It is perhaps not one of our finer qualities that we have increasingly less patience with the concept of long-form art. How dare Scorsese direct a three-and-a-half-hour movie that I can watch from the comfort of my couch on a streaming service? What am I supposed to do—press pause at literally any moment I see fit if I need to grab a snack/take a dump/bitch about the election on Facebook?
This is not to say that long-form art—from literature and cinema to, in this very specific case, the dreaded double album—cannot be pompous, bloated or in need of judicious paring. Just saying that, in the age of ubiquitous disposable content, we could stand to be a little more patient with those who care enough to swing for the fences. To paraphrase Marty’s fellow 2020 Best Director nominee, Noah Baumbach, we should celebrate those who knock on the door of profundity and run away.
Long story short (it better be, right?!), the conceit of this post is, indeed, judicious paring. Coming from a place of sincere admiration, not sneering contempt. I asked Tyler Semrick-Palmateer, the enigmatic frontman of recent Decibel Hall of Fame inductee Mare, to condense Guns N’ Roses’ 1991 opuses Use Your Illusion I and II into one undeniable collection of songs that could fit on a single roughly 80-minute CD. (We needed some parameters, so why not make it era-appropriate?) It may seem like a leap that the man behind such a volatile, emotionally wrenching, genre-bending, grandiose project would have something to say about GN’R… until you remember that every one of those qualities (and then some) applied to this era of Guns.
So, read all about the thoughtful construction of one man’s dream album that’s dedicated to all the Guns N’ Fuckin’ Roses fans who stuck with them through all the fuckin’ shit. And to all those opposed? Hmmm… well… there’s always Steel Panther.
Final Mare Your Illusion tracklist
1 “Perfect Crime”
2 “Pretty Tied Up”
3 “You Could Be Mine”
6 “Garden of Eden”
8 “Bad Apples”
9 “Double Talkin’ Jive”
11 “Shotgun Blues”
12 “The Garden”
13 “Right Next Door to Hell”
14 “Don’t Damn Me”
15 “Back Off Bitch”
Listen on Apple Music
Why does Use Your Illusion continue to resonate with you 29 years after its release?
I’m positive some of it has to do with being exposed to it at 10 years old. The music is tailor-made for impressionable prepubescents. It’s sort of baked into me at this point. I have always been attracted to grandeur and dramatic tension in music and art. I was a big Meat Loaf fan around that time. The similarities between the Jim Steinman epics and UYI can definitely be felt.
The immersive and cinematic quality of these albums really spoke to me as well. I was already an avid Appetite [for Destruction] fan. But something about the grab-bag quality of UYI resonated with me on a deeper level. I was very fond of knowing I was experiencing music that was difficult to quantify, and I could potentially hear something entirely unpredictable at a moment’s notice. It greatly compounded the sense of danger, in my eyes.
Out of the 30 total songs available, which were the easiest passes and why?
Whenever Duff [McKagan, bassist] sings, I check out a bit. He’s not bad, and his chorus-y bass tone is a crucial component to their sound. But I think Axl should be in the ring as much as possible.
I do enjoy “You Ain’t the First,” and am a massive Shannon Hoon fan (the first Blind Melon record is incredible). But we have “Bad Apples” to consider here, plus a slew of other incredible songs. The tracks that were conceptually cool, but a little long-winded, in hindsight, were left on the cutting room floor as well, i.e., “Get in the Ring,” “Civil War.” I love those songs a lot. But their appeal—and relevance—seems to have faded a bit with time.
There were no real easy passes. I love the angularly decedent and garish aesthetic of these records. But for the sake of this exercise, I attempted to construct a viable sequel to Appetite to highlight how GN’R was functioning at the top of their game in the ’90s, and not on the bloated decline, as was the pervasive attitude at the time. I personally think GN’R withstood the test of time far better than almost all of their “grunge” detractors, especially with UYI. It’s possible the records are more relevant now than when they were released.
Your album opens and closes with aggressive, (relatively) concise rippers, a theme that runs throughout. How difficult was this to sequence overall?
Not tough to sequence at all. I was screaming yes! at iTunes while making this playlist. I had likely devised it in my subconscious at age 12. Essentially, it’s a list of the songs I would always listen to front to back. GN’R’s music spans the entire emotional spectrum. Though, they always seemed a bit contrived while doing those oddly captivating, yet overtly saccharine ballads, which is why those got the ax(…l).
