2016-12-22

Retro review: Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II - the ultimate edition

Band: Guns N' Roses
Album: "Use Your Illusion I" "Use Your Illusion II"
Style: Hard rock
Release dates: 1991-09-17
Origin: U.S.A.

Introduction:
Why do a retro review of two albums that are more than 20 years old you ask? Well, in all the reviews I've seen for these two albums, people have always complained about how there are much filler on each of these double-albums and that it would have been better to just release one album with all the good songs. But just really what are the the good songs from these albums? That's exactly what I aim to investigate in this review. With first going through each and every song off the two albums -that's 30 songs all together - and deciding whether they fit my final setlist and then present and evaluate my ultimate collection of UYI-songs. To make things more interesting, I've decided on a maximum of 15 songs and if I'm not entirely sure about a song, it will go in the undecided-pile and battle with another song in the end.
 Everyone onboard? Here we go!

USE YOUR ILLUSION I
1. Right Next Door to Hell
At the time the album was released, Guns N' Roses was amongst the largest bands on the planet and the anticipation for this album after the successes of "Appetite for Destruction" and "Gn'R Lies" was enormous to say the least. The choice to then place "Right Next Door to Hell" as an opener is questionable to me. It's not that the song is bad or anything, but it's just OK compared to a lot of the other 29 songs. It's a straight-up fast-paced rocker that wouldn't have made the cut had it been ready for the Appetite-sessions a couple of years earlier. I still enjoy it though, but I'm having a hard time trying to decide whether it should be on my ultimate edition.
Verdict: Undecided.

2. Dust N' Bones
A slow moving, bluesy track where Izzy provides lead vocals. Izzy's a cool cat and all but he's no Axl when it comes to the vocals. The song is alright I guess but it's overall mood actually feels distracting from the rest of the album.
Verdict: Nah.

3. Live and Let Die
A cover-song is next up, originally by Paul and Linda McCartney. What can I say, it's boring as fuck and has nothing to do on a Guns N' Roses-album even though it and it's "brother-cover" from the other Illusion (I'll get to it later), are some of the most famous songs by Gn'R. Astonishing if you ask me.
Verdict: Not a snowball's chance in hell!

4. Don't Cry (original)
One of the bands' most known ballads and one that I myself slowed danced a lot to back in my early teens. How does it hold up today then? Well, it feels very 80's* and most rightfully so. In other words, it hasn't aged like fine wine exactly, but as opposed to track #3, it is a classic and a must on the ultimate edition.
Verdict: Yes!

5. Perfect Crime
A fast-paced hard rock attack without any excuses. What could go wrong? Well, it's over almost even before it has begun and that's a complaint from my side. But on the other hand, a longer running-time would've probably made it boring. So there's no excuse not to have this along for the rid.
Verdict: Yes!

6. You Ain't the First
No. Just no. I'm sorry but apart from the very end of the second Illusion - this is by far the most dull song on all the albums. And it's not because I just like the faster songs, on the contrary! But this one has no build-up, no reward and is honestly a weak attempt at a campfire-song that never should've made it onto an actual album, despite it's short track-length.
Verdict: Fuck no.

7. Bad Obsession
This mid-tempo song with it's catchy groove is always a song I've hade a hate/love-relationship with. It's cringe-worthy at certain parts but still I cannot say I don't like it. I don't know why and for now, I'll let it fight it out with another song in the end.
Verdict: Undecided.

8. Back Off Bitch
This is a mid-tempo travesty written by Axl and that dude that more or less forced Slash out of the band. I thought it was crap when I was 13 years old and I think it's crap now - the only thing that is mildly amusing are the "woah-oh-oh-oh's". This song might have been a cool idea for an EP of oddities or something like that but it has no right whatsoever to fill up space on a Gn'R-album in my world.
Verdict: Hell no!

9. Double Talkin' Jive
An amazingly catchy and headbanger-friendly tune. For 1 minute and twenty seconds that is... Then comes one of Slash's most boring solos and then it's all over with that dull fucking fade-out. I don't know.
Verdict: Undecided.

