Monday, April 27, 2009

The Stone Roses

back in June 1987 the 20th anniversary of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. was rather big news. it made the papers, the television news (back when there was only a 30 minute bulletin, rather than today's 24 hour channels that are always desperate to full the air) and even had a retrospective documentary on the uber-arty The South Bank Show, hosted by renowned cultural snob Melvyn Bragg.

it made the news partly because editors no doubt felt there was some good journalistic copy in celebrating the 20th anniversary of an album which began with the words "it was twenty years ago today", partly because The Beatles' albums had all just been made available on this new compact disc format, but mostly because it was a great album and seen by many as a landmark or breakthrough in the development and direction of pop music.

the album which celebrates twenty years of being with us around about now (accurate timing wasn't really an issue for this band) is unequivocally and absolutely no different at all.

The Stone Roses was, is and always shall be one of the most audacious, awe inspiring and dazzling works of art that human ears have ever been privileged to hear. without peer in its time, and very few albums have come close to the majestic beauty of it since. by fate, quirk, grand design or accident, four lads from Manchester created a sound that shall forever reverberate though the world, the known universe and all that stretches beyond.

as there are so many biographies, histories and stories of the band across the whole of the interwebnetthingie, i'm not going to trawl through their history here. other than giving a strong recommendation to the fine book The Stone Roses by John Robb, this update is purely a look (listen, if you will) to this fine album.

here it is then, track by track......

I Wanna Be Adored
i don't need to sell my soul; he's already in me

a slow, sparing build up to a monumental sound, occasionally littered with sparse lyrics about wishing to be idolized and knowing that you're going to be. this would be considered as arrogance from a band who were already worshiped by the masses, never mind some new indie band on the first track of their debut. Ian Brown sounds like a man who fully believes that he is the centre of the known world, Mani, John and Reni create a sound the likes of which you imagine primitive man once heard, didn't quite understand or comprehend but went out and built Stonehenge and the Pyramids as a tribute to it all the same.

She Bangs The Drums
Kiss me where the sun don't shine, The past was yours but the future's mine, You're all out of time

a statement of intent as much as a roving, bass-driven gem of a pop tune, She Bangs The Drums is the band delivering on the arrogance of the opening track. at times a simple love song, at times a metaphorical reference to the joy of music and drug use, mostly it's a celebration of the band knowing that theirs is the sound to command. one generation under the same groove.

Now you're at the wheel, Tell me how, how does it feel? So good to have equalised, To lift up the lids of your eyes

astonishing. a simplistic yet devastating rhythm compliments this apparent homage to equality, liberty and celebration of the feminine. i have yet to meet the lady who, no matter how much she proclaims to hate the band, doesn't love this track. a song to be played loud in the car, with the windows all down. arrogant and cocky the band may very well have been, but this arrogance was one they wished to spread an ideal of universal love and harmony across their domain with. they succeeded very well indeed with this track.

Don't Stop
What's the matter for everyone i feel, Pain, blues singer

this track is Waterfall played backwards. and i do mean played, as in they performed it this way rather than just feeding the tape in backwards. the lyrics, presumably, arose from what they heard playing the tape backwards. a rather strange, curious free-flowing psychedelic tune that just lets you drift away into a very fine state of mind as you hear it. you didn't want the vibe and momentum of Waterfall to stop, neither did the band; here you go.

Bye Bye Badman
Here he come, Got no question got no love, I'm throwing stones at you man, I want you black and blue and I'm gonna make you bleed, Gonna bring you down to your knees, Bye bye badman, Bye bye

ah yes, the anarchic, smash-the-state side of The Stone Roses. ostensibly inspired by the French Student Uprisings (hence the lemon motif, there's some research for you), here's the band dismissing oppressive authoritarian control with a simplistic, innocent and child-like "bye bye". and all with a great looping guitar and fantastic beat. which leads nicely into the next track.

Elizabeth My Dear
Tear me apart and boil my bones, I'll not rest till she's lost her throne

less than a minute on the record, this acoustic number is the band making it loud and clear, in softly spoken words, that The Royal Family's days are numbered. with four lines and an acoustic guitar they whip up the enthusiasm for an end to the status quo that Republican politicians can only dream of. if the sentiment of the song upset anyone, that's probably why they did it.

(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister
It takes all these things and all that time, Till my sugar spun sister's happy, With this love of mine

it's not all pro-feminine and equality for The Stone Roses, then, as this classic sounding tune seems directed at either unrequited or demanding love from another. had the band not been destined for greatness, the line "every member of parliament trips on glue" would have been changed to something less demanding, this would have been released as a throwaway summer hit and the band soon discarded as one hit wonders. they were, however, destined for greatness, and so the song stands as it is as an anthem for the frustrations of love.

Made Of Stone
Sometimes i fantasise, When the streets are cold and lonely, And the cars they burn below me

lyrically, the song seems to be about the sacrificial, ritualistic burning of someone whom The Stone Roses clearly feel the world would be a good deal better off without. for many, Made Of Stone is the standout track from the band, it certainly established them as a band to pay attention to. a classic rock-pop number delivered with apparent ease, there's so much been said in twenty years about this song that the only thing i can say is go and play it.

Shoot You Down
When the day is done, And it all works out, I'd love to do it and you know you've always had it coming

this song completes a rather dark trilogy on the album. after the unrequited love of Sister and damnation of it on Stone, here we are in a reflective mood, realizing that the narrator is at fault, but will shoot down those in the way all the same. a somber, jazz-blues mood persuades through the musicians on this one, giving further credence to any celebration of their vast talents and delivering one hell of a song too.

This Is The One
I'd like to leave the country, For a month of sundays, Burn the town where i was born

the sound of the previous track carries on to this one, building up to some clear, perhaps special resolution. it's something of a dark twin of Waterfall, lyrically seeking escape and equality, only this time wiping the slate clean and starting again afresh. a certain large team based in Manchester and supported by the band plays this every home game before kick-off, it's not so much for the song itself as because it indeed really does serve as a prologue to something very, very special.

I Am The Resurrection
Don't waste your words i don't need anything from you, I don't care where you've been or what you plan to do, I am the resurrection and i am the light, I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as i'd like

wow. as if the arrogance of the opening track wasn't quite as in your face as it could have been, acting as a closing chapter is the ultimate self-assured, dismissive of all who don't believe in the band, statement of intent song that you could deliver. it also happens to be one of the greatest songs of all time, if not the greatest rock song. what's the best thing you can do with a vocalist, one guitar, one set of drums and one bass? i defy you to find anything better.

the song is epic in its ambitions and scales these ambitions with ease. two minutes of venom and bile spill forth, followed by the quoted line which has to be the greatest triumph speech ever (i don't care that you hate me, i will not be you), followed by the most astonishing, whimsical instrumental coda break you have ever heard in your life. the finale of I Am The Resurrection is the sound of an coronation of a new emperor; it's the noise of victory marching over your ears. whatever it was that one was inspired to build from the sound emanating from the opening track, this closing track is the delivery of reward.

so there you have it. eleven tracks, one of which is another played backwards, and one being a short acoustic break. very few bands had released anything as ambitious or audacious before this; so very few have even tried after it.

how do you follow that album up? well, somehow, they did, releasing a single that would define the shape and sound of music for the next few years.

Fools Gold was a close to ten minute epic homage to the fledgling "e" generation, and very much the sound of one generation under the same groove. delivering this classic on the back of their phenomenal debut album gave rise to the view that The Stone Roses would reign for a very long time indeed........

....except of course, they didn't. lengthy courtroom battles, (ahem) "disagreements" with a succession of record producers, sheer laziness and a calling to different musical directions within the band led to a five or so year absence, the eventual delivery of the (at best) follow up album Second Coming, and a very sad, tragi-comical dissolving of the band.

but forget about how it ended. go back to the start. either get out your copy of The Stone Roses, go and buy a copy or, if you will, wait for the 3xlp, 3xcd, 1xusb, 1xdvd deluxe box set to be released in August and just listen to what a masterpiece sounds like.

who is and who isn't.................
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