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SoulMonster

1991.10.01 - Village Voice - Guns N' Roses: Wimps 'R' Us

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1991.10.01 - Village Voice - Guns N' Roses: Wimps 'R' Us

Post by Soulmonster on Thu Apr 12, 2018 5:32 am

SMART BOYS DON'T talk about anarchy; stupid boys don't know about it. It's hard to imagine, say, Emma Goldman (who, true, was not really a boy, only a garden-variety anarchist) starting a riot, then complaining she lost her contact lens, like Axl Rose did after his recent debacle at St. Louis's Riverport amphitheater.
For Guns N' Roses, "anarchy" is as good as any other limp excuse they've unzipped and waved in public lately. Then again, Guns N'. Roses, capitalist tools that they really are, know they can wave anything they want and the marketing geniuses at their record company will figure out how to package it.
The English (whose youth culture is only a few eons younger than the monarchy, but almost as institutionalized) have learned to cope with the inevitable pop flavor of the month as gracefully as the next equally inevitable round of cucumber sandwiches. But in America, by dint of national size, shape, and bloodsport, we have been forced to develop something bigger, better, and uglier: mofos of the minute. And, duck, duck, duck – Guns N' Roses are IT. This is no accident – of nature, or anything else. Even as I type, someone in the house turns on the tube, and whaddyaknow, it's Guns N' Roses' night on MTV. Not that every night hasn't been Guns N' Roses' night since the channel began hyping the band's tour last June, when Use Your Illusion I and 11 (Geffen) were originally expected. The hourly promo ops included lots of Kurt Loder on the spot with heads of Slash and Axl (the effect of which was not unlike sending Ted Koppel in search of Saddam Hussein) and the contest giveaway of Rose's former Sunset Strip apartment (which Rose toured as graciously for the camera as anyone in a soft real estate market might be expected). But as MTV rolls a GN'R block of the hit clips from the band's brief but lucrative career – which until last week consisted of one full-length big-money album, a stopgap EP, and a few spare-change singles – their success is no great mystery. Yes, the music mostly recharges ideas Aerosmith got from the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and the Yardbirds, who in turn took 'em off the hands of a lot of Black folks who never got to toss color TVs out of hotel windows. Still, from ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ to the Terminator 2 tie-in, ‘You Could Be Mine’, GN'R's greatest riffs are packed with enough grit, sweat, and plain ornery 400-mule kick to guarantee significant recognition in any rock or radio climate. It just might have taken them a few more years at the bottom of AC/DC bills.
But it isn't only the music, distinguished by the voice that loads it like a lethal injection, a voice dosed with some of the familiar discomforts of Morrison, Jagger, and, most eerily, Janis Joplin, and shot through with a whinny, rage, and pathos all its own. Guns N' Roses are the biggest, scariest monsters that ever escaped MTV's lab. Axl Rose absolutely dominates the video screen – territory that has been previously creatively and profitably used by a whole host of videogenic species from Madonna to Mellencamp. But like Garbo or Dietrich, who managed to register a similarly indelible and incomparable presence in a different realm, right now Rose transcends his medium better than anyone else on the box. Not that Rose accomplishes the same feat anywhere else – least of all on record or the concert stage. In fact, what is really scary about the ‘You Could Be Mine’ clip isn't cyber-Arnold's humongous artillery; it's how the inspired camera angles and spectacular editing completely alter what was, in reality, at the Ritz last May, an often embarrassingly minor-league rehearsal from a supposedly world-class band. Then again, as Rolling Stone's me-decade drone unwittingly prophesied: perception is reality. And even without packing the Gunners and the Terminator into one teeter-towering monument to modern iconography, a veritable semiotic gorge-fest gabba hey, what you see and hear of the band is so electrifying on the box that anything before, after, or remotely near it seems very, very small. Just now, when we returned from our GN'R block to regular programming, with a Dutch Ken doll VJ posing outside some racecar track where the action zipped by at a mere hundred-odd mph, it felt like the air had just been sucked out of every tire in the world.
