#27: Guns n’ Roses, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ (1987) vs. Rage Against the Machine, ‘Rage Against the Machine’ (1992)

I have spent very little past personal time on either album.  With Rage’s self titled album, I would only hear a few selected songs at parties and bars.  And of course they were always giant jump orgies when they were on.  Similar to “Shout” (ala Animal House) or “Blister in the Sun”, “Killing in the Name” was the 90s bar anthem that got the crowd incensed.  When the song reached its climactic repetition of “fuck you I won’t do what ya tell me!” the whole dance floor became seething Maasi warriors, jumping and shouting their privileged defiance to the world.

Rage is the quintessential anti-establishment band, unhappy with the way things are. Conversely, its competitor for this round seems quite happy with the way things are.  Living, loving and rocking under a booze (and more heroin than I realized) fuelled haze. They have happily abandoned the idea of social justice. With Appetite for Destruction, they created their own little world where they are the powerful and the corrupt, taking advantage of their own people: Their fans (particularly the ladies).

This might sound like I am crapping on GnR (and I am a little), but I am actually quite excited to have given this album a solid listen.  Appetite stands out as a way more kick ass version of the prototypical 80s hair band. A lot edgier, with more metal-infused hard rock and blues. They are just taking it up a notch beyond the offerings of puffy rock bands like Poison.  Little did they know that grunge was coming and they were to be the last of their breed.

Appetite for Destruction remains a strong collection of decent rock songs. The hits alone give it legs. “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are pretty much prefect rock songs that give endurance to the listenability of the whole album. GnR may have known this. It’s possibly why they were spread so evenly across the album.

Hits aside, what is so refreshing to hear on Appetite are the freaking GUITAR SOLOS!!! Boy do I miss guitar solos.  On Appetite, with Slash, we are witness to one of the best rock guitarists puking out some of the best guitar solos.

But then there’s Rage’s Tom Morello. If grunge shot a bullet into the popular guitar solo, Rage, and the kick ass shredding of Morello, made sure that its afterlife was an ascension into Rock n Roll heaven.

So, for this round, in honour of the all mighty guitar solo, and because he have two of the greats here, the winner will be determined by the better shredder. Who had the better chops. Let’s lay it all on the line in a solo off. Slash vs. Tom Morello.

Classic Slash solos are hard rock masterpieces. Like on “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Its bluesy/metal pallet is complemented by a fast virtuoso-style metal finish. I wish every song on “Appetite” had that solo. I could listen to that all day all night, all night all day. But the others aren’t like that. Although awesome, they are bit slower, more standard fare.

Tom Morello solos are like snowflakes. None of them is the same. From the standard fare rock solo in “Take the Power Back” to the multi tone space jam of “Know Your Enemy”, Morello’s natural understanding of layers, rhythm and feel puts him on some kind of other plane of musical existence. Maybe you could critique that the farts and whistles are only there for the sake of having farts and whistles, but I challenge that. He can turn the guitar into a metal-hop synthesizer!

Tom Morello’s solos are just more aggressive, more funky, more noisy and more ballsy than Slash’s.

In a battle of the bands, I think that Rage would crush GnR. In a street fight, I think Rage would crush GnR.


WINNER: Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (3 points)


80s: 9

90s: 15

80s: 14
90s: 28

Next week’s battle – #26: AC/DC, Back in Black (1980) vs. Nas, Illmatic (1994)

#41: R.E.M., ‘Document’ (1987) vs. Guns n’ Roses, ‘Use Your Illusion I & II’ (1991)

Music snobs beware: you may be entering hostile territory. Because how could this even be a contest? A politically astute top-shelf album from one of the greatest indie rock bands of all time versus a big bloody mess of bombastic and petulant heavy metal.

R.E.M., hands down – right? And yet it’s not so obvious.

Document, R.E.M.’s fifth album, was the moment they decided to take a crack at stardom, and it worked. The tunes are a little more rockin’ than what came before. Peter Buck, famous for his jangly guitar, tries some new sounds to beautiful effect. And Michael Stipe’s lyrics, so often inscrutable on other albums, are clear and at the forefront, probably to make sure their scathing political commentary against Reagan’s America  came through loud and clear (oh, to imagine what they would say about a Trumpian world!). Almost every song is a gem (except maybe “Lightin’ Hopkins”) and even though I hate to single out the obvious ones…the vocal acrobatics on “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” are still breathtaking and you gotta love a band that can trick people into thinking something as cold and mean as “The One I Love” is actually a love song.

But does Document contain anything that moves me as much as Slash’s guitar on “November Rain”? Or makes me laugh as much as the vulgar rant on “Get in the Ring”? Or gets me yelling and fist-pumping like “Breakdown”? Or transfixes me like the multi-movement epic that is “Estranged”?

It does not.

Use Your Illusion I and II add up to more than 2.5 hours of music and that is probably too much, but damn, when I listen to them now there is far less filler than I thought. No ideas were off limits when the Gunners hit the studio with this one. They rocked just as hard as ever, but expanded their sound to include other genres, like country, blues and electronica; and they added piano, strings, banjo and even a little sitar. Axl ranted against everythig under the sun. They shot for the moon, then blew it up on the way by. The Illusions were released one week before Nirvana’s Nevermind, so they have come to symbolize 80s metal’s last gasp. But what a gasp. Mammoth and ambitious, these albums sold about a bazillion copies, generated plenty of debate amongst hard rock fans, and still hold up today.

Document is excellent and, let’s face it, smarter; and R.E.M. is the more important band. But these battles are not about the artists, they are about the albums. And Use Your Illusions were a cultural event in a way that Document was not – people lined up outside record stores. That may be the last time that happened, and it will never happen again. Sorry, music snobs, but history decrees it must be so…


WINNER: Guns n’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and II (1 point)


80s: 5

90s: 5

80s: 5
90s: 5

Next week’s battle  –  #40: U2, War (1983) vs. Neil Young, Harvest Moon (1992)