Oh where to begin?
In 1991 Guns N' Roses were perhaps the biggest band in the world. Though at the time they had only released one album proper, that record, Appetite For Destruction turned out to be one of the biggest, baddest and best albums of all time. Here was a record that kicked open the door to “hard rock” for the masses that previously eyed the art form as something that was a) for kids and b) maybe even a little bit scary. More importantly though, even though it would go on for a little while longer, and even though mountains of hair most definitely had their place in GNR, it effectively sounded the death-knell for the hair metal movement of the 80’s. It was raw, gritty, and dangerous, and the band that created it deserved every comparison to the Stones or Led Zepplin that it received
Needless to say, expectations where high for the next record...which would take almost 4 years to make.
That’s a long time between records back then. Hell, that’s a long time between records now. But logic would dictate that if you’re going to take that long then your going to come away with some sort of masterpiece, right? Well Guns N' Roses came away with a masterpiece alright, but not really in the way they envisioned.
Use Your Illusions 1 and 2 are testament to just how bloated, indulgent and downright out of touch with themselves a band can get when left to their own devices. Yes, I recognize songs like “Don’t Cry”, “You Could Be Mine” and the holy-f@#$-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me hugeness that is “November Rain” are, in context, pretty great songs. But they’re also caricatures of the bands previous work. On Appetite the band had come of as real, down to earth rock and rollers, but for Use Your Illusion the theatrics are amped up to an impossible level that belongs on Saturday mornings between Thundercats and The Smurfs. You can’t add a keyboard player named Dizzy (and seriously, what the f!@# was a keyboard player doing in GNR ANYWAYS?) to your band and expect the world to think your tough. On Appetite the band shot for the beating heart of rock itself; On Illusions it shot for it’s goofy 13 year old cousin.
But then again, we’ve all got to indulge our goofy 13 year old selves sometime.
The fact of the matter is that while there are many MANY cringeworthy moments over the two records 29 tracks, there are enough high points to not only remind us of the band that was (and would pretty much be no more after this record) but also make our goofy inner teenager giggle at the overblown rock that is being put in our earholes. “Civil War”, “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die” may be big, loud and dumb, but they are big, loud and dumb FUN, and are perfect reminders of an era gone by, that we all may remember fondly, but certainly hope never returns.
Now, I would make the case that the songs “Yesterdays” and the aforementioned “November Rain” are some of the best songs the band has ever written. On one end of the spectrum, “Yesterdays” is textbook example of how to write an airtight pop song that will work in any genre, which is no small feat. On the other end “November Rain” manages to pull in every last bit of Elton John overload from the universe and blow it out in a manner that’s so hyper-cliched there’s no room to do anything but love the song on an almost genetic level. It is everything, and it is nothing all at once.
And that, I suppose is the ultimate legacy of Use Your Illusion 1 and 2. GNR meant for these records to be everything, but ended up falling so hilariously short of that goal, we have no choice but to listen and smile to the sounds of a bunch of angry little rockstasticly awesome children at play with one of the biggest box of rock toys the world has ever seen. There’s a joy in that somewhere, and it’s why, like it or not, these albums are going to be around for a loooooong time.
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