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1989.10.15 - Los Angeles Times - Guns N' Posers: L.A. Hard Rock Evolves

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1989.10.15 - Los Angeles Times - Guns N' Posers: L.A. Hard Rock Evolves

Post by Blackstar on Fri Dec 28, 2018 5:00 am

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Guns N' Posers: L.A. Hard Rock Evolves

How Guns N' Roses' success surprised, then shaped the sounds of the Sunset Strip

By JONATHAN GOLD

By now, Guns N' Roses' "Appetite for Destruction" is less an artwork than a social phenomenon, less an album than 9-million-albums-sold. When it was recorded 2 1/2 years ago, "Appetite" was a promising first work by a bratty local band.

Everybody in rock 'n' roll Hollywood hoisted a beer or three with Axl, Slash, Duff and the others at the Teaszer or Cat & Fiddle. Most of the local music press was slightly amused but unimpressed by Guns N' Roses and the few other "new glam" bands who had been playing at Scream and the Troubadour, notably L.A. Guns. Those bands were to Aerosmith what the Stray Cats were to Gene ("Be-Bop-A-Lula") Vincent.

Guns N' Roses weren't taken seriously until they'd sold their first 2 million records and Axl had mysteriously become the spokesman for his generation. Suddenly critics were hailing "Appetite" as the most important hard-rock album to emerge from Los Angeles since Van Halen's debut 12 years ago, or at least since Motley Crue's "Shout at the Devil," the 1983 album that really reactivated the Hollywood hard-rock scene. And the band's second album, "GN'R Lies," went triple platinum--no fluke.

Def Leppard sells even more albums than Guns N' Roses, but nobody tries to read meaning into their lyrics or interpret their phenomenon. Hardly anybody knows what their lead singer's name is, much less cares about his politics. Def Leppard's just a rock band that people enjoy.

But like Led Zeppelin's debut album--universally loathed by critics until they realized half a decade later that the Zep was the most popular rock band in the world, "Appetite" was suddenly recognized as containing some animal truth . . . some key to understanding the generation that produced the band. It's more than the music.

Guns N' Roses are competent enough on their instruments--compared to bands like Poison, they're almost slick. But the band is ambitious emotionally as opposed to musically. The hurt of growing up, the aching loneliness of an unloved child, is almost palpable. (They appeal to fans who dismiss Warrant, the latest L.A. glam-rock hit, as a low-tar cigarette.) Wistful loss of innocence is a strange theme for a band as devoted to debauchery as this one is; it's to Axl's credit that he pulls it off in almost every song.

For a hard-rock band, those sentiments are uncool--the last thing a Sunset Strip band wants to do is admit it would rather be back home with Sweet Sue in Indiana--and more difficult to fake than either skull tattoos or power riffs.

In retrospect, the Guns N' Roses concept seems obvious enough. But it wasn't until they happened that anyone successfully crossed the grungy street attitude of underground Hollywood bands with the riffy neo-Aerosmithsonian sound of the pouf-haired Strip metal bands. (The postpunk crowd and the hard-rock crowd had been almost mutually exclusive.)

How has the success of Guns N' Roses changed the face of Los Angeles hard rock?

There's more of it, for one thing--and a lot more is being recorded. There are plenty of places to play and armies of new A&R; men who haunt them in search of the next Guns N' Roses. Geffen Records, for example, has 10 full-time employees scouting Hollywood clubs. Even second-tier bands inspire bidding wars.

There are a lot of bands who sound like Guns N' Roses--so far, Junkyard is the best of them. Little Caesar, Geffen's star signing of the last few months, released an awesome EP that demonstrates what Guns N' Roses might have been like had they been influenced by Cream instead of Aerosmith. But the majority of bands don't even aim that high. (It's easier to sound like Poison-- that you can fake.) Simply put, grungy hard rock is marketable again.

But even without Guns N' Roses, the streets of West Hollywood have always been paved with gold for a certain type of hard-rock band. The Strip has a momentum of its own. One suspects that if it had been the debut album of Jane's Addiction, the other great L.A. band of the moment, that had sold 9 million copies, Jane might be on stage this week with the Rolling Stones . . . and Pretty Boy Floyd would sound pretty much the way it does now.

The Billboard Top 10 recently has included albums by Strip bands Warrant and Motley Crue, as well as Skid Row, a Strip-style band from New Jersey, and prototype Aerosmith. (Note that Warrant, a traditional pouf-metal band, nabbed a No. 1 single where Guns N' Roses pals Junkyard languish.)

None of those bands owe a particular debt to Guns N' Roses, other than possibly the renewed mainstream receptivity to loud guitars. In fact, if you work your way through a stack of recent Strip-band hard-rock releases, you'll find the Guns N' Roses legacy to be more sartorial than musical.

First albums from many of the first real crop of post-Guns signings--including Little Caesar, Love/Hate, I Love You, Nymphs, Zeros and Rhino Bucket--aren't due until next year. That's when we might see the real Guns N' Roses influence kick in.

L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat, Bang Tango and Pretty Boy Floyd--four Strip bands with recent releases--by illustrate much of the range of post-Guns N' Roses hard rock in Los Angeles.

Though its first album went gold, L.A. Guns have been compared negatively to Guns N' Roses since their very first gig: leader Tracii Guns was Guns N' Roses' first guitarist, and the two bands shared both wardrobe inspiration and bills at the Troubadour. The violent iconography and breathtakingly sexist lyrics are similar--the album jacket of "Cocked and Loaded," the new one, pictures a semi-nude woman straddling the butt of a .357 magnum--and they'll no doubt sell a million of 'em.

Nobody's going to accuse Faster Pussycat of duplicity--they've been blatantly commercial since the first time they picked up their guitars in public. Faster Pussycat is rock 'n' roll about marketing rock 'n' roll, the hard-rock answer to the Pet Shop Boys.

On "Wake Me When It's Over," it's clear they still haven't learned to play their guitars after two years on the road, but it's hard to dislike a band with couplets like, "She grinds her leather/Like Liberace rhines a stone." Bang Tango, cheek-suckers to the core, are an adequate singles band, hollow-faced but anonymous rockers cranking out loud radio songs by the numbers but without a lot of heart.

When people complain about the vapidness of the Strip scene, the first band they mention is invariably Pretty Boy Floyd, a truly spectacular-looking bunch of lipstick dudes who must spend more time fluffing their hair than Yngwie Malmsteen does practicing.

Their image is so extreme that publicity pictures for "Pretty Boyz With Electric Toyz" show their be-leathered crotches where you'd expect to see their faces, as if they're saying, "Look, we're really boys after all." But it's easier to listen to sincere trash sometimes than to yet another boatload of bogus teen Angst .

Their songs tend to be called things like "Rock 'n' Roll (Set the Night on Fire)," as if they'd like to be on a Michelob commercial right now (the title of a Pretty Boy Floyd song always seems to constitute about 60% of the lyrics), and you can sing along to all the choruses. They always rhyme "boys" with "noise," except when they're rhyming it with "toys" or "joys." (They spell it "boyz," just like Slade.) And if Axl ever felt responsible for encouraging these guys, I don't know, maybe he'd cry . . . or trash his hotel room or something.
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