Guns N' Roses
At a time when pop was dominated by dance music and pop-metal, Guns N' Roses brought raw, ugly rock & roll crashing back into the charts. They were not nice boys; nice boys don't play rock & roll. They were ugly, misogynist, and violent; they were also funny, vulnerable, and occasionally sensitive, as their breakthrough hit, "Sweet Child O' Mine," showed. While Slash and Izzy Stradlin ferociously spit out dueling guitar riffs worthy of Aerosmith or the Stones, Axl Rose screeched out his tales of sex, drugs, and apathy in the big city. Meanwhile, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler were a limber rhythm section who kept the music loose and powerful. Guns N' Roses' music was basic and gritty, with a solid hard, bluesy base; they were dark, sleazy, dirty, and honest -- everything that good hard rock and heavy metal should be. There was something refreshing about a band who could provoke everything from devotion to hatred, especially since both sides were equally right. There hadn't been a hard rock band this raw or talented in years, and they were given added weight by Axl Rose's primal rage, the sound of confused, frustrated white trash vying for his piece of the pie. As the '80s became the '90s, there simply wasn't a more interesting band around, but owing to intra-band friction and the emergence of alternative rock, Rose's supporting cast gradually disintegrated, as he spent several years in seclusion.
Guns N' Roses released their first EP in 1986, which led to a contract with Geffen; the following year, the band released their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. They started to build a following with their numerous live shows, but the album didn't start selling until almost a year later, when MTV started playing "Sweet Child o' Mine." Soon, both the album and single shot to number one, and Guns N' Roses became one of the biggest bands in the world. Their debut single, "Welcome to the Jungle," was re-released and shot into the Top Ten, and "Paradise City" followed in its footsteps. By the end of 1988, they released G N' R Lies, which paired four new, acoustic-based songs (including the Top Five hit "Patience") with their first EP. G N' R Lies' inflammatory closer, "One in a Million," sparked intense controversy, as Axl Rose slipped into misogyny, bigotry, and pure violence; essentially, he somehow managed to distill every form of prejudice and hatred into one five-minute tune.
Guns N' Roses began work on the long-awaited follow-up to Appetite for Destruction at the end of 1990. In October of that year, the band fired Adler, claiming that his drug dependency caused him to play poorly; he was replaced by Matt Sorum from the Cult. During recording, the band added Dizzy Reed on keyboards. By the time the sessions were finished, the new album had become two new albums. After being delayed for nearly a year, the albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II were released in September 1991. Messy but fascinating, the albums showcased a more ambitious band; while there were still a fair number of full-throttle guitar rockers, there were stabs at Elton John-style balladry, acoustic blues, horn sections, female backup singers, ten-minute art rock epics with several different sections, and a good number of introspective, soul-searching lyrics. In short, they were now making art; amazingly, they were successful at it. The albums sold very well initially, but while they had seemed destined to set the pace for the decade to come, that turned out not to be the case at all.
Nirvana's Nevermind hit number one in early 1992, suddenly making Guns N' Roses -- with all of their pretensions, impressionistic videos, models, and rock star excesses -- seem very uncool. Rose handled the change by becoming a dictator, or at least a petty tyrant; his in-concert temper tantrums became legendary, even going so far as to incite a riot in Montreal. Stradlin left by the end of 1991, and with his departure the band lost their best songwriter; he was replaced by ex-Kill for Thrills guitarist Gilby Clarke. The band didn't fully grasp the shift in hard rock until 1993, when they released an album of punk covers, The Spaghetti Incident?; it received some good reviews, but the band failed to capture the reckless spirit of not only the original versions, but their own Appetite for Destruction. By the middle of 1994, there were rumors flying that the band was about to break up, since Rose wanted to pursue a new, more industrial direction and Slash wanted to stick with their blues-inflected hard rock. The band remained in limbo for several more years, and Slash resurfaced in 1995 with the side project Slash's Snakepit and an LP, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere.
Rose remained out of the spotlight, becoming a virtual recluse and doing nothing but tinkering in the studio; he also recruited various musicians -- including Dave Navarro, Tommy Stinson, and ex-Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck -- for informal jam sessions. Remaining members were infuriated by Rose's inclusion of childhood friend Paul Huge in the new sessions when both Stradlin and Clarke were excluded from rejoining the band. And a remake of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back, as Rose cut out some of the other member's contributions and pasted Huge over the song without consulting anyone else. By 1996 Slash was officially out of Guns N' Roses, leaving Rose the lone remaining survivor from the group's heyday; rumors continued to swirl, and still no new material was forthcoming, though Rose did re-record Appetite for Destruction with a new lineup for rehearsal purposes. The first new original G N' R song in eight years, the industrial metal sludge of "Oh My God" finally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days. Soon after, Geffen issued the two-disc Live Era 1987-1993.
