Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II
Today before 30 years, "Guns N 'Roses" made a revolution in the world of music, releasing the double album "Use Your Illusion I" and "Use Your Illusion II". Stay tuned for another review in the 1991 masterpiece album series - "Class of 91'".
After three years of eager anticipation (four if you don't count the "G N 'R Lies" album), the active and dangerous volcano called "Guns N' Roses" has finally erupted. On September 17, 1991, at midnight, the band released an insane amount of music material. Two double albums (equivalent to four vinyl records), 30 songs, and over two and a half hours of music !!!
The albums sold an insane amount of 500,000 copies in the first two hours of the sale. Immediately upon their release, the albums took first and second place on the Billboard 200 charts and clung to the top for a long time. The first place was taken by the younger brother "Use Your Illusion II", with sales of about one hundred thousand more copies than his older brother. The two albums together eventually reached sales of over 14 million copies and helped the band establish its status as the biggest rock band of the time.
We said volcano and really meant it. The amount of material the band has collected since the release of their debut album has grown and accumulated to huge proportions, when as early as September 1990 the band had over 30 songs ready and the members had to make decisions on how they are going to release all this material.
And the pressures on this formidable volcano were not only from within the band but also from outside. After the dizzying success of "Appetite for Destruction", the expectation from the band to release new material was immense. This expectation only intensified when from April 1990, we received teases and hints of materials that will be included in the album. Bootlegs from the band's live shows began to sell in large quantities, with this pressure causing the band to embark on a worldwide tour even before the album came out.
We received the first teaser on April 7, 1990 (more than a year before the release of the albums), as part of the band's performance at the "Farm Aid IV" festival. The band performed the song "Civil War" for the first time and even then it was possible to understand that the M1 0.3 semi-automatic rifle, became a 7.62 Mag full machine gun and that the band is already ready to conquer the world. What obscured the premiere performance of the song "Civil War" was the fact that this would be the band's last appearance with drummer and original member Steven Adler, who was soon fired from "Guns N' Roses". Axl Rose later said that the band gave Adler countless opportunities to solve his drug problem, and only after nothing helped they decided to fire him. Izzy Stradlin said in a November 1992 interview that he would have preferred to continue with Adler but they could not wait any longer until he settled down. Circumstances summoned to the band an equally talented drummer - Matt Sorum.
About two months later on June 26, 1990, the band released their live version of Dylan's song "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", as part of the soundtrack of the movie "Days of Thunder", starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The song had meteoric success and became instantly an anthem for the masses.
Next ... In an interview with MTV on Kurt Loder on August 31, 1990, Axl Rose revealed that the band was working on another cover version of Paul McCartney and "Wings" from 1973 - "Live And Let Die". Axl said they approached the song in thrill and admiration when at first they even thought they could not play it at all due to its complexity, but after a few rehearsals, things started to connect. Another song that Kurt talked about in that interview was "Coma" which he co-wrote with Slash, about the overdoses they took. Axl Rose said that this song is Slash's baby and that it is a strange track without a chorus that stretches over more than 10 minutes.
In January 1991 we received three new pieces of information on the album in the form of the songs "Double Talkin 'Jive", "You Could Be Mine","Estranged" and "Dead Horse" which were played at the band's performances in Rio. Later in June 1991 "You Could Be Mine" which talks about Izzy Stradlin's relationship with his ex-girlfriend Angela Nicoletti was released as the first single from the album. It was also the theme song of the hit film "Terminator 2". The song won a spectacular clip starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, that had heavy rotation on MTV. The clip shows Schwarzenegger "on a deadly mission" to locate and eliminate the band members.
At this point, after releasing so many clues, even the "non-believers" already knew it was going to be a meteoric album. The volcano was about to erupt!
And it did erupt, in a big way. On September 17, the two double albums were released simultaneously and at the same time the single for the song "Don't Cry" was released.
These albums feature an experienced and mature band that has come a long way in terms of their style and sound since their debut album Appetite for Destruction. Although the band did not abandon its aggressive and rough Hard Rock sound, it added elements of blues, punk, folk, rock 'n' roll, progressive, and even classical music to its songs. Some of the band's songs became more complex and longer compared to the first album and in another part, the piano was used as the main and essential instrument. As part of their musical development and the process of expanding the range of sounds, the band added keyboardist Dizzy Reed as a permanent member.
