"Who would have ever thought that the least likely to succeed would make it onto the Top 100 of the decade?" says Slash, the lead guitarist of the Los Angeles renegades Guns n' Roses. He has every right to savor the irony: Only a few short years before their debut album was recorded, the members of the band were living in well-documented druggy squalor, just one among many hard-rock bands looking to get a break on the competitive Los Angeles club scene.
But Guns n' Roses — a shotgun marriage between two bands, L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose — have an edgy dynamism that sets them apart from the pack. Led by a tattooed former delinquent named Axl Rose, Guns n' Roses play not so much pure metal as unalloyed hard rock that listeners who cut their teeth on the Rolling Stones and the New York Dolls can appreciate.
The dozen songs on Appetite for Destruction embrace contradictions in the band members' still-evolving characters, some aspects of which are none too pleasant to contemplate — e.g., the mounting drug habit described with indifference in the matter-of-fact "Mr. Brownstone." The opening number, "Welcome to the Jungle," describes the god-awful Pandora's box of street life for urban runaways with a cynical, scarifying leer. Numbers such as "It's So Easy," with its offhand decadence and driving beat, are real crowd arousers, releasing the venomous rage toward society — and toward themselves — that Guns n' Roses feel they have in common with their fans. During a performance in England at an outdoor heavy-metal festival, two audience members were stomped to death in a mass slam dance while Guns n' Roses played "It's So Easy." "The sincerity of the band shows," Slash told Rolling Stone in 1988. "That's why the crowds are so fuckin' violent. Not that I condone crowd violence and riots, but it's part of the energy that we put out."
The other side of Guns n' Roses is the unabashed sentimentality of "Sweet Child o' Mine," a ballad about a girlfriend sung by Rose with undisguised emotion. Appetite for Destruction is five talented misfits' way of coming to terms with the world — shouting, screaming and playing as hard as is humanly possible. The fact that it found a sizable and rabidly enthusiastic audience so quickly — the album has gone platinum eight times over — says that there are many, many kids out there who feel disenfranchised, disillusioned and confused about life in the Eighties. Guns n' Roses are singing their song.