Last weekend I got to fulfill a live long ambition and travelled up to Manchester to see The Stone Roses live. In celebraiton of how amazing they were, here’s a review I did of their much, and unfairly, maligned second album I wrote for my previous blog.
After the exhilarating rush of pure pop perfection, and the legendary gigs at Spike Island and Glasgow Green, the Stone Roses disappeared into a world of paint spattered legal cases for nigh on 5 years. Retreating to Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, after snatching a more than generous record deal from Geffen, the Roses spent the intervening years having children, smoking copious amounts of grass, skinning up on Aerosmith CD’s and creating an album almost entirely removed from their scallydelic debut.
A burst of squealing feedback surprises as soon as you press play before a sonic collage of tribal drums, a babbling welsh brook, baby alligators (yes really) and squawling guitar entices in for the first 4 more minutes of “Breaking Into Heaven” before we’re treated to some imperious, funky wah wah and a pounding, driving groove. The Roses have returned, and it sounds monumental. Straight away, you can tell that this album is Squire’s album. Through “Breaking Into Heaven”, with it’s religion slating lyrics and imagery, the guitar is simply stunning, Squire’s growth as a player in the Jimmy Page white bluesman milieu is evident with squidgy, driving riffs and imperious soloing. Ian’s vocals are more rough, more dogged and more menacing than ever before.
“Driving South” however is somewhat of a stumbling block in accepting the new, rockier Roses. Squire’s resurrection of the crossroads myth, as well as a swipe at the music biz itself, is a swamp of guitar tracks, all cranked up into the red, meaning Mani and Reni’s luscious grooves struggle to gain recognition under the maze of hard rock rifferey. And although the track demonstrates Squire’s ability, it smacks of self indulgence. Much the same can be said of the dreadful “Good Times”, the weakest track on the album. “Good Times” is far too emblematic of the clod hopping dinosaur rock the Roses set out the destroy five years previous.
However, with the eastern influenced, tumbling guitar lines, fluctuating grooves and Ian’s blissful, tender vocals, “Ten Storey Love Song” is a revelation. Demonstrating that the Roses never lost their melodious grasp on the pop world, “Ten Storey Love Song” is a soaring slice of melody, that recalls past glories, such as “She Bangs The Drums” and “Elephant Stone.”
Fading out of “TSLS” with some outrageously funky drumming from Reni comes “Daybreak.” On first listen this sounds like an unfinished, unpolished jam, but upon closer inspection reveals the strengths of the roses; Reni’s astonishing drumming, Mani’s ability to hold down the groove like no other, Squire’s consummate skill and Ian’s ability to create iconic powerful lyrics just from the vibe’s he was getting off the group. The highlight of the track is definitely the rhythm section, a section so loose, funky and driving their the tighter than being wedged between two obese blokes at a buffet line.
“Your Star Will Shine” is one of the Roses sweetest songs. Ian’s voice is at it’s most earnest, sliding perfectly over gorgeous 12 string arpeggios and reverb soaked drumming, painting the song’s lyrical imagery in bright, vivid colours, and even making a “na na na” sound beautiful. More Byrds-tinged acoustic balladry shows up in the luscious, campfire sing a long of “Tightrope”, with Reni’s backing vocals sounding more sweeter than a robin made of candy floss. Filled with the usual religious imagery, it’s the closest the Roses ever got to sounding like Primal Scream. Echoes of “Sympathy for the Devil and “Magic Bus” are present, allowing the 60’s white boy influences to seep through.
The lone, solely Ian Brown composition comes in the form of “Straight To The Man” a bouncy tune that allows the rhythm section to again shine out from behind a restrained John, in their classic mercurial, liquid fashion. This song most closely resembles the Roses circa 1990 when their funk, Parliament inspired explorations created some of the most iconic dance/rock hybrids.
Speaking of dance rock hybrids, imagine if you will Bootsy Collins and Jimmy Page tripping off acid, fucking and producing a blisteringly, darkly funky child that recalls amphetamine fuelled Northern Soul nights, with a harder, darker twist. Congratulations, you’ve just imagined the sound of “Begging You” an almighty mash of pulsating rhythm and scratchy guitar runs. Amazing.
“Tears” is where John’s Led Zep influence is worn more prominently on his sleeve. Melancholic, yearning one take lyrics from Ian drift over “Stiarway” esque finger style 12 string and lemon soaked drums before erupting into a monumental solo from Squire, and descending into a stop/start jam of lush Les Paulery and percussive power.
“How Do You Sleep?” is the ultimate fusion of the new harder, blusier, older Roses and their “angry young teddy bear” psychedelic past. Ian singing the malicious lyrics like a fucking choir boy, the lovely interplay between Reni and Mani, as well as John reigning in his talent to produce subdued runs and fills, it all comes together in a way which eradicates the memories of “Driving South” and “Good Times” before the album even finishes, and highlights just why the Roses were so important to begin with. John’s solo, instead of sounding like King Kong climbing the Empire State Building, is restrained, melodic and, frankly, beautiful.
Closing the album is the simply barnstorming “Love Spreads”. An impenetrable maze of swampy slide guitar, jagged, spikey, squealing Lead Work combines with darkly dangerous bass and breezy drums to create what Bobby Gillespie called “the best comeback of all time”. Ian’s vocals are those of a hushed prophet, growling with lazy cool and charisma. A brilliant track.
The harder, rockier Roses are not everyone’s cup of tea, especially when compared to their generation defining debut. However, this album shows that genius never left the Roses, at least not on record. A testament to the power of change and frankly 66 minutes of stonking riffing, grooves and funk.
Essential in 1994, essential now; The Stone Roses ARE the resurrection.