“I’m a small town white boy, just tryin’ to make ends meet”
Becoming successful as early as the debut album can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, isn’t this what every young rock star dreams of? But on the other hand, you suddenly realize that you got to live up to something. Naturally, people will expect things of you. That would already be a big burden on anyone’s back, let alone an unexperienced artist’s one.
Guns N’ Roses were no doubt aware of this and wanted their next album to make an even bigger “bang!” than ‘Appetite for Destruction’ did in 1987. A long, winding road eventually led to the famous/infamous 1991 ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums, which still split opinions among fans regarding artistic direction, the songs themselves, the length of the albums and whatnot.
But that’s a story for another time. In-between those two big mountains of albums, we find ‘G N’ R Lies’ – a confused EP marketed as a proper studio album that somehow manages to both intrigue and deliver. Perhaps ‘You’re Crazy’ is the best example of what the album is about – an Appetite for Destruction track re-worked here in acoustic form. On first sight, you might get the idea that they’re already running out of original ideas. Yet it works – the tempo is slowed down, Axl’s frantic signature voice is nowhere in sight and the song is given a completely different face. Whether you’ll find it better or worse depends on what face of the band you prefer more, but what truly matters is that it’s different.
A much more risky move was releasing ‘Patience’ as the album’s lead single. Nowadays its reputation is that of a classic, but following the electric-fury of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ with a tune that involves acoustic guitars only and Axl Rose whistling, could’ve made some fans doubt the ‘The World’s Most Dangerous Band’ label that is often associated with Guns n’ Roses. But then again, they’d been crazy not to release it, given that it’s a perfect example of how a love ballad should be written, played and produced. In the end, I think the unassuming character given by the acoustic arrangement is its forte – can you imagine the “November Rain treatment” applied to it? Yeah, me neither.
Whether Axl really shared the beliefs of the character he was portraying in ‘One in a Million’ or not is a matter that has been discussed by many; what I really want to highlight instead is just how great of a song this is. It is one of those pieces that’ll make an impression on you from the very first listen due to the memorable verses and chorus, chugging electric rhythm and yes, provocative lyrics. I do understand why people would get offended by those remarks, but at the same time I appreciate how well they express the confused and paranoid state of mind of the protagonist.
In contrast, there’s not much to be said about the first side of the album. Four live performances that date from the band’s pre-Appetite touring days are included, only one of which is an original. Now Guns N’ Roses were always a good live band, with plenty of convincement and energy that shine through, and this is no exception. Perhaps there is nothing revelatory about the songs, but they offer historical perspective and a nice counterpoint to the already-essential second side. Yes, I said essential and the term applies, without a doubt, to the whole ‘G N’ R Lies’ as an album. Do not even think about skipping this interesting chapter in the band’s history.
Categories: Album Reviews