The Second Coming
was the second true album by Manchester
rock band The Stone Roses
. I won’t go into too much background detail on the effects of the album on the band, or its history, concentrating on the music, but a little context
at least is absolutely vital.
Released in 1994, five years after the Stone Roses’ indescribable debut album (1989), the Second Coming faced incredible hype. To meet the expectations of the British music press, nothing less the music of the spheres itself would have sufficed. Not only was the Stone Roses’ debut one of the greatest albums ever made, it had been followed by one of the greatest stand alone singles ever made, Fools Gold (also 1989), which had pride of place in the Roses’ spectacular not-quite-an-album, Turns Into Stone (1992), composed of B-sides and a smattering of new material. Fools Gold was not only an incredible song, it marked a change of style for the Roses from their pop-rock beginnings to a much more dance-oriented wah-wah guitar mysticism, which was born out in their second new single, One Love (1990). In short, people were not merely expecting the same brilliant stuff as before, but something entirely new and brilliant. As a friend of mine puts it – “The Stone Roses had revolutionised British music twice already. People naturally expected them to do it a third time”.
The Second Coming was branded a disappointment, a failure, masturbatory, patchy, and a whole host of other words which didn’t exactly dare to call it bad, but certainly expressed dissatisfaction. The fact that the album was written almost entirely by the lead guitarist, John Squire, didn’t help. The combination of Ian Brown on lyrics and John Squire on music had worked so perfectly on the Roses’ previous releases that it seemed immediately worrying that the front-man was now almost entirely uninvolved in composition. To make matters worse, Ian Brown’s one track on the album, Straight To The Man, was generally received as being rather poor.
Being written by a lead guitarist who styled himself increasingly around Hendrix and Page, the album is very guitar-based, with long solos for Squire, and wearing its Led Zeppelin influence on its sleeve. It also rocks harder than anything the Roses had done before, but some critics argued that it lacked the grace and subtlety of previous tracks. With its strong Led Zeppelin resemblance, it did particularly well in the States, but less well in the UK, where it was poorly received.
So, on to a tracklist with some commentary. As I said in my review of TSR, I consider the Stone Roses one of the greatest bands in history, so be ready for some gushing praise and extensive evaluation of lyrics...
- Breaking Into Heaven (11:22)
- Driving South (5:09)
- Ten Storey Love Song (4:29)
- Daybreak (6:33)
- Your Star Will Shine (2:58)
- Straight To The Man (3:15)
- Begging You (4:56)
- Tightrope (4:26)
- Good Times (5:39)
- Tears (6:50)
- How Do You Sleep (4.59)
- Love Spreads (5.46)
(1) Breaking Into Heaven (11:22)
This track begins with a lengthy intro of more than four minutes, featuring tribal drumming, dripping water, jungle noises and plenty of guitar feedback, before a cataclysmic drop into Squire funking his guitar with the best of them. In this way, it parallels the first track on TSR, I Wanna Be Adored, though takes it even further than that. This seemed overtly to say – “you’ve waited four years for this, you can sure as fuck wait four minutes”. Played live, this was spectacular, the intro extended for even longer, teasing the audience mercilessly. The song itself mixes the wah-wah tones of Fools Gold and One Love with Zeppelin-esque virtuoso guitar. Structurally, it’s very interesting, going verse1-chorus1-verse2-chorus1-chorus2-verse3-chorus1-chorus2-instrumental-climax-instrumental (cf. I Am The Resurrection’s verse1-chorus1-verse2-chorus1-verse3-chorus1-climax-instrumental). The lyrics are overtly mystical, and I’d say Gnostic (though people might dispute this). As the title suggests, the theme (in my opinion) is that of divine revelation (“I can’t wait any more”) and mysticism (“How many times do I have to tell you, the kingdom’s all inside”), with plenty of subtle Biblical references (“Heaven’s gates won’t hold me, I saw those suckers down/Laughing loud at your locks as they hit the ground”).
