Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I, II Review
Well...they could have done with separate reviews, given that they are actually separate releases, but as much of one relates to the other, why bother. After all, when Use Your Illusion, parts one and two, were first released, most reviews tossed the two albums in together and tried to find some theme or direction present in one but not the other. Indeed, Select, before casting itself as an indie bible and subsequently going out of business, searched in vain for a tendency towards ballads or rock anthems were none existed. Instead, as reviewers noted, Use Your Illusion I was a ragged collection of a band drunk on success and surrounded by lackeys incapable of telling them a two-disc collection was excessive and Use Your Illusion II was, well, much the same. Cut to a few years later and, like the maxim says, Guns N' Roses were big in Japan and ripe for filming during a series of live shows. And so, it comes to Use Your Illusion I and II - 1992 Live In Tokyo...
However much these DVD's will be purchased will depend on the track list and by mixing tracks from both the Use Your Illusion albums and Appetite For Destruction as well as cover versions and various bits and bobs, these two releases are an odd pair.
Of the two, and if you only really want to shell out on one, Use Your Illusion I is the better. Compare the track lists and where Use Your Illusion I offers fourteen songs, including a fair number of tracks from the partnering album, II has only ten tracks. As two of these songs on II are listed as Theme From The Godfather and Drum Solo & Guitar Solo, both of which feature extensive soloing by Slash who, despite being technically very good, does tend to leave his emotions back in the dressing room, Use Your Illusion I's value rockets skyward.
Indeed, Slash's playing does indicate where the real problem behind Use Your Illusion lies. Despite this being the first comparison in this review to the Led Zeppelin two-disc set, it will not be the last for in comparing even Zeppelin's late-seventies shows, including their final live concert at Knebworth, to this, Led Zeppelin have a playfulness to them, giving them an onstage freedom to play around their otherwise seismic riffing that Guns N' Roses obviously lack.
In watching the three hours of footage across these two discs, you sense that Sweet Child O' Mine, Don't Cry and their cover of Wild Horses, taking only three songs as examples, would be replicated note-for-note through not only these Japanese gigs but in every show on Guns N' Roses' '92 world tour. November Rain, taking another example, is not noticeably different from the version of the song that appeared on Use Your Illusion, leading you to suspect that even Axl's ad-libbing between songs was scripted and played on the auto cues that appear throughout the concerts. Finally, these concerts see Guns N' Roses venture far from the sleazy Los Angeles streets and strip clubs that birthed the band, even to employing tuxedoed backing singers. Anyone who sat open-mouthed through the band's appearance at the Freddy Mercury tribute concert and who remembered watching a balding backing singer furiously shaking his skinny white rump to Guns N' Roses will have long-realised how far this band had moved towards respectability but the backing singers cooing over Estranged will have all but the most hardened fans muttering 'sell-out'.
In brief, Use Your Illusion I and II shows just how little fun there was in being Guns N' Roses after the explosive but shattering success of Appetite For Destruction. With Steve Adler and Izzy Stradlin out of the band, both of whom were replaced by jobbing session musicians who looked to have replaced a hunger for heroin with one for doughnuts and muffins, Guns N' Roses became a pale copy of the band who courted controversy in their earliest days. With even their most visceral early track, Paradise City, reduced to dull riffing here, Use Your Illusion I and II really aren't bad but it's difficult to see an appeal beyond the steadily diminishing Guns N' Roses fanbase.
As with Welcome To The Videos, Use Your Illusion I and II look to have been transferred directly across from the original video recordings without any remastering.
Whilst the quality of the original footage is clean, if little more than an uninspired recording of the Tokyo shows that anyone with a camcorder could have produced, the transfer onto this medium has done little to show why any fans of the band should upgrade their VHS originals to DVD.
As with the picture, Use Your Illusion I and II have been transferred with their original stereo soundtracks intact, as with their release of VHS. However, the sound of the drums and Slash's guitars are good but Duff's bass disappears into the mix.
As with Welcome To The Videos, there are no extras on either of these DVD's.
In these days of two-disc sets, there really is very little reason why this pair of releases could not have been issued as a single set. Compare, for example, these DVD's to the two-disc Led Zeppelin set and the array of live footage, bonus features and interviews that it contains and Use Your Illusion I and II fall some way short of ever being thought of as essential. There is, however, a very low price attached to each disc to sweeten the deal as you should be able to pick either up for £8-£10. There's no doubt that fans of the bands will love these releases but for casual fans, there just isn't enough to justify the cost of these separate discs.