“Coma” is an epic that is beloved to a certain subset of GN’R fans, but obscure to casual listeners. Why is it so underrated?
If you enjoy the ’90s GN’R sound, it ticks off all the boxes. The riff that plays throughout is pretty brutal, with a vaguely Danzig/Pantera flair. It’s highly conceptual, and has some glaring similarities to “Rocket Queen”—notably the outro, use of samples and track order. It’s a song about death with a feeling of celebratory dread throughout, wrapped in a Queen-like package. In hindsight, it’s almost as though Axl was trying to write “Bohemian Rhapsody” on every other track with UYI. “Coma” is high drama with a single personalized Converse dipped in the soundstage ocean of high camp. If you dig this phase of the band, you’ll likely have a soft spot for the more Andrew Lloyd Webber qualities this song has to offer.
You selected nine tracks from I and six from II. Can we extrapolate that you prefer the former to the latter?
UYI II seems to be where the lion’s share of the experimentation is done. When you experiment, you don’t always succeed. While some of the most musically forward-thinking tracks can be found on II, the most “fun” is to be had with the former.
The colors of the cover art are worth noting as well. Orange seems to be synonymous with the vibrant pageantry of UYI I. Blue can be seen as representing the more contemplative and melancholic experimentation of II. Both are necessary, and equally exciting. But I like to strike a nice 60/40 balance, if possible.
The absence of “November Rain” and either version of “Don’t Cry” (two of the most prominent singles), as well as the covers of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die” (also singles) is notable. Is GN’R more of a deep cut band than they get credit for?
There are very few GN’R songs I don’t like, barring Chinese Democracy, which is just the musings of a crazy person obsessed with screamo. I would say they have many brilliant tracks outside of the billion notable singles. Even on Appetite, “Rocket Queen,” “Anything Goes” and “My Michelle” are my personal favorites, and none of those were singles. A lot of their music seems to get overlooked by the more casual listener, which isn’t entirely surprising given the palatability of their singles somewhat distracts from the truly bizarre aesthetic of the band. GN’R is not really commercial-sounding at all.
Axl’s voice alone would be a tough sell for most reasonable sets of ears. In every technical sense, it’s terrible, and routinely verges on comical—his saving grace being his unwavering conviction, forcing you to register his witchy howls as some version of beautiful. I can’t think of many people with an instrument like Axl’s who would even begin to consider a career in music. Having said that, he’s one of my top five favorite vocalists. He boasts an inhuman range, a uniquely virtuosic musicality, and is constantly in direct communication with his muse. Though, I still find it hilarious that he is a household name.
And then you have Slash, who is one of the most thoughtful, subtle and capable improvisers in rock guitar. He adds an incredible amount of class in a genre where only a fraction of the amount is typically required. I just don’t think the band gets enough credit, period. They seem to be more beloved than respected, sort of like ABBA, or Destiny’s Child.
Now that you’ve gone through the process of creating this single CD-length version, can you see yourself listening to your cut more than the original double album?
Big time! It’s my new go-to. I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.
Has GN’R’s influence in any way affected your musical output with either Mare or other projects?
Absolutely! Axl and Slash were about as influential and inspiring as can be for me as a young singer/guitarist. Their sense of adventure and rawness remained inspiring to me well into my own musical maturation. Not to mention their unsung sense of humor, fashion and showmanship.
There is a live video of GN’R performing “Perfect Crime” around ’91 that summarizes everything I love about the band. Axl can barely be contained. He’s dressed like a Scottish leather daddy moonlighting as a baseball umpire, and his voice sounds like a stack of receipts being ripped in half. Slash is playing like he was just in a cycling accident. And yet, the energy is palpable, even through the most shattered iPhone screen. Their utter conviction to tear a hole in the fabric of time and space is shocking. And they seem to have unanimously decided that musicianship comes second to just being fucking awesome. That degree of intensity and commitment will always be an inspiration to me.
There is also a distinct lack of nihilism in the music of GN’R. The current musical landscape seems to be replete with artists whose sense of adventure, playfulness and magic is either veiled, nonexistent, or has been Instagrammed right out of them. Popular music now seems to convey a detached sense of doom not present on UYI, or other releases from that era. Bands like Death Grips do a pretty good job of satisfying the bloodlust of today’s youth while maintaining a jovial atmosphere in the process, much like GN’R did in their heyday. I think there is a way to handle difficult topics in music while still reveling in the joys of escapism.