2000 brought the addition of guitarists Robin Finck (of Nine Inch Nails) and Buckethead. 2001 was greeted with Guns N' Roses' first live dates in nearly seven years, as the band (who consisted of Rose plus guitarists Finck, Buckethead, bassist Stinson, former Primus drummer Brian Mantia, childhood friend and guitarist Paul Huge, and longtime G N' R keyboardist Dizzy Reed) played a show on New Years Eve 2000 in Las Vegas, playing as well at the mammoth Rock in Rio festival the following month. A new album was announced for a summer release, but the date came and went without any CDs hitting the shelves. A summer tour of Europe was planned, but before tickets could go on sale Rose announced that the tour was cancelled and the band went into seclusion until New Years Eve of 2001. They played almost the exact same set as the year before, but they still managed to brew up some news by not allowing any former members to watch the show. Slash tried to get onto the guest list, and even claims to have tried to sneak in through a security guard. Manager Doug Goldstein released a statement taking full responsibility for the banning of former members, claiming that he was not sure of their intentions and he wanted to avoid making Rose nervous.
2002 started with no new Axl news, instead seeing former members Slash, Duff, and Izzy work together on new material for Stradlin's new album. Rose eventually ended up in music news as he fired producer Roy Thomas Baker from the group's newest recording sessions, adding him to the superstar list of producers that had been attached to the project at various points (including Moby, Mike Clink, Youth, Bob Ezrin, and many others.) Slash's contributions to Izzy's album didn't make the final cut, but rumors of a new band featuring former members McKagan, Sorum, and Slash began circulating by the end of the spring. A slew of Japanese and British festival dates were set in the spring, but the mysterious new album continued to elude fans as the release date was pushed into the fall of 2002. Before those concert dates rolled around, guitarist Paul Huge left the group, quickly replaced by former Love Spit Love member Richard Fortus.
An appearance at MTV's annual Video Music Awards helped garner interest in the new lineup, but a rusty performance from Rose and an interview where he said his new album wasn't coming out anytime soon didn't do much to further their cause. That summer, the band started on their first tour in almost eight years, and they managed to fulfill all of their commitments in Europe in Asia. Sadly, they caused a violent and destructive riot in Vancouver when Rose failed to show up for the first date of their North American tour. Tour openers CKY were especially inconvenienced, as Rose had only asked them days before to reroute from California to Canada for the show. A few shows managed to come together, with Rose hitting the stage quite late at certain dates. But Rose didn't show up for a Philadelphia concert after allowing both opening acts to go on beforehand. The costly vandalism that followed the announcement was enough to convince tour backers Clear Channel to cut their ties with the group, ending the tour and convincing CKY to verbally thrash the group on their website. While he was up to his old shenanigans with the retooled lineup, former members Stradlin, Slash, Sorum and McKagan finally put an end to the rumors and announced that they were searching for a vocalist for a new, Axl-free band.
The years between albums have grown into a running joke in the music industry, Interscope's frustration with the millions dumped into the recording has become secondary to Rose's reclusive insistence to perfect his material. By leaving the industry on such a strong note, Rose's image has been frozen in time as the frustrating, angry, yet sensitive genius behind the microphone, an image he might not be ready to live up to as the years go by. Despite what happens to most groups that have stayed out of the limelight for ten years, the legend of Guns N' Roses continues to grow with each year. Whatever may happen with the new lineup, the five original members continue to enjoy celebrity status despite having their post-GN'R material show less than enthusiastic sales. By writing one of the most critical hard rock albums of all time, they have secured their status as the most vital force to hit the mainstream rock scene in the 80's. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato, All Music Guide
Combining jagged, roaring guitars and stop-start dynamics with melodic pop hooks, intertwining male-female harmonies and evocative, cryptic lyrics, the Pixies were one of the most influential American alternative rock bands of the late '80s. The Pixies weren't accomplished musicians -- Black Francis wailed and bashed out chords while Joey Santiago's lead guitar squealed out spirals of noise. But the band were inventive, rabid rock fans that turned conventions inside out, melding punk and indie guitar rock, classic pop, surf rock, and stadium-sized riffs with singer/guitarist Black Francis' bizarre, fragmented lyrics about space, religion, sex, mutilation, and pop culture; while the meaning of his lyrics may have been impenetrable, the music was direct and forceful. The Pixies' busy, brief songs, extreme dynamics, and subversion of pop song structures proved one of the touchstones of '90s alternative rock. From grunge to Britpop, the Pixies' shadow loomed large -- it's hard to imagine Nirvana without the Pixies' signature stop-start dynamics and lurching, noisy guitar solos. While the Pixies were touted as the band to bring indie rock into the mainstream, they simply laid the groundwork for the alternative explosion of the early '90s. MTV was reluctant to play their videos, while even modern rock radio didn't put their singles into regular rotation. Furthermore, tensions between leader Black Francis and bassist/vocalist Kim Deal, who wanted to incorporate her songs into the band's repertoire, crippled the band's progress. By the time Nirvana broke the doors down for alternative rock in 1992, the Pixies were effectively broken up.
