Released simultaneously on September 17th 1991, the arrival of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusion I’ and ‘…II’ was a genuine event.
The time between them being announced and actually appearing on record shop shelves seemed like an eternity. In a pre-internet age, when any information only came from the monthly rock journals, the wait seemed almost torturous, as fans gathered any morsel of info possible. The nuggets we were given only stoked the excitement, even if the hints and interview snippets eventually turned out to be red herrings or completely incorrect. In March ’91, a French magazine suggested the new release would include “Why Do You Look At Me When You Hate Me” and even suggested that early copies would come with a free EP of cover tunes, which they believed would include ‘Down On The Farm’. Close, but no cigar, as they say.
Of course, big bands taking three or four years between albums is common now, but back then, it didn’t happen much. If it did, there’d need to be a good reason for the delays. It says so much about G N’R’s popularity as 1991 unfolded that they not only were excused massive delays, but also released two double albums simultaneously – in the middle of a massive (and seemingly never ending) tour. Despite their expensive price tag and same day release, the albums debuted at #1 and #2 on the US Billboard Chart and were a massive smash in other territories. It was a gamble that more than paid off.
Common sense from most at the time suggested that the two double albums should be scaled down into a world beater, but the passing of time has only cemented these albums – boasting a combined running time of over two and a half hours – as genre classics. Sure, they’re long, and full of the arrogance of a band at the top, but the variety within them makes it so hard to trim the fat.
Thirty years has proved time and again that any attempts to scale these recordings down to one disc seems futile. Presenting the highlights makes the experience lose something in translation, and like similar experiments to make The Beatles’ “White Album” a single LP, the results vary wildly from person to person. In fact, it’s only really ‘Get In The Ring’, an alternate take of ‘Don’t Cry’ and the pointless ‘My World’ that seem surplus to requirements, or sub-par. Everything else seems to add to the G N’R legend with tunes like ‘Right Next Door To Hell’ and ‘Perfect Crime’ showing how the band’s trashy style had grown, and the Rolling Stones inspired swagger of tunes like ‘Dust N Bones’ marked the band as a brilliant rock band, well beyond the glam metal tag some had given them.
Hearing the albums for the first time created one of those memorable moments. Even with a knowledge of the band’s past and information we’d gleaned from the press, nothing prepared us for ‘November Rain’, the huge prog rock indulgence of ‘Estranged’ or the cinematic hard rock of ‘Coma’, and even hearing these epics three decades on, they sound like nothing else from that time.
Given how important the UYI albums and tours were, it’s a travesty that they’re only represented by the Tokyo Dome show on official DVD. The Paris show from ’92 featuring Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz as guests is arguably better; the Rock In Rio show, bigger. Various clips have surfaced over the years in varying quality, but it seems unlikely fans will be given anything more from the archive.
It couldn’t last, of course, Nothing is untouchable, and a month later, Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ would change the face of rock forever. For a moment there, though, Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band on the face of the planet. A band who’d not only built their legend, but believed in it, a million percent.
Thank you, ‘Use Your Illusion I + II’ for 30 years of excitement, baffling joy and wonder. Not you, ‘Get In The Ring’. You can get in the bin.