Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 26: Guns N' Roses, "Estranged"

Artist: Guns N' Roses
Song: "Estranged"
Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

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Often times, simply due to the era in which they were recording, and perhaps also adding in their general appearance, a band may be lumped in with a style of music to which they simply do not belong.  Though they may quite clearly be coming from a different place musically, these other two factors often outweigh the realities behind their sound.  While many bands have been forced to endure this often unwanted fate, there is perhaps no greater mis-labeling than when people lump Guns N' Roses in with the so-called "hair metal" movement of the 1980's.  Certainly the band had a similar appearance and attitude to many bands of that style, yet as soon as one begins to discuss the musical side of things, any possible comparisons quickly become impossible.  Bringing a sound that was far more raw, dirty, and unapologetic than the carefree style of the "hair metal" movement, Guns N' Roses built their name on the mostly deserving image of being the "bad boys" of hard rock.  Though the band is perhaps best known for their string of hits off of their 1987 record, Appetite For Destruction, it is their later, final work that sets them in a category all their own, and spotlights their unquestionable talents.  The double release of Use Your Illusion in September of 1991 gave the world a number of stunning tracks, and yet one can hear everything that makes Guns N' Roses such a phenomenal band in the final single released from those records, 1991's "Estranged."

There are few songs of any band form any era that have even a remotely similar presence to that found on "Estranged,"as it seems to break nearly every musical rule possible.  First and foremost, there is absolutely no discernible structure to the song, as the band throws the typical "verse chorus verse" idea out the window, and "Estranged" has no actual chorus at any point.  With the song clocking in at nine and a half minutes, the band never loses focus, and these two elements combined prove that Guns N' Roses was far more talented than a majority of critics would like to admit.  There is a strange contrast to be found throughout "Estranged," as the moody, melodic piano from Axl Rose smash up against the ripping guitar work from Slash.  In fact, in the liner notes, Rose thanks Slash for "the killer guitar melodies" on "Estranged."  The overall mood is enhanced by the work of the rhythm section of bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum, with rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin presenting a fantastic backdrop over which Slash works.  Listening closely to the song, it often sounds as if the band was simply having a jam session at points, as they completely flesh out every part of the song, again standing in contrast to the entire style of "hair metal."  There is an almost overwhelming, majestic feel to "Estranged," and at every turn the band is showing their extraordinary musical talents, cementing the group in a category all their own, as well as creating one of the most stunning works of hard rock in history.

Yet even with the superb musical performance on "Estranged," one simply cannot discuss anything related to Guns N' Roses without talking about the one and only W. Axl Rose.  Unquestionably one of the most outspoken and eccentric frontmen in history, on "Estranged," Rose brings one of his most moving lyrics, as well as some of his finest vocal work to date.  From the distant, almost whispered opening verses to the more powerful parts found in the middle of the song, Rose shows his entire range in terms of both delivery style as well as his ability to easily work the entire vocal spectrum.  Through both the music and vocals, one can feel the sense of anguish that Rose was trying to convey, as he later admitted that the song was inspired by his annulled marriage to Erin Everly.  Contrasting his forceful, pained lyrics with one of the most honest and emotional lines ever, one cannot help but be pulled into Rose's mood when he delivers lines like, "...I'll never find anyone to replace you, guess I'll have to make it through, this time...oh this time without you..."  While Rose dominates the song (in a good way) with his exceptional vocal work and dramatic conveyance of his lyrics, one cannot speak of "Estranged" without giving a nod to the perfectly placed backing vocals which were performed by, among others, a man named Shannon Hoon.  It is in this contrast of styles that one can see just how unique a band lived in Guns N' Roses, and there is simply no denying the overall majesty that one finds within "Estranged."

Taking all of the moods and contrasting sounds into account, one can also see "Estranged" as a rather prophetic song, re-interpreting the lyrics and clashing of sounds as a reflection on the state of the band at the time.  If one considers the more mellow, melodic piano parts as "Axl" and the crushing guitar work as "Slash," one can easily see the split between these two personalities that in many ways defined an entire era of music.  Furthermore, the lyrics which Rose penned can easily be seen as a final attempt to resolve the well-documented internal problems of Guns N' Roses, and the fact of the matter is, within a few short years of the release of "Estranged," the band would enter what stands as one of the most talked about hiatus' in music history.  Truth be told, though released on Use Your Illusion II in 1991, "Estranged" was not actually released as a single until January of 1994, and the fact that more than 2 years after its release, the band was still taking singles from the record, serves as a testament to just how good both albums were.  It is songs like "Estranged" that stood in sharp contrast to the bands' public persona as a group of rowdy rockers, as there is an undeniable beauty to the song, and it is this display of a superior talent in musicianship as well as arrangement that sets Guns N' Roses far apart from any other band of the era.  Standing as what can be seen as a culmination of all of their efforts to date, there is simply no way to accurately convey the level of emotion and superb musicianship that one finds on Guns N' Roses monumental 1991 song, "Estranged."


DudeAbides said...

Nice review, and nice site. Anyone who recognized the genius of shannon hoon is ok in my book.

jrgill99 said...

I have actually seen this song on a "worst songs" list, and to me, it never seemed to gain the traction of other GNR classics (I can't make it through a party without hearing "Sweet Child", "Patience" or "Paradise City", but you never hear anybody break out Estranged). It's like the song that never existed, or was some rare b-side. I'm sure that it has a lot to do with it's length and the fact that radio never plays it because of that. So glad to hear someone give it the props it deserves.