Where to Begin: Guns N Roses

Every generation has a different relationship with Guns N’ Roses. For those old enough, they represent the hardest rocking band hair metal produced and for those too young to remember the 80s, they are a ridiculous throwback to the time taste forgot. The Guns N’ Roses I know is somewhere in between.

There was a time where Axl Rose was the leanest, meanest singer in music. He wore a bandana and tiny lyrca shorts and he was fucking cool.

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Men performing shirtless was a thing in the 80s and early 90s, not so much anymore. The idea of a rockstar adonis has all but died now. However, if you turned on RTR Countdown in 1988, Axl Rose was who you would see. Shirtless and virtually pants-less, with his winkle looking straight at you.

He and it were everywhere.

He was on magazines and in the news, his outrageous antics pushing the band’s status as The Most Dangerous Band in the World. These glory years came in the wake of 1987’s Appetite for Destruction, the seminal Guns N’ Roses album and the one by which all othes are judged. It features their most famous and hardest rocking songs. Its riffs are carved from granite and aren’t dressed up in the sheen that has made so many other records of the era and genre sound like relics in comparison.

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Appetite was intense and sits closer to the heavy metal genre than the hair metal one it is usually associated with. It’s dark and spiky, but balanced with a pop sensibility to keep it accessible. “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” were the three huge hits from the record, but it is packed with classics. It remains an artifact of the late 80s, without sounding self-parodying in the same way albums by bands like Skid Row or Poison sound to modern ears.

Following Appetite, they were keen to keep their momentum going and released G N’R Lies as a stop-gap between studio albums. It’s a combination of an early EP and four acoustic tracks, the most memorable of which is “Patience”. This song proves that Axl is a great singer, despite how polarising his usual style is.

In 1991, Guns N’Roses released what was going to be their masterwork. A grand double album that crossed genres and cemented their position as not just a great hair metal band, but a bohemoth of a band. A juggernaut of Beatles’ proportions. That was the plan, but no one expected Nirvana and Nevermind. Kurt Cobain single handedly destroyed their genre, making Guns N’ Roses’s brand of testosterone fuelled uber-rock sound neanderthal in comparison to the brittle, biting and self-loathing style of grunge.

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That wasn’t the whole problem however. Use Your Illusion I & II are both overblown, bloated records, with more bad songs than good and could have made a decent single album if some of the more indulgent moments had been left in the studio. They have become, not cult record sas that suggests some level of quality, but fun documents of the last embers of 80’s excess turning to ash. “November Rain” is both a good song and an example of everything that is wrong with the records. At almost nine minutes long, it takes a pretty good power ballad and slaps a coda at the end which almost doubles its length, but also makes the song the epic people love. Axl’s sudden desire to be Elton John, despite his quite vocal homophobia was another weird twist and their stage show started to feature long periods of him sat at a piano. Still in his lycra hotpants, though.

Guns N’ Roses fell apart after these records, sure they released the Spaghetti Incident?, but Slash left after that. Despite what Axl says, the band was Slash and Axl. They were the most recognisable members and regardless of who he put on guitar, Axl would never beat having a man with a big perm and a top hat next to him. Even Buckethead, which is exactly what it sounds like, couldn’t make the job his own, despite having an equally distinctive look.

The name “Guns N’ Roses” released an album called Chinese Democracy in 2008, but Axl looks like this now. axl

Guns N’ Roses only matters because of Appetite for Destruction. Everything they have done since has diluted the impact that record had and the image of the band. The assembled playlist is a brief rundown of their progression, but it isn’t definitively their best songs. Those all reside on their debut.

 

 

 

 

 

Coldplay – Adventure of a Lifetime single

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The kindest thing I can say about the new Coldplay single is that initially I thought it was a Spotify ad. It’s loud and shiny and sounds like it was written to sell washing powder or a sugary drink. Ever since I stopped paying for Spotify and switched to Apple Music, I have been increasingly horrified by the frequency and volume of the advertising in freemium Spotify. Coldplay’s greatest achievement with their latest single is matching the ear-splitting volume and rage-inducing intrusiveness of Spotify’s awful ads.

The First: Record I Ever Loved

Today’s embarrassing confession is by Mr. Chris Palagy

I stand by the first album I ever bought with my own money, Pearl Jam’s 1994 release, Vitalogy. Despite the mixed success of its avant-garde flourishes, it has memorable singles, is Pearl Jam at its rawest (Eddie Vedder never sounded more like a madman) and is probably the last album they made that has majority popular support. I remember what I did on the day of the purchase and at which K-Mart I forked over $25 of Christmas money, a lot for a fourteen-year-old with no job. Without my own CD player, I had to use the family stereo in the lounge room and, as a result, my mother came to know it as intimately as I did, whether she wanted to or not. If the latter, then I’m sorry, Mum.

But I’m not here to write about that album.