(2) Driving South (5:09)
This track is a real guitar-fest, and would be over the top if it didn’t sound so damn good. It has a similar sound to track (11) Love Spreads. The ostensible theme is that of selling one’s soul to the devil (reminiscent of The Devil Went Down To Georgia) with plenty of rock and roll clichés (“driving south at midnight in a howling hurricane”). It has the intriguing line (from the devil to the protagonist) “you ain’t too young or pretty and you sure as hell can’t sing”. Given that this is written by John Squire to be sung by Ian Brown, you can read as much as you want into that. Though the lyrics may not seem as profound as some other Roses tracks, the Roses are notorious for including increasingly complex layers of meaning in their songs, so the only sensible thing to do is reserve judgement until you’ve heard it, preferably when ripped off your tits on an appropriate entheogen. Besides, instrumentally it’s hard to knock.
(3) Ten Storey Love Song (4:29)
A beautiful, beautiful song, and the most widely file-shared of any track on the Second Coming (except possibly Love Spreads). Different from any other track on the album in its close resemblance to the sound of the first album (particularly Waterfall), it avoids the some-might-say excessive guitar of other tracks on the album, and has a very subtle hint of sitar, particularly in the intro, reminiscent of some later George Harrison tracks for the Beatles. Lyrically it seems like a love song, one of the very few on the album, but there’s plenty of scope for mystical and psychedelic interpretations here too (“when your questions go unanswered”, “who can take you higher than twin peak mountain blue”). I’d give a general maxim for thinking about Stone Roses lyrics here: never assume they’re not meant to make sense; there are always more layers to find. Whether they’re intended or not, I guess, is a matter for debate, and whether that matters or not another one.
(4) Daybreak (6:33)
This is the daybreak, and this is the love we make. Faded into from Ten Storey Love Song, this track sounds quite raw, as if someone had just recorded a jamming session with Ian Brown rhapsodising over the top. It takes a while to really get into compared to a lot of the tracks on the album, and is very loosely structured. The lyrics are ostensibly to do with the civil rights movement (“Sister Rosalee Parks/Love forever her name in your heart”, “So why no stack for a black on a radio station in this city”), and its ‘daybreak’ as symbolised by Rosalee Parks’ initial stand. However, this, I have no doubt, ties into the broader theme of “She’s Black” as emphasised in Love Spreads, and as articulated very well by Alan Watts in a lecture (delivered to a methodist society; which exact one escapes me – any help appreciated). More on this in Love Spreads. Listen out for the cry of “Gnosis” at 0:41 – though this is scanned by some editors as ‘you know, sis’, it sounds entirely like the former and much less like the latter. Also, given the title of ‘Daybreak’, and the Gnostic undertones throughout the whole album, I think ‘Gnosis’ is very likely. Live versions of this track are particularly good and worth seeking out, with some amazing drumming and incredible guitar solos, and the riff from “Ride On Time” being subtly brought in.
(5) Your Star Will Shine (2:58)
A very pretty and slightly strange track, with plenty of reversed acoustic guitar blended into the normal forward guitar (cf. Simone and Don’t Stop). According to some sources, this is about John Squire’s worries about not being able to see his daughter grow up (“And your distant sun will shine like the gun that’s trained right between your daddy’s eyes”) but bear in mind what I said about layers of meaning: there are plenty of mystical and holozoist undertones here to keep anyone occupied (“Shine for all the world to see the universe in your eyes” – cf. One Love, “One Love, One Heart, One Soul”). A very chilled out and mellow track, good for smoking pot to.
(6) Straight To The Man (3:15)
Ian Brown’s only track on the album, and a controversial one. Many people hate it, and I was never a big fan, but listening to it now it grows on me: very funky, with a Happy Mondays sound. The lyrics in particular illustrate the overwhelmingly religious concerns of Ian Brown, his incredible erudition, and his love for burying meaning deep in his words. The first verse may illustrate why I tend to find such religious and mystical reference in the Roses: “Saying this revelation/Call Devi’s station/An initiation/All, you’d better beware”. Devi, incidentally, is a name for the Hindu divine mother, sometimes equated with Kali and Lakshmi. Again, this is relevant to Love Spreads.
