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Music / Use Your Illusion

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Livin' right next door to hell, why don't ya write a letter to me?
A would-be philosopher clearly believing his own hype.
When you're talkin' to yourself, and nobody's home
You can fool yourself, you came in this world alone

So nobody ever told you baby
How it was gonna be
So what'll happen to you baby
Guess we'll have to wait and see

Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II are the third and fourth studio albums recorded by American Hard Rock band Guns N' Roses. They were released simultaneously through Geffen Records on September 17, 1991.

The Use Your Illusion albums showcased a more ambitious band, stretching out into Queen-inspired harmonizing, Speed Metal, lengthy rock ballads with literary ambitions, a Psychedelic Rock interlude with Alice Cooper...

A set of three songs with similar themes, and epic music videos to match, became known as "the Illusions trilogy": "Don't Cry", "November Rain", and "Estranged".

Rock fans tend to be a bit polarized about the whole thing. A lot wish that the band had gone with Slash's vision and released one album with all the best songs on it rather than two albums with more variable quality songs included.

Use Your Illusion debuted to widespread critical praise despite some complaints about Filler. In a reversal of Appetite's fortunes, the followups fell off both critically and commercially after Nirvana helped revive interest in simpler rock styles, setting up the predominance of Alternative Rock throughout the decade. In the wake of the grunge explosion, Use Your Illusion took on a dual existence as success and punch-line, continuing to release successful singles and iconic videos even as it became a symbol of a self-seriousness popular music now aimed to avoid at all cost.

Use Your Illusion also marks the debut of keyboardist Dizzy Reed (who is still in the band today), and drummer Matt Sorum. The latter replaced the fired Steven Adler, who only appears on "Civil War". Furthermore, Use Your Illusion II turned out to be the last album recorded with Izzy Stradlin, who quit the band shortly after release. He would be replaced by Gilby Clarke.

In spite of themselves, the two albums were mad commercial successes. Both went seven-times Platinum in the United States, and Platinum in the United Kingdom. While II went Diamond in Canada, I was one Platinum short of that certification (nine-times).

The two albums combined for a total of seven singles. I produced "Don't Cry", "Live and Let Die", and "November Rain". II produced "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", "Yesterdays", "Civil War", and "Estranged". While "Estranged" did not chart in the US or UK, the first five singles were all Top Ten on the UK pop chart ("Civil War" peaked at #11); and the first four were Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, with "November Rain" peaking at #3.

An abridged compilation album—featuring 12 songs drawn from both albums, and censored for retailers that refused to sell the original versions due to explicit lyrics—was released on August 25, 1998.

The albums had a 30th anniversary reissue and remaster in 2022, comprising 2-disc deluxe editions for each album with an additional live disc, and a Super Deluxe box set featuring both albums alongside several live discs, plus album art and merch.

Tracklist (Use Your Illusion I):

  1. "Right Next Door To Hell" (3:02)
  2. "Dust N' Bones" (4:58)
  3. "Live And Let Die" (3:04)
  4. "Don't Cry" (4:44)
  5. "Perfect Crime" (2:23)
  6. "You Ain't The First" (2:36)
  7. "Bad Obsession" (5:28)
  8. "Back Off Bitch" (5:03)
  9. "Double Talkin' Jive" (3:23)
  10. "November Rain" (8:57)
  11. "The Garden" (5:22)
  12. "Garden Of Eden" (2:41)
  13. "Don't Damn Me" (5:18)
  14. "Bad Apples" (4:28)
  15. "Dead Horse" (4:17)
  16. "Coma" (10:13)

Principal Members:

  • Duff McKagan - bass, vocals, guitar
  • Dizzy Reed - keyboard, piano, clavinet, organ, vocals
  • W. Axl Rose - lead vocals, piano, keyboard, guitar, sound effects
  • Slash - guitar, dobro, bass, vocals, talkbox
  • Matt Sorum - drums, percussion, vocals
  • Izzy Stradlin - guitar, backing and lead vocals, percussion

Tracklist (Use Your Illusion II):

  1. "Civil War" (7:42)
  2. "14 Years" (4:23)
  3. "Yesterdays" (3:14)
  4. "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (5:36)
  5. "Get In The Ring" (5:42)
  6. "Shotgun Blues" (3:23)
  7. "Breakdown" (7:04)
  8. "Pretty Tied Up (The Perils of Rock N' Roll Decadence)" (4:48)
  9. "Locomotive (Complicity)" (8:42)
  10. "So Fine" (4:08)
  11. "Estranged" (9:23)
  12. "You Could Be Mine" (5:43)
  13. "Don't Cry" (4:45)
  14. "My World" (1:24)

Principal Members:

  • Steven Adler - drums
  • Duff McKagan - bass, backing and lead vocals, percussion
  • Dizzy Reed - keyboard, piano, organ, vocals
  • W. Axl Rose - lead vocals, piano, guitar, synthesizer
  • Slash - guitar, banjo
  • Matt Sorum - drums, vocals
  • Izzy Stradlin - guitar, backing and lead vocals, sitar

What's so civil about tropes, anyway?

