After those turbulent first few years, the chaos and, more importantly, the tunes kept coming. Here’s our definitive, retrospective guide to the GN’R legacy.
RELEASE DATE: July 87
LINEUP: Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (lead guitar), Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), Duff McKagan (bass), Steven Adler (drums)
CHOICE CUTS: Welcome To The Jungle, Mr Brownstone, My Michelle, Sweet Child O’ Mine
A formidable contender for the title of greatest rock‘n’debut of all time, Appetite remains a flawless knock-out and the consummate soundtrack to life on the drug-addled, dirty streets of mid-80s Hollywood. Angry, sexy and catchy as fuck, it is yet to be bettered and is the very definition of lightning in a bottle. Incredibly, the album debuted at a rather modest 182 on the Billboard 200 when it first landed, eventually climbing to the number one spot almost one year later. We’d call it a grower, but quite frankly, anyone whose face isn’t ripped clean off within 20 seconds of Welcome To The Jungle is in dire need of a heart, a soul and a new pair of ears. The likes of Mr Brownstone and My Michelle added further savvy to the album’s streetwise edge, while world-beating single Sweet Child O’ Mine showed that the band were more than capable of penning a delicate love letter when called upon. There’d be plenty more of that to come…
RELEASE DATE: November 88
LINEUP: Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, Steven
CHOICE CUTS: Patience
A somewhat cheated attempt at releasing a follow-up “album” to capitalise on the eventual success of Appetite, Lies essentially falls into two parts: a faux-live collection of covers with Move To The City jammed into the middle, along with a quartet of acoustic numbers featuring the most controversial (and, let’s be honest, pretty misguided) song of Guns’ career to date, One In A Million. While there’s some great stuff to be found of the opus – Patience remains a live favourite to this day – the release was ultimately overshadowed by Axl’s casual homophobia and blatant N-bombing. He cited John Lennon’s Woman Is The Nigger Of The World for some context to his use of racist language, insisting that it was being misinterpreted. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the world at large remained rather unconvinced. A curious stopgap beforre the big blow-out that was to follow.
USE YOUR ILLUSION I
RELEASE DATE: September 91
LINEUP: Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, Matt Sorum (drums), Dizzy Reed (keyboards)
CHOICE CUTS: Dust N’ Bones, Don’t Cry, November Rain
And then came the blow-out. Arriving a full four years after their last album proper, Use Your Illusion was bigger, brasher and, at points, even snottier than its predecessor. Serving as an entrance point for Matt Sorum following the departure of a demons-battling Steven Adler, it also marked the official debut of keyboardist Dizzy Reed – who has somehow managed to avoid Axl’s wrath enough to stay in the band ever since. Fair play, that man! The likes of Right Next Door To Hell and Garden Of Eden showed that Guns’ penchant for a full-on rocker was still in good health, but it was November Rain that underlined Axl’s true ambitions as a songwriter. The nine-minute epic still stands as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most bloated, overwrought and, let’s be honest, pretty fucking spectacular moments. It would also, of course, give rise to one of the most famous, ridiculous and absurdly, brilliantly over the top rock videos ever released. If nothing else, Axl’s ambition was keen.
USE YOUR ILLUSION II
RELEASE DATE: September 91
LINEUP: Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff, Matt Sorum, Dizzy Reed
CHOICE CUTS: Civil War, Estranged, You Could Be Mine
Released in conjunction with its namesake to create a double-album in name only, Use Your Illusion II was another varied beast, with the emotive epic (Civil War), the bluesy hoedown (Yesterdays), the show-stealing ballad (Estranged) and the face-melting anthem (You Could Be Mine) all present and correct and showcasing a wealth of songwriting talent that was, on occasion, threatening to stretch itself a tad too thin. Naturally, as ever, there was controversy to be found, not least in the spiky Get In The Ring, which saw a number of key industry names – including current Hammer contributor Mick Wall – feel the brunt of Axl’s vitriolic hatred of the music press.
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THE SPAGHETTI INCIDENT
RELEASE DATE: November 93
LINEUP: Axl, Slash, Gilby Clarke (rhythm guitar), Duff, Matt, Dizzy
CHOICE CUTS: Raw Power, Ain’t It Fun
A rather messy final showing for anything even vaguely approaching a “classic” Guns lineup, The Spaghetti Incident was, as so many cover albums are, as much a stopgap release and a fun distraction for the powers involved as an attempt to release anything of real relevance or value. It’s a pleasant enough endeavour at points, sure, but when you’re a band responsible for moments in music that have vastly surpassed some of the original versions of the tracks here, it all feels like a bit of a waste of time. Of course, as we now know, Guns were on the brink of total implosion by this stage, and it’d be a whole 15 years before we’d see another album under the GN’R banner.
RELEASE DATE: November 08
LINEUP: Axl, Bumblefoot (guitar), Richard Fortus (guitar), Tommy Stinson (bass), Frank Ferrer (drums), Dizzy, plus contributions from Buckethead (guitar), Robin Finck (guitar), Paul Tobias (piano), Bryan Mantia (drums), Josh Freese (drums). Oh, and session appearances from – ah, forget it.
CHOICE CUTS: Better, There Was A Time, Sorry
Was it worth the wait? If we’re being realistic, no album is worth a fifteen year gap, so in truth, Chinese Democracy could never have been anything but a letdown, but while initial reaction to the album was understandably hostile and suspicious given the context of its lengthy inception, ultimately, Axl managed to craft a competent, if disparate, piece of work. The likes of Better and Madagascar more than lived up to the promise of their occasional live airings and the excellent There Was A Time proved that the man could still pen a proper epic if given the chance. Having said all that, we’d still rather see the original awesome fivesome on a stage again. We guess we’ll just have to wait and see…