Much has been said about Guns ‘n’ Roses having been better off if they were to have released the Use Your Illusion albums as one yet condensed package. Because they didn’t, they came off as pretentious. The real pretension came from Axl Rose (Metallica’s James Hetfield thought that his name should be Axl Pose) wanting to recreate the success of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, if not necessarily wanting to rival Metallica’s progressive eighties albums – although a point could be made about how it was planned well in advance that Metallica were going to tour with them and thus possibly outstage them with previous progressive songs.
In regards to Use Your Illusion, G’N’R’ would have gained staying power with just having one LP consist of a dozen songs like their first album – Appetite for Destruction. In the case of Use Your Illusion, the dozen should have been Don’t Cry, Perfect Crime, You Ain’t the First, Double Talkin’ Jive, Get in the Ring, Garden of Eden, Bad Apples, 14 Years, Pretty Tied Up, So Fine, You Could Be Mine and My World. The fact that 7 of those songs are leftovers from the first album’s recording sessions is a typical sign of what is otherwise ascribed to film sequels i.e. the law of diminishing returns. The only reason why Use Your Illusion II made more money than Part I is due to You Could Be Mine i.e. the theme tune for T2 a.k.a. Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
There were three solutions that could have helped the band and possibly not alienate Izzy Stradlin in wanting to leave, if it wasn’t for Rose putting all of his eggs in one basket. After all, not every egg was gold from the G’N’R’ goose. First of all, there were too many people outside of the band wanting to contribute to the music. This diluted the personal bonds in the band, and it ruined any chances of G’N’R’ making more money for themselves because it meant having to share royalties with those seeking their 15 minutes of fame. You wouldn’t think that money would matter with the phenomenal success of Appetite for Destruction, but it does when you consider how much money was invested into the production of Use Your Illusion as well as wasted on the self-indulgent tour parties (along with the concert fines that came from Axl being a latecomer and an early leaver).
Secondly, two covers of seventies songs* meant that there was even less revenue from royalties. Metallica were always smart to not include covers on albums. Of course, royalties were still paid but it made it easier to track album revenue. Thirdly, G’N’R’ would have survived grunge like Pantera did had they not blown their load by having as many songs as possible on two albums (16 on Part I and 14 on Part II). The 6 songs with outside writers (six other men have song credits**) could easily have formed an EP called Our Thorns (an indirect way of saying “the thorns in our side”) whereas the 6 bloated beasts (November Rain, Coma, Civil War, Breakdown, Locomotive and Estranged) could have formed a long LP (50+ minutes) called Illusionary. The remaining 6 tracks could have been on an extra EP called Filler Up. Being self-deprecating with the sleazy homophone title would have made G’N’R’ seem less self-important, sort of like how Metallica poked fun at themselves by releasing The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited (1987) after Master of Puppets (1986). It would have made G’N’R’ critic-proof to admit that they had filler***.
Even if the band’s collective egos were too big to admit that they had filler, the EP could have been titled Deep Cuts. Not only does the title work as an extension of Our Thorns but a “deep cut” refers to a song on a record which is obscure because it was not released as a single. The problem with the Use Your Illusion albums is that, for all of their ambition, G’N’R’ were disorganized. If you’re going to release so many songs, you need to make sure that no song gets overlooked. This is why it was good to have songs which were exclusive in that they could only be found as B-sides to singles. It gave people more reason to purchase the singles as opposed to just buying the albums. This is what put Def Leppard in good stead when they finally got round to following up the success of Pyromania (1983) with Hysteria (1987). Otherwise, the only option that you had was either live performances or remixes as B-sides, and these are the sort of tracks which are basically same difference.
In light of having toured Metallica as co-headliners in the early nineties for the Use Your Illusion, releasing an album consisting of only long songs would have changed how G’N’R’ were perceived. With Metallica cutting back on long songs for the self-titled black album (also released in 1991 like Use Your Illusion), G’N’R’ would have been perceived as picking up where Metallica left off with …and Justice for All (1988). Taking away the longest songs from Use Your Illusion for a future album would not have hurt G’N’R’ because the condensed version of Use Your Illusion would still have been seen as a step-up in terms of production values and experimentation. Also, having only 12 songs would have drawn comparisons to the other seminal hard rock albums of 1991 – Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind and Metallica’s black album. Perhaps film-savvy journalists would have referred to all three albums as the dirty dozens.
* Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die (released on Part I) along with Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (released on Part II) were interesting choices for covers given how they were written for soundtracks of films released in 1973. The former was for the James Bond film of the same name whereas the latter was for a Sam Peckinpah film called Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
** Right Next Door to Hell (Timo Kaltio), Bad Obsession (West Arkeen), Back Off Bitch (Paul Tobias), The Garden (Arkeen and Del James), Don’t Damn Me (Dave Lank) and Yesterdays (Arkeen, James and Billy McCloud). With the exception of the final track, everything else was released on Part I. It’s just as well that Part II had sold more copies.
*** Dust N’ Bones and Dead Horse were on Part I. As for Part II, the other original filler tracks were Shotgun Blues and the alternate version of Don’t Cry. For the filler EP that never happened, it would have been fitting to have each side of the vinyl open with a cover. Preferably Side B would begin with the McCartney cover since the 007 film has a B movie vibe.