On Tuesday, September 17, Guns N’ Roses unleashed “Use Your Illusion I and II” upon the music world. The albums were accepted with such enthusiasm and vigor that they rocketed to number one and number two on the charts (the first time in history a group has had separate albums holding the top two spots). Despite being only the group’s second and third serious LPs, Guns performs with the experience and confidence of a group which has released eight or nine albums, and aren’t the least bit afraid of doing whatever they want, no matter how radical. The albums display a tremendous amount of diversity, ranging from typical heavy metal (“Bad Apples”) to rap (“My World”), but each cut manages to possess a distinct Guns N’ Roses sound.
“Illusion I” is the better of the two albums. Bolstered by such rockers as “Don’t Damn Me” and “Bad Obsession,” this album is a true gem. Its range of styles stretches from the very countryish “You Ain’t the First” (which Randy Travis could cover with ease), to the bluesy “Dust N’ Bones” (in which rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin takes over on vocals), to the phenomenal guitar-driven power ballad “Don’t Cry” (lead singer Axl Rose uses several of his “different voices” on this one).
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The catchy country/metal rocker, “Dead Horse,” is among my favorites, as is the beautiful ballad, “November Rain,” where Axl displays his ivory-tinkling talents.
Axl also incorporates events from his extremely controversial life into the album. “Right Next Door to Hell” is about his infamous neighbor who pressed assault charges against him several months ago (Axl was later acquitted), and the ten-minute epic, “Coma,” which tells of his near-death heroin experience. GN’R can also perform covers, such as their powerful rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die.” All in all, this is a tremendously energetic and explosive album.
The second LP isn’t quite as impressive as the first. Sure, it has some fantastic songs, such as the anti-violence “Civil War” (“I don’t need your civil war/It feeds the rich while it buries the poor”), and the energetic remake of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (not as good as the live version, but sensational just the same). But many of the other songs lack energy, and are fair at best. Tracks like “Locomotive,” a nine-minute song that should have been five, and the sugar-coated “So Fine,” which bassist Duff McKagan sings, do little to keep you entertained. The group also performs an updated version of “Don’t Cry,” which isn’t as gripping as the original. However, there are some real rockers, such as the first “official” single, and my favorite, “You Could Be Mine” (in which new skin-pounder Matt Sorum shreds like one possessed) and honky-tonk’s “14 Years” and “Yesterdays.”
It wouldn’t be a “real” Guns N’ Roses project without a few nasty, sure-to-stir-up-controversy tracks. “Get In the Ring” is a vicious, expletive-filled, seething attack against the press in which Axl specifically names those with whom he is…uh…at odds. It degrades those mentioned, and is just another display of the group’s, and especially Axl’s, immaturity. They should settle their problems in private, not drag them into the public forum. This song proves that the group is going to have to grow up a little, and control their tempers, if they are to continue as one of the world’s most popular rock ‘n’ roll bands.
On the whole, these albums are a must-have for any Guns, or for that matter, heavy metal, fan. GN’R really deliver honest, down-to-earth performances, and the albums aren’t nearly as commercial as ones that many other pop-metal bands produce today. In fact, there appear to be few possible singles, even though there are so many tracks included on the LPs. Regardless of the number of songs released, the albums are going to sell, and sell BIG. So don’t pass up a chance to get your hands on them, or you’ll be missing out on some fantastic music from one of, if not the most, electrifying band in the musical world. n