Counterbalance No. 60: Guns N’ Roses’ 'Appetite for Destruction'

You know where you are? You’re in Counterbalance, baby! And Guns N’ Roses 1987 debut is the 60th most acclaimed album of all time -- take that one to heart!

Guns N' Roses

Appetite for Destruction

US Release: 1987-07-21
UK Release: 1987-07-21
Label: Geffen

Klinger: I can't tell you how pleased I am that we are finally getting to Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction. After all, according to Acclaimed Music's rankings, once we get through this week's Counterbalance, it will be 13 blissful years before I'm once again required to listen to Axl Rose on purpose.

As I've listened to Appetite for Destruction these past few weeks, one thought has occurred to me over and over: "Shut up, Axl Rose. Stop screeching in that upper register that sounds like a dentist drill. Stop burbling in that lower range that makes you sound like that dancing frog from the Warner Bros. cartoons. And for the love of God, if you insist on singing your eighth-grader lyrics, please stop punctuating them with pointless inanities like ‘Take that one to heart!’ It doesn’t make you edgy, Axl. It just makes you sound silly. In the name of all that is holy, please, Axl Rose, please shut up."

So you can see why this week is something of a relief for me.

Mendelsohn: Well, that makes two of us. But despite all of that, I find this album absolutely fascinating. So let's back up a minute and unpack a few things for discussion. Number one, Axl has a unique vocal approach—it’s high-pitched, it’s whiny, and for some unknown reason, the public loved it. Two, this is the first album we've hit where profanity is used as a casual throwaway lyric, a byproduct of the culture as opposed to shock value intended as an artistic statement. And three, if you want to talk about rock and roll—real, quintessential rock and roll, live-fast-and-die-young rock and roll, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends rock and roll—Guns N’ Roses pretty much has it in spades.

The thing I find so fascinating about Guns N’ Roses, and especially Appetite for Destruction, is just how well-loved it is across the spectrum. Everybody loved this album. Men loved it because it rocked hard, it was dirty and heavy, and appealed to the burgeoning mainstream biker culture. Women loved it because Axl was the pinnacle of badass, don't-bring-him-home-to-mama boyfriends, but the music still had enough pop sensibilities to draw them in as listeners. Kids loved it because they thought their parents would hate it, plus Axl's lyrics are targeted squarely at the teen-angst set.

To this day, I'm still surprised by how much still like this album. One of my favorite party games includes making derogatory comments about Guns N’ Roses and watching people stumble over each other to defend them, after which they normally break into a couple a cappella bars of "Sweet Child O' Mine".

Klinger: It is interesting how beloved Appetite for Destruction is, especially considering I remember this album being more controversial than respected when it first came out. But having vented my spleen about their silly, silly lead singer, I do have up a few thoughts as to why Guns N’ Roses have found their way into the upper reaches of the Great List. First, an unprovable theory.

One of rock's more enduring canards is the idea that Nirvana's Nevermind signaled the death of hair metal, but I submit that the first seeds in the demise of that much-maligned genre were planted right here with this album. Guns N’ Roses may have sprung up from the same L.A. scene that launched Poison, et al, but they did avoid the glam trappings that were so clearly destined to have a short shelf life. In a sense, I argue, Guns N’ Roses beat candy metal at its own game, and that set Nirvana up to deliver the final blow.

And their ability to dodge dodgy trends extended into their music. Slash, for example, was one of the few new-generation guitarists whose sound wasn't beholden to Eddie Van Halen and his widdly-woo finger-tapping. And Izzy Stradlin could have/should have been the heir to the dissolute rock titans of the previous generation. All of this counts for something, and if I didn't have to endure petulant nonsense like "Out ta Get Me", I might be right there with your party guests, Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn: I think your unproveable theory might end up holding a lot of water. Guns N’ Roses offered a link between the spandexed hair farmers and the flannel-wearing grungers and without that link, we might hypothesize, Nirvana would not have been as readily accepted as they were. Simply moving the music listening populace from the power ballads and "hard rock" of hair metal to the stripped down dirge of Seattle's new rock isn't just going to happen. Guns N’ Roses heavy retooling of blues, rock, and punk acted as a way to soften the ears of the regular listener, preparing them for something a little less flashy.

