Upon its release nearly twenty years ago, Guns N’ Roses immediately courted controversy, thanks to the cover of their debut album, a Robert Williams painting depicting a woman having been raped by a robot. Such was the outrage that it was quickly changed, however the original artwork was retained on the inside sleeve instead. From beginning to end Appetite For Destruction is a seriously debauched affair. Dedicated to the seedy side of L.A., each song is virtually dripping with booze, heroin, sleezy sex, and whatever other illicit activity one can think of, all played with enough conviction and belligerence to blow away every hair metal band on the planet, and that includes the likes of Poison and Mutley Crue. Basically, the Gunners were one of the most dangerous and notorious groups getting around, who probably did more drugs in one day than the entire Sunset Strip in a whole week.
Whether it’s the dystopian hard rock of “Welcome To The Jungle”, or the Zeppelin-esque “Rocket Queen”, none of these ditties pull any punches. “Welcome To The Jungle” in particular is Axl Rose’s own brutal essay of urban life, and an observation which stills resonates to this day, while “Mr. Brownstone” is a reality check on what it’s like to be a junkie. Other songs, such as “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain” and “Out Ta Get Me” are each infused with the energy of a band on a mission to make a statement. “Paradise City” could be their “Free Bird” moment, a guitar-oriented epic guaranteed to fill stadiums the world over.
But it’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that would ultimately put them on the international map, with a classic riff, sentimental lyrics, and a guitar solo by Slash that has come to symbolise everything that was great about Guns N’ Roses in the first place. Whether you like Axl Rose or not, he certainly had a voice, one as distinctive as his personality it might seem. Other tracks such as “My Michelle” and “Think About You” are full of the sort of vigour and bravado that made AC/DC a house hold name, although Axl’s lyrics lack much of the tongue in cheek humour of Bon Scott.
The fast paced “You’re Crazy” is little more than punk filler, while at least “Anything Goes” has a decent riff, in a Whitesnake Led Zeppelin sort of way. Final track “Rocket Queen” has to be one of the most under-rated songs of the LP, and a fine way to end what overall remains a bold albeit slightly over-polished document, and one which even Slash himself today is surprisingly rather ambivalent about.
Appetite For Destruction went on to sell in the millions, and established Guns N’ Roses as one of the biggest bands on earth (second to The Rolling Stones). That so much of their success went up their noses and into their veins is well known, so much so that it’s extraordinary that any of them are still alive today. It is their crowning achievement, and will likely forever be that way. For any male teenager who wanted to piss off their parents in the late ‘80s, this was the album to buy.