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose debt-ridden, down-and-out years captured the imagination of Head, specifically a postcard Fitzgerald addressed to himself upon checking in at Hollywood’s infamous Golden Age retreat, The Garden Of Allah Hotel. Head explains: “A decade after being the king of the jazz age, Fitzgerald arrived unfashionable and sober, ready to conquer Hollywood. His agent with a sense of humour booked him into The Garden Of Allah, where writers, movie stars and even Stravinsky sometimes lived. He famously picked up a postcard on checking in and addressed it to himself.”

Right from the start, the influences are worn on the sleeve, but this aint no nostalgia-fest, or repeating the tricks of others.  This is a singular effort, mixing psych, folk, jangle, and singer-songwriter oeuvre.
Much like an obvious touchstone - Love's 'Forever Changes' * - the songs themselves may not be vying for the title of greatest song ever written when standing alone, but in the context of the album become greater than the sum of their parts, and prove Michael Head to be a songwriter of some renown.

* I know, it's the second reference to Love in this text - apologies for the apparent dis-service.  There is so much more going on here


Broken Beauty