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Class ?

Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Smart Pop, Art Rock, Funk/R'n'B, Dance Pop
Starting Period: The Divided Eighties
Also active in: From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Stone Roses fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Stone Roses fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1989

For like ten years this album has been causing sort of a "War Of The Roses", if you pardon a stupid pun. Is this the greatest album of all time (or at the very least, of its epoch?) or is this just a lot of context-caused hype overshadowing the substance? I find exactly two approaches to this thing - the Great Reverential approach, which treats it as sort of a Sgt Pepper for its generation, and the "I don't get what all the fuss is about" approach, which sort of acknowledges some quality here but overall tends to downgrade the record's importance.

If you're interested in my gut level reaction, I'm more inclined to drift towards the latter school of thought. The record didn't impress me at all on first listen - in fact, it genuinely bored me - and even after I've subjugated myself to it several times, there's still not a single song on here that just, like, totally woos me over. On the other side, if something doesn't come right up my alley at once, that doesn't mean I have to pour shit all over it like there's no tomorrow; a more constructive way, as usual, is to try and see the positive side despite oneself's instant reaction. After all, this is a "cult album" which made so many people treat the band with almost God-like fervour, so it can't be really "bad" in the, you know, REALLY REALLY BAD sense of the word. So let's try and assume something of a more 'detached' stance about it and see what happens.

So, for the defense. In 1989, this album led a minor revolution of sorts. It took the newly established dance/house scene and effectively married it to the traditional pop scene, showing that trip-hoppy rhythmics and Beatlesque pop hooks are definitely compatible. It's not like straightforward pop music with Beatlesque hooks did not exist at the time (Crowded House, eh?), but this was putting it into a new, modernistic context, kind of like what Cheap Trick were doing when they were marrying pop hooks with heavy metal a decade before. You can dance to this stuff, and you can try and memorize this stuff, too. That's a plus.

Another plus is how well the band is playing. Pop hooks is one thing, and dance rhythms is another, but it's also important to have dat swing, you know, and the band has it - they surely got one of the tightest British rhythm sections of the time. The bass swoops and wobbles like there was no tomorrow, effectively gluing everything together, and the drumming is immaculate. Add to this John Squire's excellent guitar technique and sense-o'-funk, and it's no wonder that a nine-minute dance number like 'Fool's Gold' can never get annoying; you're just oh so tightly gripped in the unbelievable groove you don't have time (or will) to worry about any stupid time length. You're just groovin' along.

Then, there's also some quality songwriting here - let's admit that many of the vocal melodies are well-written and sound fresh, sincere, and inspiring. And happy, too: this is one hell of a cheerful, optimistic record. Granted, when you pay close attention to lyrics like 'I don't need to sell my soul to him/He's already in me' (one of the few lines in 'I Wanna Be Adored'), you find out that the songs can be pretty sinister, but it's not like people are asking you to pay that close attention. The lyrics don't matter much on here anyway. What matters is the excitement and liveliness of stuff like 'She Bangs The Drums' and 'Made Of Stone', two of the catchiest songs on the record. Or the tenderness and sweetness of the tiny break before Ian Brown squirts '...she's a waterfall' in, well, 'Waterfall'. Did I mention yet that Ian Brown has such a delicious innocent sweet voice? No? Well, he does.

Okay, for the prosecution now. This album is LONG and SAMEY. I don't want to say that all the songs sound the same, that would be a gross exaggeration. At the very least, there's a clear distinction between the "poppier" and the "dancier" stuff. But even that distinction is somewhat blurred by very similar production techniques. The guitars are 'watery' and extremely abstract-sounding, with the rare exception of Squire playing a distinctive wah-wah solo on the funkier numbers. And that dreamy, diluted - if sonically attractive, I admit - guitar sound, crossed with the equally dreamy, diluted vocals gets transferred from one song to another as if there were no other ways to play, sing, arrange, or produce the material. You probably get what I'm arriving it: The Stone Roses is a mood piece, and definitely a monotonous one as far as even mood pieces go.

Not to mention how long the songs go on - many of them drag on for four or five minutes based on just one or two melodic ideas. 'I Wanna Be Adored' is a fine, even in some way gorgeous, piece of music, but a huge chunk of it is just Ian chanting 'I wanna be adooooooored!'. How good is that for a 'revolutionary' album? No good at all. Watery "aethereal" production plus tons of repetition = no good at all. I can actually stand the lengthiest track, 'Fool's Gold', just because it's so pumped full of energy and because I'm used to the idea of a funk groove having to be long, but when those pop songs that should be three minutes long overstay their welcome for so long, I don't like it, and obviously, I'm not the only one.

There are other minor problems: I don't get the point of 'Elizabeth My Dear', which, for no apparent reason, crosses the instrumental/vocal melody of 'Scarborough Fair' with the lyrical bravado of 'Her Majesty'; I think that certain songs, like '(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister', are a hookless waste of tape; and I think that naming a song 'I Am The Resurrection' is going a bit over the top. This is all nitpicking though.