10. November Rain
It's almost 9 minutes long. It's an over-bloated epic with so much pretentiousness that it only could've been written by one mr. W. Axl Rose. And surprise, surprise - it is. I love it, from the beautiful intro with the strings and the flutes, to the emotional vocal-delivery and the crappy rhymes all the way to the superb Slash-solo and the ballsy ending with yet another amazing solo and Axl sounding like only Axl can sound.
Verdict: Most definitely.

11. The Garden
This is a weird oddity. The verses are almost haunting and very effictive in their simplicity. Then comes the chorus with the old fart Alice Cooper and his boring voice. Totally lacks any emotion or feel. When you have one of the greatest vocalists of all time in your band, letting Alice Cooper sing on your song is a stupid idea.
Verdict: Undecided.

12. Garden of Eden
It's a short and quite stupid song, yet I enjoy it's simplicity and ferocious feel. My initial thought was a given on the ultimate edition but when I re-visit it again for the first in a long time, I'm not so sure. Damnit! I have to put yet another song in the undecided-compartment.
Verdict: Undecided.

13. Don't Damn Me
As far as I know, this one has never been played live. A monumental shame if you ask me since I find this to be one of the most (if not the most) underrated of all Gn'R-songs. Ever. It's so damn groovy, the lyrics and vocal-delivery is spot on and it always makes me long for a beer or five when I hear it. Yes, it's simple compared to many of the Illusion-epics but that's what makes it so good. As much as I love the epicness of Gn'R, once upon a time there was only this hard rocking band that had one album in their backpack. What I'm trying to say is, "Don't Damn Me" would've fit like a hammer upon a hamster on "Appetite for Destruction". Hard rock at it's finest.
Verdict: Oh yes!

14. Bad Apples
Along with #11, this is another odd song and it's bluesy feel is not really my cup of tea. The piano grooving is cool and all and there's not anything really wrong with the song, but in the end it's just too weak to be on an ultimate edition album.
Verdict: Nope.

15. Dead Horse
That acoustic intro is wonderful and always fills my heart with a warmth. The rest of the song isn't horse-shit either and even though it doesn't have a part that makes the hair on my arm stand, it wins a lot with it's overall catchiness.
Verdict: Yes.

16. Coma
This 10-minute epic is one of my favourite Rose/Slash-compositions and who could really disagree? It manages to be both catchy and epic at the same time and that slow tempo in the middle of the song always catches me off guard. I love it that we get a new build-up and it's almost like a new song starts even though we instantly recognize it. Alright, I'm blabbering now and should stop. It's a total "yes" from my side.
Verdict: Hell yeah!


USE YOUR ILLUSION II
1. Civil War
A cherished live-staple for the band as much as it is remembered as ex-drummer Steven Adlers last performance with the band before he was replaced by the human poodle Matt Sorum. It's not a surprise that it became a well-known song for the band, but compared to many of their other "classics" - this one still holds up very well today and is always a joy to listen to. It's not like hearing "Sweet Child O' Mine" for the 1000th time and just want to put a bullet in your head.
Verdict: Definitely.

2. 14 Years
Another quite bluesy and catchy number with lead vocals from Izzy and lots of piano, sort of like a combination between "Dust N' Bones" and "Bad Obsession". I have always had a soft spot for this one, but is it A-material? Not quite sure to be honest.
Verdict: Undecided.

3. Yesterdays
This was a released as a single and I assume it's one of the more known songs from this era. Strange, since it's not a very strong song in my opinion. There's nothing wrong with it but it's just a weaker and more uninteresting song than many others here. I feel kind of sad that it won't be included but I must be strict here and have a maximum of 15 songs.
Verdict: Sadly, no.

4. Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Here it is then, the ugly cover-brother of "Live and Let Die" from the other Illusion, this time it's a somewhat well-known Bob Dylan-track that gets the Gn'R-treatment. While neither cover is performed badly in any way and the band does a good job of making each song sounding like their own, it's just that they're so damn boring compared to so many Gn'R-originals.
Here's my thoughts:
In an optimal world, "The Spaghetti Incident" wouldn't be a boring punk-rock cover album. Instead, it would include "Live and Let Die", "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", "Nice Boys", "Mama Kin" and a collection of the band's other favourites, how about something by Queen or Hanoi Rocks? That would've been so much more interesting.
Verdict: Fuck no!

5. Get in the Ring
When I was 13, this song was the shit. And by that, I mean that I really loved this song. Much was of course due to the profanities uttered which I obviously learned by heart and still today are etched into my backbone. Today, "Get in the Ring" feels more like a half-finished song and a quite pathetic attempt from Axl to make the press seem like the really bad guys and himself like our lord and saviour. No matter how much I adore the man's rock n' roll aesthetics, phenomenal voice and often interesting lyrics - I cannot defend him when he spurts out crap like this.
Verdict: No.

6. Shotgun Blues
Some might lump this together with faster stuff such as "Garden of Eden" and the dreadful "Back Off Bitch" but I disagree. I think it's better than both those songs as it has a rough edge that feels closer to the Appetite-era and works in the same context as "Don't Damn Me" - while not being as good as said song. Difficult wheteher it should be included though.
Verdict: Undecided.

7. Breakdown
Now wer're talking. This is one of the more under-appreciated songs from the Illusion-albums and like "Don't Damn Me" and "Coma" before, there's no doubt in my mind whether this one should be included or not. It's a fantastic track that has so much going and yet it never feels like it's incomplete or distracting. In other words it feels like the band had different pieces that needed to be placed together in order to make sense. In the end, we got a perfectly laid puzzle.
Verdict: Hell yes!

8. Pretty Tied Up
"The perils of rock n' roll decadence". If you take the piano out of the equation, this one feels like it would've been right at home on "Appetite for Destruction" and even the lyrics takes one back to the bands' early days. It's a live-staple and a Gn'R-song that's made classic because of it's merits - not because it's immediately great - but because it's a good song that still holds up.
Verdict: Yes.

9. Locomotive
Some claim this one has elements of funk metal which I find weird and not exactly true. Anyway, along with "Breakdown", it is a long and winding song with many twists and turns and I think that the astute reader by now have understood that I really like those songs. "Locomotive" is no exception and it is a given.
Verdict: Fuck yeah!

10. So Fine
A ballad sung by bassist Duff McKagan in honor of the late Johnny Thunders with lyrics so embarrasing that I'd like to kill myself - does that sound like a keeper? If you answered "yes" - you're dead wrong.
Verdict: No way José.

11. Estranged
Some people claim that this is the finest moment from the post-Appetite version of Guns N' Roses and I am inclined to agree. It works as both a ballad and a monster of epic proportions and towards the middle and end it is so perfect that I remember having tears in my eyes when I heard this song the first couple of times in my life.
Verdict: Abso-fucking-lutely!

12. You Could be Mine
If I remember correct, this was one of the first single from the Illusion-albums and was used to promote a certain little movie called Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is also in the category of "classics" and was played a lot during the Illusion-tours (and still today). It was written a long time ago, even before "Appetite", but it sounded very "modern" (at least for 1991) and would have sounded out of place on said album. It is a good track but I'm not all fire and flames about it and there are infinitely better songs here.
Verdict: Undecided.

13. Don't Cry (alt. lyrics)
Oh, come on! There's little to no point to include an identical song with different lyrics here. I understand that Axl was satisfied with both versions but this is bordering on idiotic. I remember a friend of mine owning the single with the original, alt. lyrics and demo version of the same song. That in itself just reeks of money-grabbing but to flesh out an already bloated double-album with an identical version is just retarded.
Verdict: No point.

