Monday, June 18, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1148: Guns N Roses

Over the weekend I dug a little deeper into the Little Feat back catalogue, and liked what I heard. If you’ve read those reviews you’ll know my friend Elaine put me onto Little Feat, but it was cool checking out a few more of their albums from the seventies.

I also discovered a newer band called Lucius via a local server named Josh with whom I have been exchanging musical recommendations.

So thanks to Josh and thanks again to Elaine and…let’s get on with the show.

Disc 1148 is… Use Your Illusion II
Artist: Guns ‘N’ Roses

Year of Release: 1991

What’s up with the Cover? This is exactly the same cover as the band used for “Use Your Illusion I” as I noted when I reviewed that album back at Disc 778. It is a tiny detail pulled out of the famous Renaissance painting by Raphael called “School of Athens” basically featuring a ‘greatest hits’ package of philosophers. The only difference is on Illusion I the cover has a yellow filter applied, and here there is a blue filter. More on that later.

How I Came To Know It: Just me buying it when it came out because I liked Guns ‘N’ Roses’ first two albums. Like “Illusion I” I sold it for beer money and recently brought it back into the collection.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Guns ‘N’ Roses albums, or I did before I parted with “Illusion I” a second time. Of those four, “Illusion II” is third best. And because this is the last of the Guns ‘N’ Roses in my collection, here’s a recap:

  1. Appetite for Destruction: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 609)
  2. GNR Lies: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 724)
  3. Use Your Illusion II: 2 stars (reviewed right here)
  4. Use Your Illusion I:  2 stars (reviewed at Disc 778)
Ratings:  2 stars

Any album that you are willing to sell for beer money when you are hard up should be viewed very carefully before re-entering your collection. While the bloated and masturbatory “Use Your Illusion” (UYI) records are poster children for excess and artistic hubris, “Use Your Illusion II” is the better record overall.

How bad can an album be that starts with the famous “what we’ve got here is failure to communicate” speech from the prison captain in Cool Hand Luke? The song it is attached to “Civil War” is also pretty cool, a mid-tempo full of much of what makes Guns ‘N’ Roses a great band: Axl Rose warbles away, and Slash’s guitar wanks away with glorious excess. If only the whole record lived up to this initial promise.

There is other good stuff here, including the schmaltzy but surprisingly effective “Yesterdays” and a famous cover of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Yes that song is often mocked but while you might revel in delivering your best “heaven’s doe-wahr hey hey hey hey – yaow” for laughs it is a pretty killer cover. It went top ten in eight countries so for some of the haters out there there is some revisionist history at work.

In Guns ‘n’ Roses tradition, the band also likes to get angry at stuff – often stuff that seems kind of petty and uninteresting. “Get in the Ring” is a song that I believe is challenging their critics to a fight. Which is weird but I think the song is mainly designed to just be as offensive as possible. It’s no “Out Ta Get Me” but it delivers what it intends to deliver.

Breakdown” is an almost winner that I liked in the day even though it features a goofy voice in the back of the mix saying “Let me here you now!” in a funky way while Slash wails on the guitar and someone bangs on the keyboards. It is a hot mess, but Axl’s vocals sell lyrics that in lesser hands would be schmaltzy and disconnected. The end of the song is marred by some guy saying “But…it is written if the evil spirit arms the tiger with claws, Brahman provided wings for the dove. Thus spake the super guru. Did you hear that?

Yes, gentlemen, sadly I did, but hearing it does not mean it makes sense.

Unfortunately most of UYI II does not survive this veritable swamping of excessive production, goofy spoken word parts, nine minute rambles and vague references to Indian rhythms that feel like the Beatles if they were on bath salts.

Locomotive” delivers some “Appetite for Destruction” style energy but it is over eight minutes long and my interest was waning long before the song did. After this there is one highlight; the powerful “You Could Be Mine” is also Appetite-esque but way better and a relatively restrained 5:43. then a  whole lot of songs that made me wish it was over. From Track 9-14 I would just keep “You Could Be Mine” and flush the rest.

Overall the record is 14 songs and 75 minutes. While I’ve said it before, it bears repeating that if you took the best of what UYI I and UYI II have to offer and combine it into something called “Use Your Illusion 1.5” (only with a green cover – get it?) you’d have one solid respectable record. On their own, these are a couple of bloated hot messes desperately in need of a studio boss standing behind the mixing board and saying “no” more often.

Best tracks: Civil War, Yesterdays, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Breakdown, You Could Be Mine

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