When reduced to a sound bite, Guns N' Roses – in particular, Axl, and his Glimmer Twin manque, Slash (whose guitar playing often does glimmer with something approaching greatness) – loom as large as any mythical creation. Perhaps because bread is getting scarcer, our circuses need to be enormous, and Guns N' Lemmings have been only too willing to throw themselves and their dirtiest laundry in all three rings, even if it means impaling themselves on a few tent spikes in the process. Guns N' Roses have ingested not only all of rock's attitudinal riffs, but pun's as well, and eagerly regurgitate it all. If fore-gunners the Sex Pistols and New York Dolls never racked up the same sales figs, it had a to do with their inability to adequately confront arena rock's musical riffs. Of course, the antics with which GN'R have sought to establish a rep as rock's most authentic outlaw dudes are not even unique to rock; it's the behavior of any pack of men on the road, whether they be jocks, traveling salesmen, or presidential candidates. GN'R's "private" lives (which they and their appointed messengers have gleefully detailed since day one) may be even less original than their aesthetic stance. Like the plots of a few late-'70s rock novels, GN'R have almost been programmed for destruction. (No doubt, when it happens, MTV will remind us to tune in.) So, maybe it's all for the best that they've swept up all the cutting room floor odds and sods – the rough sketches, in-jokes, dirty jokes, offstage lines, and studio parties – and slapped them together into two double balls of confusion. Better they clean out the vaults than, say, Alan Douglas.
As a sales ploy, the release of two double albums on the same day is, indeed, unprecedented. As sophomore slump, Use Your Illusion(s) is pretty standard. But given the staggering sales figures 14 million worldwide) of the band's debut LP, Appetite for Destruction, the bestselling record in Geffen history, the company knows that even the most underwhelming effort from the real GN'R will fare better than all the Napoleons they and every other label threw against the wall in the last three years. What's sad is that at the center of Use Your Illusion(s)' mess of washed-out blues (‘Dead Horse’, ‘You Ain't the First’), boggy boogie (‘Bad Obsession’), honky hip hop (‘My World’), movie quotes (‘Breakdown’), borrowed Beatles (‘Coma’, ‘The Garden’, ‘Yesterdays’), and schmaltz even Elton wouldn't dip into (‘November Rain’), are the beginnings of one classic album. You just have to do some fancy CD programming finger work to find it. And it relies heavily on songs the band didn't write (‘Knockin' on Heaven's Door’, ‘Live and Let Die’) or worked on before the royalty checks kept-a-rollin' (‘Don't Cry’, ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘Civil War’). While we're waiting for the next album (and Geffen plans to release singles from these two for another three years) the company might consider throwing together The Best of Use Your Illusion.
Maybe the expectations were just too great. Illusion(s) has been touted as everything from the next Sgt. Pepper's to Exile on Main Street. But the band has no sooner passed gold than they've headed straight for Jammin' With Edward. Unfortunately, new sideman Dizzy Reed is no Nicky Hopkins. Or Ian Stewart, either. Then again, it might take a lot more than a few dynamic keyboard plunks to flesh out The Worst of Use Your Illusion's arrangements. The new drummer, Matt Sorum, on the other hand, is a powerhouse who, live, cranks up the band's whole game several notches. But with a couple of notable exceptions (like ‘You Could Be Mine’, where an explosive drum part helps detonate a Sex Pistols coda), on most of the Illusion(s) he's used merely to knock out efficient wake-up calls. Bassist everyone who Sid Vicious was; Hoosier goomba Izzy Stradlin' (who tries to make one original composition, ‘Bad Obsession’, out of the Rolling Stones' ‘Tumbling Dice’ and Talking Heads' ‘Life During Wartime’) seems to serve no real purpose other than to remind Axl who Bill Bailey used to be.
What we're left with is not four albums' worth of firm decisions, but weak compromises. It may be that these nouveau millionaires are too full of themselves to listen to producer Mike Clink or even to each other. Axl and Slash's contributions to McKagan's sloshy Johnny Thunders tribute, ‘So Fine’, or any of Stradlin's burnt offerings are backhanded gestures at best. The creative slack has been taken up by several limo loads of buds and liggers, few of whom make significant contributions (‘Civil War’ is one notable exception). When Clink gives up the wheel and Axl and Slash relinquish control of the songs, and worse, their talent, Guns N' Roses are no longer one of the world's more exciting rock bands, just one of its most ordinary. The first time around, their command of punk's and hard rock's idioms, but disrespect for all their conventions, freed them. Whatever else they are, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O' Mine’, and even ‘Patience’, stand as models of structural ingenuity. But here, GN'R are pinned down by all kinds of genre constraints – where they used to invent, they now tighten up. All that they seem free to do is say "Fuck you," and they say it a lot.
