Taking a Machete to “Use Your Illusion”

Guns N’ Roses and Star Wars have more in common then you may suspect. Yes, both are sacred pop culture texts for suburbanites of a certain age. But the parallels don’t end there.

Guns N’ Roses and Star Wars both started strong (the original trilogy; Appetite for Destruction) and followed up beloved classics with garbage that destroyed their reputation (the prequels; Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy) before rallying for well-received but mediocre comebacks (The Last Jedi; The Axl/Duff/Slash reunion tour).

So could taking a machete to Guns N’ Roses’ ungainly 1991 double album Use Your Illusion work as it did with Star Wars?

When it emerged in 2015, the machete order was the best thing to happen to Star Wars in 22 years. Ten years after Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars seemed like a lost cause. The machete order promised that the ungainly mess of mostly bad movies could be good again. If watched in the following order: IV, V, II, III, VI. It advises skipping the first prequel altogether, arguing that the story overall works better without it.

Like the prequels, the two Use Your Illusion albums are ponderous slogs created by over-indulged, out-of-touch auteurs. But, maybe chopping them up and reordering them might make another machete miracle.

Here’s the original release:

Use Your Illusion I
“Right Next Door to Hell”
“Dust N’ Bones”
“Live and Let Die”
“Don’t Cry” (Original)
“Perfect Crime”
“You Ain’t the First”
“Bad Obsession”
“Back Off Bitch”
“Double Talkin’ Jive”
“November Rain”
“The Garden”
“Garden of Eden”
“Don’t Damn Me”
“Bad Apples”
“Dead Horse”
“Coma”

Use Your Illusion II
“Civil War”
“14 Years”
“Yesterdays”
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan cover)
“Get in the Ring”
“Shotgun Blues”
“Breakdown”
“Pretty Tied Up (The Perils of Rock n’ Roll Decadence)”
“Locomotive (Complicity)”
“So Fine”
“Estranged”
“You Could Be Mine”
“Don’t Cry” (Alt. Lyrics)
“My World”

Here’s my machete order:

“You Ain’t The First”

# #

“Don’t Cry” (Original)

# #

“Back Off Bitch”

# #

“Right Next Door to Hell”

# #

“Perfect Crime”

# #

“Garden of Eden”

# #

“You Could Be Mine”

“November Rain”

Obviously, I left a lot of Illusion on the cutting room floor. The original Use Your Illusion albums had 30 songs over the course of 150 minutes. My version has eight tracks and clocks in at a tight 36 minutes.

We open with the simple acoustic duet “You Ain’t The First.” Originally buried between two high energy rockers, the song shines as a lead-off track. It’s a deep cut, so the listener thinks there are more forgotten gems hidden on the two albums (not really, sad to say). Then we cruise into “Don’t Cry,” which starts with a soft feel similar to “You Ain’t The First” but builds a power ballad crescendo. Fresh from the crescendo, we cruise into mid-tempo hard rocker “Back Off Bitch” (GNR obsessives take note: the new Appetite for Destruction includes a demo of “Back Off Bitch” with Steven Adler on drums. The performance is better than the Use Your Illusion but the production’s worse.) With our energy up from “Back Off Bitch,” we hit the double shot speedball of “Perfect Crime” and “Right Next Door to Hell.” Stacking the frantic swagger of “Perfect Crime,” “Right Next Door to Hell” and “You Could be Mine” together gives Use Your Illusion the momentum sorely lacking in the original release. And while “November Rain” is a belabored exercise in toxic self-pity and rudimentary piano chords buoyed by an epic outro guitar solo, if you’ve listened to 25 minutes of Use Your Illusion you might as well listen to “November Rain.”

Sadly, even with machete order, Use Your Illusion still falls short of actually being good. There’s poison in the foundation and it permeates everything. Axl emotes like a precocious 13-year-old starring in a community theater production of Les Misérables. The coiled rattlesnake tightness of Appetite is gone, replaced by songs that seem designed to give lagging junkie musicians lots of space to spot their cues. When Duff, Izzy and Slash were backed up by Steven Adler on drums, they had chemistry and swing. With replacement drummer Matt Sorum, they sound ponderous and overbearing. Except for “You Could be Mine,” the rock songs are manic rants lacking vocal melodies. While that’s fitfully exhilarating, there’s precious little to sing along with or remember when the song’s over. “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry” are melodramatic and a little boring but at least they’re memorable.

But it could be far worse. The machete order of Chinese Democracy involves cutting out every single song on the album and staring across the room at the Appetite For Destruction album cover in wistful silence.

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