Album review: "Appetite for Destruction" reissue shows a band deciding who they would become
It really is amazing how some bands only basically have to release one album to become legends. Look at the Sex Pistols — they're the epitome of "punk" in a lot of ways, and they only ever managed to put out one real record before they self-destructed in a smear of drugs, dysfunction and death: the stone classic "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols." Bands like Neutral Milk Hotel and My Bloody Valentine had other records, but the ones that made them might as well be their only releases, given how much people focus on them.
Even though Guns N' Roses managed to drop an EP ("Lies"), a bloated double album ("Use Your Illusion I" and "II"), and a covers album ("The Spaghetti Incident?") after their world-altering 1987 debut "Appetite for Destruction," they hardly needed to even go that far, as that record — like the Pistols' debut — was such a perfectly-formed, singular piece of focused intensity that it would've carried them into history just fine.
Now, 31 years later, after a winding soap opera unfolded over more than two decades that saw singer Axl Rose get cornrows, replace everyone in the band, release the ridiculous-but-also-kinda-awesome-in-spots "Chinese Democracy" album, and, finally, reunite three-fifths of the original band and tour stadiums worldwide for the past two years, "Appetite" is back and getting the "Super Deluxe" treatment. A money grab, sure, but it's got a story at its core: a story about some sordid dirtbags who, when they weren't scoring heroin and treating women abominably, made one of the greatest albums rock 'n' roll as a genre would ever produce.
The collection is your basic "original record plus work tapes" thing that many bands do, but there's a serious wealth of pre-fame material, as the band worked for a long time to build up a repertoire before they signed their record deal. Four discs' worth of music is here, with the original album in remastered form joined by a gaggle of live tracks, most of the "Lies" EP (save the hateful, racist, homophobic "One in a Million," which 2018 Woke Axl smartly decided to bin), and a ton of in-studio demos that give listeners an incredible window into the chemistry of a band on the verge of breaking through in a way that few ever do.
The remastered "Appetite" isn't a revelation, but it sounds somehow less compressed, or like the instruments have more definition and separation. (Or maybe it's just because this writer isn't listening to the album on a cassette that has been beaten to hell.) It's one of those albums that is just undeniable. It's dangerous, aggressive, catchy, inventive, a little wrong, a lot confrontational, foulmouthed, and everything else under the sun. Let's just call it a stone classic and move on.
Disc two is called "B Sides N' EP's" for good reason — that's what it's comprised of. If you've got "Lies," this can mostly be skipped, but there are a couple of live covers (including the band's take on AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie") that are fun enough.
Sound City studio sessions from 1986 are where the real enlightenment lies. Here, the band plays 25 tracks, most of which sound like they're close to being finished, and they are clearly still trying to figure out who they are. Early takes of Rose's "November Rain" are fascinating, mostly because they prove that the singer's Elton John side was present even before the world would learn of it in 1991, when the song became a hit after its release on "Use Your Illusion." The band's chaotic, chattery style of playing acoustically together was also there, but it didn't make it onto their debut.
All this material is fascinating because it shows how Guns N' Roses edited themselves down to make their first record such a white-hot blast of intensity. Later, of course, they would go full Las Vegas and everything would go sour, but it's a treat to hear how they worked in the days before they were anyone.
Artist: Guns N' Roses
Album: "Appetite for Destruction: Super Deluxe Edition"
Produced by: Mike Clink
Personnel: W. Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (guitar), Izzy Stradlin (guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), Steven Adler (drums)