No one can ever accuse Stone Roses of letting career get in the way of anything important. A spectacular example of poorly programmed and self-defeating chaos, the Manchester quartet, which made its debut with a 1985 single, released a grand total of two albums and a pair of overlapping compilations in its first decade. Despite a leading role in the late-’80s Madchester rave scene, the band didn’t make its American concert debut until the mid-’90s. By 1996, Stone Roses were history.
Originally a mod combo known as English Rose (a Jam reference), Stone Roses galvanized their city’s — and, by media extension, nation’s — Ecstasy-driven post-punk subculture with an utterly brilliant 1989 album of chiming, atmospheric and winningly arrogant folked-up rock. Where others joined the shuffling beat dance patrol or the more explicitly psychedelicized acid-rock guitar fiesta, Stone Roses found their métier in sumptuous songwriting and announced their arrival with an embarrassment of tuneful riches. (As devoted to hubris as to melody, the band reached some sort of a religiously detailed ecstatic peak with “I Am the Resurrection.”)
“I Wanna Be Adored,” “She Bangs the Drums,” “Elephant Stone” (a Peter Hook-produced single added, in a short version, to the album’s US edition) and “Waterfall” open The Stone Roses with sublimely potent pop, sung with alluring, echo-drenched enervation by pinup face Ian Brown. Stylishly produced by John Leckie and dressed in a Jackson Pollock-styled splatter cover painting by guitarist John Squire, the album is a stunningly well-realized debut, a record-as-cultural-identity one-off as cataclysmic as The Smiths or Ziggy Stardust.
The album elevated Stone Roses to the head of the Manchester class and nearly made them stars in the U.S., where it charted. But the group retired into a mesh of lawsuits and other self-induced calamities. Evidently more intent on driving associates around the bend than reaping a commercial harvest, Stone Roses produced only a couple of singles (the first, “Fools Gold,” was added to a second US version of the first album) during its lengthy hibernation period.
In the meantime, Silvertone Records (which the band was suing to get off) issued Turns Into Stone, an eleven-cut compilation of singles, including the two A-sides that had already found their way onto the American album. The second-tier sources (mostly B-sides) make for an uneven album, but there is enough neat stuff (“Mersey Paradise,” “Standing Here,” an alternate long version of “Elephant Stone”) to make it more than just an obligation for fans. Following the issue of the band’s belated second album (on a different label), Silvertone replaced Turns Into Stone with the far superior The Complete Stone Roses. Not quite what its title implies, the collection dispenses with the insignificant (and backward) “Simone” from the “She Bangs the Drums” CD single but adds two illustratively formative pre-LP 45s and a half-dozen post-LP tracks. Complicating the deal, the versions of “Fools Gold,” “One Love” and “Something’s Burning” are all shorter than those on the first anthology.
The long-awaited and laboriously produced Second Coming is a strong, sober album suffused with the knowledge that life is harder than it looked from the vantage point of teenagers. (The title barbs the chronologically obvious with typical gall.) Youth and novelty no longer seem to be the watchwords; the album is strewn with self-conscious retro citations. The quartet’s creative focus seems have to shifted from singer Brown to guitarist/songwriter Squire. His ’70s-rock playing is dominant, summoning up the sour air of Altamont raunch and the macho flash of Led Zeppelin. Anchored only to seductive dance rhythms and irresistibly hook-filled songwriting, the album has a weirdly unlocated sense of time and place, which makes it as great as the first for entirely different reasons. When not playing K-Tel games with classic-rock memories (“Tears” dances purposefully on “Stairway to Heaven”) or stretching dance grooves into extended sonic experiments (like the eleven-minute-plus opener, “Breaking Into Heaven”), Stone Roses reclaims its folk-rock roots in the richly realized “Ten Storey Love Song” and the acoustic simplicity of “Tightrope.” Taking one from each column in its stylistic arsenal, Stone Roses wraps Second Coming up in “Love Spreads,” a snarly boogie with cushy vocals and trippy, messianic lyrics.
Reni (Alan Wren) left the band in the spring of ’95 and was replaced by Rebel MC drummer Robbie J. Maddix in time for the band’s first-ever American tour.
Almost as evidence of the media revolution that makes the music seemed absurdly fresh and durable, the 20th anniversary reissue of the debut was made available in four configurations. Special Edition is the UK LP plus a bonus of “Fool’s Gold.” Gatefold Vinyl Edition is the album plus a bonus 7-inch of the previously unreleased “Pearl Bastard.” The three-disc Legacy Edition adds demos (including “Pearl Bastard”) and a DVD of a Blackpool show and six promo clips. Collector’s Edition has all that plus three vinyl platters, more videos, six John Squire art prints, ringtones and other post-modern goodies.