  • Album Title Drop:
    • From "Locomotive":
      You can use your illusion, let it take you where it may!
    • "Don't Damn Me" also has the variant line "your satisfaction lies in your illusion".
  • Atomic F-Bomb: "Right Next Door To Hell"
  • Big Rock Ending: "November Rain" has one of the most epic of them, between the orchestral backing, Slash's guitar, and Axl's piano.
  • Break-Up Song: "Dead Horse" (of the "getting over you" nature), "Don't Cry" (of the "we can probably still work this out" one) and "Estranged" ("this is ruining me").
  • The Cameo: Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon sings backup in some tracks, most notably "Don't Cry".
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Perfect Crime"
  • Cover Version: "Live and Let Die", the James Bond theme by Paul McCartney and Wings, and "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", by Bob Dylan. In an odd coincidence, both were originally 1973 movie themes.
  • Crossover: Alice Cooper sings with Axl in "The Garden".
  • Credits Gag: The liner notes to both albums have a reference to "Ain't It Fun" by The Dead Boys, which they would later cover, along with "Fuck You St. Louis", because they just loved the city so much.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The Performance Video for "Yesterdays", possibly a Call-Back to "Sweet Child O' Mine".
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Graphic/fine artist Mark Kostabi painted the same cover in two different colour schemes for each album, after a part of Raphael's The School of Athens. Recent releases of the album extend these schemes to further parts of the painting, to the point that the 2022 Super Deluxe edition the whole painting with one scheme for each half.
  • Distinct Double Album: Albeit it doesn't follow form completely - I has the rockers along with "November Rain", and II the more pensive songs along with "You Could Be Mine".
  • Don't Look Back: "Yesterdays"
  • Downer Ending: "November Rain". In the music video, the Big Rock Ending plays over scenes of the funeral and burial of the new wife of Axl's character, with implications that she committed suicide.
  • Electronic Speech Impediment: Near the end of "Dead Horse" an audio effect features the song being fast-forwarded.
  • End of an Age: Nirvana's Nevermind was released a mere seven days after Illusions, marking the albums as the final blockbuster hit of the 80s glam metal trend.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • "November Rain" is the longest top-ten single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, clocking in at 8:57.
    • "Coma", (10:13) "Civil War", (7:42) "Breakdown", (7:05) "Locomotive", (8:42) and "Estranged" (9:23) also break the seven-minute mark.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: "Dead Horse" features a nutcracker.
  • Fanservice: Just to keep your interest through nine minutes of "November Rain", the video gives us Stephanie Seymour in a Showgirl Skirt and a Walking Shirtless Scene for Slash.
  • Foil: Nirvana's Nevermind, another album released by Geffen Records, came out just a week after the Illusion albums, directly posing Nirvana's Three Chords and the Truth style against Axl's mega-budgeted artistic pretensions. Needless to say, many rock fans bought all three.
  • Funk Metal: "Locomotive".
  • Fugitive Arc: The music video of "Estranged" has Axl Rose fleeing from a SWAT Team, being captured and then escaping again.
  • Gainax Ending:
    • I ends with "Coma", a ten-minute conceptual piece about a near-death experience.
    • II ends with "My World", a one-minute-and-half electronic song welcoming the listener to "a socio-psychotic state of bliss" and getting stranger from there. It was written by Axl as a letter to his fanatism for Nine Inch Nails, and the other band members didn't even know it existed until the album's release.
  • Homage: "So Fine", to Johnny Thunders.
  • Iconic Item: After the "November Rain" video, Slash became forever associated with his top hat.
  • Ineffectual Loner: The narrator of "The Garden".
  • It Always Rains at Funerals: The music video for "November Rain" ends with Axl's character mourning where his wife was buried, as rain washes the dye out of the rose atop her coffin.
  • Longest Song Goes Last:
    • I ends with the 10:13 "Coma".
    • Inverted with II, which is closed by its shortest track, the 1:24 "My World".
  • Lost Wedding Ring: In the "November Rain" video, during the wedding scene Slash pats himself down trying to find the rings, only for Duff to reveal that he has them on his pinky.
  • Motor Mouth: "Garden Of Eden".
  • Music Video Overshadowing: A few. The most blatant is "You Could Be Mine", where a song about a guy wondering if he and a girl could have worked instead is about the Terminator being sent to kill Axl (and consider him a "waste of bullets").
