The Perils Of Rock ‘n’ Roll Decadence: Use Your Illusion I & II Turn 30

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Guns ‘n’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I

Released September 17th, 1991 on Geffen Records

Produced by Mike Clink and Guns ‘n’ Roses

Peaked at #2 U.S., #2 U.K.

Singles:

Don’t Cry” (#10 U.S., #8 U.K.)

Live And Let Die” (#33 U.S., #5 U.K.)

November Rain” (#3 U.S., #4 U.K.)

Guns ‘n’ Roses – Use Your Illusion II

Released September 17th, 1991 on Geffen Records

Produced by Mike Clink and Guns ‘n’ Roses

Peaked at #1 U.S., #1 U.K.

Singles:

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (#2 U.K.)

Yesterdays” (#72 U.S., #8 U.K.)

Civil War” (#11 U.K.)

You Could Be Mine” (#29 U.S., #3 U.K.)

Estranged

When your debut is one of the five best rock records of the 1980s, where is there to go but down? This sounds like a good line, but in the world of L.A. rock ‘n’ roll heathens GNR ‘going down’ meant a sprawling double album split into two but released on the same day. It also meant expanding their sonic scope in a huge way. So maybe it didn’t mean going down at all, except that this would be the last real studio album the band would record.

Once upon a time there were a bunch of rock ‘n’ roll degenerates who lived together in L.A. and played in Sunset Strip bands. At first they were two seperate bands: L.A. Guns (featuring Tracii Guns) and Hollywood Rose (Izzy Stradlin’s band). L.A. Guns found themselves without a singer and Stradlin suggested a dude he knew: Tower Records night manager Axl Rose. Axl, being Axl, eventually got into a fight with the L.A. Guns manager and got himself fired; that night, Guns ‘n’ Roses formed. Tracii Guns was in it but eventually got into a fight with Axl (this is a pattern, by the way) and was replaced with former Hollywood Rose guitarist Slash (he is real! He is!). A few other replacements – Duff McKagan and Steven Adler (also former Hollywood Rose) – and the band was good to go.

Their debut, Appetite For Destruction, wasn’t an immediate splash but after touring relentlessly behind it they broke through. Appetite is fuelled by sheer attitude, a slashing, vicious hard rock record with more than a few spoonfuls of punk rock mixed in. It’s wall-to-wall bangers (ok, maybe not “Anything Goes”) and any band should have broken up rather than try to follow it up (Stone Roses style). Not GNR, though; they decided to go even bigger.

The albums sold huge and contained some big singles but masked the inner turmoil that was even then tearing the band apart. Steven Adler was fired before the recording sessions began, after his heroin problems left the band inactive for months. Axl and Slash were at odds over songs and mixes; the original producer wanted to replace all of new drummer Matt Sorum’s drum parts with samples and was only stopped when the band came across his notes by accident. They booked a gigantic 18-month world tour to back the albums but hadn’t quite finished them when it was time to start, so parts of the album were recorded in whatever studios they could find on the road in early 1991. That tour would be the beginning of the end for the band as well. Stradlin bailed early, in November of 1991, and after the tour ended nothing really came together again. A covers album, The Spaghetti Incident?, would come in 1993 but afterwards a lack of cooperation between band members and then a series of revolving-door members and legal issues would mire the band into oblivion. The less said of Chinese Democracy the better.

That makes Use Your Illusion I & II the last major statement for the band, and holy shit what a statement. You want Axl on fire taking all comers? “Right Next Door To Hell” and the Uwe Boll-esque “Get In The Ring” are right there. You want ballad GNR? “November Rain” is the best power ballad ever recorded, and “Don’t Cry” comes up pretty close on its heels. You want sprawling epic Axl contemplating his own mortality and questioning his own existence? “Coma” and “Estranged.” Fist-in-the-air rock ‘n’ roll scorchers? “Back Off Bitch” and the bitch-slap-rappin’ “You Could Be Mine.” Want some bloozy Stones tracks? “Bad Obsession” and “You Ain’t The First.” The band tries to go everywhere and do everything, and the crazy thing is they succeeded for the most part. I’ve listened to both albums more times than I can count and it continually surprises me that the band had other settings than “balls to the wall.”

While I’ve got you here, if you were a GNR fan then or now, check out It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere by Slash’s post-GNR band, Slash’s Snakepit. It was originally supposed to be GNR material, but Axl I think was falling into that period where he wanted to be Trent Reznor and decided it wasn’t good enough. I disagree; at the very least, it’s worth checking out.

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