Well, let's be plain about it: it's overrated. It's not a masterpiece. It's a heavily flawed and highly derivative piece of work. If you'd been a fan of the New York Dolls, or of the Heartbreakers, or even of Hanoi Rocks, you'd already seen the basic blueprints for Guns 'n' Roses.
But. But. But. As much as I think this album boils down to a handful of really solid rock songs and a fair amount of filler, I also think it's a signal moment, and that it makes one of the best arguments for an album being more than the sum of its parts. Because Appetite isn't just the songs on it: it's the historical moment in which it emerged, and the years that followed it. It's the only-comes-along-every-so-often stage presence of Axl Rose, so electric that even the videos from the album conveyed it successfully. Everybody wants to be a star, but not everybody can stand in front of a camera and say with his body: "I am one." You couldn't miss it coming off Axl — that aura of arrogance, the irresistible reek of entitlement.
The album came out just as I was entering the field of psychiatric nursing and every kid on the ward loved it. It had everything — anger, disillusionment, the unique wistfulness of youth looking back on itself prematurely and trying to wax reminiscent about it. While Slash may have been an excellent guitarist, the kids to whom Appetite spoke weren't tech heads: they were confused bundles of raw emotion, just like the album itself. Often you'll hear it said of a signal cultural document that it "held a mirror up" to the age, but that's usually a lie: the book or record or movie in question turns out not to be a mirror but a painting of some guy holding a mirror up, comfortably distant from his subject. Appetite, on the other hand, was an honest reflection. It had warts and zits but was still completely infatuated with itself. If light hit it directly, it gave off an intolerable glare that would blind you if you looked at it too long. In other words, it was youth itself. One can no sooner write accurately about it than successfully relive one's own infancy.
÷ ÷ ÷
John Darnielle is the singer and songwriter otherwise known as the Mountain Goats.
Books mentioned in this post
John Darnielle is the author of Black Sabbath: Master of Reality (33 1/3 Series)