There are three reasons I love these guys –
They were arrogant, supremely arrogant, but they were good and in the self-depreciating days of the late eighties/early nineties their attitude was refreshing.
They smacked of genius. Their music is staggering in its originality and, oddly, in many ways its conformity. Yet they still achieved a perfect style for those days. A mix of pop, rock and dance that has never been matched. Their music influenced such act as The Happy Mondays, The Inspiral Carpets and The Charlatans. They gave birth to the whole Madchester scene which spawned so much great music.
Why write a review of a band that is no more?
Their recordings still sound as fresh as ever. There is a whole new up and coming generation that don’t know the work of these guys. It would be a criminal act not to point them in their direction.
I’m sitting comfortably, tell me about them
The Stone Roses career was short (1987 –1996). You won’t find tales of a self destructive drink and booze fuelled lifestyle in their history, nor will you find immense in-band fighting, although you will find the odd squabble. Their history is a good old fashioned tale of being fucked over by the recording industry and genuine bad luck.
The band signed with Thinline Records in 1987 and release their 12” single Tell Me. A catchy enough tune, although it their sound was still very amateur, the singer had yet to find his “voice” and although he made a commendable effort, he still sounded young and very inexperienced, the music, filled with catchy guitar riffs sounded a lil’ slapdash and had a quickly-put-together feel. For reasons not recorded, although I suspect it had a lot to do with free beer and a gentle massaging of the band's egos, they switched to FM Revolver where they released their second single, Sally Cinnamon. This was a turning point, the song still sounds remarkable today, the singer had found his voice and guitar work was clean, sharp and sprightly. It also showed an underlying songwriting talent the band would thrive on. Sally Cinnamon sounds for all the world like a stock pop song, and musically it is, bright, lively without being over complicated and containing a huge “feelgood” factor. Only when the singer delivers the final verse do we realise that the song has a somewhat remorsefull edge. This was something new, pop conformity that threw in a twist. People began to listen.
The band quickly grew frustrated with small label FM Records, who seemed to favour caution releasing their work on a national scale and after a bitter argument they parted company and signed to Silvertone in 1989. Their debut single with the label, Elephant Stone, shifted away from their pop roots and mixed psychedelic rock guitar work, the popular acid house drum and bass work and melodious vocals to create a new sound. On paper this eclectic mix of old guitar, ultra modern rhythm sections and tunefull singing looked impossible to pull off. But, the lads made it work, and it worked well.
The music press soon took notice and their sound was touted as “the next big thing”. Their self titled debut album proved it was (see node above for an excellent review imo). Musically it combined many standards of pop. Easily accessable tunes, funk or rock tracks that simply delivered. Some tracks containing that dark lyrical twist that they excel at, others, simply good simple tunes. The album also threw in a couple of surprises. Don’t Stop is simply the song Waterfall with the drum and bass played forward but the guitars played backwards and new lyrics simply imposed over the track, sounds daft? Yup, but it works. Elizabeth My Dear is an anti-royalist song, sang over an only slightly altered rendition of Scarborough Fair. The whole album looked, felt and sounded “new” something different but not alien. And my gods, we loved it.
Then, the arguments started. The band fought with Silvertone over royalty payments. The fight would continue for the next five years, despite a second (and excellent) album (Turns into Stone) being released in the meantime this fighting crippled a great deal of the bands creativity. After long, lengthy and expensive fighting with Silvertone the band finally split from the label in 1995 and signed with Geffen Records. Their only release on the label, the album Second Coming, was mostly ignored. Grunge had arrived from America and the brit teens were thrilling to boy bands like Take That and Boyzone. The album, in my opinion, contains some classic tracks but also some desperate ones. Looking to a more rock feel the band had turned it’s back on it’s pop roots and the 11 min long Jimmy Page like track Break Right into Heaven was so far out of the Stone Roses character that you could almost feel it was their swansong. Listening to the album you could almost feel, musically at least, that the band were heading in very different directions as individuals.
