Saturday, September 24, 2016

Still Talkin' To Myself And Nobody's Home: Use Your Illusion I & II at 25

Fun how ev'rything was Roses
When we held on to the Guns
Just because you're winnin'
Don't mean you're the lucky ones

         ~ Breakdown - Guns N Roses

On September 17, 1991, Guns N Roses released two of the most anticipated albums in music history: Use You Illusions I and II. The albums debuted at number two and one respectively. This was the first album, that if I wasn't 13, I would have sat outside in a line to buy at midnight. So the next best thing was to call and reserve a copy over the phone - at midnight. Tough sell was mom, credit card and parental advisory sticker.

So what was it that made this release so in demand and special? The addition of drummer Matt Sorum? Izzy Stradlin's freedom on the albums? If you look back at Appetite for Destruction, GNR was simply and angry rock and roll band. Drugs, sex, alcohol, sex and a show every now and then. It was brash, in your face, rock and roll. When everyone got a glimpse of You Could Be Mine and Knocking on Heaven's Door, it hinted at a departure away from trying to re-make Appetite.

When I finally got my hands on these two and listened, I had never heard anything like it. It wasn't a Sweet Child O' Mine or a Mr. Brownstone, these songs were melodic, some were heavier, they were rock symphonies if you will. The songs were longer, pushing the envelope with the 2.5 minute radio ready songs. Accompanying these songs were mini films of gorgeous, well crafted videos.

The most well known video from these albums would have to be the November Rain video, inspired by the Del James short story, Without You. This was the first in a series of three that would tell the story of Axl and tragic love (intertwined with really cool concert footage, of course).

Don't Cry followed with just as much confusion instead of answers, Axl in a Revolutionary War outfit, Shannon Hoon hanging out with them on the roof, and the green Axl below the cemetery. 

To round out the trilogy, Estranged is one of my favorite songs on the album. It is in the same soaring solos, chilling piano moments and building crescendos. But the video is just downright odd but sadly symbolic of Axl's life at the moment. Yes, jumping off a tanker after envisioning himself swimming with dolphins, only to be rescued by a USCG rescue swimmer. WHAT? Just watch 

Those songs along with You Could Have Been Mine are the ones that, I would say, most associate with when they hear these albums. But waking up today with these albums in my mind, I went back and listened. I listened with 23 years on my soul. And damn, it was a great album.* The lyrics are phenomenal, the chords are perfect, and the fusion of light and heavy throughout makes Use Your Illusions I and II one of the best double albums of the 90's . Yes, I'm putting that out there.

We'll never have another time like this. The heavy metal era was something special and so very unique to those growing up in it and trying to find an identity. This was a time when we waited for albums to be released. There were no internet leaks or download instantly at home. You had to earn your music.

The album cover was also a bit of a stretch from the cross and skulls of Appetite. This one, designed by Mark Kostabi, redesigns Raphael's painting, School of Athens. If you ask me, the highlighted figure of the unknown philosopher looks like an early Banksy to me.

From all of the songs on these albums, my highlight, lyrically, is Breakdown. It gives such insight into relationships that, at 13, I had no clue what the song was really about. Now, it is simply beautiful and portrays the reality of the ups and downs of many relationships. Musically, the song has it's ups and downs as well, building and falling, breaking and then finishing a calm mix of piano notes and guitar chords.

So if you have some extra time or want to go back through memory lane. I highly recommend taking a listen again to these albums. I can't recommend one over the other. Both have songs that are good for their own reasons.

It's also humbling for me to think that this would really be the last we would have of the Guns N Roses that we grew up with. This was before Axl went off the deep and decided to show up late to all of his shows. I'm happy this was a double album, that we were able to hear all of this wonderful music from the at their peak. Take a listen and let me know if it brings back the same memories - or evokes something the album didn't before.

Right Next Door To Hell
Dust N' Bones
Live And Let Die
Don't Cry
Perfect Crime
You Ain't The First
Bad Obsession
Back OFF Bitch
Double Talking Jive
November Rain
The Garden
Garden Of Eden
Don't Damn Me
Bad Apples
Dead Horse

Civil War
14 Years
Knocking On Heaven's Door
Get In The Ring
Shotgun Blues
Pretty Tied Up
So Fine
You Could Be Mine
Don't Cry (Alt)
My World

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