For one of the least prolific bands in history, Guns N’ Roses are doing a good job of padding out their discography what with their not one, not two, but three recent DVD releases and now this – a “Greatest Hits” package. Then again, maybe it’s just the record company who, as well as tiring of waiting for Axl to release a new album, surely must have heard the anticipatory “ch-ching” of cash registers ringing in their ears when they realised that glam metal was becoming ironically cool, courtesy of The Darkness.
To be fair, Guns N’ Roses were (are?) a rung and a half above the other LA hair metal groups on the musical evolutionary ladder, a fact that was borne out by the way they were virtually unaffected when Nirvana inadvertently put their peers (Poison, Cinderella et al) out of business back in 1991.
This compilation shows why, or at least a healthy proportion of it does. 1987’s Welcome To The Jungle may have been steeped in the LA rock sound but it showed a band who were seriously good musicians, which is not an accusation that was ever levelled at Mötley Crüe‘s Mick Mars, for example.
Follow-up single Sweet Child O’ Mine was the one that opened the floodgates to superstardom (though it took two releases to do so) and propelled Appetite For Destruction to becoming one of the best-selling albums ever. And so it should have done, because the song is still six minutes of hard rock genius, with spine-tingling guitar playing from Slash; an awesome vocal performance from the bandana-d one (as anyone who’s tried it karaoke will tell you!); and a sublime breakdown to the “where do we go now”s before building into that trailblazing finale where Slash’s riffs go off like firecrackers in the background. Ahhh.
Of course they would never match it again (how could they?), but they gave it a pretty good go with the moshing frenzy of Paradise City and the intro-tastic You Could Be “My-ee-yine” (the lead song from Terminator 2). If the aforementioned four tracks were G N’ R at their rough best, then Patience and Don’t Cry demonstrate that they could do smooth too, and even now sound like acoustic ballads par excellence that strike the right balance between mushiness and edginess.
Unfortunately, things started to go awry with the two double albums Use Your Illusion I and II. Sure, there were inspirational moments to accompany You Could Be Mine and Don’t Cry. Civil War, for instance, is an epic rock journey, while their cover of Bob Dylan‘s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door stands up well with all the others attempted over the years, particularly when the Gospel choir kicks in. However, the warning signs were there with the nine-minute November Rain, which is almost redeemed by Slash’s grandiose guitar solo, but ultimately ends up as bloated as Axl’s belly and ego.
Perhaps the saddest thing about this compilation is that five of the 14 tracks are cover versions, and with the exception of Knockin’, not particularly memorable ones. Wings‘ Live And Let Die is superfluous; The Dead Boys‘ Ain’t It Fun is faithful and an insight into where the G ‘N’ R sound came from, but no more; Jimmy Beaumont And The Skyliners’ 1958 doo-wop Since I Don’t Have You is horrid; and The Rolling Stones‘ Sympathy For The Devil a yawn-inducing version of what, to these ears, is one of the most over-rated songs ever.
And so, this Greatest Hits album peters out, well, a bit like Guns N’ Roses’ career, really. However, don’t remember them for the last five or six songs here. Instead, strap on your air gee-tar, tighten your trousers so you can hit those high notes, set the CD to repeat play tracks one to eight, turn up the hi-fi to 11, and shake your hair to what was once of the most exciting bands on the planet.