(7) Begging You (4:56)
Wow. This track is the most decidedly dance-oriented on the album, and is powerful, fast, and heavy, and has one of the most incredible first drops I’ve ever heard. If ever you hear a Second Coming song while out clubbing, this is the one. A very powerful drum beat (looped in production for increased incessancy) dominates, along with a repeated yet uneven guitar riff. Definitely a head-banger. The lyrics are dim and obscure, but powerful: “Here is a warning, the sky will divide/Since I took off the lid now there’s nowhere to hide”...
(8) Tightrope (4:26)
One of my favourite songs on the album, this took me a long time to like. Gorgeous harmonies, a gentle but powerful escalating pace, and the most beautiful lyrics the Stone Roses ever created. Again, an unusual structure, with a twice-repeated chorus unevenly distributed between the lyrics. This song still gives me goose pimples, its lyrics perfectly matching its airy tones: “Are we etched in stone or just scratched in the sands/Waiting for the waves to reclaim the lands”, “She’s all that ever mattered and all that ever will/My cup it runneth over, I never get my fill”. This is unquestionably one of Ian Brown’s vocal triumphs. Love song or paean, this is beautiful, romantic, profound.
(9) Good Times (5:39)
An interesting one this. Very bluesy, with a great intro (“Hell hath no fury, like a woman scorned...”) it sounds very Led Zeppelin (even a little bit Good Times Bad Times). Nonetheless, Squire here is perhaps loving himself a little too much, with vocals, drums, and bass all being forced to the margins of audibility by his squealing guitar. Stoneroses.net describes the vocals as clichéd (“the harder I try to paint a picture of the way it was back then, the more I miss the good times, baby: let it roll again”), but to me they’re the song’s high point: though sounding like a conventional love song, they have depth and sophistication which belies their superficial superficiality. Probably the weakest track on the album musically (though still a good rocker), it mostly compensates for this lyrically, particularly when you think about the identity of the “She” in the Stone Roses songs. I’ve yet to find a live recording of this, but apparently the musical side is substantially boosted with a faster pace and a brighter and clearer melody.
(10) Tears (6:50)
Touted as the Stone Roses’ answer to Stairway, this song starts out slowly and melodically with Squire playing acoustic, steadily building up in the first two verses to a sudden dramatic drop two minutes in when Squire switches to an electric guitar. No chorus or ordered structure but a magnificent build up, and a mind-blowing extended instrumental between the fourth and fifth ‘verses’. John Squire’s lyrics are superb here once again, the whole having a confessional tone (“Lost in a maze of my own making, no way out that I can find/Send home your hard-working jury, I’m going down this time”) tinged with hope and love for the song’s addressee (“Some kind of magic in all your hopes and fears/Shows me the future through the tracks of your tears”). Ian Brown’s vocals rise to this tone superbly, as sings mournfully but powerfully, demonstrating an impressive range. As in many Roses songs, his vocals are drowned by Squire’s guitar, but in the lyrical context this just adds to their effectiveness, adding to the crushed yet hopeful tone.
(11) How Do You Sleep? (4:59)
A charming melody here combines with vitriolic vocals in a fashion reminiscent of the Smiths. A very poppy song with upbeat tones and a more regular verse/chorus structure, it’s no worse for that. Squire here restrains himself from instrumental excesses, and Brown’s voice sounds stronger. The lyrics are again rich with Biblical allusion (“the apple in your mouth slipped in mine”, “I’ve seen your severed head at a banquet for the dead”, “Your shining silver salver so tastefully powdered”, “the Angel of Death comes knock-knocking and banging at your door”). The amazing thing is the power of the hatred here – equivalent, if not greater, than that in I Am The Resurrection, without that song’s elevated tone of superiority (“Couldn’t ever bring myself to hate you as I’d like”). I’ve heard that it’s written about the Bosnian Serb General Mladic, but that’s just rumour. And could just be one of many layers. A very pretty but curious song.
