Guns N' Roses' seminal album Appetite For Destruction came out 25 years ago this past Saturday. I was 9 years old when a foreign exchange student taped me a copy of it. I had heard “Welcome to the Jungle” about a zillion times before. But several seconds after W. Axl Rose's “Hunh!” ended that song, the real fun began. My pre-teen brain was warped forever. The opening bass riff of “It's So Easy” was like nothing I'd ever heard before: simple, raw, stripped down and direct.
Sure, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” similarly melted my brain a couple years later. However, Appetite gets broken out quarterly, spun obsessively for a couple weeks and then retired again. On the other hand, I turn the dial when songs off Nevermind come on the radio.
It's not that Nirvana were a bad rock band. It's just that Nevermind is a mediocre record. Clearly in tune with a Zeitgeist that craved a hard rock world outside of poodle hair and shiny animal print spandex, Nevermind broke open early '90s popular culture in a manner we probably won't see again. Perhaps that's why it seems so dated in 2012.
In the words of Kurt Cobain, “It's closer to a Mötley Crüe record than it is a punk rock record.” Appetite, though, sounds more like a punk rock record than one by Nikki Sixx and company. While Nirvana might have been the last band to catch the record industry with its pants down, G'n'R were the last band to live the rock & roll lifestyle with no apologies. In its salad days, the band lacked both the cutesy-poo “good clean fun” mugging of bands like Warrant and Poison as well as the too-clever-by-half anguished earnestness of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
Booze, tattoos and floozies. That's what G'n'R were about. That's a message I can get behind, even today. Early '90s divorce rock? That hasn't aged so well.
The important parts of Appetite are the deeper album cuts. “Nightrain” is the band's undisputed anthem, an ode to the pleasures of fast living and cheap liquor. “Mr. Brownstone” stands as the most straightforward heroin ode ever written, with an up-and-coming musician protagonist who “just keep[s] tryin' to get a little better / Said a little better than before.” “Out ta Get Me” tells a gripping story of paranoia with the standard Axl Rose lyrical directness (“I'm fuckin' innocent / So you can suck me”) and post-coda admonitions (“Take that one to heart!”).
The entire “B” (or “Roses,” as the band titled it in their blithe arrogance) side is dedicated to ladies. “My Michelle” was written with brutal honesty about band associate Michelle Young. “You're Crazy,” an electric reworking of an earlier acoustic song, stands as the most punk number on the album next to “It's So Easy.” Appetite closes with “Rocket Queen,” a song including audio of Rose allegedly fucking drummer Stephen Adler's girlfriend in the studio.
While Nevermind kicked off the mainstream grunge explosion, reignited interest in punk rock and inspired 10,000 garage bands, Appetite is the superior album and a damn sight more “punk” in a lot of ways (provided you're using bands like the Dead Boys, the Heartbreakers and Iggy & the Stooges as a point of reference). You might fancy yourself a deep thinker while trying to figure out what the lyrics to “In Bloom” mean, but I'll take the sublime simplicity of “Turn around, bitch / I got a use for you” any day of the week.
UP NEXT: Amazing archive pics from Guns N' Roses Sunset Strip years.