Use Your Illusion I / Use Your Illusion II

Guns N' Roses

Geffen Records, 1991

REVIEW BY: Gordon T. Gekko


There has always been a certain charisma behind the antics of Guns N' Roses that have kept them fairly popular in rock circles. How else can you explain the continued AOR and metal station popularity of a band that has essentially released two albums in the last 11 years? (Yes, there was also two EPs, and an album of covers.) Their 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction, may well be the last great album of the 80s, and they certainly broke all sales barriers for an EP with the following year's Gn'R Lies. But nearly a half-decade after Appetite, Axl and crew followed it up with an album that surprised many at first, but now seems like a natural progression for the band. The question posed to the band: how do you follow up one of the biggest selling debuts of all times? Their reply: by blowing everything way the hell up.

Allow me to get past one semantic issue that every netphile in a threadbare Izzy Stradlin' t-shirt eating Fritos out of a bag drinking Coors listening to his worldworn copies of Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide has running through his head right now: Use Your Illusion, contrary to popular belief, IS one album. At 30 tracks, and 2-1/2 hours, it's also an incredibly long album. In fact, I'm going to take this one step forward, flame mail be damned. Use Your Illusion is, in fact, a concept album, starring Mr. William Axl Rose as the main character, also named, (get this) Axl Rose.

Yes, you heard me correctly. But keep in mind, the Axl Rose who stars in this album, (these albums, whatever), is only a caricature of the real Axl. I maybe be wrong. In fact, I'm pretty sure I am, but this is my interpretation of the album. Now that you know this little nugget of hearsay, I'm sure you're all thinking, "But Gordo, why is there not a readily apparent storyline on the album?" Three words: Izzabod Orenthal Stradlin. He provides many of the tracks on the album, some of which are very good, but they all distract from the theme of the album.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, of course, you're asking aloud, "But, Gekko the Great, what is the theme of the album?" I'm glad you asked. Admittedly, until this review, I hadn't listened to this album (err...whatever), in its entirety since some time in the 6th grade. If Appetite For Destruction was a cautionary tale of hard drugs and getting wasted in the L.A. strip malls of teen-dom, then Use Your Illusion is about the inevitable hangover from such a hard life for those who survive it.

Synopsis: Axl is a man, pushing 30, who still acts like he's 16, and this life has inevitably left him morally and emotionally empty. He feels isolated by fame, threatened by obscurity, and angry at all of the people who never really understood that deep down he was a sensitive, tender poet. In short, his bigoted, misogynistic defense mechanisms worked much better than he expected, and now most people see him as the asshole he portrayed for so many years in hotel rooms across the country.

Use Your Illusion almost reads like a journal of a man coping with the passage into true adulthood, after the parties, women, and fans lose their thrill, and trying to find meaning in his "real" life. He's living a life from an era that no longer exists for him, indeed beating a "Dead Horse." There are songs of resentment toward those who moved on before him, ("The Garden", "14 Years"), his longing for deeper relationships with women, ("November Rain," "Don't Cry"), and memories of songs from his adolescence, ("Live and Let Die," "Knocking on Heaven's Door").

As he sings in the tortured "Don't Damn Me," "I never wanted this to happen/ Didn't wanna be a man/ So I hid inside my world/ I took what I could find/ I cried when I was lonely/ I fell down when I was blind". Perhaps this explains the cover art: in the back a despondent old urchin, in the foreground, an angelic scribe writing in a journal. Axl has learned a dirty secret about being a rock star. Popularity is fleeting with age. He seems indecisive about his path, singing with the profane angst of yore on a track, then moving to a moody, introspective epic on the next. On any other album this might prove disconcerting, but here it does an excellent job of capturing his torment. In fact, many of the songs themselves seem weary and uncontrolled, but they never get boring or repetitive.

I've come to think of this album, (err..), as Axl's finest moment, but not Gn'R's. They could never again capture the frantic energy of Appetite. This is a better album, but could never some close to their debut measured in impact or historical significance. In many ways painful, it shows that the man who redefined the rules for rock was, after all, just a man, like all others. Never before, or since, has an album rocked so hard, yet been so skeletal and revealing.

Rating: A

User Rating: B


© 1998 Gordon T. Gekko and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Geffen Records, and is used for informational purposes only.