Use Your Illusion Zero: Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of Guns N' Roses' Two-Disc Opus By Editing It Down To One Disc
Over the weekend, a key album that came out in 1991 celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release date: Guns N' Roses' double-disc, piano-laden Use Your Illusion was released on September 17, 1991, giving late-'80s arena rock what was probably its last gasp of commercial supremacy/artistic overreach and setting up the very long, ultimately unsatisfying wait for Chinese Democracy. It's by no means a perfect albumit's overstuffed with songs that originally appeared on soundtracks and compilations, not to mention a few experiments that just should have stayed in the vaultbut it's still extremely satisfying in more than a few spots thanks to the musicianship on board, and you can hear elements of its outsized ambition and reliance on arena-rock tropes even in present-day albums like Born This Way.
Of course, as an editor with multiple digital-music programs that allow for playlisting, my impulse when listening to the albums now is to nip and tuck at will, or at least slim the dual tracklistings to only those crucial songs that can fit onto a 90-minute cassette. There is a single-disc version of Use Your Illusion out there, but it, to put it plainly, is no good at alltwo of its 12 tracks are covers (save those for the deluxe reissue of The Spaghetti Incident?!, please), another two are versions of "Don't Cry," and it doesn't even have Axl Rose's blanket indictment of anyone in his way/progenitor to every annoying song about drinking "haterade" that's graced a band's later-career cutout-bin offerings "Get In The Ring." Below, my (sequenced!) attempt to slim down the album to a single disc's worth of music.
Here's the playlist on Spotify. Justifications below.
1. "Right Next Door To Hell"
This frenzied kiss-off to an awful neighbor works as an opening salvo on the actual record, too. Much better than "Live And Let Die," which inexplicably opens the official single-disc version.
2. "Back Off Bitch"
As someone whose interest in music extended to actually trying to play it as a kid, I would make frequent trips to a store near my Long Island hometown that sold things like violin strings and piano-etude books. It also had a sizable CD and cassette collection in the back, and among its cassette offerings was a wide assortment of bootlegsboard tapes, crowd recordings, and leaked demos of Guns N' Roses' material in particular. The period between GN'R Lies' release and the eventual issue of UYI seemed like an eternity to my impatient teenaged self, and so my friends and I would gorge on these cassettes, which had construction-paper inlays and which, all told, had about eight versions of this song scattered throughout their tracklistings.
3. "Dust N' Bones"
WHERE'S IZZYoh, he's right here, singing lead! OK then.
4. "Locomotive (Complicity)"
The one time on the album where you actually get to hear its title sung by Axl, and the doubling of his voice here sounds pretty unnerving on headphones. Also, on an album that had a surfeit of codas, this was probably the best, a chugging beat pushed along by otherworldly moans.
5. "Perfect Crime"
UYI had a couple of super-fast barnburners; this one edges out the similarly speedy (and eventual single-with-lyric-assistance-video) "Garden Of Eden" because of the way its screechy intro segues well into "Locomotive" conceptually, as well as Axl's "you wanna fuck with me?" back and forth with the "blind man following [him] in chains."
6. "So Fine"
Duff's Johnny Thunders tribute is one of the album's dark-horse tracks. It could also make a fine way to wind up the record's first side (oh, album nostalgia!), with the way it sort of moseys to its conclusion.