In the end, I think it's only natural that a certain backlash against the record has taken place - because, all odds considered, it is a one-mood album, and if the mood suits you fine, you'll revere it, but if it doesn't, or if you just happen to be like me and like your record to have different moods, you'll definitely want to dismiss it, because I don't find the hook quality in general strong enough. In any case, it's a strong addition to the "poppy" part of your collection. Heck, as usual, if not for the hype, I might have shortened that "prosecution" section drastically. You can still see the rating up there, though, cancha?



Year Of Release: 1994

Lengthy debates with their own record company as well as sort of a personal laziness/shabbiness/negligence/whatever led to the Stone Roses delivering their second and last album a whoppin' five years after the first one. By that time the "Madchester" scene which they helped trigger was already past its glory days, new waves of Britpop bands like, yeah, Blur and Oasis, right (well, Oasis' debut was in 1994 as well) had taken over, yet people were still looking forward for their End O' The Eighties Gods to deliver a miracle. The miracle was delivered under the right name (easily the most ambitious album title ever), but arguably under the wrong sauce, and the fans wrinkled their noses in disgust.

But just as I think the debut was somewhat overpraised, this one tends to gather a bit too much undeserved flack. It was a big disappointment because the Roses never delivered what they were expected to deliver: their own brand of lush dreamy danceable pop. Only a miserable handful of tracks here manage to recapture that atmosphere; the others don't. Thing is, they're not really supposed to. On here, the Roses are exploring their darker, funkier side. Most of the songwriting is credited to John Squire, and it sounds like it - his riffs and soloing are much more prominent this time around. The previous album rocked only in parts; this album rocks most of the time, and that certainly didn't apply to the fans of the "old" style.

Personally, I think the Roses "rock" just as well, if not better, than they "pop". John Squire is a tremendous guitar player - with a sharp, sharp, sharp sense of rhythm and a great command of dynamics, pardon my crappy expressionism here. He really knows what is funk, or what is hard rock, for that matter; many of the parts on this album would not seem out of place on a Hendrix or Zeppelin album. In fact, they almost go over the top about their influences: check out the main melody of 'Driving South' and tell me it's not 'Moby Dick' restructured for the funkier paradigm of Physical Graffiti. It is, goddammit! And I'm certainly far from the first person to want to compare the sprawling ballad 'Tears' with 'Stairway To Heaven', even if there's no real competition here.

As a result, there's a lot on here to keep you on your toes. No, it certainly doesn't apply to the four minute "caveman introduction" to 'Breaking Into Heaven'; the eleven-minute monster opening track almost seems to take off where 'Fool's Gold' left us earlier, but not until you get past through that messy self-indulgence that is the introduction to it. Once you do, though, we're going! We're not breaking new ground, but we rock! Ian Brown sounds like total shit when he's not doing his angelic vocal schtick, but who cares when the guitar overlays are so fantastiwastic? And actually, let the fans crucify me, but I'll still go on record for saying that the powerhouse 'I'm gonna break right into heaven, I can't wait any more' chorus isn't one iota worse than that 'I wanna be adored, I wanna be adored' thing on the previous record. They're totally different, but within their own subgenres, they each occupy the exact same position.

Granted, few of these rockers are memorable, but [ssh... don't tell anyone] not any less memorable than most of the songs on Stone Roses. And sometimes I just don't care, I dig the ferocious jamming on 'Driving South' so much I'm not particularly distressed by the lack of a catchy chorus. John Squire is God? Well, if he were God, he probably wouldn't have the need to overdub so many guitar parts on here (true gods use the "three-in-one" principle!), but he's still great. Besides, when the hard rocker in question is memorable, it's absolutely tops: 'Good Times' is some of the freakiest, hottest R'n'B I've heard not recorded by a black man (and Ian kind of sounds like that lost kid from the British Invasion on it, too).

It wouldn't be right to deny there's plenty of filler on here as well, though. 'Begging You' is a pretty generic house rave-up. The already mentioned 'Tears' loses just by daring to recall the memories of 'Stairway To Heaven'. 'Daybreak' sounds like a forgotten outtake from a particularly uninspired Sly & The Family Stone jam session. The folksy acoustic vibe of 'Tightrope' induces lethargy. And, like I said, only a select few songs approach the lush pop of the debut - 'Ten Storey Love Song' and 'How Do You Sleep', namely, although the latter could certainly use a little extra punch (Ian sounds like he's singing through a blanket). At least, the album has the smartness to end with 'Love Spreads', another one of those Hendrix-inspired funk grooves which gives you hope for tomorrow. The rhythm section once again demonstrates why it's one of the best, if not THE best, rhythm sections of the times. Ah, so easy to forget the good old funk, but these boys certainly do not. Why this lesson - that tremendous playing skills can never hurt - was so quickly forgotten after the band's demise, I'll never understand, or at least, never forgive. Nobody can do this stuff today live. Well, apart from somebody, I guess, but that somebody's gotta be an absolute minority anyway.

So it's not that Second Coming is so much worse than the debut: it just places the accent in the unexpected place. Besides, the band never recorded anything after it anyway, so you gotta be tolerant if you wanna have these guys as your personal Gods or something.


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