Appetite for Destruction came out at the absolute right time for a lot of people in my generation. Guns N’ Roses was kind of like the gateway drug into a wider world of music. They were kids when Guns N’ Roses hit and not too long afterward you have Nevermind, joined the same year by Metallica's "Black Album". It was a great time for rock and its heavier sub genres. I didn't come to the party by way of GNR so my relationship with Appetite is tenuous at best, but I can see why this album would be so highly regarded.

Klinger: I was 18 when this album came out and had just discovered the magical curative properties of beer, so I was demographically on target. But at around the same time I had stumbled into the island of misfit toys that was college radio, so I had pretty much opted out of all of this by then. Of course, the singles were all over the place, and there were even times when I could be convinced that "Paradise City" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" were basically solid pop singles. And if the selections on their 1993 covers album The Spaghetti Incident? serve as an accurate depiction of their roots, Guns N’ Roses share more DNA with the Alternative Nation than either side would care to admit. Duff McKagan did, after all, cut his teeth in Seattle's punk scene.

Where GNR parts company is in their inordinately enthusiastic embrace of the rock lifestyle, and I think that's been something of a stumbling block, for me at least. Don't get me wrong, I'm first in line to champion, say, the Rolling Stones, who for a while there wouldn't shut up about Sweet Lady H. But the Stones' debut album wasn't chockablock with Schedule 1 serenades. To paraphrase Tony Montana, you gotta have the audience first. Then when you have the audience, you get the addiction. Then when you have the addiction, then you write the songs about how hard it is to be a drug addicted rock star. To do otherwise strikes me as unseemly. Unseemly, Mendelsohn!

Mendelsohn: There are a lot of unseemly things about this record and that's the last thing I want to discuss before we drop Axl and Co. like a bad haircut. Appetite for Destruction marks the first time on the list where we encounter the overt use of profanity. We've encountered it before with Public Enemy (used righteously), the Sex Pistols (used to shock), and Nirvana (no big deal, it was the '90s, our ears had been liberated). Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the word "fuck" or all of its endless and wonderful conjugations—it's my go-to expletive—but from a strictly cultural standpoint, the use of profanity doesn't make many appearances in the top 100 and if it does, it’s nothing as gratuitous as what we find here, with Axl acting like a little kid who learned a new word his parents don't want him shouting in public.

I might just be grasping at straws, but this is the first record we've done that the profanity has stuck out. What do you think? Does Appetite signal a shift in lyrical sensibility? Is it merely a sign of the times? Or is Axl stretching for something to say and just dropping F-bombs as a way to garner attention? I mean, subject-wise, there isn't anything on this record that hasn't been said a million times before and much more poetically at that. Maybe I just got old all of the sudden and didn't notice.

Klinger: I know I got old, but that’s making me less likely to be shocked by profanity—I'm more offended by Axl's ill-advised "Yowza" at the end of "Mr. Brownstone" than I am any salty language. As I was listening to Rose in a song like "It's So Easy", I couldn't help thinking that he was dropping profanity to cover for the fact that the lyrics in the chorus aren't really all that strong (in all fairness, they are Duff McKagan's lyrics, though). I've noticed that singers may throw in a swear when they're trying to ratchet up a song that's not moving forward under its own power. I can't help thinking that's at least part of the case here.

But you know what? At the end of the day, albums like this are critic-proof. I can't begrudge anyone who heard Appetite for Destruction the way it was meant to be heard, but I didn't listen to this album when I was cruising around with my buddies drinking Coors Light. If I had, I might even love it. I'd be more willing to forgive Axl Rose his excesses, and I'd be more able to appreciate the fun that can come from their brand of mindless hedonism.

See you in 2024, Axl.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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