14. My World
From what I understand, Axl and some other dudes (not Gn'r-members) we're quite fucked up on mushrooms when they decided to record this travesty. I guess that's fun and all but to include it on your bands' album without the other members' knowledge and the fact that it sucks donkey balls is something that only Axl can do. Megalomaniacs unite!
Verdict: Of bloody course not!


THE "UNDECIDED" - eight must be four
All in all, there were 8 songs that I didn't know whether they we're right for the ultimate edition. Lucky for me that 8 was the number, both that it was even so 4 could battle against 4 and because I realize I've chosen 11 already and 15 was my roof. So let's do battle!

Right Next Door to Hell vs Garden of Eden
Both songs are quite face-paced and furious rockers. What little advantage Garden... has in forms of lyrics and it's sing-along-factor, is destroyed by the fact that Right Next... is a more fleshed out and "complete" song than it's opponent. An easy victory when I think about it.
WINNER: "Right Next Door to Hell"

Bad Obsession vs 14 Years
Now this one is a lot tougher. Both songs are catchy and neither should be ashamed of it's existance. In the end, I think that the harmonica in Obsession... is a bit too annoying for my taste. It's not that it doesen't fit the song, it's just that I feel they overuse it. Plus 14 Years is a fine example of just how well Izzy's voice can work with Axl's, if he's just given a good song. "Dust N' Bones" is on the other side of the spectrum.
WINNER: "14 Years"

The Garden vs Shotgun Blues
As much as I do enjoy the overall weirdness of The Garden and the fact that it is so different from many of the other songs here, I cannot underestimate the power of Shotgun... It has more twists and turns than what one initially thinks and it's a powerhouse that I feel must be on the ultimate edition.
WINNER: "Shotgun Blues"

Double Talkin' Jive vs You Could be Mine
Now this is difficult. If only Double talkin'... was better crafted, skipped that boring outro and added something worthwhile there instead - it would have been an easy victory. On the other hand, the only real good thing You could... has got going is the part after the second chorus. The chorus itself actually drags the song down instead of lifting it. I am really torn between these two and in the end, I simply took a blind pick. I could've actually gone either way and I'm gonna miss You could... on my final tracklist but rules are rules.
WINNER: "Double Talkin' Jive"


USE YOUR ILLUSION - THE ULTIMATE EDITION:
FINAL TRACKLIST
1. Don't Damn Me
2. Breakdown
3. Pretty Tied Up
4. November Rain
5. Right Next Door to Hell
6. 14 Years
7. Perfect Crime
8. Don't Cry (original)
9. Locomotive
10. Dead Horse
11. Civil War
12. Double Talkin' Jive
13. Coma
14.Shotgun Blues
15. Estranged

This was a more difficult task than I first anticipated. Is this the ultimate edition for Use Your Illusion? For me personally, yes it is. Starting with one of the best Appetite-songs that wasn't on Appetite and ranging between soft ballads, hard hitting rockers and epic mastodonts. Sure, the two originals did the same but I believe that the order above is infinitely better and there are no unnecessary hauls inbetween. The decision to end with "Estranged" was of course an obvious one since the ending of the song leaves you exhausted, yet satisfied and is a perfect end to an album. I'm pleased.

EDIT:
As I finished writing these lines, I discovered that there is an official compilation album released by Geffen Records in 1998 simply called "Use Your Illusion". It of course includes the two crappy covers, both versions of "Don't Cry" (sigh!) and oddly enough "You Ain't the First" but no sign of "You Could Be Mine" which I thought would be a given. I guess it's a decent representation of the two albums but it doesn't dig deep enough. Like my "version" does ;-)

* = For those of you too young to remember or those of you that deny the whole, here's the deal:
The 80's as we know it - and by that I mean the fashion, the style, the attitude and much of the music - was born sometime around 1985/86 and died when grunge made it's debut in the mid-90's. In other words, when the two Illusions we're released, we we're pretty much knee-deep in the midst of unholy feathery boas, tight spandex, keyboard overloads, mullets, yuppies and glitter - fact!

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