Guns N' Roses released their first EP in in 1986, which led to a contract with Geffen; the following year, the band released their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. They started to build a following with their numerous live shows, but the album didn't start selling until almost a year later, when MTV started playing "Sweet Child o' Mine." Soon, the album shot to number one and Guns N' Roses became one of the biggest bands in the world. By the end of 1988, they released G N' R Lies, which paired four new, acoustic-based songs with their first EP.
Guns N' Roses began to work on the follow-up to Appetite at the end of 1990. In October of that year, the band fired Adler, claiming that his drug dependency caused him to play poorly; he was replaced by Matt Sorum from the Cult. During recording, the band added Dizzy Reed on keyboards. By the time the sessions were finished, the new album had become two new albums. After being delayed for nearly a year, the albums, Use Your Illusion I and II, were released in the fall of 1991. The Illusions showcased a more ambitious band; while there were still a fair number of full-throttle guitar rockers, there were stabs at Elton John-style balladry, acoustic blues, horn sections, female backup singers, ten-minute songs with several different sections, and a good number of introspective, soul-searching lyrics. In short, they were now making art; amazingly, they were successful at it.
While the albums sold very well initially, the band soon fell out of favor. Stradlin left the band by the end of 1991 and with his departure the band lost their best songwriter. Once Nirvana's Nevermind hit the top of the charts in early 1992, there was a distinct division between what was cool in hard rock and what wasn't; Guns N' Roses -- with all of their pretensions, impressionistic videos, models, and rock star excesses -- were very uncool. The band didn't fully grasp the change until 1993, when they released their album of punk songs, The Spaghetti Incident?; it received some good reviews, but the band failed to capture the reckless spirit of not only the original versions, but their own Appetite for Destruction.
By the middle of 1994, there were rumors flying that the band was about to break up, since Rose wanted to pursue a new, more industrial direction and Slash wanted to stick with their blues-inflected hard rock. The band remained in limbo for several more years, however, and while Slash resurfaced in 1995 with the side project Slash's Snakepit and an LP, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere, Rose remained out of the spotlight, becoming a virtual recluse. By 1996 Slash was officially out of Guns N' Roses, and it was soon confirmed that Rose was now the lone remaining survivor from the group's heyday; rumors continued to swirl, and still no new material was forthcoming. The first new original G N' R song in eight years, "Oh My God," finally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days; soon after, Geffen issued the two-disc Live Era 87-93.
2000 brought the addition of guitarists Robin Finck (of Nine Inch Nails) and Buckethead. 2001 was greeted with Guns N' Roses' first live dates in nearly seven years, as the band (who consisted of Rose plus guitarists Finck, Buckethead, bassist Stinson, former Primus drummer Brian Mantia, childhood friend and guitarist Paul Huge, and longtime G N' R keyboardist Dizzy Reed) played a show on New Years Eve 2000 in Las Vegas, playing as well at the mammoth Rock in Rio festival the following month. A new album was announced for a summer release, but the date came and went without any CDs hitting the shelves. A summer tour of Europe was planned, but before tickets could go on sale Rose announced that the tour was cancelled and the band went into seclusion until New Years Eve of 2001. They played almost the exact same set as the year before, but they still managed to brew up some news by not allowing any former members to watch the show. Slash tried to get onto the guest list, and even claims to have tried to sneak in through a security guard. Manager Doug Goldstein released a statement taking full responsibility for the banning of former members, claiming that he was not sure of their intentions and he wanted to avoid making Rose nervous.
2002 started with no new Axl news, instead seeing former members Slash, Duff, and Izzy work together on new material for Stradlin's new album. Rose eventually ended up in music news as he fired producer Roy Thomas Baker from the group's newest recording sessions, adding him to the superstar list of producers that had been attached to the project at various points (including Moby, Mike Clink, Youth, Bob Ezrin, and many others.) Slash's contributions to Izzy's album didn't make the final cut, but rumors of a new band featuring former members McKagan, Sorum, and Slash began circulating by the end of the spring. A slew of Japanese and British festival dates were set in the spring, but the mysterious new album continued to elude fans as the release date was pushed into the fall of 2002. Before those concert dates rolled around, guitarist Paul Huge left the group, quickly replaced by former Love Spit Love member Richard Fortus.
An appearance at MTV's annual Video Music Awards helped garner interest in the new lineup, but a rusty performance from Rose and an interview where he said his new album wasn't coming out anytime soon didn't do much to further their cause. That summer, the band started on their first tour in almost eight years, and they managed to fulfill all of their commitments in Europe in Asia. Sadly, they caused a violent and destructive riot in Vancouver when Rose failed to show up for the first date of their North American tour. Tour openers CKY were especially inconvenienced, as Rose had only asked them days before to reroute from California to Canada for the show. A few shows managed to come together, with Rose hitting the stage quite late at certain dates. But Rose didn't show up for a Philadelphia concert after allowing both opening acts to go on beforehand. The costly vandalism that followed the announcement was enough to convince tour backers Clear Channel to cut their ties with the group, ending the tour and convincing CKY to verbally thrash the group on their website. While he was up to his old shenanigans with the retooled lineup, former members Stradlin, Slash, Sorum and McKagan finally put an end to the rumors and announced that they were searching for a vocalist for a new, Axl-free band.
The years between albums have grown into a running joke in the music industry, Interscope's frustration with the millions dumped into the recording has become secondary to Rose's reclusive insistence to perfect his material. By leaving the industry on such a strong note, Rose's image has been frozen in time as the frustrating, angry, yet sensitive genius behind the microphone, an image he might not be ready to live up to as the years go by. Despite what happens to most groups that have stayed out of the limelight for ten years, the legend of Guns N' Roses continues to grow with each year. Whatever may happen with the new lineup, the five original members continue to enjoy celebrity status despite having their post-GN'R material show less than enthusiastic sales. By writing one of the most critical hard rock albums of all time, they have secured their status as the most vital force to hit the mainstream rock scene in the 80's. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide