Photo Credit: Paul Rovere
Guns N’ Roses formed on the Sunset Strip in 1985, born from splinter factions of two local bands, LA Guns and Hollywood Rose. From their formation, GNR brought darker energy than the other bands on the strip, they sounded like a mashup of punk rock and glam. Dead Boys meets Queen on steroids. Cocaine is a hell of a drug, the ’80s were a hell of a decade and Guns N’ Roses became emblematic of the substance and the age.
From the mid-’80s to the early ’90s the gunners rose from the gutters of Hollywood Boulevard to the Mount Olympus of stadium bands and then, through their hubris and various addictions, back-stabbings and riots, crashed and burned. But that was a long time ago. Since then, grunge came and went, then nu-metal, and the jangle of Brooklyn dance-punk after that. Except for the novelty of Chinese Democracy, the album that took over a decade in the making, released in 2008, Guns N’ Roses was firmly, and seemingly irrevocably, classic rock radio material. Nobody was expecting a resurrection at this point. And yet here we are.
February 25th of this year a mostly-classic lineup of Guns N’ Roses released their first new(ish) material since Chinese Democracy, “newish” meaning that both ‘Hard Skool” and “Absurd” were previously written for Chinese Democracy while “Don’t Cry” and “You’re Crazy” are both live takes of joints dating from the 1980s and early ’90s. But, why should we care after all these years?
Well, unless you are already a true-blue GNR fan, you shouldn’t. The live cuts are ok. “Don’t Cry” has all the overblown feeling of their material from the Use Your Illusion era and “You’re Crazy” still sounds like bad drugs in dirty clubs. “Absurd” is kind of interesting, a jam that sounds like Axl had been listening to a lot of late-period Poison Idea and mid-period Skinny Puppy. But the standout track is definitely the titular “Hard Skool.”
“Hard Skool”, musically, is definitely what music critics like to describe as “a return to form” but it’s hard to get past the unmitigated corniness, the absolute Spinal Tap-ness of the title of this new-ish jam, this EP, and this important reintroduction of Guns N’ Roses into the cultural consciousness. This misstep, seems like it was either a sign of absolute old rich man obtuseness or maybe, self-awareness? However, looking up the lyrics, you’ll see this: “But you had to play it cool, had to do it your way // Had to be a fool, had to throw it all away // Too hard school and you thought you were here to stay // If that were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway.”
Well, there it is. It seems here that frontman Axl Rose is taking a good look at the behavior, for the last several decades, of Axl Rose himself. How about that? Does this uncharacteristic flash of self-honesty redeem this EP? Not really. But it does suggest that if GNR intends to keep going, maybe they are in fact wiser instead of just older.