25 YEARS: CHOOSE YOUR ILLUSION: USE YOUR ILLUSION I VS II, edited by Brett Buchanan
This weekend marks 25 years since the release of Guns N’ Roses’ iconic Use Your Illusion albums. Everyone has their favorites, but after 25 years, shouldn’t we find out once and for all which album is best? It is a lot of material to handle at once, but with the CD age in full swing, GNR took advantage of the longer CD running time. It showed incredible ambition and it paid off. The albums had massive critical and commercial success.
But which songs were best? Let’s run down that list 25 years later.
Note: These categories are not exact because these songs can fit numerous categories, which shows the breadth of Guns N’ Roses’ scope.
USE YOUR ILLUSION I versus USE YOUR ILLUSION II
THE GUNS: Aggressive hard rock 6 vs. 4
- Right Next Door to Hell, Perfect Crime, Back Off Bitch, Bad Obsession, Double Talkin’ Jive, Garden of Eden
- Get in the Ring, Shotgun Blues, Breakdown, My World
Let’s face it, Illusion (I) always had songs that more closely resembled a definite follow up to Appetite For Destruction: in the sense that more of the songs are straightforward and aggressive hard rock. The sheer force of the band really comes through on every selection here.
Illusion (II) does not follow the same path, the tracks are more varied, so there are less compact and tight songs. “Breakdown” is over 7 minutes long, but it works like an ‘Appetite’ song because it is a solid, straight classic rock song that boasts furious extended Slash soloing. “My World”, the toughest to categorize, is a “gun” because of its lyrical venom, but it is not regarded as a fan favorite.
THE ROSES: The softer side 2 vs. 2
(I) You Ain’t the First, The Garden
(II) Yesterdays, So Fine
“You Ain’t the First” is a great throwback – ramshackle, country waltz, while “The Garden” is thornier than the other “roses.” It is catchy with an fine emotional slide guitar riff.
“So Fine” is a nice ballad by Duff but doesn’t match either (I) “rose”, but it’s solid while “Yesterdays” is one of the strongest songs on the 2nd album.
ROCK N’ ROLL: Classic rock 3 vs. 3
(I) Dust n’ Bones, Bad Apples, Dead Horse
(II) 14 Years, You Could Be Mine, Pretty Tied Up
The rock and roll songs were lighter songs on these albums than ‘Appetite,’ with more piano and a less intense rhythm section. All but “Bad Apples” are stellar rock and roll songs that can hold up with the best classic rock from any era. Still, the (II) selections “14 Years” and especially the lead single “You Could Be Mine” are way too strong for the (I) tracks to overtake.
COVER SONGS: (I) Live and Let Die
(II) Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Both songs were rock classics almost 20 years earlier for Paul McCartney & Wings, and Bob Dylan. While neither is suited for their style at the time, GNR was able to take the orchestral sections of “Live and Let Die” and present them as menacing guitar riffs that go well with the lyrics.
Their approach to “Knockin On Heaven’s Door” is somewhat successful, but feels heavy-handed and loses some of its original intent from the personality of the cover.
(I) DON’T CRY (single)
(II) DON’T CRY
The fan favorite (and better version) is the single.
EPICS: Ambitious Multi-Suites 3 vs. 3
- (I) Don’t Damn Me, November Rain, Coma
- (II) Civil War, Locomotive, Estranged
Initially, I thought there was no contest in favor of (II), but in putting it as a 3 vs. 3, it is very close. While I think “November Rain” showed tremendous growth, even more so than “Estranged”, “Civil War” is a bit stronger than “Coma,” and they are both knockout tracks when hearing the albums in sequence. These are only six tracks but, when added together, they approach almost an hour of the album. Along with their ambition, they demonstrate the most growth in their rock repertoire.
FINAL VERDICT: Use Your Illusion II is the better aural experience.
Despite the tension surround the makings of the albums, they were still remarkable and secured Guns N’ Roses as one of the most legendary bands of all time. 25 years later, sales for the individual albums are close to 20 million: absolutely astounding.
There were 4 years of hype about a followup to Appetite For Destruction, and when the Use Your Illusion albums finally arrived, both were at the top of the Billboard chart at #1 (II) and #2 (I), beating out everyone and yet again cementing Guns N’ Roses as the biggest rock band in the world.
What’s your favorite Use Your Illusion?