Double albums should not exist. The vast majority of them don’t contain enough good songs to justify their excessive length, and the ones that do still suffer from bloat and self-indulgence. As a service to bands both past and present, and with a nod to Stylus’ old Playing God column, we’re going to whittle those double albums down to size. This is the way it should have been.
First up, Guns N’ Roses and the monster that is Use Your Illusion.
While released on two separate discs, Use Your Illusion I & II qualifies as a double album, though it has enough material to sprawl over at least three records. But not enough good material. The Use Your Illusions are a glorious mess, filled with equal parts brilliance and insanity. Unfortunately, some great songs get lost in a track listing that offers more than a little preview of crazy-Axl Chinese Democracy territory. (You wanna step into my world? It’s a sociopsychotic state of bliss)
Chopping the 30 tracks down to fit on a single album is an unusually difficult task, because many of the best songs on UYI are epic, eight-minute-plus jams, and putting them all on the revised album would lead to pacing problems. But leaving them out means inferior material would sneak through. What is an imaginary producer/manager to do? Let’s find out.
Here’s the track listing for the unified, condensed Use Your Illusion.
1) Civil War. The opening cut from Use Your Illusion II also opens our made-up yet improved album. One of the several aforementioned long, weird songs scattered throughout the UYIs, Civil War also makes for a peculiar opener to a hard rock album. It starts off pensive and meandering, but gains a head of steam and builds momentum throughout. The song instantly announces, “Yeah, we’re really not the same band that released Appetite for Destruction anymore.” And what’s so civil ‘bout war, anyway?
2) Yesterdays. A perfect change-of-pace song, transitioning from Civil War into the harder rocking stuff to follow.
3) You Could Be Mine. The best pure rock song on either of the two original albums, You Could Be Mine gets lost in the shuffle near the end of UYI II, and it deserves better. Plus, the earlier in the album we all start thinking about Terminator 2, the better off we all are.
4) Locomotive. We keep things at a punishing pace, with Locomotive continuing to build coming out of You Could Be Mine.
5) Estranged. Huh? Following an eight-minute track with a nine-minute track? Yes, yes we are. Estranged should have followed Locomotive on Use Your Illusion II, but unfortunately, this natural pair was split up with So Fine, featuring Duff on vocals. This song features some of the best lead guitar work ever contributed by Slash.
6) 14 Years. The only Izzy Stradlin lead vocal to make our final cut, 14 Years is a palate cleanser after the exhausting Locomotive/Estranged combo platter. His gruff, everyman vocals serve as refreshing mid-album break from Axl’s howl.
7) Dead Horse. Finally, a song from Use Your Illusion I, the Donnie Wahlberg to UYI II’s Marky Mark. Dead Horse re-frames the album as a weirder version of the hard rock heard earlier. And it doesn’t get much weirder than Axl’s spoken word intro. “Then when she said she was gonna like wreck my car…I didn’t know what to do.” Indeed.
8) Bad Obsession. Harmonica + non-acoustic GNR = yes.
9) Breakdown. The resigned anger of Bad Obsession flows perfectly into the wistful misanthropy of Breakdown. And, like someone sleeping with Ron Jeremy to prepare themselves for Greg Oden, Breakdown’s seven-plus minutes get us ready for the length still to come.
10) Garden of Eden. One last quick dose of pounding drums and scattershot guitars before our epic finish.
11) Don’t Cry – alt lyrics. Shannon Hoon’s finest hour (sorry, Blind Melon fans). Of all the strange decisions that led to the existing UYI, releasing two separate versions of Don’t Cry with different lyrics might be the strangest. But this is still a great power ballad, and deserves to be on our revised album. The alt lyrics are vastly superior to the original. Lyrics were never GNR’s strong suit, but… “Give me a whisper/And give me a sign/Give me a kiss before you/tell me goodbye”? Yuuuuck.
12) November Rain. Don’t Cry and November Rain belong together. They both had ridiculously expensive, inscrutable videos. They both feature slow builds. And when you think of early-‘90s Guns N’ Roses, these are the two songs that come to mind first. November Rain suffers from its placement in the middle of UYI I – nothing should follow a song this long, with this powerful of a coda.
And there you have it. 12 tracks used, 18 left for B-sides or the box set. 8 from UYI II, 4 from UYI I. And we left all the seven-minute or more songs on there, except for Coma.
- Get in the Ring – it’s not a good song, but the sheer insanity of Axl’s anti-rock journalist rant made it tempting nonetheless
- Perfect Crime – a perfectly good metal song, but not quite good enough
- Dust N’ Bones – one Izzy song is enough. Any more than that, and you can just buy a JuJu Hounds album
- My World
- So Fine
- The covers – Live and Let Die and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door were both hits, but neither adds anything new to the songs beyond the novelty of a hard-rock band playing them
- Pretty Tied Up – juvenile S&M lyrics, silly voices and a moronic subtitle (“The Perils of Rock n Roll Decadence”)