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25 Years Ago: Guns N’ Roses Begin to Break Apart on Ambitious ‘Use Your Illusion I & II’

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On Sept. 17, 1991, Guns N’ Roses ended a three-year period of silence in style, issuing Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II simultaneously.

At the time, a wait that long between Guns N’ Roses albums – their most recent release had been 1988’s G N’ R Lies – felt like an eternity. But it seemed reasonable, given that they were working with a new drummer in Matt Sorum, and the advance word was that they were branching out into new sonic territories.

Thankfully, the scope of the group’s ambition was met by the consistency of 30 tracks split between two sprawling discs. Guns N’ Roses frequently strayed from their hard-rock-with-the-occasional-acoustic-ballad roots to include everything from funk metal (“Locomotive”) political commentary (“Civil War”) to epic balladry (“November Rain” and “Don’t Cry”). To further cement their connection to their heroes, they also recorded covers of Paul McCartney‘s “Live and Let Die” and Bob Dylan‘s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Because of the anticipation, record stores around the country opened at midnight in order to accommodate fans who wanted to hear the new music as soon as possible. When the dust settled, both Use Your Illusion albums sold an amazing seven million copies. However, closer inspection of the liner notes soon revealed that there were cracks within the band. Where every song on 1987’s Appetite for Destruction was credited to the band in full, now all the tracks on both albums were credited to the individual musicians, with “Bad Apples” listed as the closest thing to a full-band collaboration.

Guitarist Izzy Stradlin quit shortly after the tour began, citing his desire to stay sober and difficulties with Axl Rose. He was replaced by Gilby Clarke. After the release of the underwhelming covers album The Spaghetti Incident in 1993, Sorum, Slash and Duff McKagan followed Stradlin out the door, leaving Rose as the only original member in Guns N’ Roses until Slash and McKagan returned in 2016 for the Not in This Lifetime tour.

See Guns N’ Roses and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’90s

This Day in Rock History: September 17

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Next: UCR Writers Cut 'Use Your Illusion' in Half

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