(12) Love Spreads (5:46)
Save the best till last and all that. The first song released on single, I think this among the best stuff the Roses ever did. The song combines very rocky and Led Zeppelin-esque guitar with brilliantly delivered vocals, and best of all, a god-smackingly great bassline and beautiful drums. If John Squire unfairly dominates this album, on this track the Roses regain the synergy of TSR. The storm imagery in the vocals is picked up beautifully by the wild and raging guitar. The structure is complicated, something along the lines of verse1-verse2a-chorus1-chorus1-chorus2-verse2b-chorus1-chorus1-chorus1-chorus1-chorus1-chorus1-chorus1-chorus1-chorus2. The climactic structure makes this song nothing less than epic.
The lyrics. Well. Some obvious clues – “Love spreads her arms, waits there for the nails”, “too much to take, some cross to bear”, “the Messiah is my sister, ain’t no King man she’s my Queen”. So, a female Christ. “Coal black skin, naked in the rain”. Right. So, just like the spaceman, John’s seen God, and she’s black. That much we can be sure of.
But where are we to speculate from here? What follows are my own speculations as prompted by consideration of the meanings in the above songs, and perhaps beyond the scope of the node...
Is the ‘she’ Kali? Is injured the injurer, healer the healed? Is pain to be truth, Kali to be Sophia? What does it mean for a monotheist to hold god to have an attribute defined by an opposition? If God is good, can God be all? Is the way up and the way down the same thing? “Detrás de la cruz, está el diablo”? Or are we to think the divine dual in nature? A Manichean struggle between good and evil? Why then is Christ the sufferer? Is pain to be truth? Pain to be freedom? If pain to be truth, pleasure to be falsity? If pleasure is to be false, what are we to make of goodness? Is that the answer to the problem of evil?
The video of Love Spreads contains many very brief flashes of video clips, which are still a source of debate among fans. The last one shows a clock at 8:15, the time at which the Hiroshima bomb was dropped, and the title of a poem by Joanne Monte: “the city was split by lightning, stripped down to bone, and tortured, its flesh lashed by flames”. The parallelism of those lines alone to the lyrics of the song suggest an intentional connotation to my mind. To see the other clips, check out www.stoneroses.net/songs/lovespreads.html (you can find more information on any other Roses song there by swapping ‘lovespreads’ for the appropriate title).
All the above, is, as I said, personal speculation, and some might think it entirely inappropriate to use a node about Mancunian rock music as a focus for such enquiry. But if I have tried to demonstrate anything in this node, it is that the Second Coming is as concerned with religion and metaphysics as its title would suggest, and is not merely pretension. If you remain unconvinced, get the album, listen to the lyrics, and lose yourself in the music. In fact, get everything the Stone Roses have ever made, because even if you don’t buy into the metaphysical lyrics, the music is still bloody brilliant.
There’s a hidden track on the album, number 99. It’s very strange, and I’m not about to comment on it, other than to say that it’s sometimes called “The Fozz” and it sounds dreadful. But maybe there’s more to it than plinkety plunk plunk plunk. Any suggestions welcome.
As for the music press’ reaction to the album – they raised some good points. Musically, it’s the most patchy of the Stone Roses’ three albums; that’s more or less impossible to deny. Squire loves himself just a little bit too hard a bit too often on the album. Yet I would assert that it still has some of the finest songs ever written on it; if I had to pick out just two, I’d say that Breaking Into Heaven and Love Spreads deserve a place in anyone’s MP3 collection, and every song on here is at the very least damn good.
While recording this album, Ian Brown went for a spliff outside and saw Noel Gallagher, who was recording Definitely Maybe at a studio down the road. Having heard some of his stuff, he shadow-boxed over to him and had a chat. Some might say that this was the moment where the Brit-Pop logos changed hands, the torch was passed. Both The Second Coming and Definitely Maybe were released in 1994, and to this day Oasis still talk highly about how great the influence of the Stone Roses was on the band. You can even hear Andy Bell playing a few bars of the I Am The Resurrection bassline after the first fucked up version of Turn Up The Sun at their City of Manchester Stadium concert on July 1st 2005...