Instead, the first album I owned and loved was a gift my father gave to me (I later realised it was because he wanted to build a CD collection—a novelty at the time—for the newly acquired family stereo). The artist was familiar to us because of his contribution to 1991’s blockbuster smash, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, already a family favourite on movie night. I was overjoyed, and why would I not be? The sticker on the case of Bryan Adam’s seventy-five-minute opus, Waking up the Neighbours, boasted “15 KILLER TRACKS!”

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The effect of this album on my ten-year-old self was akin to Kevin Costner shooting a flaming arrow at a barrel full of gunpowder. I wanted to be Robin Hood that year, and now I had a soundtrack. “(Everything I do) I do it for you” played in the background while I fantasised about rescuing my primary school crush from whichever villain had kidnapped her in my imagination. However, the analogue onto which I projected my youthful heroism was not Costner (nor even Christian Slater), but the clean-cut blonde Canadian belting it out in a forest in the music video (interspersed with clips from the movie, as was the style at the time). Adams was unknown to me then, though I later found out he was already a success (his 1984 album, Reckless, reached 2 on the Australian charts). It shames me to admit that he elbowed Icehouse’s Iva Davies out of the role of Man I Wanted to Be, which, if you’ve seen Davies rock a mullet and trench coat in the video for “Electric Blue”, was kind of a big deal.

While I continued to love the sandpaper-voiced one’s output for a couple of years (fun fact: “Please Forgive Me” is the only song I’ve ever called a radio station to request), it only took a few years to move on to my first real musical loves, courtesy of the later grunge era. I listened to WutN again recently and it doesn’t entirely suck. Songs like “Can’t Stop this Thing We Started”, “Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven” (fun fact: this song, possibly the album’s best track, was used to promote women’s netball games on the ABC) and, yes, that Robin Hood song are acceptable examples of commercial rock, and they’re not alone on the album (it does have fifteen killer tracks, remember). The disc has two main settings: party anthem and power ballad, and there are good and bad examples of each.

“(Everything I do) …” has both extremes of quality in one song. If you’ve never heard the album version, you may be surprised it’s almost seven minutes long. It’s just a shame that the extra two-and-a-half minutes don’t meaningfully build on the song but instead consist of a limp, largely instrumental coda that wouldn’t be out of place on a relaxation tape. “November Rain” it ain’t. And yes, that was me saying that the rest of the song is a good power ballad. You want to throw down? Okay, I confess: I used to be able to play it on the piano (fun fact!).

“House Arrest”, meanwhile, is one of the better party anthems—literally, because it details the shenanigans at what one assumes is the typical Adams shindig: making a lot of noise, dancing in unorthodox places and … actually, that’s it. No brawls, no drug busts and no cocaine-fuelled orgies, and yet the police still come and put everyone in cuffs. Disappointing, really. It suggests where WutN’s real weakness lies: its lyrics.

You might say that lyrics are low-hanging fruit for this kind of recording but Adams takes the silliness beyond the norm. Take the album’s final track, “Don’t Drop that Bomb on Me”, ostensibly the kind of plea for world peace/environmental preservation (the song can’t decide) that Bono would write if he had a lobotomy. With a completely straight face, Adams declares that “If we want a little peace/Then we’ve got to fight”. Some choice samples are the opening verse:

“We sailed our ships upon the shores
That once were out of reach
Turned the silence into war
And bloodied up the beach
Trashed the forests and the trees
Til there’s nothing left to cut
We raped the rivers and the seas
And turned the land to dust”

… and the first lines of the chorus:

“Don’t drop that bomb on me
Save that little tree
Don’t drop that bomb on me
Save our seven seas”

Yes, it’s confused, as if Adams had used a warm-and-fuzzy-issue dartboard and crammed it all in there. It’s primary-school poetry designed to win a district prize and get printed in the monthly newsletter for all the parents to read. One can live with that; what’s harder to live with is WutN’s misogyny. The more palatable of the two examples is “Hey Honey—I’m Packin’ You in”, a send-off to a girlfriend who has just broken the last straw. On the surface, it’s reasonably harmless but there’s a subtext to a lot of the lines:

“Had enough of your faddy diet/I can’t wait for a real good fry-up” = I expect you to cook for me and cannot make meals for my own damn self

“Don’t wanna hear how you gotta be thin” = Your body issues are trivial

“Don’t wanna hear you waggin’ your chin” = Are you talking again, woman?

“Had enough of your hand in the till” = Have you spent your allowance already? We rock stars aren’t made of money

“Sick and tired of this and that and askin’ for favours/And usin’ up my brand new razors” = I wasn’t prepared for the “giving” part of being with a partner and those toiletries were clearly labelled

“Had enough of your leavin’ for days” = I am annoyed that you have a life outside this relationship and have left me to fend for myself

“Had enough of you hangin’ ’round bars/And crashin’ up my favourite car” = You’re a floozy and women can’t drive

And so on. To sum up, this song was written when Adams was a frat boy. Am I reading too much into it? Not when it appears on the same album as the bigger offender, “Touch the Hand”. I could do the same as above and break down some select lines, but you know what? Every single line of the song contributes to its offensiveness. I can barely read the lyrics without reeling with flabbergastedness (totally a word). Don’t believe me? Look at them. Look at them.

