10 Times 'Use Your Illusion I and II' Predicted the Future of Guns N' Roses
This early '90s juggernaut of a double album is a 150 minute long prophecy foretelling the end of the last great rock band.
Released almost 25 years ago, Use Your Illusion I and II remain the last great epics in rock music. These are the two albums that legitimized Guns N’ Roses as the last great rock band, separating them from the likes of Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard and putting them in the same stratosphere as Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. In my younger years, while every other 13-year-old was listening to Blink 182, Simple Plan, and others in the legion of bubblegum pop-punk bands that stopped mattering after 2006, I was busy being enamored by Axl Rose’s screeching vocals and Slash’s mesmerizing guitar solos.
While all the hype and attention gets shifted to Appetite for Destruction, I’ve always been much more partial to the Illusion twins. On the record, the band members are better musicians. The music is way more expansive and diverse. Above all else, the albums themselves possess a timelessness that Appetite for Destruction doesn't have. Whereas Appetite for Destruction is an album that sounds like it’s from 1987, the Illusion duo finds Guns N' Roses not caring about fitting into the styles of the time. They are records that very much forge their own path in terms of their appearance and what they hope to accomplish. Collectively, they are a masterpiece; individually, they are the mania and the depression that encapsulates the spirit of this band. Use Your Illusion I and II is the Physical Graffiti of the '90s.
It’s the band at their most ambitious, grandest, and epic, but it’s also their barest and most vulnerable work. For all the shit that gets tossed their way -- and in the case of “My World”, rightfully so -- Appetite for Destruction has absolutely nothing on “Coma”, “Estranged”, or “Locomotive”.
After hundreds of repeat listens to both albums, the Illusion twins also serve as portents for the fate that would befall the band. It’s easy to realize this in hindsight; as in most cases, the truth is usually realized way too late to even matter. But, alas, let the masochism begin.
“Not bad kids / Just stupid ones / Yeah, thought we’d own the world / And getting used was having fun.”
Back in 1991, Guns N’ Roses ruled the world. They released one of the most anticipated albums in rock history and became the first band to own the top two spots on the Billboard Top 200. Ultimately, it turned out to be a passing phase, as the Use Your Illusion World Tour became the band’s Apocalypse Now. Nirvana then usurped them for the title of the most relevant band on the planet, and the breakup of the classic lineup began to gestate during the recording of the Illusion LPs. These guys thought they owned the world, and for a time they did. But they realized far too late that the rest of the world had passed them by.
“You know you’re all alone / Your friends, they aren’t at home / Everybody’s gone to the garden."
Being the precipitator of the dismemberment of Guns N’ Roses, Axl Rose has isolated himself from Slash, Duff McKagan (bass), Izzy Stradlin (guitar), Matt Sorum (drums from 1990-97), and Steven Adler (original drummer). He either fired them or forced them to quit, leaving him the as the only original member still standing. These guys, who were presumably friends at one point, now at best cordially pretend that the others don't exist. Even though Rose tries continue in the Guns N’ Roses name, it’s not the same. Ultimately, in his career as a musician, Rose pushed everyone away from him, leaving himself all alone while his fellow cohorts have all moved on.
“I read it on the wall / It went straight to my head / It said, ‘Dance to the tension of a world on edge’ / We got racial violence and who’ll cast the first stone / And sex is used anyway it can be.”
Sign o’ the times. Apparently, not much has changed in 24 years.
“Vicarious existence is a fucking waste of time.”
An absolutely true sentiment, but is this not what Velvet Revolver, the "New" Guns N' Roses, and the onslaught of tell-all books really are? They’re all vicarious extensions, trying in vain to recapture a glorious past. Even though the former two groups were entertaining and fun, compared to the Illusion-era lineup, everything after it merely goes through the motions.
“There were always ample warnings / There were always subtle signs / And you would have seen it coming / But we gave you too much time.”
The signs were there: the cracks in the band were larger than they seemed. But when one looks back on it, there was no way that Guns N' Roses were going to survive after the Use Your Illusion World Tour. The firing of Steven Adler was masked by the upgrade to Matt Sorum, but the delayed release of Use Your Illusion I and II, the departure of Izzy Stradlin, and Rose's illogical obsession with the works of Anne Rice were all cracks and blows that, when mounted on top of each other in conjunction, were more than any group could overcome. Although was only a matter of time before the band was undone by their own machinations, this devolution is something that everyone should have seen coming miles away.