I just started re-reading Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman, and he has a good discussion of Guns N' Roses, which includes a comparison to Nirvana, as well as a brief comparison of Appetite for Destruction and Nevermind.
Twenty years ago, Nirvana was recording their seminal album Nevermind at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, where Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers recorded Damn the Torpedoes, Neil Young recorded After the Gold Rush, Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumors, and, most importantly, Dio recorded Holy Diver.
Nevermind would be released a few months later, in September 1991, and soon there was a great debate amongst rock fans: hair bands and heavy metal vs. grunge. I remember not really knowing that I was supposed to choose a side until my buddy The Weez told me that it was my moral imperative to do so. Of course, when given the choice, I chose (and still choose) hair bands and metal.
As a result of these very clear dividing lines, as I imagine was the case with a lot of people, it took me a few years before I was comfortable with grunge and "alternative" rock, when I realized that it is possible to like both sides without exploding.
As far as I'm concerned, the two most important hard rock albums of my generation are Nevermind and Appetite for Destruction. I'm guessing if you asked a music critic which they thought was a better album, most would probably say Nevermind because, for some reason, people are more comfortable lionizing a suicidal heroin addict than an asshole. At home, though, I bet they blast Appetite when they want to rock out. As for you, my fair readers, I'm not sure. I know many of you, and I know that you (at least outwardly) prefer GNR over Nirvana.
Nirvana made one monumental album and two average albums. Guns N' Roses made one monumental album, two really good albums, and The Spaghetti Incident? (I'm leaving Chinese Democracy out of the equation.)
I'm not sure exactly why it's somehow more acceptable to like Nevermind than Appetite (or at least to openly show appreciation for Nevermind rather than Appetite). I'd imagine some people might say that Nevermind is more "real," which is wrong. "A mulatto / An albino / A mosquito / My libido"? That's gibberish. I've never owned a bird, so I have no frame of reference for "Polly." And I've tried, but I simply cannot relate to "Territorial Pissings."
On the other hand, the songs on Appetite ARE real because they are generally written from experience. "Welcome to the Jungle" is about moving to a big city. "Mr. Brownstone" is about the debilitating effects of heroin addiction (as experienced by Slash and Izzy). "Nightrain" is about drinking Nightrain. "My Michelle" is about a chick named Michelle whose mother died of a heroin and whose daddy worked in porno.
So if reality favors Appetite, what can it be about Nevermind that still makes critics drool? There's something pseudo-intellectually appealing to Nevermind, perhaps because it's dark and brooding, which stands in stark contrast to most of the hair band music that was popular when Nevermind was released. Appetite is kick-'em-in-the-teeth party music.
Both albums are phenomenal, and I like both albums, so don't take this post as some sort of indictment against Nevermind. Both albums have a punk attitude. Musically, both albums are excellent, although I'd give GNR the nod on musicianship. Both albums have iconic album covers. Both albums were (and continue to be) hugely successful. Appetite has sold 18 million copies in the U.S. and 28 million copies worldwide, while Nevermind has sold 11 million copies in the U.S. and 26 million worldwide. There's not a bad song on Appetite, although there are a couple songs on Nevermind that could be considered average.
By coincidence (or so I assume), both albums have 12 songs, which allows for a song-by-song comparison. In case you are unfamiliar with two of the most important albums of the last 25 years, the songs from Appetite for Destruction are listed first.
1. "Welcome to the Jungle" vs. "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
These are both anthems that top or come close to topping many lists.
2. "It's So Easy" vs. "In Bloom"
Edge: "In Bloom"
This one was tough because they're both great songs, but the edge goes to "In Bloom." It's a little less rapey than "It's So Easy."
3. "Nightrain" vs. "Come as You Are"
Nirvana sympathizers might be saying, "Dude, no way," after they sip their coffee and take a drag from their American Spirit. GNR sympathizers might be saying "Fuck you, GMYH," after they take a slug of Nightrain and a drag from their Camel. You're both right. "Come As You Are" is great, but overrated. "Nightrain" is underrated, but not better than "Come As You Are."
4. "Out Ta Get Me" vs. "Breed"
"Breed" is my favorite Nirvana song.
5. "Mr. Brownstone" vs. "Lithium"
They're both about drugs. "Lithium" is probably my second-favorite Nirvana song after "Breed." "Mr. Brownstone" is in my top 5 for GNR songs.
6. "Paradise City" vs. "Polly"
Edge: "Paradise City"
7. "My Michelle" vs. "Territorial Pissings"
Edge: "My Michelle"
I really like "Territorial Pissings," despite the fact that I was never an alien. But "My Michelle" has more grit and more balls than any song on Nevermind.
8. "Think About You" vs. "Drain You"
This was another close call. I like both songs. I was leaning towards "Drain You," but then I listened to "Think About You," and I can't say that I like one song more than the other.
9. "Sweet Child O' Mine" vs. "Lounge Act"
Edge: "Sweet Child O' Mine"
"Lounge Act" is a very underrated song, but I sure as shit don't remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it.
10. "You're Crazy" vs. "Stay Away"
Both of these songs are hyper and full of angst, with "You're Crazy" aimed at a crazy woman and "Stay Away" apparently aimed at cool monkeys.
11. "Anything Goes" vs. "On a Plain"
Edge: "Anything Goes"
"On a Plain" is a good song, and this was a tough call. I was going to put this as "even," but then I listened to both songs. "Anything Goes" just has more gusto.
12. "Rocket Queen" vs. "Something in the Way"
Edge: "Rocket Queen"
"Rocket Queen" was, is, and always will be my favorite GNR song, and it would be impossible for me to ever like a Nirvana song more than "Rocket Queen," much less the worst song on Nevermind.
Final Tally: 5-2-5 in favor of Appetite for Destruction.
With that, fair readers, I ask you the following question: Which do you think is a better album, Appetite for Destruction or Nevermind? You have one week. Go! (And, of course, I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, or hate-filled rants.)