We continue our look at Guns N’ Roses’ albums in #GnRWeek with Use Your Illusion I, released in 1991. I can remember there was so much hype and anticipation for the Use Your Illusion albums, and for me it totally lived up to the hype. I was riding atop the Guns N’ Roses wave at that point and I played those Illusion albums every single day for years. I probably played them more than Appetite in the end, although now I probably respect Appetite as an album more.

The Illusion albums have quite a mix of different styles. The band progressed in some areas. They gained some things but I think they also lost some things too. A definite change had taken place. Not surprising when they had lost Steven Adler, and also Izzy wasn’t involved as much. They had progressed musically and had introduced keyboards, horns and synths in places (the strings on November Rain are all synths). I know Slash didn’t really like that direction and it was pretty much Axl who singlehandedly chose what direction they should go in. In his book, Slash says how in his head it wasn’t truly what Guns were about but with Axl’s meticulous editing it still ‘sounded fu**ing amazing’. Also it’s interesting that they said that Matt Sorum brought much more of a heavy metal sound to the band with his style of drumming, so that’s something that made it sound very different as well. Izzy is quoted as saying “Adler’s sense of swing was the push and pull that give the songs their feel. When that was gone, it was just… unbelievable, weird. Nothing worked. I would have preferred to continue with Steve, but we’d had two years off and we couldn’t wait any longer.”

There really is a different sound to these albums and that can be a good thing and a bad thing. Some songs don’t really sound anything like the Appetite style of song and yet others really do. Personally I just consider it all Guns N’ Roses but now with retrospect I do realise that it is kind of Guns N’ Roses version 2.0.

Having read all the books recently though, it’s evident how the band had started to fall apart at this stage. They were trying to write together but not all band members would show up. Axl wanted to get them all to write in Chicago but then he didn’t show up for weeks. Steven Adler was so messed up on heroin he couldn’t really perform properly. Izzy was recently on the precarious sobriety wagon so was hesitant to get involved. And when they came to record the albums, Axl’s ego got in the way and they ended up recording it very disparately and with Axl having his way with how the album sounded, often against the will of the others, particularly Slash.

Use Your Illusion I

So whenever I listen to the Illusion albums now I have that slight hint of sadness about how the band had lost a bit of its dynamic. Appetite will always have that sense of togetherness and optimism as it captures a snapshot of the band being incredibly tight in every way. But Use Your Illusion I and II are still phenomenal albums.

Having said that however, I always find it interesting how they write. Supposedly they tried for weeks to all get together and write some stuff for Illusions but they just couldn’t get everyone together, but then when they did manage to all be in the same room they hammered out half of the albums in about two days or something crazy like that. If this band had had a more professional attitude they could have been sooo productive. All the music they made have come from so few writing sessions. But then again, if they curtailed their hard partying then perhaps they wouldn’t have had their inspiration and muse to write. You just don’t know.

What is interesting though is that I have learned that several songs on these albums were actually written or played before Appetite and nearly made it onto that first album. These include November Rain, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Back Off Bitch, Bad Obsession, You Could Be Mine and Don’t Cry. In fact interestingly my four favourite tracks off Use Your Illusion I were all written pre-Appetite. This helps appease me in the sense that it wasn’t all written during discord within the band.

Of the two Use Your Illusion CDs the first one seems more rocky and in-your-face than the second one which seems slightly darker or more cerebral in places.

Here is my personal ranking of the songs.

16. Perfect Crime – One of those typical GnR tracks where it has a fast paced drum beat, Axl really going for it, and is just a lot of fun. Just doesn’t have the depth that some of the other songs have.
15. You Ain’t The First – Kind of feels like a song that could have been on GnR Lies. Nice little acoustic song though. I love the “To the bar” at the end.
14. Live and Let Die – It’s okay but I just don’t really like Guns N’ Roses doing covers and this one feels a bit too commercial or something. Axl has described it as being like a spiritual sequel to Welcome to the Jungle, which I liked though.
13. Dust N’ Bones – It’s a good song, with some good bits in it and some good lines. But it doesn’t get any higher than this in the ranking.
12. Double Talkin’ Jive – Perhaps not the sort of song you would expect from a GnR album, particularly the Spanish guitar at the end. But it all works. Quirky little song.
11. The Garden – This one’s a bit trippy. And I like it. It’s a good one to listen to whilst under the influence. Reminds me a bit of Alice Cooper halfway into it.
10. Right Next Door Hell – Good song. A typical Use Your Illusion song, so a good one to start the double album with.
9. Dead Horse – I really enjoy this song. I like how it starts as a chilled little acoustic number and then suddenly rips into a full blooded hard rock song. Very satisfying to listen to.
8. Garden of Eden – Another 100mph balls to the wall song.
7. Bad Apples – Another great intro and an all-round very good song.
6. Don’t Damn Me – Some great bits in this song. And love the “Smoke em if you got em” bit at the end.
5. Coma – Whenever I listen to this song I’m surprised by how good it is. It’s a bit more experimental and trippy than their usual stuff, but if you’re in the right mood for it it’s a real cracker in places. It’s one that you would probably listen to on your own rather than adding it to a playlist at a party.
4. Bad Obsession – The full song is very good, but that intro is just incredible. For me the intro is up there with Sweet Child O’ Mine and Welcome to the Jungle. I could play that first 46 seconds over and over all day, and that’s exactly what I used to do back in the day. Good to hear Dizzy getting lots of keyboard air time too. Great harmonica as well.
3. November Rain – I think this song maybe has its detractors amongst GnR fans? Maybe because the video was a bit overplayed in MTV, I’m not sure. But I love it. It’s epic. It’s romantic with piano and strings, and yet it has its rocky climax towards the end. The song just feels ‘big’. Pure class.
2. Don’t Cry – A great Izzy song. I prefer this version to the alternate lyrics version on Use Your Illusion II album. I never did like the ending though! (when Axl extends out the last note for ages) This is a song they used to play a lot during their early LA live gig days.
1. Back Off Bitch – Incredible song. Fantastic intro and it just doesn’t let go. This is one I used to play at full blast in my bedroom and get out all of my teenage angst. Totally summed up the attitude of GnR.