On this date in history, Sept. 17, 1991, Guns N’ Roses released Use You Illusion I and Use You Illusion II, its last studio albums to this date featuring original members Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, Slash and Izzy Stradlin (drummer Matt Sorum already had replaced Steven Adler for the recordings). With media outlets recently reporting Slash and Axl are speaking once again, the nonstop chatter of a reunion has picked up yet again. Will it ever happen? It will take millions and millions of dollars and an office building full of attorneys, but, yes, I think it eventually will happen. But first, let’s look back at those classic albums from GNR.
Use Your Illusion I and II were released simultaneously at midnight on Sept. 17, 1991, in conjunction with the kickoff of the band’s Use Your Illusion Tour. After becoming the world’s most popular rock band after the releases of Appetite For Destruction and GNR Lies, these were two of the most anticipated albums in rock history. This was helped by the single “You Could Be Mine,” (which appeared on Use You Illusion II), prominently featured in the blockbuster movie Terminator 2. If I remember correctly, the song was the one the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, personally chose for the film. There had been a three-year wait since 1988’s GNR Lies for new music from the then reigning bad boys of rock. (Interesting fact: GNR Lies and Ozzy Osbourne’s The Ultimate Sin were the first two albums I ever purchased, both on cassette.)
I didn’t wait in line anywhere at midnight, as I was only 14 years old at the time, but did pick up both albums the next day at our dinky local music store, which has long since closed. My initial reaction was positive, though I was disappointed with some of the more bluesy, mellower material, at least at first.
Use Your Illusion II was the easy, lazy pick for the best of the two, with the singles “Civil War,” “You Could Be Mine” and the band’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” but over time, Use Your Illusion I grew on me and ultimately ended up being my favorite, thanks to the more rocking tracks like “Right Next Door to Hell,” “Bad Obsession,” “Back Off Bitch,” “The Garden” (which features Alice Cooper) and “Dead Horse,” to go along with the mega-hit power ballads “November Rain and “Don’t Cry.”
The albums debuted at No.1 and 2 on the Billboard charts, with the Use Your Illusion II first week sales at 770,000 and Use Your Illusion I‘s, 685,000.
Each of the albums has been certified Platinum seven times in the United States by the RIAA.
I really haven’t listened to these albums in full since their release 24 years ago. The same cannot be said for Appetite for Destruction. The Use Your Illusion albums were an ambitious idea and are considered classic rock albums. (Boy, am I getting old.) They were the vision of where Axl Rose wanted to take the band’s sound into the future. Unfortunately, I don’t think the others were fully on board with this vision. Substance abuse and inner turmoil obviously didn’t help either.
It would be interesting to give Use You Illusion I & II a spin today, maybe in preparation for that long-awaited reunion that certainly is coming.