CAN IT REALLY BE 17 YEARS SINCE
GUNS N' ROSES RELEASED A NEW, ORIGINAL ALBUM?
Our weekly celebration of classic albums lifts its lighter for the band that might have joined the pantheon of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple if they'd only kept their shit together. They did not.
This day in 1991, Guns N' Roses' twin releases Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II debuted on the album charts in the No. 2 and No. 1 spots, respectively. Almost two decades later, we await their follow-up studio album, the comically delayed, yet still tantalizingly appealing Chinese Democracy (and no, the slapped together, band contested 1993 covers set The Spaghetti Incident does not count). After three years touring behind the surprise mega-success of Appetite For Destruction, G n' R's justifiably lauded major label debut, the band entered the studio and a year later emerged with a four vinyl record or two CD set. In the hard rock world, especially amongst bands charting in the late '80s, there was nothing as ambitious, bloated or just plain crazy happening in the mainstream, and for a brief minute many of us thought, "Hey, maybe we're seeing the beginnings of a true classic here. Maybe Guns N' Roses ARE the real deal." The feeling didn't last long, punctured by tone deaf choices, self-damaging statements, failed safaris and the snowballing actions of a band that eventually found their world tour in support of Illusion scuppered by literal riots and inner-band fisticuffs and sniping – a petty, grandiose and unnecessary end to one of the few contenders to hit heavy rock in the '80s.
Still, set aside the history, the art house style music videos, the Botox injections, the lawsuits and myriad lineup changes. Forget that nearly every dude involved with this band save for Izzy Stradlin has made music that would make their younger selves on Appetite throw an elbow to their heads. Push that stuff aside and put on this opera-sized monstrosity, and by god the music is pretty impressive. Drawing from classical and country, folk and freakout, this pair of Illusions offers a neat, visceral summation of life after the Reagan years, still managing to find some tenderness despite the profound meanness of that time. Occasionally overblown (ah hell, MOSTLY overblown), it's not as if the "Stairway To Heaven," "War Pigs," "Dream On" or any of the other cornerstones of the house they were rockin' were exactly subtle. At the time of their release, most admired G n' R's creative moxie, their unashamed hugeness, their ego (would anyone say Mick or Keith or Plant or Page are demure, self-effacing guys?) and, least acknowledged anymore, their raw talent. For all the water under the bridge – and there's plenty of it - Use Your Illusion I and II remain satisfying, lofty and fascinating albums. Credit where credit's due, and we offer it up tonight.
We fire up this mini-salute with a lengthy "Coma" from the Illusion tour in Chicago, April 9, 1992.
Despite his hyper-wattage personality, Axl Rose wasn't always the only creative force in Guns N' Roses, as evidenced by nasty chuggers like "Dust n' Bones," offered up in a live version from 1991 in Indiana.
Need proof that this young, out-of-nowhere band from Los Angeles had the world's attention? Here's Axl and Izzy joining The Rolling Stones for "Salt of the Earth."
Further evidence this band was being anointed by the established royalty - Bruce Springsteen doing The Beatles' "Come Together" with Mr. Rose at the 1994 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for The Boss.
Here's "Civil War" in Tokyo, 1992. They really did know how to fill up big spaces, literally and figuratively.
And just 'cause we're feeling a bit nostalgic this evening, we conclude with a nod back to Appetite with a scorching "Paradise City" from the Illusion tour in Argentina. Truly rock 'n' roll that made you feel alive, incarnated, ready to raise some hell.