Use Your Illusion I by Guns N’ Roses Review
Use Your Illusion I Album Background
Use Your Illusion I appeared following a four year wait after the release of Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses debut album. It was released in September 1991, the same time as Use Your Illusion II, selling 685,000 copies during its first week of release. It was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992 and has been certified seven times platinum.
Recorded between January 1990 and August 1991, Use Your Illusion I saw two major line-up changes from the classic Appetite for Destruction/GNR Lies era band. Firstly, original drummer Steven Adler was replaced by former Cult drummer Matt Sorum, who was fired from the band due to heroin addiction. Secondly, Guns N’ Roses were joined by a full-time keyboardist for the first time with the introduction of Dizzy Reed to the band.
Besides the problems with Steven Adler, the release of both Use Your Illusions was delayed by problems with the final mix. Bob Clearmountain’s original mix was apparently scrapped in favour of starting from scratch with Bill Price, who had previously performed engineering duties for the Sex Pistols.
Like Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion I (and Use Your Illusion II) took their name from the cover artwork. Mark Kostabi’s Use Your Illusion depicts a detail from Raphael’s painting The School of Athens with a yellow and red colour scheme used for this album as opposed to purple and blue for Use Your Illusion II.
Use Your Illusion I Songs
Use Your Illusion I has a more straight-ahead hard rock sound than Use Your Illusion II although the album does see a shift to more grandiose arrangements and the incorporation of wider musical styles. The presence of Dizzy Reed on keyboards had a bearing on the sound of several tracks and the use of piano by Axl Rose on tracks like November Rain marked a very different sound from Appetite for Destruction.
Matt Sorum’s drumming had an effect on the band’s sound on both Use Your Illusion albums. Izzy Stradlin commented that he would have preferred to continue working with Steven Adler but the band had already waited too long for him to clean up.
The Use Your Illusion I album was the first to see Axl Rose take a break from lead vocals on some tracks with Izzy Stradlin singing on Dust N’ Bones, You Ain’t the First and Double Talkin’ Jive. Several songs on the record are longer than fans were previously used to with November Rain clocking in at over eight minutes long and Coma at over ten minutes long.
Several tracks were written by the band before Appetite for Destruction but not included on that release. Back Off Bitch, Bad Obsession, Don’t Cry, November Rain and The Garden all date back to Guns N’ Roses early days.
Right Next Door to Hell
The first song on Use Your Illusion I is Right Next Door to Hell. A so-so rocker that records Axl’s problems with his neighbour, Gabriella Kantor, at his Hollywood apartment. Axl Rose was arrested and sued by Kantor who claimed he had hit her with a wine bottle. Axl, for his part, denied the charges labelling Kantor a fanatic. MTV;s “Evict Axl” contest saw the apartment given away. Finnish musician Timo Caltia, who had worked with Hanoi Rocks, co-wrote the song, playing the riff to Izzy Stradlin while he was visiting. Its OK but no Welcome to the Jungle.
Dust N’ Bones
One of the problems with Use Your Illusion is the running order. We’ve established that Right Next Door to Hell is an adequate opener and no more but it did build anticipation of what was to follow. However, what actually does follow is a slow burning, bluesy, country-tinged song called Dust N’ Bones. Izzy’s dry rasped singing is a good fit for the song but rather than build the speed up with a more upbeat track, the momentum is lost before its really started.
Live and Let Die
Guns N’ Roses cover of the Wings song Live and Let Die was the second single from the album and the promotional video was the last before Izzy Stradlin left the band. The Guns N’ Roses version stays close to the Paul McCartney/Linda McCartney classic but is ultimately a rather pointless exercise.
Don’t Cry (Original)
The most interesting thing about leaden power ballad Don’t Cry is that it was written about Monique Lewis who was involved with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin at different times. It is Monique Lewis’ face that appears in the tattoo on Axl’s arm. There is a different version on Use Your Illusion II with alternative lyrics and a slightly different sound but the Use Your Illusion I version is the original. Don’t Cry featured backing vocals by Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon and along with November Rain and estranged from Use Your Illusion II, forms a trilogy inspired partly by a short story “Without You” by Del James.
Perfect Crime rails against critics of the band and rock in general. It seems to have a dig at the satanic element of heavy metal and/or those who view the genre as such. Unfortunately, its another utterly forgettable song on Use Your Illusion I and not the last.
You Ain’t the First
Another bluesy Izzy Stradlin number with You Ain’t the First and a chance for Guns N’ Roses to deliver some standard misogyny as Mr Stadlin’ dumps his one night stand with maximum disdain and an impressive economy of class.
Bad Obsession tackles the subject of drug addiction head on as Axl thinks of a charming name for his mother. The song was written before Appetite for Destruction and Axl, during one concert even claims that the song was written before Mr Brownstone. The latter song was a far more effective vehicle warning about the perils of substance abuse although Bad Obsession is helped immensely by the contribution of Michael Monroe on saxophone and harmonica.
