REVIEW: Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II (1991)

GUNS N’ ROSES – Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II (1991 Geffen)

In my review for Guns N’ Roses’ smashing debut Appetite For Destruction, I stated that “Appetite is great, but Illusions are better”.  A strong and controversial statement.  How could I say such a thing?

Use Your Illusion I and II are a case of “Bigger, Better, Faster, More!”  Consider:

1. “Bigger”

Certainly in terms of length, Illusions are far bigger:  2 hours and 32 minutes compared to 53 minutes for Appetite.  I concede that the Illusions albums have far more filler than Appetite.  Given that the grand total of awesome material on Illusions still exceeds the length of Appetite, I think “Bigger” is a given.  They made us wait and wait and wait, but they made it worth our while.  You can’t always say that for Guns N’ Roses.

2. “Better”

Guns N’ Roses’ lineup was “new and improved!” in 1991.  Original drummer Steven Adler was given the boot due to severe issues with substances, replaced by Matt Sorum, who they knew from The Cult.  I won’t argue that Matt Sorum is a “better” drummer than Steven Adler, because they are too different.  Regardless of this, Sorum was able to expand Guns’ rhythmical pallette.  He could play things Adler could not at the time, such as “You Could Me Mine” and “Double Talkin’ Jive”.  As for the core members, each of them expanded their own talents on these albums.  Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin were now lead vocalists on a few tracks.  Slash’s guitar playing grew exponentially.  Izzy blossomed as a songwriter with some of Guns’ most diverse material.  And Axl Rose really got into the piano, contributing a ton of it, and even the techno influence that would later evolve into Chinese Democracy.  His vocal stylings also expanded, with more use of his lower voice.  Everybody had gotten…better.

3. “Faster”

It’s possible that “Right Next Door to Hell” is the fastest Guns track ever recorded.  “Perfect Crime” and “Garden of Eden” also qualify.

4. “More!”

Guns expanded their official lineup to a six piece with the arrival of keyboardist Dizzy Reed.  They also had plenty of special guests:  Alice Cooper*, Michael Monroe, and a guy named Shannon Hoon from the then-unknown Blind Melon.  Hoon appeared in the “Don’t Cry” music video.  Steven Adler was even on “Civil War”, one of the earliest tracks finished.  How’s that for more?  Not enough?  Throw on some orchestras, then.

Of course the weakness to this argument is the old saying that “less is more”, and that theory holds water.  Ultimately, it comes down to taste.  Do you prefer the nuclear assault of Appetite, or the complex stew of Illusions?  Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.  You can buy and love them all.

We reviewers, however, are not afforded such luxury.  We are expected to rate these things and answer tough questions about why.  I cannot deny how I feel about the Illusions albums.  I think II tops I, but from first listen, these albums were very special.  The ambition, the indulgence, and the time paid off on these albums.

Breaking it down, there are numerous top tier bonafide classics on Use Your Illusion I and II.  I think if you boiled the album down to these basic original tracks (colour coded by original album), you’d have a hard time beating it.

Proposal:

  1. Dust N’ Bones
  2. Don’t Cry
  3. Bad Obsession
  4. Double Talkin’ Jive
  5. November Rain
  6. The Garden
  7. Coma
  8. Civil War
  9. 14 Years
  10. Breakdown
  11. Pretty Tied Up
  12. Locomotive
  13. Estranged
  14. You Could Be Mine

And look…that’s enough for a perfectly awesome single CD.  It doesn’t even include the excellent covers “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die”, both hit singles for Guns.  It also excludes dumb but fun stuff like “Get in the Ring”.  You know you and your buddies have recited the words.  Don’t lie to me!

I always choose to listen to these albums in full, in sequence.  I find that to be the best way to go, as they intended it to be.

Appetite showed the world that rock and roll could still be dangerous and loud.  The Illusions albums immediately proved that Axl was a hell of a tortured genius.  However it’s not a one man show.  The dominant songwriter is Izzy Stradlin, with 11 credits on most of the best material.  His singing added a Keith Richards rasp to the band’s repertoire as well.

You don’t have to agree with my rating, but I feel that all of the above really overshadows the filler on Use Your Illusion.  Some of the material I consider filler were singles.  “Dead Horse” and “Garden of Eden” were both hit music videos.  The sheer bloat and indulgence of this set was a sharp and delightful contrast to the first waves of back-to-basics grunge bands.  It kept Guns on the charts for years.

In a 1991 M.E.A.T Magazine interview, Slash stated that after Appetite, every band in the world copied their style.  He challenged bands to try and copy them this time.  “To copy us, you’d have to be us.”  Slash was correct.  Nobody could touch Illusions.

5/5 stars

 

* The story behind the Cooper cameo is that Axl has originally sung all of “The Garden” himself. He sang it in a very Alice Cooper voice, and there was concern it was too close for comfort. So they called up Alice (who they worked with before on “Under My Wheels”) and Alice just nailed “The Garden”.

Advertisements

40 comments

  1. Gimme Appetite any day of the week! I rushed out and bought these the morning they came out, despite the rubbish cover art and I’ve always strongly believed you could make the best hard rock double LP ever out of them.

    Nothing tops Coma for me here. Although I’m a sucker for 14 Years and Breakdown too …

    Great piece Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You and Mars both have a soft spot for Coma. I like that about you.

