Guns and Roses Essay

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Guns n Roses

Guns N' Roses: Three Decades, Three Eras, and the Rock Goes on?

Though many -- perhaps even most -- bands eventually crumble form the accusations and in-fighting, problems with managers and disillusion with the lifestyle that almost invariably arises, Guns N' Roses still rocks on. Well, at least in name. Truth be told, singer and front-man Axl Rose is the only member of the original band still performing with the group that bears the name Guns N' Roses. The problems listed above were extremely prevalent and viscous sources of tension and conflict in the band, and even today Gun N' Roses is marked by frequent changes in lineup. The disputes that may or my not be the cause for these changes are not as well publicized today as they were during the band's heyday, no doubt to their decreased presence in the rock world and the fact that they went for seventeen years without releasing an album of original music, but the constant changes in the membership of the band calls into question the integrity of continuing to use the name "Guns N' Roses."

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Answering that question of integrity is Axl Rose, who not only claims ownership of the name but who has unquestionably been the face, voice, and heart of the band since its inception (Rose 2008). Over the three decades of Guns N' Roses' ups and downs, Rose has steered the band both creatively and pragmatically through three distinct eras of the music industry and musical styles, continuing right up until today. The original members of the band had all been relatively successful in the Los Angeles music scene before coming together to form Guns N' Roses, and Rose's leadership (dictatorship, according to former guitarist Slash) propelled the group into the annals of rock history, and into rock's future (Luukkonen 2008).

The Appetite Era: 1987-1991

TOPIC: Essay on Guns and Roses Assignment

Guns N. Roses first got together in the mid-nineteen eighties, playing at local venues in Los Angeles and in a disappointing tour of Seattle (Luukkunen 2008). They have been compared to the Rolling Stones in this period not as much for the actual style of music they played, but for the abrasive and reinvigorating attitude they brought back to the increasingly plastic rock 'n' roll scene. Their sound at once typified and revolutionized eighty's rock, with their piercing electric guitar riffs an screaming yet beautifully pitched vocals. 1987 saw the release of their first major label album, Appetite for Destruction, as well as their first video shoot for a song that typified their style in this era and still remains one of their most popular today.

"Welcome to the Jungle" was inspired by the band's trip to Seattle, during which they endured a broken down car, cancelled shows, and venue operators who paid them a fifth of what they had been promised (Luukkunen 2008). The song does not make any explicit reference to these events, but is a violent treatise on the dangers of the rock and roll world, and the many people waiting to take advantage of you and drag you down. The opening sounds of the song reflect these sentiments, as a guitar riff tries several times to start and fades back, as if either being restrained or as though the player is too lost to continue. Eventually, the riff gains strength, but it is combined now with a new sound, a scream that slowly rises and extends into a sirens wail. The attempts at rock 'n' roll have brought us into the jungle, and the musical symbolism here expertly matches both the tone and meaning of the song's lyrics.

The brief bridge, containing the lyrics "and when you're high you never wanna come down," belies the true depth of guns N' Roses' sentiments and musical abilities. The melodic structure becomes noticeably softer and slower here, with the guitar shifting abruptly from shredding arpeggios to strumming chords that might belong in an early Beatles' song. Rose likewise shifts his singing from the piercing scream that is his trademark in much of his music and this song to a croon (well, as much of a croon as he can muster), which helps to counterpoint the aggressiveness and relentlessness of the rest of the song. This is not praise for the manic lifestyle of trying to make it in rock ' n' roll, or a masochistic celebration of excess until death, but a plea born almost out of desperation -- an artist's striving for recognition in a world driven by money, sex, and an appetite for everything decadent and...destructive.

The Illusion Era

It must be admitted that there is not really a transitional period between the Appetite Era and the Illusion Era; Use Your Illusion I and II were both released in 1991 during the band's Illusion Tour, and represented only the third and fourth studio albums released by the group. The second album, G N' R. Lies, was released with mixed feelings by the band during a time of heavy substance abuse (including during recording sessions and while on tour) and managerial mishaps, and Rose has complained that his voice is too raw and he should have been able to record separate tracks at a later date, but the album failed to have much of an impact on the groups' trajectory even though it reached the number two spot on the Billboard chart (Luukkunen 2008; Rose 2008).

The same cannot be said of their next two albums and their first international tour as headliners. While there isn't a major shift in style, it is obvious that the band has matured both artistically and personally at this point, justifying its status as the mark of a new era. The song "November Rain" is one of several power ballads produced by the group during this time, and its lyrics show a sophistication in both their content and their construction that is lacking even from songs like "Welcome to the Jungle." The opening piano chords and string accompaniment (arranged by Rose), and the masterfully restrained yet powerful percussion makes a noticeable yet unobtrusive addition to the opening verse (Rose 2009). The drums are used to punctuate the moments between lyrics, and allow Rose's uniquely adapted voice to express raw emotion that is soft and reaching out here where it was often aggressive and confrontational before.

There are also moments where Rose's voice rises in pitch and in tempo, but even here he manages to sound plaintive and bitter sweet rather than demanding or screaming. The constant presence of the soft and repetitious piano chords grounds the piece in a tradition and style that predates the band's first album by quite a bit, a sure sign of an increasing sense of self and an awareness and respect of previous musical talents. The melodic progression of the song also displays greater evidence of forethought and planning, rather than the almost inevitable driving feel that exists on many of the songs of their earlier albums. In this song and this era, Guns N' Roses manages to fully combine their raw talent, though, and emotion with the careful calculation necessary to true artistic genius.

The Current Era

The seventeen album-less years (excepting 1993's the Spaghetti Incident?, a questionable album consisting only of covers of mediocre punk songs that is perhaps best left ignored) between the Illusion Tour and 2008 are definitely noticeable on the band's lateest release, Chinese Democracy. Not only is Axl Rose the only member of the band from the previous releases to still appear on this album, but his voice has definitely taken a hit from all the, well...from all the hits he's taken. The rawness is no longer an enticing, intriguing, and well-developed aesthetic technique, but instead appears to have become an unavoidable quality brought on by years if use, abuse, and simple age. That being said, the songs on Chinese Democracy definitely reflect the same artistic sensibilities that can be seen in the band's earlier work, and Axl's position as lead writer on every track definitely suggests his guiding influence in the original Guns N' Roses lineup, as he has always maintained (Rose 2008).

One of the songs that most typifies both the changes and the consistencies in the band's style is "Madagascar." The lyrics seem to be a reflection on Rose's career in the industry, and his refusal to succumb to the negativity that has been attendant on much of his life and publicity. There is a noticed restraint in the guitar, even during solos, and the music has definitely taken a turn in this song that highlights the lyrics and Axl's singing, for better or for worse. The use of tambourines and native African drums gives portions of the song an almost folksy feel, while the heavily distorted guitar overlaying audio sampling from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches, other orators, and scenes from movies marks this piece as a definite move into semi-surreal post-modern rock. The intellectualism that was increasingly evident on the Use Your Illusion albums had become… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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