Perhaps the tightest noose is that of their own celebrity. It's a far worse obsession than the nasty habits or ballbreaking bitches so many of their new ditties refer to. One might think success would inspire confidence, but fame has only drenched these poor little rock stars in buckets of self-pity. Axl cries about the neighbor who disturbed his peace, the wife who didn't want his love, the niggers and faggots he might have offended on his last record, and all the responsibilities (the least of which is growing up) that have suddenly been dumped on top of his bandanna. No sooner are GN'R ganging up to swagger and scream, Back Off Bitch to some "witch," than the next moment Axl is at the baby grand, cooing the corny nothings of ‘November Rain’ to his "darlin'." ‘Don't Cry’ is a sturdier ballad and undoubtedly a huge hit (like ‘Sweet Child O' Mine’, which helped GN'R reach the audience that might not have been so receptive to the bitch angle). And if it puts its platitudes across, it's partly because Axl (who might consider taking piano lessons from Linda McCartney's teacher) has slid off the bench, but also because he delivers it with utter conviction. That is, he sounds like he's singing to someone he cares about: himself. ‘Estranged’, another personal ballad, might also be a real killer if it were only half its 9:20 minutes and if some of the "killer guitar melodies" Axl thanks Slash for in the liner notes weren't lifted directly from ‘Summer Breeze’, by those awesomely heavy rock dudes Seals and Crofts.
Then again, as stupid and hateful as Guns N' Roses are, their conflicts, however crudely rendered, so perfectly express all of the raging contradictions of our culture that they might almost be flinging their dirty mirror in our collective face. Of course their depictions of women are repulsive, and even more so because they detail the classic scenario of abuse: Smack her against the wall, pat her tears gently dry. When they're not threatening to beat up the bitches, they turn them into some sweet sugarchild who ought to know there's a heaven above. Axl's main "bitch" may not even be a woman at all – merely a generic irritant. It is interesting, though, to consider why the same Geffen honchos who decided that Black nobodies the Geto Boys were too indecent to release, deem their top whiteboys' motherf'ing lyrics and cartoon of a bound and blindfolded woman illustrating ‘Pretty Tied Up’ super okey do-key. Then again, how dare anyone be offended when this behavior is condoned in every corner of our society? Axl is, after all, merely saying the same thing to all of his opponents as that blueblood in the White House who undoubtedly grew up in a nice home where you don't jerk off at the dinner table (or, you use the magic word and ask to be excused first) told Geraldine Ferraro.
But who cares about politics? GN'R blow their musical credibility with a slapstick pogo like ‘Don't Damn Me’, and all pretense of cool with ‘Get in the Ring’, where these tough guys return to the playgrounds of yore to do the "dozens," promising to kick the asses of several real-life targets (and it's not as if the editors of Hit Parader and Kerrang! are in the physical condition of Barney Rubble, much less Mike Tyson – though Spin's editor does practice karate). However, they do cleverly interpolate the classic mother and combat boots of history for a specific father and his domestic pets. Still, this is Illusion(s)' (and maybe Guns N' Roses') least worthy moment (although undoubtedly they'll keep themselves busy giving interviews and maybe even coming up with the last word on their next album, if they haven't, God forbid, learned better). And one wonders how the volatile Axl (who tells us in his bitter but lame ‘Me So Horny’ impression, ‘My World’, that he lives in a sociopsychotic state) will handle some pube or some rube accosting him publicly with the chorus's singsong taunt: "I don't like you, I just hate you/I'm gonna kick your ass, oh yeah!"
The real clincher is Slash's dedication of the song to the fans who stuck with them "through all the fucking shit." Never mind that GN'R often don't care that their fans are kept waiting for hours (as at Nassau Coliseum) or trampled (as in St. Louis, when Axl didn't like one of them taking his picture or offering him a card) or just insulted (as at the Ritz, where he announced that "Patience," one reason why many of them had camped overnight outside, made him sick). So, pardon me, but precisely to which fucking shit is he referring? The shit induced by sticking reams of cash directly into their veins? The shit induced by insulting niggers, faggots, and immigrants (when were you counting wampum, bud)? Go ahead, get in the ring, you jiveass monkeys. We all know what wonders it did for Cyndi Lauper's career.
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