When Guns N’ Roses exploded from the Sunset Strip with lyrics like, “West Coast struttin’, one bad mutha, got a rattlesnake suitcase under my arm,” they were a vision of piss n’ vinegar at a time when Steve Winwood was topping the charts. Apart from Axl Rose’s mile-high coiffure, Appetite for Destruction was the opposite of everything going on in the mainstream: it sounded raw, nasty and dangerous. They were a fully formed statement, capped off with an exclamation point. And a little over a year after it came out, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” would be the Number One song in the U.S.
A new, multi-disc box set, which comes either as a $179 super deluxe edition or a for-fans-only, $999 “Locked N’ Loaded” mega box, provides a new, nearly comprehensive look at the group Rolling Stone declared “the world’s most exciting hard-rock band” right out of the gate in 1988. In addition to the original album – which is remastered here and remains a document of rock & roll perfection – the collection contains EP tracks, B Sides, rarities and a heap of previously unreleased demo recordings that chronicle Appetite for Destruction’s evolution.
The first bonus disc sports material that should be familiar to casual fans, since more than half of it comes off the Lies EP, home to the whistle-ballad “Patience.” The only song they’ve omitted is the cringe-worthy hate rocker “One in a Million,” which smears African-Americans, Middle Easterners and homosexuals over the course of six minutes; you could say they’ve grown up, though it’s still readily available to stream on Lies. The rest of the volume contains live versions of the ripping “It’s So Easy” B Side “Shadow of Your Love” (a tune that really should have made it onto Appetite) and covers of AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” The Dylan cover is impressive because it shows how the quintet had worked out the song’s arrangement years before they recorded it for Use Your Illusion II.
The rest of the set contains selections from the band’s 1986 demo session at Sound City Studios with former Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton producing, along with other outtakes. Although it doesn’t contain the complete Sound City session – Charlton asked them to record every song they were playing live at the time, amounting to nearly 30 tracks including some double takes – the tunes included here are enough to show where the group’s headspace at the time. Rose was parsing which words to emphasize in “Welcome to the Jungle” (“You’re a very sexy girl”). Slash was finding his smooth, bluesy tone on an early version of “Back Off Bitch” (later recorded for Use Your Illusion I). And the band was generally having fun in ways that could never have foreshadowed the acrimony that surrounded its Chinese Democracy era, as Rose name-checks Slash and Izzy Stradlin in “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and they all sing a goofy intro to an acoustic version of “Move to the City” in unison.
It also shows the band at it most naked. For as raw as Appetite sounds, the group was even rougher early on. There’s no synthesizer, coach whistle or extra false endings on the Sound City version of “Paradise City”; it’s simply a pure guitar rocker. “Rocket Queen” originally had a janky transition into its girl-group–inspired coda (“whoa-oa-oa-oa”) before Stradlin and Slash worked out the monolithic, heavy-metal riffs that fans fist-bang to at concerts these days. And even though Rose had been toying around with “November Rain” since before Guns N’ Roses formed, the two versions here (one with a piano accompaniment and another with acoustic guitar) show the crude emotion he was channeling for the tune years before the band recorded it.
The most revealing songs here are the ones that didn’t make the cut on any GN’R release: an instrumental take of the rocker “Ain’t Goin’ Down,” which has a groove like “Anything Goes”; a one-minute blues ditty called “The Plague” that’s equal parts Stephen Sondheim and Alice Cooper; and “New Work Tune,” a joyous, instrumental acoustic jam that ends with one of the guys saying, “Yeah, we should work on that.” They never did finish it, and with the 10th anniversary of their last album, Chinese Democracy, approaching, you can’t help but wonder what else they have in the vaults.
The rest of the box set contains a Blu-ray with a 5.1 surround mix of the original album, a few bonus tracks and music videos for the hit singles and a never-completed clip for “It’s So Easy” (which is hard to imagine would ever have made it onto MTV anyway since the song contains bon mots like “Turn around, bitch, I’ve got a use for you” and “Why don’t you just fuck off?”) And there’s a 96-page book of photos from Rose’s archive and memorabilia.
The cheaper, super deluxe edition contains a smattering of photos, replica concert tickets and posters, temporary tattoos and a lithograph of the record’s original cover – a Robert Williams painting that depicts the aftermath of a rape (a curious inclusion considering they left off “One in a Million”), while the “Locked N’ Loaded” edition comes in an LP-sized wooden cabinet and contains everything in the super deluxe edition along with vinyl, posters for every song on the album, skull rings, pins and guitar picks, among other items, and, of course, a certificate of authenticity.
Do you need any of this? No. But that’s not the point. As with everything Guns N’ Roses from the period, it’s not so much all access as it is all excess. And that’s exactly what you want from a reissue like this. It’ll bring you to your sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-knees.