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The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses (reissue) Neil Kulkarni , August 19th, 2009 09:09

Neil Kulkarni doesn't sit on the fence when it comes to the reissue of the Stone Roses' first LP...

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80 quid? Fucking hell, I must've been wrong about this one — see, I had this down as a wet steaming fart of fuck-all when it came out but 80 quid? Jeezus, it must be good, no, it must be postively crammed forth with pan-roasted goodness n'est ce pas? Sure, your reflex is to run, but maybe it's like the Smiths and if you scratch the surface (hold your noses) and forget your prejudice you'll find some men making heaven. I mean, 80, eight-zero not one-eight quid. 80 quid. This crock's gotta have some fucking gold inside to warrant such elitist pricing.

Let's crunch the numbers. Two CDs (one of the album, one of bootlegs you'll already have if you're in any way fussed enough), one live DVD, innumerable bits of paper, a few bits of vinyl, 80-squids. Your funeral pal, and I hope it is soon y'rich cunt. But let's get to the really big numbers, the important ones.

1989 — Unbelievable sounds from Manchester, none of which were by the Stone Roses — 'Vini Reilly' by Durutti Column, 'Justice (Just Us)' by Ruthless Rap Assassins, King Of The Slums 'Barbarous English Fayre'. Mostly forgotten, all pointing ways unexplored rather than roads now potholed with overuse. See, if you were looking the other side of your eye when Year Zero for lad-rock got declared, if you were otherwise distracted, the Stone Roses didn't-mean-SHIT to you. And ever since then, you may have never actually listened to this album. Oh sure it's come at you. Put on in flats by folks that you love as you bite your knuckles and flick your brain into escape-route mode, mentally knocking 'em off the Christmas Card list. Dripping down from the mirrorball as you scowl at the early 90s dancefloor waiting for the 'Razzmatazz' request that never came. Demanded in the DJ booth when you're behind the decks, lads disgusted at your non-ownership of this totem, sideyed-up desert-booted monkey-strutting wankers who'd go into their own scowlpose whenever you'd spin a hip-hop tune say, lads never twigging the sartorial irony of their kangols and bucket-hats, lads never really understanding, it now transpires, what the fuck the Stone Roses might have been about.

The crux being that coming to the Stone Roses for the first time, as I am today as a 'listener' as opposed to a 'victim', I can't allow the adherents and the gruesome sap they've been squeezing out of this lemon for 20 years to affect me. There's a lot you can blame the Roses for, most of it not their fault: like Primal Scream (those other flabby false-gods) I can't think of a single good band to have emerged from their influence (bar maybe the Manics). But listening as fresh as you can right now, queerly, the record The Stone Roses reminds me most of from '89 is Straight Outta Compton. Three good tracks and a right barrel-load of shite afterwards. A similarly malign influence over a few goodies and a whole lotta baddies ever since.

But make no mistake, for those first three songs — 'Adored', 'Bangs The Drum' and 'Waterfall' — those bands that came at the wake seem minuscule. Undoubtedly the Roses were blessed with things they didn't, couldn't pass on. Blessed with a drummer on a lil' three-piece kit who just fkn KNEW, a bassist who'd listened, a guitarist just the right side of wanky who could write anthems and a singer who sounded like he cared and was smart, Sure you can hear the roots, you can hear a familiar lexicon of listening and learning in the years before they came together as four — it's listening that's well-obvious perhaps (Stones, Love, Beatles, Byrds, Zep, dub, northern-soul) but it's listening that's been absorbed, amplified, attempted at with a unique slant and spirit.

Reni's chops aren't showy, but they pump every moment with energy and hope, enabling and animating everything else as a drummer should. Mani is the kind of bassist you could follow and lose yourself in to the exclusion of the rest — then when you snap back and hear the whole he disappears into the melody, sits back for the hooks, does only what's right. Squire lashes together licks from his library and they're good licks and it's a good library. Let's think about the little numbers awhile, down to the fractions, the important ones. Nearly every band since '89 that's in any way attempted to equal these three tracks, the precise feel of them, has failed to remain as intact, fragile or as believable. And on those three, Ian Brown — who will never be better than The Late Show — Ian Brown pitches it just about right — he sounds like a nobody who hopes to be a star. Ever since, the likes of Liam Gallagher have got it just wrong (sounding like a somebody convinced they're a star already) but for these three songs, for all the ambition of the lyrics, Brown's voice has a grain of hopelessness amidst the hope, a glum forlornness his more macho forebears have seemingly never twigged or been able to recreate.

If the 'Roses had released these three tracks as an EP and then died in a van-crash, taken with the two singles that preceded the album, they'd be nudging the greats. And I'd have them up there with Nightmares On Wax, LFO, AC Temple and The Happy Mondays as the 'up North stuff' we gave a fuck about down here in the middle near the end of the 80s. Difference being — all of these bands had more than three good tracks and none of them have succeeded in the kind of posthumous godhead the 'Roses have. Again, not the 'Roses fault (though hugely beneficial to them). But grating when you consider just how much The Stone Roses tails off. Something sad and embarrassing happens after those first three tracks, something that should've stayed small and unheard but has been inflated into the hallowed realms of 'quality' ever since. Every Stone Roses fan I've ever spoke to has bandied the word 'quality' around — 'they're just quality', 'it's quality music' — but holdupa second, listen to this frigging record. This is quality control gone AWOL in a major, degenerative way.

