Guns N’ Roses: The Spaghetti Incident?

A misunderstood masterstroke or the opening of a can of worms, the fifth Guns N’ Roses album divided opinion. But ain’t it fun?

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Pigeonholed as a ‘punk rock covers album’, the real story of The Spaghetti Incident? is much more interesting. For a start, of the 12 credited tracks (13 if you include a controversial cover of mass murderer Charles Manson’s surprisingly tender Look At Your Game Girl that’s hidden at the end of the album) only eight could be loosely categorised as punk.

Elsewhere, Guns N’ Roses reveal their traditional eclecticism with covers of songs by hard rock band Nazareth and 1950s doo-wop outfit The Skyliners. They even throw a further curveball by segueing grunge exponents Soundgarden’s Big Dumb Sex onto the end of the T. Rex standard Buick Makane. You suspect they did it mainly for the juvenile potty-mouthed pleasure of having Axl chant ‘I’m gonna fuck fuck fuck fuck you, fuck you’ as the song hits the outro.

In truth, that’s where the punk rock really exists on The Spaghetti Incident? – in attitude more than music. Guns N’ Roses simply aren’t shambolic enough to be convincingly punk and Slash can never resist showing off the impressive lead chops befitting of a true guitar hero throughout this album.

There’s a danger, then, that The Spaghetti Incident? might be neither fish nor fowl; neither true punk nor authentic hard rock. Surprisingly, though, it’s stood the test of time rather well. The energy that’s apparent throughout suggests that GN’R hadn’t become bloated by the sheer enormity of their success; a full six years after Appetite For Destruction had propelled them to such dizzying heights of popularity. It’s deliberately loose and it’s deliberately fun, the sound of a band letting off steam after the more musically challenging endeavours of the Use Your Illusion I and II project. Yet the songs are never less than expertly delivered.

The album was, in fact, a mishmash of material recorded at the time of the Illusion albums together with other stuff recorded in snatched studio time while on tour in 1992. This explains the album’s lack of cohesion, especially when you realise that Izzy Stradlin played guitar on a number of tracks before being replaced by Gilby Clarke, who then overdubbed his own work in place of Stradlin’s efforts.

As individual songs go, though, there’s much to recommend here. The UK Subs’ Down On The Farm rattles along at a fair old pace, with Axl delivering daft lines in an equally daft mockney accent. The Stooges’ Raw Power rocks hard in a way that would surely please Iggy Pop. And The Damned’s New Rose is a tight-as-you-please pogo-ing anthem. Things open out on The Dead Boys’ Ain’t It Fun with its lighter-friendly intro, Nazareth’s swaggering Hair Of The Dog and the spacious riffery of Buick Makane.

Best of all is the album’s obvious single, a tender(ish) romp through The Skyliners’ doo-wop number Since I Don’t Have You. Played reasonably straight, it shows how GN’R could always rely on their broad palate of musical tastes to do the stuff that regular rockers simply wouldn’t touch – and do it well. But attitude is still present and correct as Axl concludes “Yeah, we’re fucked!” while Slash solos with heart- warming tenderness.

Named after a pasta-throwing spat between Axl and erstwhile drummer Steven Adler that was cited as evidence in various later court cases between the band and Adler, The Spaghetti Incident? would have risked being a bit of a goof-off were it not for the energy and focus behind everything the band turn their hand to here. As it is, this is still an album for connoisseurs, but one that’s perfectly enjoyable if you take it for what it is./o:p

Howard Johnson is a music writer based in France. The editor of Rock Candy magazine, he's also written for Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, RAW, Q, MoJo and Japanese rock magazine Burrn!, and is a French football correspondent for World Soccer mag. He has also written a book on AC/DC, Get Your Jumbo Jet Out Of My Airport.