Clearly Appetite for Destruction is the great Guns N’ Roses album, but that doesn’t mean that the 2 volumes of Use Your Illusion lack substance. At the peak of their fame, Axl, Slash, Izzy, and Duff released 2 records at the same time, selling more than half a million copies in their first week and shot to # 1 and #2 on the charts worldwide. It wasn’t surprising that the 2 records gave in to grandiloquence and they had too many songs, in fact just a mix of the two could get you close to the level of Appetite.
Both records are similar but I opt for the first one, because it’s more bluesy and hard rock thanks to the big role of its composer Izzy Stradlin, who penned, alone or with others, Right Next Door to Hell, Don’t Cry, You Ain’t the First, Double Talkin’ Jive, and Bad Obsession. Now, of course, the two most famous members also have the day in the sun as composers, Slash, in the more than 10 minutes of Coma and Axl with his 2 best numbers Dead Horse and November Rain, with Slash’s famous solo. By playing this last song (November Rain) with Elton John at the MTV awards in 1992, it gave the impression that Axl wanted to become a kind of Elton of hard rock, but things were going in another direction, in fact the singer made it known 2 years earlier that his favourite record at that time, was Something/Anything by Todd Rundgren. Not surprisingly therefore, that they would get inspired by doing a version of Paul McCartney’s Wings, Live and Let Die.
Although these new changes would be much more evident in the second volume, a more varied record but also more opulent, where maybe they were too ambitious. The record is likely the most Axl Rose of the band up to that moment, and you can already foresee the perfectionism that would lead to the interminable chaos of Chinese Democracy, yet the best moments come when Axl on piano plays power ballads like Estranged and in the multiple changes on Civil War. He is also responsible for some of the worst moments of this great band such as the horrible finale My World. Maybe it’s a clear sign that releasing 2 hours and a half of music at the same time wasn’t such a good idea. What happened with these records is that each fan found their Use Your Illusion perfectly taking their favourite songs from each volume, and satisfied with their own personal sequel of Appetite for Destruction. It seems clear that a pair of scissors would have helped the final result, but knowing that it was going to be the last they recorded together, it’s better to have it all.
As far as guitarists go, we can find several reasons why Slash is considered one of the great ‘guitar heroes’ in history. On some songs, they take a wider approach, with 6 songs more than 7 minutes long. We find the best examples in the great piano ballads by Axl where Slash found a perfect vehicle for his most melodic style, the biggest hit being November Rain, possibly the most memorable solo of his career. For this performance, he used the most iconic guitar of his career, a replica of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst, built by luthier Kris Derrig, once belonging to Aerosmith’s Joe Perry (which he would later give back for his 50th birthday). On both volumes of Use Your Illusion, Slash used other guitars as well as his beloved Les Pauls, for instance on You Could Be Mine he plays a B.C. Rich Mockingbird, at the start of Knocking on Heaven’s Door a Gibson Flying V from ’58, and a ‘65 Fender Stratocaster and a Spanish guitar for the end of Double Talkin’ Jive. As for Izzy Stradlin, his main guitar was a Fender Telecaster Custom.
With these 2 double records (each one has more than 15 minutes more of music compared to London’s Calling by the Clash and Exile on Main Street by the Stones) Guns N’ Roses tried to take their place in pop music history and they did it by overdoing it . Little wonder the 2 covers chosen on the album were written by Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, this is where they saw themselves at the very top, a height from which they would tumble and never play music together again. Appetite for Destruction is still their best work, but these 2 Use Your Illusion records are a perfect testament to one of the latest great rock bands.
(Spotify) Use Your Illusion I
(Spotify) Use Your Illusion II