Appetite For Destruction is a singular album in the history of rock & roll. From the stuttering echo of the intro of “Welcome To The Jungle” to the final notes of “Rocket Queen”, the sneering soup of heavy metal, blues-rock, punk, and classic rock is fresh and original, even in retrospect.
Slash’s lead guitar work and Axl Rose’s uniquely nasal voice get the most recognition, but the soul of this album is the riffage of Stradlin, McKagan, and Adler. Slash and Rose certainly contributed to the band’s sound, but if the rhythm section had not laid down such a great foundation, Guns N’ Roses would be just another band with a flashy guitarist and annoying frontman.
Thematically, Appetite cries out with both exultation in and weariness from the lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock & roll that the band were living in L. A. and on tour. Two of the tracks have drug and alcohol abuse as their primary topic (“Mr. Brownstone” and “Nightrain”), and it features heavily in several others. Another four songs are written about easy access to indiscriminate sex (“It’s So Easy”, “My Michelle”, “Anything Goes”, and “Rocket Queen”). “Welcome To The Jungle” describes the seedy side of L. A. in a mix of pride and revulsion. The effect of Rose’s frequently vile lyrics is enhanced by the vituperative way he spits them out and by the aggressive, seething, music over which he sings.
The other tracks reveal a band that is already becoming disillusioned with their life in the fast lane, even as they find themselves reveling in it. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” uses the metaphor of a romantic relationship to return to the safety and innocence of childhood, while “Paradise City” yearns for an escape from Los Angeles, where the asphalt is littered with used syringes and the girls are slutty, to a mythical city where the “grass is green and the girls are pretty”, probably inspired by Rose’s childhood in rural Indiana.
These are not nice people, and Appetite For Destruction is not music for the comfortable. It is meant to shock and perhaps disgust as well as entertain. I have a friend with great musical tastes who, as a sweet and innocent seven year old girl purchased her first cassette – a copy of this record. It is remarkable that she has grown into a well-adjusted woman, rather than being scarred for life.
There are no real weak points on the album, but there are a few highlights. “Welcome To The Jungle” is iconic in hard rock legend, and for good reason. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” rewrote the book on power ballads, demonstrating that a ballad can rock just as hard as anything else. The full-band workout at the end of “Paradise City” with both Slash soloing and Axl singing over the thunderous main riff is a true treat for the ears.