Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion Created Appetite for Nirvana 20 Years Ago
Around this time 20 years ago, any young rocker worth his weight in Vision Street Wear was rocking Guns N' Roses Use Your Illusion I & II, full blast. We may not have admitted it out loud, but something felt weird about this oversaturated double album. It was way too much to enjoy. It had too many songs, too many instruments, and too many tapes to buy.
Now, we wonder what Slash, Axl, and the rest of the gang were thinking when they decided to drop this bloated beast on us. One thing they weren't thinking of was their headbanger fans' budgets. Kids had to work extra hours, shoplift twice as hard, and buy fewer dimebags if they wanted to score both records. When they finally saved up enough dough to complete the set, Illusions seemed really ridiculous.
Not all of Use Your Illusion I & II totally sucked. You could whittle that beast down to 12 jams and you'd have a much better album. Axl has one for sale on Amazon, and our mother paper, Village Voice, offers a good condensed version too. Notice how neither version includes Axl's creepy Nine Inch Nails imitation "My World."
They must have been overcompensating since their previous album, Lies, wasn't a true follow-up to 1987's Appetite for Destruction. That thing had only three new songs. Sure, we bought it when it came out in '88. But we also cringed at Axl's crazy racist lyrics in the powerfully catchy "One in a Million." We also wondered what Slash thought. Isn't he black?
On Appetite, GNR just didn't give a fuck. In their songs, they were wild delinquents who rolled the Strip with strippers, dealers, and junkies. Illusion-era Guns didn't give a fuck about their fans. They'd show up late to overpriced gigs. Sometimes they'd cancel and start riots.
The kids were fed up, but for one week in 1991, we were stuck with GNR's Use Your Illusion I & II. We wonder if the Roses Bros. had released just one good album, instead of two pretty OK albums, if they would've held up against the Grunge Invasion.
When Nirvana's Nevermind came out, Rose's flute ensemble, female choir, and techno porn were no longer things we had to fast-forward through until we got to the good jams. We had a new album to listen to. By making such a hard-to-swallow record, they inadvertently primed the rock nation for Nirvana's simple, powerful brilliance.
From start to finish, Nevermind was everything the Illusion albums weren't. In some ways, the overthought production of Illusion made Nirvana's major-label debut even better. Three dudes singing incoherently with passion, attitude, and honesty beat six dudes plus dozens of extra musicians singing piercingly with impudence, ego, and musical gluttony. All of a sudden, Guns N' Roses were on the same level as Bon Jovi. Really, every band that lived off of a steady diet of spandex, scarves, and Aqua Net became obsolete seven days later.
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