The Pixies were formed in Boston, MA, in 1986 by Charles Thompson and his roommate, Joey Santiago. Born in California, Thompson began playing music as a teenager, before he moved to the East Coast during high school. Following graduation, he became an anthropology major at the University of Massachusetts. Half way through his studies at the college, he went to Puerto Rico to study Spanish, and after six months he decided to move back to the U.S. to form a band. Thompson dropped out of school and moved to Boston, managing to persuade Santiago to join him. Advertising in a music paper for a bassist who liked "Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul & Mary," the duo recruited Kim Deal (who was billed as Mrs. John Murphey on the group's first two records), who had previously played with her twin sister Kelly in the folk-rock garage band the Breeders in her hometown of Dayton, OH. On the advice of Deal, the group recruited drummer David Lovering. Inspired by Iggy Pop, Thompson picked the stage name Black Francis and the group named itself the Pixies after Santiago randomly flipped through the dictionary.
By the fall, the Pixies had played enough gigs to land a supporting slot for fellow Boston band Throwing Muses. At the Muses concert, Gary Smith, an artist manager and producer at Boston's Fort Apache studios, heard the group and offered to record them. In March 1987, the Pixies recorded 18 songs over the course of three days. The demo, dubbed The Purple Tape, was given to key players within the Boston musical community and the international alternative scene, including Ivo Watts, the head of England's 4AD Records. Impressed with the cassette, Watts signed the band and released eight of the demo's songs as the EP Come On Pilgrim in 1987.
The Pixies convened to record their first full-length album, Surfer Rosa, with producer Steve Albini, who had pioneered the thin, abrasive indie-guitar grind with Big Black. Albini gave the band a harder-edged, abrasive guitar sound, yet the group retained its melodic hooks. Released in the spring of 1988, Surfer Rosa earned enthusiastic reviews from the British weekly music press and became a college radio hit in America; in the U.K., the album made inroads on the pop charts. By the end of the year, the buzz on the Pixies had become substantial, and the group signed to Elektra Records. At the end of 1988, the group re-entered the studio, this time with British producer Gil Norton. Released in the spring of 1989, Doolittle boasted a cleaner sound and received excellent reviews, which led to greater exposure in America. "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man" became Top Ten modern rock hits, clearing the way for Doolittle to peak at number 98 on the U.S. charts; in the U.K., it entered the charts at number eight. Throughout their career, the Pixies were more popular in Britain and Europe than America, as evidenced by the success of the Sex and Death tour. The band became notorious for Black Francis' motionless performances, which were offset by Deal's charmingly earthy sense of humor. The tour itself became infamous for the band's in-jokes, such as playing their entire set list in alphabetical order. By the completion of their second American tour for Doolittle at the end of 1989, the group had begun to tire of each other and decided to take a hiatus during the beginning of 1990.
During the hiatus, Black Francis went on a brief solo tour and Kim Deal formed a group with Tanya Donnely from the Throwing Muses and bassist Josephine Wiggs of Perfect Disaster, naming it after her teenage band, the Breeders. The Breeders recorded the Albini-produced Pod, which appeared on 4AD in early summer 1990, shortly after the Pixies reconvened to record their third album with Gil Norton. More atmospheric than its predecessors, and relying heavily on Francis' surf rock obsession, Bossanova was released in the fall of 1990; unlike Surfer Rosa or Doolittle, it contained no songs by Deal. Bossanova was greeted with decidedly mixed reviews, but the record became a college hit, generating the modern rock hits "Velouria" and "Dig for Fire" in the U.S. In Europe, the record expanded the group's popularity, hitting number three on the U.K. album charts and paving the way for their headlining appearance at the Reading Festival. Though the supporting tours for Bossanova were successful, tension continued to grow between Kim Deal and Black Francis -- at the conclusion of their English tour, Deal announced from the stage of the Brixton Academy that the concert was "our last show."