Simply put, four tracks in, half the band start showing their limitations badly. Jon Squire and Ian Brown have done all they have to do, the tunes become samey (as signposted by 'Don't Stop''s direct reverse-gurgitation of 'Waterfall'), Brown's vocals attaining the same monotune-irritant value as that twat outta Blink 182, that same unlovely unlovable monotune he's been jiggling round ever since. Squire's goldmine simply runs dry and starts hacking up gunk — his imagination can't quite stretch, he sounds like he's chasing originality when clearly UNASHAMED rawk-pilfering (see the much better I reckon Second Coming) is his true forte.

Oddly enough, it's only those songs you've heard too many fucking times that actually rise out of the gruel — 'Made Of Stone' and 'I Am The Resurrection' are both way too bloody long, but at least swing with hooks — the rest ('Bye Bye Badman', 'Sugar Spun Sister', 'This Is The One') are way too dullasfuck to allow any kind of flow, intrigue or wonder to this supposed great debut, let alone explain why so many dads and dad's lads routinely vote this 'classic', hold this up as the Greatest British Yadayada of BlahBlah. Again, gotta admit — that veneration ain't the 'Roses fault, and Mani and Reni remain intriguing throughout. But for two whole thirds of this album they're an awesome heartbeat ill-served by their frontmen — something that becomes clear and calamitous on 'Shoot You Down' and 'Fools Gold' (yeah, it's the US version you're getting, like it or not).

Both songs emerge from rhythm-section jams, free floating ideas (in 'Fools Gold''s case perhaps from the 'Something's Burning' demo). One's full of space and impact, the other's busy and directed at the feet — both great grooves waiting on a vision, big open Kingston/Dusseldorf tings much better suited to hip-hop, to some real verbals, some real loops. Then look what the twats from Timperley slop on top: Brown's vocals sound like a first-go you'd ditch, Squire's attempts at Free-style silkiness and liquidity coming across way more like Reef-style lumpeness and flash. That horrible wah-wah and all those funkless chops became the bedrock of the next decade's appalling attempts for lad-rock to get 'dancey' — you can hear a whole flotilla of Kula Shakers and Ocean Colour Scenes listening attentively.

On the cack second side of The Stone Roses, John Leckie's bigsound-cleanliness and echoey aftertaste really start to tickle the gullet, but in rendering Brown charmless and self-cornered, and Squire so monochrome and one-dimensional it's a production that's finally and damningly revealing, exposing tiny tired ideas in this big open hangar of sound. On such occasions, the demos are preferable, and you realise how this record hasn't so much been corrupted by its descendents as predestined that deterioration by its own sorry endings and fizzled-out fuses — this is a profoundly disatisfying clapped-out 'classic', a deeply disappointing 'essential' to anyone's collection.

Listening to The Stone Roses for the first, and gotta admit last time in my life (I just won't get as angry in the clubs when one of the hits comes on), the tragedy that emerges isn't that the Stone Roses 'won' their cursed-future as touchstone/bible (for all bibles are misunderstood); it's more that some people in bands can be bossier than others, can win out within the band-unit itself, can waste possibility in the dead-ends of a stunted imagination.

By the album's end even those first three bombs seem diffused, seem like the sound of a band rushing forth but also running out of ideas. And it's in that faffy, wooly second-side that I recall just why I hated the Stone Roses so much aged 17. It was because they were being hailed as gods but they sounded so earthbound, so (blame Leckie again) like the shit we thought we'd left behind by '89. There's a claggy clogged-up taste, a pristine feel to the sheen on this album that makes it oft-sound like some nightmare conflation of Del Amitri, the Lightning Seeds amd Steve Lilywhite. The Stone Roses might not have actually given us Oasis, Kasabian, The Libertines, every great shite hope since — but they gave us the template of fleeting brilliance and overwhelming mediocrity that's been more-than-enough for a whole generation of musicians now. And the fleeting brilliance, the sound they get on those first three songs has gone altogether — on the first three songs they don't sound smug about what they're doing, they sound like they're discovering it. The rest of this monolith, and much of what it's inspired, is lazy, coasting, kindling, contentment — nothing to make you part with your cash either then or now.

Because no, you weren't wrong the first time around. There was SO MUCH MORE than this going on in 1989. Doolittle. 3 Ft High & Rising. L'eau Rouge. Playing With Fire. Paul's Boutique, 33/45/78, The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, Margin Walker, Done By The Forces Of Nature, A.R Kane's 'I', The Cactus Album, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste, Walking With A Panther, Batman, Streetcleaner, Ghetto Music:The Blueprint, Altars Of Madness, Nice & Smooth, Road To The Riches, Unfinished Business, Youngest In Charge, Beneath The Remains. They were fearless and they went all the way and like The Stone Roses they spawned plenty of ugly offspring. But all of them really are 'classics' in the livable-with, imperishable and cherishable sense — they won't all get the 80-quid deluxe spunkathon-treatment but they're things you want to protect and keep because they still sound immortal. They don't fail, they don't fall-off and none of them now sound like a hoax perpetrated on the public. In comparison to the real highlights of '89, whether they bequeathed whole scenes or slipped into oblivion, The Stone Roses is some over-rated filler-heavy bullshit.