The Stone Roses were formed in Manchester in 1983, around singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire. Drummer and backing vocalist Reni (Alan Wren) signed up in 1984, while Mani (Gary Mounfield) joined in 1987 on bass. Despite a scant discography, the band are loved. Their 1989 debut album was a pivotal influence on Brit-pop, with its acoustic guitars and harmonies reminiscent of The Byrds, while they’re not lacking in confidence, with song titles like ‘I Am The Resurrection’, and Brown’s vocals are very English. Their tight rhythm section was able to incorporate dance beats into songs like ‘Fools Gold’.
But more than most acts, The Stone Roses are defined by a single album – their 1989 debut album is often ranked highly in best of all time lists, but it was five years before its follow-up emerged. Second Coming featured a 1970s stadium rock style, at odds with the Brit-pop that they spawned, and it was messy and over-long despite a few great individual tracks. The Stone Roses career never recovered – Reni and Squire left the band, although they reunited in 2011 for live performances and have released several singles.
In the tradition of English bands, The Stone Roses have worthwhile non-album material, particularly the singles like ‘Sally Cinnamon’ that led up to their debut, and their 1989-1990 singles. This material is covered on compilations like The Complete Stones Roses, or on the deluxe reissue of their debut. The Stone Roses’ debut is a great album that belongs in every rock fan’s collection, and there are other songs in their catalogue worth seeking out.
The Stone Roses Album Reviews
The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses’ 1989 debut album is a usual suspect on greatest album of all time lists. It’s not difficult to see why; it’s a collection of great songs and as an important moment in the history of British pop music. With a guitar-driven sound and Ian Brown’s very British vocals, it’s an obvious touchstone for the Brit-pop movement of the 1990s, while it also suggested musical possibilities by backing guitar pop with dance beats, notably on the bonus track ‘Fools Gold’. There’s a brash confidence that underlines the album’s significance even further; it’s difficult to think of a bolder song title than ‘I Am The Resurrection’.
If there’s a criticism of The Stone Roses, perhaps the arrangements are too homogeneous and the running times could use a trim, but it’s hardly an issue when the track list includes stalwarts like ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, ‘Waterfall’, and ‘I Am The Resurrection’. Despite the limited sound palette, there is some studio experimentation, notably ‘Don’t Stop’, which contains most of the musical elements from ‘Waterfall’ reversed. ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ is a brief acoustic snippet of folk chestnut ‘Scarborough Fair’, with anti-royal lyrics.
The Stone Roses deserves its reputation as a great British album, and it makes the remainder of the band’s output look disappointing in comparison.
The Complete Stone Roses
The Complete Stone Roses collects most of the group’s non-album material between 1985 and 1990. I’ve heard that buying the deluxe version of their debut album is the best way to hear this material, but I’ve always owned this configuration. While a chunk of space is taken up by alternate versions of songs that are featured on the debut, the collection’s most interesting material is the singles.
The Stone Roses’ 1985 debut single ‘So Young’/’Tell Me’ has an aggressive post-punk feel that’s not apparent in their later work, but the second single, 1987’s ‘Sally Cinnamon’, points the way clearly to the group’s debut album with its jangly guitars and pretty melody. There are more pretty b-sides like 1989’s ‘Going Down’ and ‘Where Angels Play’. The remainder of the most interesting material are the singles that followed the 1989 debut – ‘Fools Gold’ is the group’s most successful use of dance rhythms, released on a double a-side with the excellent ‘What The World Is Waiting For’. The final single from the era, ‘One Love’/’Something Burning’, continues the dance sound, but with less memorable results.
Among the 21 tracks of The Complete Stone Roses, there are plenty of remixes and unmemorable b-sides that will only interest hardcore fans. But The Stone Roses’ discography is skimpy enough that it’s worth digging through for treasures.
Embroiled in a record company dispute, it took The Stone Roses five and a half years to follow up their debut. By the time Second Coming was released, the Brit-pop movement that the band had helped to inspire was huge, and expectations were intense for the pioneering band. But the band delivered a bloated album that eschews the jangly guitars of the debut for an arena rock sound. The change of style is jarring, but John Squire is a talented guitarist, and it’s fun to hear him rip through Led Zeppelin-inspired riff rockers.
The issue with Second Coming is the 73-minute running time, with most of the tracks running 6 minutes; there are some excellent tracks here, but they’re buried amongst a sludgy trudge of an album. Opener ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ is excellent, an 11-minute epic that slowly rises from an insistent groove, building into a huge and memorable chorus. ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ is reminiscent of the winning sound on the band’s debut, with jangly guitars and warm harmonies, while the single ‘Love Spreads’ is riff-heavy and intense. But the gimmick of 87 short hidden tracks concealing the throwaway instrument ‘The Foz’ seems symptomatic of the shortcomings of Second Coming overall.
There’s more good music on Second Coming than the 5/10 rating implies, yet it’s a very frustrating record – in 1994 The Stone Roses still had a strong album in them, but Second Coming badly needs an editor.
Ten Favourite Stone Roses Songs
I Wanna Be Adored
This Is The One
Breaking Into Heaven
I Am The Resurrection
What The World Is Waiting For
Ten Storey Love Song
Where Angels Play
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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