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Review: Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction: Super Deluxe Edition

Part of what set Guns N’ Roses apart from their peers in the Aqua Net set was their grounding in rock history.




Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction: Super Deluxe Edition

Respectability, it seems, is the inevitable end for all things “dangerous” in popular music. From jazz to heavy metal to punk, yesterday’s moral panics usually become today’s wholesome entertainment. So it is that Guns N’ Roses—once breathlessly dubbed “the most dangerous band in the world” and effectively banned from daytime MTV and radio play—are now staples of classic rock radio, with songs from their multi-platinum debut, Appetite for Destruction, in heavy rotation alongside the likes of Journey and Boston.

Guns N’ Roses were always traditionalists in insurgents’ clothing, dressing up their 1970s-style hard rock with post-punk aggression and eyeliner. But the widening chasm between their menacing early reputation and latter-day canonization makes it harder than ever to evaluate Appetite for Destruction on its own merits. The new five-disc “Super Deluxe” version of the album—also available in a shelf- and wallet-busting 19-disc “Locked N’ Loaded” edition—won’t solve this conundrum, but its hours of bonus content do offer a fresh perspective on one of the last great rock albums of the pre-alternative era.

That material—including a handful of B-sides, previously unreleased demos, and most of the 1988 EP G N’ R Lies (more on that later)—is the set’s chief selling point. After 31 years of exposure to Appetite for Destruction’s razor-sharp, arena-ready production, it’s striking to hear Guns N’ Roses sound as genuinely raw and untamed as they do here. Instructive in this regard is “Reckless Life,” a leftover from the group’s incarnation as Hollywood Rose, presented here in two studio takes from 1986. The sound and structure are pure L.A. glam metal, but the performances transcend cliché through force of will and reckless, combustible energy.

Part of what set Guns N’ Roses apart from their peers in the Aqua Net set was their aforementioned grounding in rock history, ample confirmation of which can be found on Appetite for Destruction’s bonus discs. On the stripped-down Sound City recordings, the band sounds like a natural extension of their forebears: Slash’s lead guitar favors bluesy Angus Young riffage over post-Van Halen shredding, while Axl Rose’s voice resembles Robert Plant’s turned up to 11. Some of these demos rock harder than the official versions, though a plodding take of “Nightrain” makes one long for producer Mike Clink’s polish.

Appetite for Destruction will forever be defined by its hat trick of massive singles: opening track and blistering statement of intent “Welcome to the Jungle,” indelible power ballad “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and stadium staple “Paradise City.” But the songs that didn’t make it onto the radio are more exciting, and less sanitized, than the hits would suggest. “It’s So Easy” is the most concise evidence of Guns N’ Roses’s punk influence, with its “Holidays in the Sun”-style riff and Rose’s Johnny Rotten-esque snarl, while the bilious sleaze-rock of “My Michelle” is convincingly grimy.

As for the band’s “dangerous” reputation, listening to Appetite for Destruction in 2018 often gives the impression that Guns N’ Roses were controversial for all the wrong reasons. It’s ironic that Rose’s lyrics made him a whipping boy for the Bush-era moral majority, seeing as his point of view was essentially conservative. Rose’s notion of the big, scary city as a “jungle” full of moral rot echoes the crypto-racist rhetoric of “tough-on-crime” politicians; his portraits of disaffected youth adrift in urban squalor on tracks like “Mr. Brownstone” and “My Michelle” read like the work of Lou Reed if he were a Republican. Meanwhile, in an era when albums without parental advisory stickers are the rule rather than the exception, it’s almost quaint to hear Rose work so hard to offend the squares, sneering “Why don’t you just…fuck off!” on “It’s So Easy” with all the premeditated rebellion of a naughty schoolboy, or firing off the juvenile retort “I’m fuckin’ innocent…So you can suck me” on “Out ta Get Me.”

Admittedly a lot less quaint is Guns N’ Roses’s sexism, which is on ample display throughout Appetite for Destruction in forms both benign (the promised pretty girls of “Paradise City”) and malignant (“Turn around, bitch, I got a use for you,” Rose squeals on “It’s So Easy”). The simplest explanation for that impression is that the album is a relic of a less politically correct time, but if that’s the case, why leave Lies’s infamously racist, homophobic screed “One in a Million” off the second disc, while including the equally misogynistic “Used to Love Her”? The line between offensive and merely tasteless can be an arbitrary one, but our choices of where to draw it are intentional and interesting to note; in the case of Guns N’ Roses, it appears that that line is drawn directly in front of the n-word. Maybe that’s why, after all these years, the most dangerous band in the world has been safely ensconced in the American mainstream: Their fearsomeness and ugliness are no better or worse than our own.

