Enough of the cracks that there really will be democracy in China before Guns N' Roses long-delayed Chinese Democracy sees the light of day, barring the occasional play from the DJ booths of LA strip clubs, Universal Music have got around to transferring G'n'R's Welcome To The Videos off VHS and onto shiny silver discs. W. Axl Rose might be the only original member left in the band, with Slash once replaced by a guitarist called Buckethead, who wore a KFC bucket on his head but as ludicrous as they ended up, what the early videos on this DVD release show is a band who burst out of LA in the summer of 1988 but who, in the words of Aerosmith's manager at the time, Tim Collins, "...were so fucked up it was ridiculous."
With a full tracklisting of...
- Welcome to the Jungle
- Sweet Child o' Mine
- Paradise City
- Don't Cry
- Live and Let Die
- November Rain
- The Garden
- Dead Horse
- Garden of Eden
- Since I Don't Have You
...the DVD opens with a Welcome To The Jungle, which reveals Guns N' Roses to be the same mess of guitars, bandanas and scuzz chic as Jane's Addiction, if bent out of a slightly different metal. Realising, though, that image was important to the mix, Guns N' Roses looked great despite having Axl up front for, given that their singer could barely hold a tune, didn't look too capable of handling himself and did a little mincing dance instead of big rock moves, it was up to Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Slash to keep it together. Izzy and Slash knew that no guitars looked better than Gibson Les Pauls, with Slash in particular, knowing that Cherry Sunburst Standards looked finest of all, particularly when worn at crotch-level, supported with a thin leather strap. Like Jimmy Page? Of course but that's hardly surprising given how aware Page was of his own image.
With their first single out of the way, Guns N' Roses released Sweet Child O' Mine and made it big...really big. With not much more than a bit of studio and rehearsal footage, the video really isn't that exciting but the music is great, despite how much it would have galled me to say that at the time.
The best early video is Paradise City, which is no more complicated that Guns N' Roses performing the song during a couple of stadium shows, cut into one another. Of course, one show is the notorious Donnington gig in which two members of the audience were crushed to death and the other, already showing a canny sense of marketing, was filmed as Guns N' Roses opened for Aerosmith at the Giants' Stadium in Jersey, hence the video shows Guns N' Roses playing to stadium audiences that would impress MTV viewers across the States.
By Don't Cry, the band were leaving the cheap promos for Appetite For Destruction behind, Axl was all too clearly listening to Elton John and both symbolism and grand but empty gestures started creeping in. Hence, the 2001: A Space Odyssey rip of Axl lying in an all-white room, in which he is visited by another version of himself and the shot of Slash playing his Les Paul on a mountainside road with nary a Marshall stack to be seen before throwing it into the wilderness. If you manage to get through the cut between Axl visiting his own grave and the baptism of a child with spooky green eyes without laughing, you're built from sterner stuff than I.
Skip the unnecessary version of Live And Let Die, which is such a pale cover that it makes the original, by Sir Paul McCartney no less, sound all the more demonic, and you're into the ludicrous but hugely entertaining November Rain. The story is apparently based on 'Without You' and is available in the collection The Language of Fear by Del James and is adapted as, well, Axl meets some chick, balls and has a ball before getting hitched at some little church in the countryside. Whilst all the gang are there - Slash is the best man but Duff handles the rings - and Axl slips his bride the tongue, things really get moving as the reception is rained off. Could this be...a symbol? You betcha as some fool jumps into the wedding cake, the figurines of Axl and Stephanie fall to the ground and, sniff, the celebration cuts to a funeral. With Axl weeping over the coffin of his new bride, the bouquet of white flowers she had thrown on her wedding day turn red in mid-air and land in her freshly dug grave. 'course, it wouldn't be Guns N' Roses if Slash didn't finish the song with a big ol' solo, so when he's stood on Axl's grand piano, looking like someone left a handy set of steps for him, facing off against the orchestra, this bull elephant of a song charges to a conclusion that, despite the dull balladry of the open minutes, is utterly wonderful. Like...not in such a wonderful way that it ranks with, y'know, Sonic Youth, Throwing Muses or S Club 7 but still thrilling!
After that...it all goes wrong, typified by a video like Estranged, which features some fat blokes backstage who may or may not be in the band for, at this stage, it was hard to tell anymore. Slash was still around as was Axl but Steven Adler was long gone as was Izzy Stradlin and Duff had clearly been scoffing the pies that had been stashed in his bass amp. With Slash looking bored, the videos became increasingly dull and as this DVD closes with the country/metal of Since I Don't Have You, featuring Gary Oldman as the devil, you'll realise that the band needed to get away for a while. Who knew that 'for a while' meant as many years as it has done but so it goes. Will Chinese Democracy ever get released? Who knows but does it really matter. In their time, they not only released Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion I and II, being two double albums released simultaneously, but caused riots, controversy and five burnt out musicians. With that legacy, who needs a comeback?
Given that Guns N' Roses date from the years before widescreen television, everything here is in 1.33:1 and looks fine but unexceptional and in pausing the DVD and moving forward frame-by-frame, only every third frame is clear with the other two blurred.
Welcome To The Videos has been transferred in 2.0 Stereo and, as with the picture quality, it's alright but nothing
There are no extras on this DVD, leading to the assumption that this is no more than the original video transferred onto DVD.
There's no You Could Be Mine but barring Sweet Child O' Mine, Paradise City, Don't Cry and November Rain, this is not much more than alright. Really, you ought to start with the albums but, well, that would mean not having the video for November Rain, which really would be a shame as it's the best thing the band have ever done. Come the sales, cometh the DVD...