Saying some of us are in ill humor following the November 2022 election ranks alongside saying there are differing opinions on Donald Trump in the Understatement Hall of Fame. People are beyond angry. They want a conduit to their fury capable of handling molten lava without breaking a sweat.
Enter – more accurately, re-enter – Guns N’ Roses.
The appetite for self-destruction bad boys have remastered and rereleased both volumes of “Use Your Illusion,” the band’s 1991 release heralding hair metal’s death rattle and throwing down the rubbed raw gauntlet to grunge. Whereas the latter rapidly ended its own existence, tragically often literally, the swaggering bluesy sleaze and surprising occasional delicacy of Guns N’ Roses remains potent some 33 years after its introduction.
Set aside Axl Rose’s tiresome antics back in the day. As the Doobie Brothers wisely told us, listen to the music. Rose and lead guitarist Slash are the angry person’s Lennon and McCartney. Now calm down, Beatles fans, of whom I am one; I’m not comparing talent levels. The comparison is iron sharpening iron. Even as McCartney’s melodicism and Lennon’s bite pushed each of them to further greatness, Rose’s grandiose ambitions and Slash’s firmly rooted, angry hard blues riffs channeled the two together into creating something beyond even their considerable individual talents.
Complaints have arisen that the rerelease lacks bonus studio work: demos and earlier takes of songs on the original release, unheard songs recorded but not used. Granted, these would have been interesting. Unfortunately, Guns N’ Roses’ master recordings were among those of the hundreds of artists whose work was destroyed in the inexcusable 2008 Universal Studios fire. Therefore, what we have on the rerelease is a sonic enhancement to the original – more dynamics and punch – plus two full-length concerts from the two albums’ supporting tour, recorded on nights when the band showed up on time and played a full-length set minus artist meltdowns.
Guns N’ Roses greatest strength was their songwriting. The band’s fury never expressed itself via aimless, edgy angst for its own sake. Instead, even when Rose was pushing his leather-lunged scream to its limits, while Slash was making his Les Paul burn from the inside out with stinging, meaty riffs, Guns N’ Roses never lost the melody. This skill first became evident when ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ blanketed the airwaves, and “Use Your Illusion” emphasized the fact. Even in caffeine- (or something-) drenched explosions like the song “Garden of Eden,” there’s something with which to sing along.
The album can be exhausting to listen to in one sitting, but individual highlights abound. There’s the heavily orchestrated one-two of “November Rain” and “Estranged.”
The slow smoldering burn of “Don’t Cry.”
The ferocious roar of “You Could Be Mine.”
You get the idea.
The two concerts included with the Super Deluxe version are raucous delights. One is a surprise, May 1991 show at a small theater in New York City, giving some songs from “Use Your Illusion” their live debut, while pleasing the rabid crowd with multiple “Appetite for Destruction” morsels. The second show, recorded in Las Vegas in February 1992, showcases the band’s arena-filling glory, playing the hits and pulling off surprises. Unless you had an instrumental version of the love theme from “The Godfather” on your list of expected things to hear at a Guns N’ Roses show.
Heavy blues still pack a punch, and Guns N’ Roses did them very, very well. There is no illusion here; “Use Your Illusion” is a welcome tonic for the angry, post-election blahs.
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