It’s the second best Guns N’ Roses album – after Chinese Democracy, naturally. Alright, I might be kidding about that, so hear me out. “The Spaghetti Incident?” – even with its daft in-joke title, annoying question-mark and appalling cover is an amazing album; an important album even. It’s peculiar – it sits out on its own. It is nothing to do with Guns N’ Roses in so many ways. And yet it is everything. Or so very close. It’s the album that could have been, might have been, should have been. It exists – still – in spite of so many people forgetting all about it or never bothering in the first place.
Guns N’ Roses became a monster due to Use Your Illusion I and II and, in particular, the gargantuan tour that accompanied the dual/duel-release of the albums; backing singers, a horn section, Axl seated at a grand piano doing his Elton John thing. Live At The Ritz this was not.
Nirvana and grunge pushed Guns N’ Roses to the side. Suddenly this fresh, vital hard-rock band that had metal’s branding and iconography and punk’s instincts and attitude was now just plodding dinosaur stadium filler/fodder. People listened to G N’ R on building sites, at BBQs, on radio – it wasn’t dangerous. It was safe. And boring. Even worse, people stopped listening altogether.
The album that became something of a nail in the coffin was The Spaghetti Incident?
I always heard it as an intriguing – often brilliant – album. A smart collection of covers that traced around some of the influences and heroes for the band; more than that – given the huge appeal of Guns N’ Roses – The Spaghetti Incident? was a gateway album for so many people, opening up a world of punk music, sending young, eager (beginner) students-of-the-sound back to the source.
We open with Since I Don’t Have You (originally by The Skyliners). Another, greasy, oiled-up Slash riff – but a whole new (old) world of sound in support of it – sitting down with the record 19 years after I first heard it and I’m back – instantly – to the drive into town, newly licensed, to purchase the cassette tape.
Since I Don’t Have You was the first surprise on the album – a rather punk way to open an album of punk covers; being that it’s not punk at all. No rules.
But that’s the cute folly of the album – even if Axl sings with a sincere croon (relishing the almost adlib “yep, we’re fucked” at the end of the title’s line).
From there it’s (really) down to business. New Rose and Down on the Farm and Human Being all feel like songs that could have been on either of the Illusion albums. Not only that, those albums would have been better off for it. Same with, later on down the Spaghetti Incident’s track listing, Hair of the Dog and Black Leather.
These songs were well handled by Guns N’ Roses but their prime importance, as far as I’m concerned, was in the fact that they introduced me to The Damned, The Professionals and The U.K. Subs; they made me want to hear more from names I knew but had not explored musically, such as New York Dolls and Nazareth.
The cover of Raw Power arrived just as I was diving head-long into the world of The Stooges having soaked up Iggy Pop’s 1980s and late 1970s offerings. So that was timely.
And Attitude and You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory were tracks I knew about, knew about the influence of Misfits and Johnny Thunders on the band (and in the case of Thunders, he was Duff’s hero – hence Duff turning in essentially a solo performance on that number).
For me, now, as then, the revelations on this album are the versions of T.Rex’s Buick Mackane (with its closing interpolation of Soundgarden’s Big Dumb Sex) and Ain’t It Fun.
Ain’t It Fun, in particular, would rank among the finest musical moments for G N’ R; one of the band’s best songs. And the medley of Buick/Big Dumb Sex has the band firing, playing like a well-oiled machine, rather than the groaning colossus it ultimately was by that point. These songs – and in fact most of side one of the LP – do, in some way, remind of the energy and passion that was shown on Live At The Ritz. (Almost).
And then there’s Look At Your Game Girl, a hidden-song/bonus track, tacked on to the (real) closer, Fear’s I Don’t Care About You. Incidentally I’d seen footage of Lee Ving shouting out his angry song I Don’t Care About You when I was about 10 years old. I loved it. One of my earliest punk-music memories/experiences. So, though I’ve never been sure that the Gun N’ Roses version of the song offers very much in its interpretation – beyond presenting a favourite song – I’ve always liked it. Probably because it was another song I knew on first listening to the album.
But Look At Your Game Girl was a controversial inclusion. Written by Charles Manson, it was removed after the initial pressing. Deemed too controversial I guess. Manson-sympathising is never a good look – the man, for all the claims of genius, is a lunatic. A frightening criminal mastermind. A lot of his prison-tape music and poems and rants are the ravings of a madman – but Look At Your Game Girl is a beautiful song. And if you choose to hear Axl’s quiet-croon version as bookending folly to complement Since I Don’t Have You then that would be fair enough. But, again, I feel it’s one of the defining moments in the Guns N’ Roses story; it shows, if nothing more, that Axl listened widely – and though there might be a simple claim here, to identify with Manson – to confuse and confound and to, by association, continue to appear controversial, it’s also, quite simply a beautiful song; the performance is lovely. Sincere. Affecting.
Guns N’ Roses’ huge failing – Axl’s in particular – has been the serious attitude, an actual humourlessness in the approach and feel, towards making the music and then in the way the music is received.
With The Spaghetti Incident? he – and the band – opened themselves up to their, at the time, harshest criticism and playfully subverted songs. Sincere readings – but a giant sidestep from what the band had offered previously. It failed. It backfired. It missed the mark.
I’ve never approached the album because it was a failure – I heard it, and loved it, at the time.
But listening to it now it’s fascinating just what a strange, marooned, album it is. It effectively killed Guns N’ Roses. And was the band’s last studio album until Axl finally unearthed Chinese Democracy, some 15 years later. A last-ditch live album would arrive six years after Spaghetti, but the damage had been done. That was one souvenir that arrived too late.
But let’s go back to how I opened this post. I’m dead serious when I say this is the Gunners’ second best album. The first, obviously, is Appetite For Destruction. But my next-favourite album, and the most rewarding album to listen to, for me, after Appetite, is The Spaghetti Incident? No question mark needed. I’m quite sure of it. (Chinese Democracy is second-equal though…nearly…)