Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion II
Nov 1, 2021
77
Use Your Illusion II suffers from the same problems of its predecessor but, since the tracklist is shorter and, even if the score I gave it is a bit lower compared to USY I, this "sequel" is way more consistent on any aspect, toning down the varied styles of I, focusing on a more condensed straight hard rock + power ballad formula that surprisingly works well, featuring more great songs overall with only a few duds amongst them.

But I still think USY I is a better album, not only because the highlights on it are better than the ones on II (and are more if you don't count the alternative version of "Don't Cry"), but also because it explored exciting new territories for the band (that unfortunately they didn't follow after).

Another thing is, while UYI I had a lot of filler, I wouldn't call any of those tracks bad, being the worst one simply mediocre; that's something I can't say for the lower points of II.
"Get in the Ring" breaks the momentum the first four great tracks helped to build thanks to its embarrasing lyrical content and over-the-top, ridiculous production choices. This song does wrong everything in a hilarious way what "Don't Damn Me" did well; I can't say I hate this song because I think it's consciously tongue-in-cheek and I actually like some of the guitars on it, but I'll admit it's a laughably bad song.
"Shotgun Blues" is the song that shows the most the punk side of GNR, being a fast-paced hard punk number that doesn't even sound like it was made by the band. It's an ok song, but the terrible mixing (a problem that I also had with some tracks on the previous record) and horrendous vocal delivery by Axl make it a skip for me.
While "So Fine" came from a good place (it was a tribute for Johnny Thunders), the result is an overly sentimental, sometimes cheesy tune with poor lead vocals from bassist Duff McKagan (who wrote the song), that is only saved from being bad by a cool jam-esque instrumental.
And everyone knows "My World", considered by many as one of the worst songs by a major band of all time. The song's not even hilariously bad or anything, it's geniuly painful to listen. And it's even more funny if you consider that this track was an stylistic predecessor of Chinese Democracy (not a bad album, but the conection is curious).

Aside from those four tracks, everything else ranges from really good to amazing.
"Yesterdays" is their most mellow sounding song thus far in their career, being a simple but effective power ballad that carries a sense of melancholy and reflectiveness thanks to its wistful lyrics and delicate piano parts.
"Pretty Tied Up" tries to go for sound like the one on "Bad Apples", but fails at being as memorable or catchy as the song it tries to emulate; still, it's a really entertaining song, but it's certainly the worse out off the good ones.
"Breakdown" could've been a highlight if not for the completely unnecessary interpolations of some Vanishing Point (legendary movie btw) clips towards the end. If you cut those last minutes we could be talking about a top 20 GNR song easily, but that's not the case. I feel something similar about "Locomotive (Complicity)" because, even if I put it on the best tracks list, I feel like it could've reduced by a minute or two and the flow of the track could've improved; thankfully the beautiful and complex outro kinda make the extra minutes seem worthwhile.

"Civil War" may have the best lyrics (along with "Coma") of any GNR song ever. Its composition is nothing short of genius, with the band restraining themselves from the over-the-top performance you'd expect from any stereotypical hard rock protest song.
Izzy Stradlin gets to shine once again before his departure from the band on "14 Years", which is my favorite song on the whole album. It's very similar to "Dust N' Bones" because of its bluesy sound; the lyrics reflect on the broken friendship between Axl and Izzy in a very bitter way, so it's shocking how the song managed to made it into the album. Listen to it because Izzy usually stole the show when he was in lead vocals, and this isn't an exception.
Although it doesn't surpass the masterpiece that it's the original Bob Dylan version, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is an admirable cover considering how different the sound of both artists is. I'd like to highlight the chorus that comes at the outro, being a surprising and needed addition for the track since Axl's vocals could've used a bit more intensity on the choruses.
The 2nd longest GNR song ever, "Estranged", is another epic, ultra-lenght power ballad, very reminiscent of "November Rain" that doesn't have the same impact of its more famous sister. I love it nonetheless for being a slow-burner that doesn't try to be a "November Rain" pt. 2, instead focusing on developing a more complex history with its lyrics, letting Axl to mantain the spotlight on the majority of its runtime.
"You Could Be Mine", a song written on the Appetite era and most well know for being the theme song for Terminator II, was the reason of UYI II for outselling its counterpart; the song is really memorable so I understand the appeal, but it doesn't fit the vibe of any of the UYI records, belonging more to their debut album where it could've replaced one of the lesser tracks.
And finally we have the alternative version of "Don't Cry", which features different verses and nothing else. I prefer the original because I think its lyrics are way better than this version, which lyrics doesn't make sense on the context of the song, making the listening experience a bit awkward; nonetheless the song remains one of the most beautiful ballads ever, so its inclusion, even if it's filler, should be welcomed.

Even if it doesn't reach the highs of USY I, II manages to be almost as good thanks for being a more condensed album, with less tracks and a bigger number of memorable songs. It's mostly a stepdown for not having the same variety as its twin record, but nonetheless is another great addition in GNR's discography and, sadly, their last great album.

Best tracks: Civil War, 14 Years, You Could Be Mine, Estranged, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Don't Cry, Locomotive (Complicity)
Worst track: My World

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More Reviews by MarkAnMan
Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy
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Nov 5, 2021
Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I
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Oct 29, 2021
Guns N' Roses - G N' R Lies
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