      I never considered the art rubbish per se. I just always felt there was more to it (in Axl’s mind anyway) than I was getting. Chinese Democracy though has a rubbish cover. Very very rubbish.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t heard Illusions in ages but I have Appetite on CD so I listen to it quite a bit. However, I will not debate your putting Illusions over Appetite. After all, it’s down to how you find them and I know all about preferring bands’ other albums over the ‘classics.’ Example: I’ll take Van Halen 2 over their debut and in my last post, I prefer REO Speedwagon’s “Nine Lives” album over the much acclaimed “Hi Infidelity.” There are more examples but I won’t bore you here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t speak to REO Speedwagon, but I know with Van Halen saying that II is better than I can be sacrilege! But I also prefer Sabbath’s Born Again to anything they did with either Ozzy or Dio so I’m an odd duck too!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A compelling argument, but as much as I loved these when I was younger, it’s just a bit too much filler and unfocused. As two parts of one album it scores 2 Js. However, as 12 tracks, sequenced correctly, I would agree that it’s better than Appetite.

    No qualms on the Izzy argument, though. Izzy was easily the best songwriter.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m keen to learn how you get on with it.

        I forgot Shadow Of Your Love was dug out for a b-side. Never been a big fan of that track (or much of the Hollywood Rose stuff, actually).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a big fan of the, damn they have three really strong studio albums and showed a lot of growth approach.

    Wouldn’t want to live in a world without Out Ta Get Me or Its So Easy, but I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Estranged or November Rain either.

    The only thing I’d do differently is have saved the covers for later (like on their covers album for example), had only one version of Don’t Cry, and lost My World altogether.

    Otherwise, it has some of the coolest heavy songs (Back Off, Double Talking, You Could) some of the coolest non heavy songs (Dust and Bones, 14 Years) and some of the coolest experimental songs (Locomotive, Coma) in rock history.

    I guess Get In The Ring or Shotgun Blues are weaker than Appetitie, but overall both albums are definitely excellent. And maybe the people who bought Welcome To The Jungle on single weren’t exactly waiting for So Fine, but y’know…

    My main thing with these albums though, is the running order. I always as a kid skipped back and forth between moods. Nowadays with iTunes and playlists, I listen to them in order of heaviest to mellowest.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brilliant idea, regarding the covers. You could have Use Your Illusion I, II and III. III being the covers, including Spaghetti Incident which was partly recorded concurrently.

      Also interesting to go from heavy to mellow. That’s a neat idea.

      Like

      1. Just personal taste, but I always think that flows better, all the wham, bam stuff when you are excited and transition down to the softest stuff as you get more invested. Then there’s no flow breaking whiplash from thrashing to whispering.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Fair and interesting points. Good on you for sticking to your… er… Guns.

    Personally I thought these too long and too patchy. Also overblown. In a way which counteracted what was special about the band in the first place.

    So my take on it was that they shat the bed here. A pretty spectacular and entertaining shitting of the bed. But still a bed. With shit on it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. This would have made a great HMO slice … Or Heavy Metal ExtraLoad … I don’t love Appetite. I’d go as far as saying it’s as overrated of a piece of “art” as any other album. Not many share that opinion though. As Letterman used to frequently say to Paul Shaffer .. “Once again you have mirrored my thoughts eloquently”

      So it’s nice to see someone at least tell it like it is on this. When you have Shit album 1 … And couple it with Shit album 2.. you have double the shit bed. No one wants to sleep in a double shit bed. God bless HMO

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hahaha God Bless Meat too!

        And “double the shit bed” LOL. Hope they put that on a sticker when they get reissued.

        I’m actually with you on Appetite. But I did think it and Lies were special back then when I was young. Hence my disappointment in the UYI albums.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Agreed. Love Izzy. I really love the Illusions albums and they creatively top the best stuff on Appetite, but I don’t get the semi-concise rush I get from listening to Appetite. I finally got both of these the day after Thanksgiving 1991, and I listened to both of them front to back. Took a while, but it helped me internalize them. I was surprised to see how much of II was credited solely to Rose. Appetite is a little monolithic, this is when Guns became unpredictable, and Axl really embraced his inner Elton John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Two really good points here! One being the semi-concise rush of Appetite. Agreed. It’s over before you know it. And second, the Rose solo writes. I was surprised too. He even played guitar on Shotgun Blues. I suppose this was a step to Axl’s independence.

      Like

  7. The thing I remember about these two albums is seeing Gunners on the opening night of the Illusion Tour(May 1991) a good 4 months before they came out and they played a ton of these records…
    Great show but weird hearing all that stuff knowing the albums were no where near coming out….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. True there’s always the nit pickers….
        I will say at that exact moment when I caught them at Alpine Valley (tour opener)myself and Oinks agreed that Gunners were the best band in the world….
        A year and half later (Sept 1992) myself and Oinks caught Gunners/Metallica in Minneapolis and we both agreed that Gunners needed to get off the road!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. J sent me his own personal “perfect” track list which I shall try out and possibly review. I figure if you were trying to compile an Illusions that stands up to the reputation of Appetite, you have to axe all the covers no matter how good they are. Appetite had no covers. When I got rid of those, it turned out I had exactly 14 classics left.

      Like

  8. There is something raw bout debut albums that I am usually drawn to. Van Halen, Alice In Chains, Zeppelin, Yngwie, Black Sabbath, Metallica…come to mind…they all probably have ‘better’ output in later albums but like you said personal taste. I am in the Appetite corner for GnR. Evenestablished acts like Dio, Fight and Ozzy the first albums were edgier…IMO

    Liked by 1 person

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s