Guns N' Roses used to be the best hard rock band in the world, back in days before Slash left and Axl Rose set about singlehandedly destroying his band's legacy in ways too numerous to mention here. G’N'R's Legacy O' Crazy endures, and has in many ways eclipsed its body of work.
Sure, we'll always remember their harrowing misogyny, their half-baked America First-isms and their high quality hair extensions, but what about their albums? Which have held up even better than we remembered? Or worse? Is "The Spaghetti Incident?" as terrible in retrospect? (Spoiler alert: Kind of. But not really.). Ahead of the band's show at the Fillmore Silver Spring on Thursday (and way ahead of their April 14 induction into the Rock Hall of Fame), we're taking a new look at the G’N'R oeuvre:
"Appetite for Destruction," 1987
What they said then: "Guns N’ Roses attacked with smarts, snot, and vitriol, cutting through a decade of hairspray with one nasty punch." (Rolling Stone Record Guide)
What we think now: The first half is still as bracing as ever, as good a six-song stretch as any hard rock band has ever committed to tape. The second half, while still great, doesn't hang together as well.
Better than we remembered: "Paradise City" and "Welcome to the Jungle."
So. Much. Worse.: "Sweet Child O' Mine." It's still Rose's most heartfelt love song, but considering the multitude of domestic abuse accusations that would follow in its wake (Rose was the Chris Brown of his day, allegedly), it's tough to take its gee whiz romanticism seriously.
"GN'R Lies," 1988
What they said then: "[W]here the band metamorphosed from genuine threat to joke." (Allmusic.com)
What we think now: Frankly, we'd forgotten this one even existed. It serves as a placeholder between the twin blockbusters of "Appetite" and "Illusion," otherwise this oversized EP need not exist.
Better than we remembered: "Patience" is still an amazing track, its lean frame now serving in stark contrast to the bloated carcass of future ballads like "November Rain."
So. Much. Worse.: "One in a Million," the band's infamous ode to casual racism, with lyrics so incendiary they cannot be quoted here. How terrible was it? Marilyn Manson was once reported to have covered it. Unironically.
What they said then: "Success has given the band a bunker mentality, with Mr. Rose demanding, 'Just leave me be.' It's a new stance: belligerent isolationism." (The New York Times)
What we think now: Would have been a great single-disc album. Maybe better than "Appetite," even. As it stands, there's too much filler.
Better than we remembered: "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," one of the all-time greatest Dylan covers.
So. Much. Worse.: "Right Next Door To Hell." The first track on "I," this was written about Rose's neighbor, and its whingey air of victimization would be echoed throughout both discs.
"The Spaghetti Incident?," 1993
What they said then: "The covers here….demonstrate GN'R's conviction that early '70s metal and its sworn enemy, punk rock, were essentially the same beast, connected through glam and testosterone." (Spin)
What we think now: It wasn't a masterpiece, but it was a brave idea in its way, a mid-career pivot from hard rock to punk that couldn't have been easy. Respect.
Better than we remembered: "Since I Don't Have You," their cover of the '50s doo wop hit.
So. Much. Worse.: "Look At Your Game, Girl," a cover of a song by Charles Manson which Rose performed without his bandmates, who sat out in protest.
"Chinese Democracy," 2008
What they said then: "Hopeless eccentric spends most of his adult life and a large chunk of his ill-gotten fortune trying to make the perfect album. Succeeds, kind of, on his own totally irrelevant terms. Nobody cares." (critic Robert Christgau)
What we think now: "Nobody cares" pretty much covers it.
Better than we remembered: "Better," which sounds like almost-vintage GN'R.
So. Much. Worse.: Nothing sounds worse, exactly. But when "Democracy" was finally released after decades of waiting, its sheer novelty made it interesting listening, at least for a few spins. Almost four years later, now that its mere existence is no longer remarkable, it's just an awkward, disjointed effort. Though it's still arguably better than "GN'R Lies."