A few days back we commented upon Guns’N’Roses #1 single from 1988, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Today we look at their most ambitious project, which came out this day in 1991. Use Your Illusion dumped 30 songs and over 150 minutes of hard rock on their fans, on two CDs (simply entitled Use Your Illusion I and II). Rather than put it out on as a single two-disc release, Geffen records decided to sell them separately (to add to the continuity of the project they packaged them with the same picture on the covers but in different colors – orange for I, blue for II). The albums were huge hits and helped GNR dominate rock radio for over a year. In fact, between the two of them, they hit #1 in most markets including the U.S., UK, Canada and Australia, and the final single off them didn’t come out until 1994!
Fittingly the album had taken over a year to record in fits and starts. Overall I did a tad better than II, selling some 16 million worldwide instead of 15 million for II. Both are 7X platinum in the U.S. I spawned the rather remarkable nine- minute hit single “November Rain” (a top 5 in North America) as well as “Don’t Cry” and their cover of Wings “Live and Let Die” (which Rolling Stone described as “Wings on steroids”) while II gave us the rockin’ “You Could Be Mine” and their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” which had been released a year before on a movie soundtrack.
Reviews were surprisingly good for “metal” albums. Rolling Stone graded them 4-stars although noting they were physically assaultive and verbally incendiary, at times downright screwy” and that songs with names like “Back off Bitch” and “Double-talkin’ Jive”, they weren’t going to appeal to everyone. Entertainment Weekly rated it “A” pointing out that the band has “gained more fame for their riots and uncontrollable blasts of temper than for the excellence of their mega-platinum albums,” which it considered a shame. It wondered whether these two albums, “as diverse as the band’s moods” which showed an ability to “write songs that are complex structurally and emotionally” would change that perception.
Whether or not they did is debatable. Although the records sold more than their predecessor GNR Lies, it didn’t match their Appetite For Destruction‘s success – not that anybody at Geffen was complaining. However, after that in-fighting among the members and other troubles more or less sidelined the band for years and they never again rose to the lofty heights of the late-’80s,early-’90s. In 2016, Axl temporarily took over for Brian Johnson as the lead singer of AC/DC on their tour but in 2019 GNR were back at it with a hugely popular tour.