The band's maturation was also reflected in the openness, in which its members allowed more artists to enter the studio during the recording of the albums. One of these prominent artists was Shannon Hoon who was the lead singer of "Blind Melon". Hoon who was Axl Rose's friend was invited to the studio and was featured in several songs as a background vocalist, including "Live and Let Die", "November Rain", "You Ain't the First" and "The Garden", while co-singing "Don't Cry" with Axl Rose and even appears in a video clip that accompanied it.
If we go back for a moment to the changes that "Guns N 'Roses" went through during the recording of the albums, then these were not accepted unanimously among all the band members. They are the result of disagreements during writing and recording, mainly between Slash and Izzy Stradlin on the one hand and Axl on the other. Slash and Izzy thought the band should keep its familiar sound from the first album while Axl Rose asked the band to experiment in new directions and adopt a cleaner sound that would make it accessible to the masses and make it the biggest band in the world. Axl Rose's hand was on top, but it was a small victory in a battle while the war was lost, since not long after the cracks within the band will begin to show.
The singles released from the album instantly became hysterical hits that conquered the top of the charts all over the world and proved the band's dominance in the music market for almost 3 years when the last single, the masterpiece "Estranged" was released in January 1994.
As part of the diversity of styles on these albums, other band members were also given the opportunity to "use their voice". Duff McKagan sang "So Fine," which he dedicated to Johnny Thunders, a member of the "New York Dolls" who passed away that year. Izzy Stradlin was also surprised not only as a gifted writer but also as a lead singer in the songs "Dust N 'Bones" and "14 Years", which he wrote as a child about a complex relationship with a woman. Izzy Stradlin also participates as a co-lead vocalist along with Axl Rose in the songs "Double Talkin 'Jive" and "You Ain't The First".
Some of the songs on the album were written in the early days of the band and before the release of their debut album and can even be found in old bootlegs. Among them: "Back Off Bitch" written about Axl's girlfriend Gina Siler who moved with him to Los Angeles in 1982 but dumped him in 1983, "Bad Obsession" which talks about drug rehab, and in which Michael Monroe from the band "Hanoi Rocks" plays saxophone and harmonica, "Don't Cry" which refers to Monique Lewis who was Axel's girlfriend and whose face is tattooed on his right shoulder and "November Rain" which is the longest song to ever enter the top ten on the Billboard charts.
Other notable songs with interesting facts are: "Right Next Door to Hell" which opens the first album and tells the story of Axl's neighbor Gabriella Kantor who caused his arrest after accusing him of beating her with a bottle of wine, "The Garden" starring Alice Cooper, "Dead Horse " that Axl wrote the acoustic guitar riff for, "Get In The Ring" that was written about the critics who gave Guns bad reviews at the beginning of their journey and "Pretty Tied Up" where Izzy Stradlin plays the sitar.
Very unfortunate that the meteoric success these albums brought the band was also the one that will ultimately lead to its slow disintegration.
After the release of the albums, the band continued on the world tour, which they began even before their release. This tour may have included tremendous performances of over three hours but it will be mostly remembered as the one where Axl Rose just lost it.
He was late for performances, off-key in singing, hit fans, abandoned shows in the middle, disappeared from the stage for long minutes leaving his friends uncertain if he is going to be back, and even caused the cancellations of some shows. Axl Rose's behavior did not go unnoticed by the Israeli fans during the band's performance at Hayarkon Park on 22/05/1993 when Axl Rose initially refused to take the stage and only after many pleas did he kindly arrive late for the show.
This bullying behavior of Axl Rose which even started while writing the material for the album is the one that apparently led Izzy Stradlin to leave the band at the height of its success. Stradlin's departure left a deep hole in the band, but most of all in the heart of Axl Rose who was his best friend since they were young. A hole that even the talented guitarist Gilby Clark could not fill.
Although as a result of this unnecessary conflict the world lost many years of marvelous music, this talented band was able to produce these magnificent albums with material equivalent to four albums with immortal songs engraved forever in the history of music.