  • One-Word Title: "Coma".
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: I's cover is painted in shades of yellow and red and is generally filled with heavier, harder rocking songs. Use Your Illusion II's cover, by contrast is painted in shades of blue and purple and contains blues-like, softer ones.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: "My World" gives a massive Hard Rock album an unusual (to say the least) electronic conclusion.
  • Power Ballad: "Estranged" and "Don't Cry" are textbook examples. "November Rain" takes all of the elements as far over the top as they can go without becoming parody.
  • Protest Song: "Civil War", which even incorporates Duff's memories of MLK and Bob Kennedy's deaths:
    D'you wear a black armband When they shot the man who said "peace could last forever"
    And in my first memories they shot Kennedy
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The album covers roughly depict the differences between the two albums, but only roughly - I is a more aggressive album while II is heavier on lengthy ballads.
  • Robo Cam: As a tie-in to Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the T-800 appears in the video for "You Could Be Mine" and uses this to scan the band members after they have left the stage. When the T-800 comes across Axl Rose, the Robo Cam display reads WASTE OF AMMO, and so the T-800 lets Axl go unharmed.
  • Saved for the Sequel: A number of songs were already written as of Appetite and didn't make the cut. Axl resented "November Rain" being excluded, while Slash felt "You Could Be Mine" ultimately belonged on Appetite.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The album covers were drawn out of a scene from the painting The School of Athens by Renaissance painter Raphael. The packaging in recent releases after the initial ones feature further parts of the painting in the covers' style, with the 2022 Super Deluxe edition having a recreation of the whole painting.
    • "Civil War" samples the "What we've got here is... failure to communicate" from Cool Hand Luke (1967), a speech by a Peruvian Shining Path guerrilla officer and Axl Rose whistling "When Johnny Comes Marching Home".
    • "Breakdown" has Axl reciting a whole speech from Vanishing Point (1971).
    • "You Could Be Mine" features the line "'Cause I think we've seen that movie too", expressly a shout-out to the Elton John song.
    • Milk Music, a punk band from Olympia, Washington, named their debut Cruise Your Illusion. They draw plenty of Nirvana comparisons.
  • Something Blues: "Shotgun Blues"
  • The Song Remains the Same: Subverted with "Don't Cry", which is featured on both albums, albeit with different lyrics for each version.
  • Song Style Shift:
    • "Live And Let Die" is a mostly-faithful adaptation, even giving 'em some Linda McCartney-penned reggae!
    • "November Rain" shifts from a piano ballad to a big orchestral piece to a showcase for Slash and back again.
  • Special Guest: Alice Cooper and Shannon Hoon, lead singer of Blind Melon are featured in "The Garden". Outside the album proper, Elton John played in the Video Music Awards version of "November Rain".
  • Spoken Word in Music:
    • An answering machine message plays during "Knockin' On Heaven's Door". It has nothing to do with the rest of the song.
    • Axl's rant about critics in the middle of "Get In the Ring".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Izzy sings lead vocals on "Dust N' Bones", "You Ain't The First", "Double Talkin' Jive", and "14 Years", while Duff sings the majority of "So Fine". Duff noted in his autobiography that his singing isn't up to snuff due to his boozing.
  • Symphonic Metal: "Live And Let Die" features muted orchestral elements (as in the original Wings version) while "November Rain" is primarily built around string instrumentation for most of the song until the guitars take over.
  • Take That, Critics!: "Get In the Ring" has Axl challenging critics to a fight, by name for daring to give him negative reviews.
  • Trade Your Passion for Glory: Discussed Trope, from "Coma"
    And "It's so easy" to be social/"It's so easy" to be cool/Yeah it's easy to be hungry/When you ain't got shit to lose
  • Video Full of Film Clips: "You Could Be Mine"
  • War Is Hell: "Civil War" is all about the various tragedies and horrors of war.
    I don't need your civil war / It feeds the rich while it buries the poor / You're power-hungry, selling soldiers in a human grocery store - ain't that fresh?

Don't ya think that you need somebody?
Don't ya think that you need someone?
Everybody needs somebody
You're not the only one
You're not the only one