In case you couldn’t bring yourself to do it for whatever reason, there is a clear message: “Hey, ladies! You want equal rights and representation? Well, being a man is hard! I’ll gladly do all your lady stuff for you if you want to see what it’s like to be a male in this world.” There is no subtext here. That is what this song is clearly about.

Perspective can be a bitch, but my love affair with Adams (during which he treated me with decency and respect because I’m not a woman) wasn’t long for this world. It was gone well before “The Only Thing that Looks Good on Me (is You)” came out in 1996. The first sign that all was not well was as early as 1992. I was in my final year of primary school and one of my classmates, at the age of twelve, derided my lack of hipness, mocking my love for the fifteen killer tracks. “What do you like, then?” I asked. The answer was the Violent Femmes, a band I’d only heard of by seeing their tour posters plastered around Sydney. They sounded cool. This made me worried that I was not cool.

But the death knell came with my father’s changed attitude towards the album. In the early days of my relationship with it, he hated the thing. A family friend visited one day and wanted to know what I was listening to. “It sounds like a bloody swarm of bees!” Dad spat out. Cut to a few years later and my parents were playing WutN at their dinner parties while I was furtively using headphones in the family stereo to listen to obscenity-laden releases from Soundgarden, Tool and Faith No More, bands I still listen to twenty years later. This is not the case with Bryan Adams, though I hear he has a new album out. Maybe I should tell my folks.

I’ll leave you with one more fun fact, something that says volumes about Waking up the Neighbours’ place and time in musical history. Want to know what Adams’ band was named, and still is? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Bryan Adams and the Dudes of Leisure!

Jesus.

 

 

Where to begin: Radiohead

I don’t like seeing people on the train listening to their headphones because I know they are listening to crap. Especially when they are young. I always think it is probably something dreadful that I either haven’t heard, or something I have and wish I hadn’t. If only they were reading this series.

This time, it’s England’s greatest band.

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Radiohead has had the same five members since they started. Quite remarkable given how long they have been around. Their first album was released in 1993 and has been all but forgotten by the band. They don’t ever play anything off Pablo Honey anymore, despite it featuring their most famous song “Creep”. The rest of it is very much of its time and uses a lot of distortion and is undoubtedly their most straight-forward record. As a teenager, understanding and absorbing this record was essential to the full Radiohead experience, but now I take the same tack as the band and it rarely gets a spin.

The Bends was the first album that genuinely sounded like the Radiohead everyone knows. They master the electric guitar over acoustic guitar dynamic, use interesting chord progressions, and walk the line between atmospheric and exhilarating masterfully . This record laid the blueprint for every subsequent album, with its thematic cohesion making it more than simply a bunch of songs, as was the case with their debut.

Taking the first of many sharp turns that would come to define the band from record to record, OK Computer was not simply unlike The Bends, it was unlike anything in music at that time. Much like iconic records by The Beatles or Bob Dylan, it is hard to listen to OK Computer with fresh ears, such was its ubiquity in 1997. It is one of those records that bears greater rewards with every listen and it is so firmly imprinted on my DNA that any progeny I may have will be born reciting “Fitter Happier” and creeping everyone the fuck out.

The new millennium saw yet another iteration of the Radiohead sound. Kid A and the 2001 release Amnesiac were recorded in the same sessions and feature the band’s first forays into Krautrock beats and electronic experimentation. The two records couldn’t sound more different, despite their parallel gestation, with Kid A sounding clinical and distant, and Amnesiac including the more recognisably Radiohead-sounding songs. These two records cemented the concept that whatever Radiohead did, however far they went away from what they supposedly were, they could still create magical work.

Then they released Hail to the Thief in 2003. My first listens left me thoroughly disappointed and it sat on the shelf for a long time. But eventually, after dipping back into it almost 10 years later, I realised how remarkable it was. Thom Yorke has stated that he’d like to resequence it and take some of the songs away to make a shorter, more coherent record, but I think that meandering unfocussed aspect of it is its greatest strength. It matches, in retrospect, the feeling of the early to mid-2000s. While a political record in name only, its dark mood is a reflection of Bush and Blair-era lies and warmongering.

The band started to slow their output at this time, with four years elapsing before In Rainbows sudden appearance. On a “pay what you want” basis, the record appeared online and felt over-shadowed by the nature of its release. Honestly, I feel this is probably their most forgettable record. It has some great songs, but it never stuck with me in the way their others have, even Pablo Honey. I remember really liking it when it first came out but I rarely listen to it now. Also, this record isn’t available on Spotify, which totally fucks up my playlist.

King of Limbs is the last Radiohead record and it came out in 2011, which makes it likely that it will be five years between releases. King of Limbs is yet another direction for the band, with the album feeling organic and electronic all at once. It’s a dance record and a rock record, and while it may not have the resonance of OK Computer, it is possibly their finest to date. It sounds accomplished and brave, and while it is unlike anything they have done before, it still feels like a natural progression from their previous work.