Then the bad luck arrived. The drummer quit the band (replaced by ex-Rebel MC drummer Robbie Maddix). A successful tour of the US ended with the guitarist breaking his collarbone thus forcing the band to cancel a headlining spot at Glastonbury Festival in the UK. This performance was to be hailed as their big comeback. Maybe the misfortune was the straw that broke the camels back, maybe their ego’s had just become to large to share stage space. No one knows. What is known is that by 1996 it was all over. After just three brilliant albums the Stone Roses called it a day.
So who were they?
John Squire – Guitars
Ian Brown – Vocals
Gary “Mani” Mountfield– Bass
Alan “Reni” Wren – Drums
What did they play?
An eclectic mix that worked. Pure pop songs, great funk, psychedelic rock, and a few tracks that owe a lot to good ol’ fashioned rock and roll. Pleasant, rarely aggressive vocals mix with bright guitarwork but the powerhouse of the group is the genius of Reni and Mani on bass and drums respectively. Creative and new rhythm’s played by two real artists.
Lyrically the songs were magnificent. Pop anthems that only revealed a dark side when listened to with care. Political protest songs, often done in a pop or funk style ranging from recounts of rioting French students to the struggle against segregation in the US. Simple lovesongs and songs about revenge on a betraying lover abound. There is a lot of variety in their writing skills.
Their overall sound was simplistic, going back to the grassroots of a band. Drummer, bass, guitars and vocals. At the end of the eighties a lot of us were thoroughly tired of the mechanical twaddle spewed out by endless new romantic bands and the Stone Roses were fiercely anti-technology (in a famous incident Jon Squire was given a synth-drum machine to experiment with by his producer. He twiddled with it for a few hours, proclaimed that it wasn't music, it was computer programming. He then smashed the machine to tiny pieces, scraped up the bits, took them home, turned them into a piece of artwork and presented the sculpture to the producer the next day).
This is good honest simple music. The album you play when sitting with a group of friends and need something to relax the atmosphere or when you find yourself alone on a Sunday afternoon, had a night of great sex or are waiting for the ecstasy tab to slowly wear off. It’s music that puts you in a relaxed frame of mind, but keeps you thinking and being surprised enough to realise that planet earth is a pretty cool place afterall.
Hmm, will I like them?
It's all a matter of taste, as with all music. If your Metallica Black album is framed on your wall or if you jump around to the lively bollocks that is Limp Bizkitt (or wotever the fuck they are called) then you are going to hate the Stone Roses. If you have thrilled at George Harrisons guitar, sat fascinated at The Verve’s lyrics or enjoyed Mick Jagger on record, then you might enjoy them.
Were they any good live?
No. They weren’t. Despite drawing a 30,000 crowd at their now infamous Spike Island (a former dumping ground for chemical waste) gig. They were continually dogged by bad luck when playing live. Dodgy sound equipment, irate fans (Brown, inspired by reading of the French student riots in the 60’s used to tell his audience that sucking a lemon was proof against teargas, several times fans tested his theory by setting off tear gas grenades at concerts), and, to be brutally honest, Brown could rarely hold it together singing live, often slipping out of tune. A few of their better gigs survive, and are available on dvd (but I ain’t bothered with them, so have no new info)
What should I buy? Only three albums but which one?
Seven albums actually. Three studio albums, two compilations and a collection of remixes (which is excellent)
I’d suggest two purchases Their self titled debut album and the compilation The Complete Stone Roses. In fact, if you don’t already own these discs then I strongly suspect that your father was a hamster and your mother smelled of elderberries
So they came, they shone like a star……but where are they now?
John Squire went on to form the Seahorses (Don’t take a genius to figure out that is an anagram of She’s a Rose). They made one brilliant album then self destructed, the former vocalist proclaiming the Squire “is the devil himself”. Squire is currently working solo with one solo album and a couple of tours under his belt. Ian Brown is currently enjoying successful solo career and collaborating with other bands as the whim takes him. Mani went on to join Primal Scream. And looks as tho’ he is having the time of his life. Reni, played drums for Ian Brown on his first solo album (thanks to CloudStrife for the info)but appears to have been quiet on the popular music scene since.
Any last words?
Yup. Go listen to them, you might enjoy them and I defy anyone to listen to their back catalogue without thinking “that’s great…..but there was something else, they were on the edge of something fantastic….I wish they hadn’t split”
Disclaimer: Facts and figures may not be accurate