Label: Universal Release Date: June 29, 2018 Buy: Amazon



Review: The Dandy Warhols’s Why You So Crazy Is Eclectic but Unmemorable

Neither the album’s eclecticism nor its polish can make up for its lack of memorable songs.




Why You So Crazy

The music video for “Be Alright,” the lead single from the Dandy Warhols’s Why You So Crazy, takes the viewer on an interactive 360-degree tour of the Odditorium, a city block-sized building in Portland that was purchased by the band in 2002 in order to serve as their headquarters and recording studio. On one level, it’s clever viral marketing, as the Odditorium is a commercial space, with booking information available online and a public-facing wine bar in the corner. But more importantly, it’s also a revealing glimpse at the cloistered conditions that have produced the last 15 years of the Dandys’s increasingly insular music.

Why You So Crazy unfolds in what is clearly meant to be a dizzying array of styles: from the 1930s Hollywood gloss of opening track “Fred N Ginger” (complete with an artificial 78 r.p.m. vinyl crackle), to the campfire gospel of “Sins Are Forgiven,” to the warped synth-pop of “To the Church.” Minute production details abound throughout: a stray melodica amid the tightly coiled electro of “Terraform”; a spectral, high-pitched piano line floating above the churning guitars of “Be Alright”; a general cacophony of Eno-esque electronic gurgles on the country pastiches “Highlife” and “Motor City Steel.” In short, the album sounds exactly like the product of a band with their own personal recording complex at their disposal and only the most nominal commercial pressures to fulfill.

Unfortunately, neither Why You So Crazy’s eclecticism nor its polish can make up for its lack of memorable songs. For all their stylistic diversity, most of the tracks here ride a single musical hook, like the metronomic bassline that opens “Thee Elegant Bum,” until they’ve reached an ostensibly acceptable length. It’s to the Dandys’s credit that their definition of acceptable song lengths no longer extends to the seven-, nine-, and 12-minute dirges that dominate 2005’s Odditorium, or Warlords of Mars, the album that not coincidentally put an end to their short-lived major label phase. But this is cold comfort when the four-and-a-half minutes of undulating synthesizer and droning guitar feedback that comprise “Next Thing I Know” seems to stretch into a small eternity.

Even frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor, not exactly a high-energy singer in the first place, seems to sleepwalk through much of the album—an impression enhanced when keyboardist Zia McCabe takes the lead for “Highlife.” Not only does McCabe’s Dolly Parton-ish chirp provide a welcome respite from Taylor-Taylor’s laconic drawl, but it makes for an instructive comparison with his blasé performance on the stylistically similar “Motor City Steel.” Neither song does much with the country genre besides wallow in its clichés, but while McCabe commits to her performance, Taylor-Taylor remains distant, exaggerating his pronunciation of Paris’s “Charlie DO-gal” airport as if he’s afraid of being taken too seriously. Similarly cloying is “Small Town Girls,” a paean to provincial womanizing that would feel trite had it been recorded when Taylor-Taylor was 21, let alone his current age of 51.

Of course, aesthetic distance isn’t necessarily a sin. Just ask Bryan Ferry and Mick Jagger, to name two of the Dandys’s more obvious influences. Nor, for that matter, is self-indulgence without its artistic virtues. Jack White—another survivor of the early-2000s alt-rock scene with his own recording complex (two of them, in fact)—released an album last year that Slant’s own Jeremy Winograd described as “at times close to unlistenable,” but at least it provided the creative spark White seemed to be looking for. The Dandy Warhols, by contrast, just seem to be treading water: releasing an album because they can and, with 2019 marking their 25th anniversary as a band, because they think they should. And while there are no wrong reasons to make music, there may be no reason less compelling than obligation.

Release Date: January 25, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Cherry Glazerr’s Stuffed & Ready Rages Against a Hostile World

The L.A. trio’s third album is a cathartic expression of estrangement in a cruel world.




Stuffed & Ready

Clementine Creevy has always had a playful streak. At 15, she recorded her first songs under the name ClemButt, and her current outfit, the Los Angeles trio Cherry Glazerr, gained notoriety for a spaced-out, miniature ode to grilled cheese on their 2013 EP Papa Cremp. With Stuffed & Ready, Creevy’s signature irreverence has been transposed into scathing exasperation. The album rages against a hostile, misogynistic world, and then directs its venom inward.

