Use Your Illusion — The Final Cut
It’s an interesting mental exercise: can you take Guns N’ Roses’ sprawling, goofy, indulgent conjoined twin records, Use Your Illusion, and reshape them into a single, cohesive album that would stand alone as the undisputed 2nd best thing GNR ever did? Let’s give it a try.
This all started because I was joking around on Twitter about the ludicrously simple task of ranking Guns N’ Roses albums (Appetite, then everything else miles behind). Then one of my favorite gaming writers, The Id DM, suggested we both cut the UYI albums down to a single 12-track release.
This brings up the truly astonishing thing about Guns N’ Roses: their towering success and reputation is based entirely on a single album. Appetite for Destruction is such a perfect slice of raw hard rock threaded with brilliantly accessible melodies that it made the band monster superstars completely by itself. Of course, monstrous success brings monstrous arrogance, so you end up with a band releasing a pair of albums stuffed with throwaway tracks and trunk songs because there was no one around who’d dare tell them, “No.” I mean, it isn’t even a regular double album, it’s two separate albums released at the same time.
Anyway, let’s cull the chaff and find the real rock and roll hiding inside Use Your Illusion.
To begin with, some songs are just awful and we can throw them right out. A lot are ruined by Axl, who can’t shut the hell up. He’s either spitting out rapid fire lyrics over every possible second of the song or doing this silly tough guy growly voice ranting and threatening people. A bunch of others are ruined by Matt Sorum’s plodding, grooveless drumming. “Shotgun Blues,” “Right Next Door to Hell,” “Don’t Damn Me,” “Get in the Ring”…nope nope nope. Then there’s the pair of covers, and I don’t think we room for both. “Live and Let Die” is grating and unpleasant compared to the original, so that’s right out.
They put a version of “Don’t Cry” on each album, one just had an alternate vocal take. Hey guys, the process of making an album is, you know, picking the best version of your material, not just throwing whatever out there. It’s a good song, but only one version gets through. There are a few songs that are good, but feel a little too far outside the GNR ouvre. They’d work as b-sides, but don’t make the cut here. “Dust n Bones,” “You Ain’t the First,” you’re cut. “My World,” uh…no. “So Fine” and “Estranged” are overly grandiose and cover ground that we’ve taken care of with “November Rain.”
Ok, let’s get down to our final track listing.
- Perfect Crime. Start off with a short, punchy rocker. Incidentally, there’s exists an official combined version of the Use Your Illusion albums — they just cut out all the songs with swear words so Wal Mart would sell it. “Motherfucker it’s the perfect crime.” Our version is already different.
- You Could Be Mine. This is just a kickass song, and of course it immediately makes you think of Terminator 2, which is just a kickass movie. Sorum’s drumming is actually pretty in the pocket here.
- Bad Apples. The unexpected funk rock intro could have been lifted from a Jane’s Addiction record, and the lyrics are just clever and interesting enough.
- Yesterdays. The classic side one change of pace (yeah, I’m imagining this as being released on vinyl and cassette, even though the actual UYI albums came out on CD). This is just a good, catchy song, and it’s actually about something other than Axl shouting “Bitch!” at ex-girlfriends/the press/nearby small animals.
- Back Off Bitch. Ah, there we go. This is an old song from before Appetite, so it has a certain “classic GNR” feel to it.
- Don’t Cry (original). Traditional power ballad slot.
- Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Side one of Appetite ended with the epic arena rock anthem “Paradise City.” Knockin’ serves the same purpose here. It’s actually pretty cool that they turned a Dylan folk song into arena rock. They weren;t the first to do it, but it works really well for them.
- Double Talkin’ Jive. This is kind of a weird song, flawed in a lot of ways. But I like the different texture it brings to the album, and the two guitar solos at the end are awesome.
- 14 Years. Duff and Izzy were always trying to inject some country-rock/Americana into the GNR sound, and this is the best version of that. Great chorus and a welcome break from gonzo Axl shouting.
- November Rain. I don’t actually like this song at all. This is the perfect example of Sorum’s awful drumming. But it obviously can’t be left off, and it’s the centerpiece of the bloated, grandiose arrogance of this era of GNR.
- Pretty Tied Up. One of Axl’s odes to BDSM (see also, “Anything Goes”). To be honest, a couple of mid-tempo rockers could go here, but I like the chorus and I feel like this album needs a slice of decadence.
- Civil War. This is by far the best song on both albums. It might be the best song GNR ever recorded. I’m putting it here at the end so the album ends and you’re left feeling introspective, perhaps a bit gloomy. I want it to continue to be a hidden gem. It’s just so damn good, folky at times, then the electric guitars kick in, and the lyrics might have been torn from Zack de la Rocha’s notebook.
I wish there was room for “Coma” and “Locomotive” (technically there is, given the space on a CD, but not with our arbitrary 12-song limit). So there you have it. Queue this alternative reality Use Your Illusion up and play it in this order, and let me know if you’d tweak the list, add something else, or think something should be cut. And of course, check out Iddy’s version and see how our versions differ.