Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusion II’

guns-n-roses-album-cover-2GUNS N’ ROSES
Released on September 17, 1991 (Geffen)

A brilliant marketing plan and money making move! How else can you describe Guns N’ Roses‘ plan of releasing two new albums on the same date after riding their ultra successful debut album Appetite For Destruction (which I loved and still do) for a number of years? Truth be told, by 1991 — although I was still listening to all the bands that I had grown up with — I was not quite as up to date on what was going on in the hard rock and heavy metal music world. I wasn’t buying and gobbling up just about every Hit Parader and Circus magazine that came out as I had previously religiously been doing. I was now an “adult” (the term is used loosely here), more focused on other activities including my university education, and who was simply not as connected to my once extensive music loving friends from my high school days.

One September day, I was walking in the Rideau Centre, the flagship mall of Canada’s nation capital of Ottawa when I saw HUGE posters and many of them with the covers of Guns N’ Roses‘ two new albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II. Apparently, this was the official release date for the new Guns N’ Roses‘ album. But wait, wow! Not one, but two new Guns N’ Roses albums! I quickly snatched up a copy of each and contemplated which one to first listen to. I ended up going with Use Your Illusion II, partly given that the advance single “You Could Be Mine” (which had been released months earlier) was on that album and frankly, because I liked the blue and purple cover colours on Use Your Illusion II better than the orange and red ones on Use Your Illusion I.

Gone were the raunchy, sleazy, drug and alcohol fueled songs from Appetite For Destruction and in were a more polished, mature band complete with a full-time keyboardist. In addition, gone was the rather loose playing drummer Steven Adler who was replaced by a more formidable and technically sound drummer Matt Sorum. Just like Appetite For Destruction, there were many songs on the album but the big difference was that this time around, Guns N’ Roses had released two albums so a total of 30 songs! Let’s face it, no band can release 30 songs at one time and expect all of them to be good ones. It’s hard enough to come up with one to three stellar songs, yet ten strong ones on an album, and simply impossible to muster 30 great or even good songs in one shot. Not surprisingly, this is where Guns N’ Roses faltered. Granted, you’d never guess from the album sales with both Use Your Illusion albums occupying the #1 and 2 spots on the Billboard chart the week after their release and with the two records selling over 35 million copies worldwide combined.

Nevertheless, the reality is that having 14 songs on one album (Use Your Illusion II) and 16 on the other (Use Your Illusion) will result in some rather poor songs making the cut. Given that I first listened to Use Your Illusion II and since I have always preferred that album over Use Your Illusion I, it’s only fitting that I review the former first. Use Your Illusion II started off with the now “famous” intro for “Civil War” in “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…” The song “Civll War” was the perfect showcase for the new Guns N’ Roses‘ approach on the Use Your Illusion albums — serious and lengthier more epic like tracks with varying tempos and a lot more instruments. On Use Your Illusion II alone, the instruments listed included piano, keyboards, a banjo, a sitar, an organ and even a drum machine. It felt like Guns N’ Roses had matured very much like The Beatles expanding their wings with more complex arrangements and more instrumentation. And for a good portion of Use Your Illusion II, the results were/are fantastic. The first three tracks “Civil War,” “14 Years” and “Yesterdays” were slowed down quite a bit compared to what could be found on Appetite For Destruction but they worked brilliantly and are the type of songs that you can listen to many times over discovering something new. Guns N’ Roses‘ cover of Bob Dylan‘s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” has never been a favorite of mine but was a logical inclusion considering that it was already in the band’s live setlist a number of years beforehand.

“Get In The Ring” was probably my favorite track (aside from “You Could Be Mine”) early on when I got the Use Your Illusion albums given that it had the attitude from the Appetite For Destruction days with the charged up lyrics. While it seemed so cool for Axl Rose to take a shot at various publications such as Kerrang, Circus and even single out Hit Parader‘s editor Andy Secher, my enthusiasm has subsided considerably given my new role as Sleaze Roxx editor! Looking back now, “Get In The Ring” is the first taste on Use Your Illusion II that the quality of the songs might have been compromised a little bit by including too many songs. I have to think that “Get In The Ring” and “Shotgun Blues” — while decent songs — would not have made the cut on Appetite For Destruction. “Breakdown” is a quality track once again encompassing the new songs’ direction with a lot more keyboards and piano incorporated. “Pretty Tied Up” had a cool arabic feel to it and again showcased the more mature Guns N’ Roses. The lengthy “Locomotive” and the Duff McKagan sung “So Fine” were decent rockers but again would have probably not have made the cut on Appetite For Destruction.

“Estranged” was Use Your Illusion II‘s answer to “November Rain” on Use Your Illusion I. It was (and still is) an epic track that took the listener on a great journey and still reminds me a lot of what Alice Cooper would have come up with in his heyday with all the nuances and varying tempos. It’s definitely one of the most mature, brilliant and underrated tracks in Guns N’ Roses‘ repertoire. It’s kind of odd to find “You Could Be Mine” buried as the twelfth track on Use Your Illusion II considering that it was the showcase advance single. Funny enough, “You Could Be Mine” was really not representative of what the rest of the songs turned out to sound like on both Use Your Illusion albums. It’s almost like it was a remnant of the Appetite For Destruction days that was dusted off just in time for the release of the Use Your Illusion records. I am not sure why Guns N’ Roses would think we needed an alternate lyric version of “Don’t Cry” but it was included in any case on Use Your lllusion II. Perhaps Axl just could not decide on which lyrics he liked better… Sadly, a great album ended on a terrible note with the industrial tinged “My World” which was apparently recorded in a mere three hours. Clearly, this type of filler material should not have been concluding an otherwise very fine album.

Upon revisiting the two Use Your Illusion albums for the purpose of reviewing them upon the 25th year anniversary of their release, I must confess being really impressed with Use Your Illusion II. Most of the songs are very good with only four of them not that strong and only one complete filler (“My World”). I now understand why I have always preferred Use Your Illusion II over Use Your Illusion I because apparently most of the crap — amid some admittedly stellar ones — landed on the latter.

Track List:
01. Civil War
02. 14 Years
03. Yesterdays
04. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
05. Get in The Ring
06. Shotgun Blues
07. Breakdown
08. Pretty Tied Up
09. Locomotive
10. So Fine
11. Estranged
12. You Could Be Mine
13. Don’t Cry (Alt. lyrics)
14. My World

Band Members:
W. Axl Rose – lead vocals, piano, whistling (1), backing vocals (2), rhythm guitar (6), co-lead vocals (10), synthesizer and drum machine (14)
Slash – lead guitar, acoustic guitar (1), banjo (7)
Izzy Stradlin – rhythm guitar, backing vocals, lead vocals (3), acoustic guitar (7), sitar (8), additional lead guitar (11)
Duff McKagan – bass, backing vocals, lead vocals (10), percussion (9)
Matt Sorum – drums, backing vocals (10)
Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, backing vocals, organ (2, 3)

Additional Musicians:
Steven Adler – drums (1)
Johann Langlie – drums, keyboards and sound effects (14)
The Waters – backing vocals (4)
Howard Teman – piano (10)
Shannon Hoon – backing vocals (15)

Produced and engineered by Mike Clink
Additional engineering by Jim Mitchell
Mixed by Bill Price
Mastered by George Marino

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, September 2016

Guns N’ Roses‘ “You Could Be Mine” video:

– YouTube

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Guns N’ Roses‘ “Estranged” video:

Guns N’ Roses – Estranged

Music video by Guns N’ Roses performing Estranged. (C) 1993 Guns N’ Roses under exclusive license to Geffen Records