Back Off Bitch
The refreshingly down-to-earth entitled Back Off Bitch is another song written before the release of Appetite for Destruction. There is footage of the band playing this live before the release of their debut. Inspired by Axl’s former girlfriend, Gina Siler, who moved to Los Angeles with Axl in 1982, there is a reason why this track wasn’t included on Appetite for Destruction. “Back off bitch/face of an angel/heart of a witch” is the level on display here on this bit of filler.
Double Talkin’ Jive
Double Talkin’ Jive was written by Izzy Stradlin, who also performs most of the lead vocals on the track. Unlike most of the material on Use Your Illusion I it at least has some of the air of threat that was apparent on Appetite for Destruction but is lacking on this album. It draws us in with its opening line “Found a head and an arm in a garbage can” that was based on the police actually finding body parts near to the studio. Slash shines at the end with an interesting flamenco guitar solo on an song that doesn’t quite reach its potential.
November Rain was a labour of love for Axl Rose with it’s origins going back to 1983 before finally being released on the Use Your Illusion I album in 1991. Axl performed the song live with Elton John at the 1992 MTV awards perhaps as a way of acknowledging John’s influence on the song but also perhaps as a way of showing the public that Axl wasn’t homophobic?
The somewhat overblown nature of the song is matched by the fact that the video is one of the most expensive ever shot. The sweeping orchestral touches were arranged by Axl and were a radical departure for the band. In spite of a natural dislike of rock power balladry and layered productions, there is a great song underneath the glossy veneer and Slash’s guitar solos are great. Axl’s years of toil paid off.
The Garden alternates hippy drippy segments with heavier menacing interludes and is best remembered for a great, camp cameo by Alice Cooper. According to legend, the band commented that Axl sounded like Alice Cooper during the heavier parts that they decided to invite him to the studio to perform them. Written before Appetite for Destruction but not included on that album, its good enough to avoid accusations of filler that some of the other recycled songs have. This probably wouldn’t have fit on the debut but works well here.
Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden is a change of pace and one of the fastest songs recorded by Guns N’ Roses. The lyrics deal with corruption, misinformation and the general two-faced nature of those in power. It’s not a bad effort but the attempted punky sound doesn’t quite convince and jars against some of the other material.
Don’t Damn Me
Don’t Damn Me is the one moment on Use Your Illusion I where Guns N’ Roses recapture some of the anger and aggression of Appetite for Destruction. The guitars sound furious as do Axl’s lyrics in an unapologetic response to One in a Million from GNR Lies.
Bad Apples has the nucleus of a good song but the delivery somehow sounds bloated and a little sloppy. It deals with how tiresome Axl was finding all the criticism coming his and Guns N’ Roses way. It doesn’t do this as well was Don’t Damn Me but does include the line “I got a headache like a mother, twice the price of my thrills.”
Dead Horse is another solo Axl composition and starts with the front man strumming his introduction on acoustic guitar before the electric guitars take over for the majority of the song.
Use Your Illusion I ends with the epic Coma. At over ten minutes, the longest song ever released by the band and an ambitious song structure with no choruses. Slash wrote the music following Appetite for Destruction and Axl wrote the lyrics about an overdose he suffered sometime previously. A great song to end the album, the narrative seems to look back on the band’s old drug taking ways with disdain.
Use Your Illusion I Album Conclusion
Both Use Your Illusion albums were released a week before Nirvana’s Nevermind, which changed rock music forever. It’s an album from a different era and a real clash with the release of Nevermind as Axl and Kurt Cobain had a real old versus new public spat.
There is some good music on Use Your Illusion I but there is also some average music and some rank filler on the album. The best cuts are November Rain, Don’t Damn Me and Coma. These tracks at least show the song writing and raw talent that got the band to where it was in 1991.
The next group songs could for varying reasons and with varying degrees of success be deemed adequate: Right Next Door to Hell, Dust N’ Bones, Live and Let Die, You Ain’t the First, Bad Obsession, Double Talkin’ Jive, The Garden, Garden of Eden, Bad Apples and Dead Horse. None of these song are particularly bad and some are even quite good in places but they just don’t hit the heights required for repeated play.
The songs on the album that are just filler and/or poor are; Don’t Cry (Original), Perfect Crime and Back Off Bitch.
Of course, Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I was only half of the story. Use Your Illusion II was released at the same time but was it any better?
Rated Sound Gives Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I a rating of 6/10.
Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I (1991) Track Listing
1. Right Next Door to Hell
2. Dust N’ Bones
3. Live and Let Die
4. Don’t Cry (Original)
5. Perfect Crime
6. You Ain’t the First
7. Bad Obsession
8. Back Off Bitch
9. Double Talkin’ Jive
10. November Rain
11. The Garden
12. Garden of Eden
13. Don’t Damn Me
14. Bad Apples
15. Dead Horse