Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Channeling the Originals: Guns n' Roses, "'The Spaghetti Incident?'"

Guns n’ Roses, “The Spaghetti Incident?” (Geffen, 1993)

By the time this surprisingly sterling collection of cover songs was released, I was well over Guns n’ Roses and passed it by entirely, not that that matters to anyone. To many people, Appetite for Destruction was an important record in 1987 and subsequent years, with its full-throated Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll, the band’s street-worn gutter hair metal personas and style, and Robert Williams’s mind-blowing interior painting. Following the success of Appetite for Destruction, the band followed with G n’ R Lies—almost a pairing of two EPs, really—and the two-volume Use Your Illusion, neither quite capturing the crunch and snarl of their first album.

"The Spaghetti Incident?" was recorded over multiple sessions in multiple locations (Canoga Park! Tarzana!) while recording Use Your Illusion, intended to leaven the intensity of those sessions—as well as to tip hat to some of the bands that informed and inspired the band and its success. (The title refers to former drummer Steven Adler hiding drugs among Italian takeout containers in a Chicago refrigerator, referring to his stash as “spaghetti.”) Similar to Metallica’s The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited before it, the collection rounds up an excellent selection of songs, primarily punk, glam, and classic rock numbers (and one doo-wop song), much of which didn’t obviously translate to Guns n’ Roses’ evolving sound.

As the band said in the liner notes, “Do yourself a favor and go find the originals.” Indeed, the track list is a veritable shopping list for bands well worth listening to in depth. Bands covered include the Damned, the Dead Boys, Fear, the Misfits, Nazareth, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols,  the Skyliners, Soundgarden, the Stooges, Johnny Thunders, T. Rex, and the U.K. Subs. (You can explore most of the original recordings on a Spotify playlist.)

W. Axl Rose’s caterwauling vocals and Slash’s muscular guitar stand out on the recording, as one might expect, with Duff McKagan taking a turn at singing a handful of songs, including the Damned’s “New Rose,” the Stooges’ “Raw Power,” the Misfits’ “Attitude,” and Thunders’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” In fact, that last song is primarily McKagan, who didn’t just sing and play bass, but also played guitar and drums on the track. The collection’s lead single, the Dead Boys’ “Ain’t It Fun,” also featured Hanoi Rocks’ vocalist Michael Monroe paired with Rose.

The covers are relatively decent, in most cases more Guns n’ Roses than channeling the originals, though on the U.K. Subs’ “Down on the Farm,” Rose’s vocals are more straightforward, almost adopting a British accent to pay homage to the original vocal stylings. McKagan’s take on “Attitude” and the cover of Fear’s “I Don’t Care About You” is also pretty true to the originals. Several of the songs include playful innovations that occasionally come off as goofy. Dizzy Reed’s rollicking keyboards on “Raw Power” are delightful. Rose’s keyboards on the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You” are dreamily spacey—particularly at the end—and might deserve further experimentation. But his kazoo work on the New York Dolls’ “Human Being,” while initially tasteful and true to the original's saxophone, comes off at the end as somewhat silly. (It is, after all, the kazoo.)

Not included on the track list is a cover of Charles Manson’s “Look at Your Game, Girl,” which ends the album. Even though the song’s inclusion was downplayed—the track was not included on reviewers’ advance tapes and Manson received no credit or mention on the record—it proved controversial, prompting a response from law enforcement and victims rights groups. To make up for the gaffe, Rose donated royalties to a nonprofit environmental organization, royalties were donated to the son of a Manson victim, and Geffen Records donated its royalties share to the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau.

As an album, the collection is a worthy endnote to Guns n’ Roses original lineup. Izzy Stradlin and Adler had already left the band, and Stradlin’s guitar parts were reportedly re-recorded by Gilby Clarke. It was also the last record to feature Slash, McKagan, and Matt Sorum, whose drumming is quite impressive throughout.

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