That rage becomes the operating principle of Stuffed & Ready, which is Cherry Glazerr’s most mature and complex album to date. The opening track, “Ohio,” is a barometer for the ensuing ferocity, as a brief, lo-fi prelude crumbles into propulsive guitar noise. The music video for lead single “Daddi,” in which a solitary orange humanoid navigates a turbulent sea of blue creatures, captures the sense of alienation, confusion, and self-abasement that permeates the album. “Who should I fuck, Daddy? Is it you?” Creevy sneers in her characteristic falsetto. Her lyrics often vacillate between affirmation and uncertainty, probing for empowerment in a world that consistently renders her existence invalid. On “Self Explained,” she confesses, “I don’t want people to know how much time I spend alone.”

Under the direction of Carlos de la Garza, who also produced 2017’s Apocalipstick, Stuffed & Ready is Cherry Glazerr’s most sonically sophisticated effort yet. Musically, “Stupid Fish” is a gripping mash-up of the Smiths and early Sleater-Kinney, with sulking distortion interspersed with melodic bursts of Johnny-Marr-inspired guitar play. “Juicy Socks,” perhaps the album’s one moment of breathing room, finds Creevy playfully quipping over a shimmering guitar and florid bassline, “I don’t want nobody hurt/But I made an exception with him/I’m so lucky I can breathe/When the others cannot swim.”

Stuffed & Ready’s fiery denouement, “Distressor,” oscillates from an arpeggiated guitar and rolling drumbeat to a headbanging refrain. “The only faces I can see/Are the faces I pushed away from me/So I can just be,” Creevy wails, repeating the word “be” like a mantra. The album isn’t always hopeful, but it isn’t hopeless either, as it consistently provides a cathartic release for Creevy’s fury.

Label: Secretly Canadian Release Date: February 1, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Guster’s Look Alive Is the Sound of a Band Rejuvenated

Guster’s eighth album buzzes with inventiveness, charm, and youthful dynamism.




Guster, Look Alive

Guster has long been associated with “college rock,” and not without reason. Even though every member of the Boston-based band is now over 40, they still make bright, hyper-polished alt-pop tailor-made for campus radio. The band’s eighth album, Look Alive, adds synths and contemporary production flourishes to their sonic repertoire, but all the hallmarks of their sound remain: winsome melodies, soaring hooks, and tight, immaculate songcraft that combines the best of Britpop, 1960s folk, and post-grunge.

Like most Guster albums, Look Alive has a few duds, a few modest successes, and at least one showstopper—a song that makes you wonder why the band was never more successful. On 2006’s Ganging Up on the Sun, that song was “Satellite,” a shimmering power-pop masterpiece that split the difference between the Shins and Neutral Milk Hotel. Here, it’s “Hard Times,” which also happens to be the least Guster-like track on the album. Drenched in Auto-Tune, buzzing synth frequencies, and stadium-ready percussion, the song doesn’t sound anything like “Satellite,” let alone like the band’s output before 2000. Yet, true to form, it’s a remarkable piece of pop. “Sinister systems keep us satisfied/These are hard times,” Ryan Miller wails. It’s a simple statement, but it makes for a stunning chorus, and Miller’s effusive delivery renders it the most cathartic moment on the album.

On “Not for Nothing,” the band ventures into dream-rock territory, surrounding themselves with icy synth textures that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wild Nothing track, while “Hello Mister Sun” is unabashed bubblegum pop that pays homage to whimsical Paul McCartney tracks like “Penny Lane” and “Good Day Sunshine.” Likewise, the sprightly “Overexcited” bounces along with a spoken-word verse and pounding, piano-centric chorus. While none of these tracks tackle complex themes, they’re playful, infectious, and eminently listenable.

Many of Guster’s best-known songs delve into same subject matter: newfound love, crippling heartache, the pain of being young, restless, and alone. Yet much of Look Alive is more elliptical. “Maybe we’re all criminals and this is just the scene of a crime,” Miller sings ambiguously on “Terrified,” forcing the listener to fill in the blanks. “Summertime” similarly defies easy explanation: Brimming with obscure religious imagery, whispered background vocals, and references to an unspecified war, it follows no logical narrative, instead allowing the track’s mood—a feeling of triumph over some great adversity—to tell the story.

For better and worse, Look Alive’s production mimics the spacious, ‘80s-inspired aesthetic that pervades much of contemporary indie-rock. “Don’t Go” transplants a prototypical Guster melody into a synth-soaked songscape, while the title track seems expressly engineered for Spotify’s Left of Center playlist. Still, the album never feels like the work of aging musicians struggling to stay relevant; it buzzes with inventiveness, charm, and youthful dynamism.

Label: Nettwerk Release Date: January 18, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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