While the Pixies did cancel their planned American tour, due to "exhaustion," the band reconvened in the spring of 1991 to record its fourth album, again with Gil Norton. Hiring former Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman as an auxiliary member, the band moved back toward loud rock, claiming to be inspired by the presence of Ozzy Osbourne in a neighboring studio. Upon its fall release, Trompe le Monde was hailed by some as a welcome return to the sound of Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, but closer inspection revealed that it relied heavily on sonic detail and featured very few vocals by Deal and none of her songs. The band embarked on another international tour, playing stadiums in Europe but theaters in America. During the spring of 1992, the Pixies opened for U2 on the opening leg of the Zoo TV tour; it would be their last trek through the United States. Upon the conclusion of the Zoo TV tour the Pixies went on hiatus, with Deal returning to the Breeders, who releasing the EP Safari later that spring. Francis began working on a solo album.
As he was preparing to release his solo debut, Francis gave an interview on BBC's Radio 5, announcing that the Pixies were disbanding. He hadn't yet informed the other members; later that day, he faxed them his statement. Inverting his stage name to Frank Black, Francis released his eponymous debut that spring to mixed reviews; over the next few years, Frank Black's audience gradually shrank to a small cult following. The Breeders released their second album, Last Splash, in the fall of 1993. The album became a surprise hit, going gold in the U.S. and spawning the hit single "Cannonball." Soon after, Deal also formed the Amps, who released their one (and only) album, Pacer, in 1995. Santiago and Lovering formed the Martinis in 1995 and appeared on the soundtrack to Empire Records. Although 4AD began issuing archival Pixies releases, including Death to the Pixies 1987-1991, Pixies at the BBC, and Complete B-Sides in the late '90s and early 2000s, those were relatively quiet years for the band's members. After releasing the disappointing The Cult of Ray for American in 1996, Black shuffled between different labels before ending up at spinART for 1999's Pistolero, where he also released his subsequent solo albums, most of which were met with a fair-to-middling response. Deal and the rest of the Breeders, meanwhile, suffered from problems ranging from substance abuse to writer's block, and only surfaced intermittently, spending time in the studio but only having a cover of 3 Degrees' "Collage" on the soundtrack to 1999's The Mod Squad to show for their efforts until they released Title TK in 2002. David Lovering left the Martinis and became the touring drummer for Cracker, and also appeared on Tanya Donelly's Sliding and Diving, but found himself unemployed in the late '90s. Combining his studies in electronic engineering at Wentworth Institute of Technology and his years of performing experience, Lovering dubbed himself a "scientific phenomenalist," a cross between a scientist, performance artist, and magician, and warmed up the crowds at Frank Black, Breeders, Camper Van Beethoven, and Grant Lee Buffalo concerts. Santiago and his wife Linda Mallari continued the Martinis through the '90s, recording several demos and self-released albums. Santiago also began a career composing soundtracks and incidental music, beginning with the score for 2000's Crime & Punishment in Suburbia, to which Black also contributed a track. At the time, rumors circulated that Santiago would join Black on-stage during one of his London dates on the Dog in the Sand tour; though this didn't happen, it at least sparked hopes that the Pixies would eventually reunite. These hopes seemed unfounded until 2003, when Black revealed in an interview that he had considered reuniting the band and that he, Deal, Santiago, and Lovering occasionally got together to jam. Soon after, it was confirmed that the Pixies would reunite in 2004 for U.S. tours in the spring and fall; an appearance at that year's Coachella festival; gigs in Europe and the U.K. that summer, including performances at the T in the Park, Roskilde, Pinkpop, and V festivals; and, possibly, to record a new album. All 15 of the band's North American warm-up tour dates were recorded and released in limited editions of 1,000 copies, which were sold online and at the shows. The week after the Pixies' Coachella appearance, the long-awaited DVD retrospective Pixies and revamped best-of Wave of Mutilation: The Best of the Pixies were released by 4AD. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide