So Steve and I brought the same record to record club.
It was bound to happen eventually, and with hindsight now seems inevitable that it would be this record given that there are now two Mancunians of a certain age in our little club. Factor in our theme of “records from when your cement was still wet” and it was a recipe for duplication, even though it’s notably odd that we’ve never really talked about The Stone Roses at record club before.
But that’s OK, because I was 10 years old and living in Devon when this record came out, so my story is a little different to his. I first heard The Stone Roses through the wall from my older brother’s bedroom, and later as a teenager I felt a connection with this album (I’m hesitant to say this band after everything that followed) and the singles and b-sides around it like pretty much nothing else I’ve experienced as a music fan.
By the time I got to The Stone Roses the band were essentially no longer a going concern; friends saw them live in Exeter when they toured Second Coming but it wasn’t until a few months later, I think summer of 1995, that I really got bitten by them myself. And by then it was too late. Years and miles away from ‘baggy’ or ‘Madchester’ or whatever you want to call the scene that The Stone Roses germinated within, they were an abstract artefact to me.
With no prospect of new records by The Stone Roses themselves, or engagement with a local cultural movement happening around me, I went to the local record shop and ordered a copy of Ege Bamyasi instead, because I saw a reference to how “Fools Gold” sounded like “I’m So Green”. Detective work followed: The Byrds, Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Love, Simon & Garfunkel, Funkadelic, Public Enemy, etc etc; there was a lot to explore just from references in interviews and articles. Instead of accepting The Stone Roses as the be-all-and-end-all of music, I took it as a beginning, and it broadened my horizons immensely.
One of the key things about The Stone Roses for me is that it’s not really a ‘rock’ record; it swoons and sways rather than rocks. The postpunkiness that clattered through “Elephant Stone” had evolved into something different by the time they recorded the album. Take “Shoot You Down”; with its sashaying drums and delicate, supple guitar, it’s closer to jazz than to the sound of Oasis, who so many people seem to think of as The Stone Roses’ heirs.
So given that Steve had brought the same album, I played a handful of the tracks from Turns Into Stone, one of many Silvertone cash-in compilations taking advantage of their miniscule early discography, but one that I can’t begrudge because it’s magical, and I’ve listened to it as much as, if not more than, the actual debut album. I played from “Standing Here” through to “Fools Gold”, and then skipped on to “Something’s Burning”; this handful of tracks taken together are the closest thing to what an album recorded directly after “Fools Gold” might have sounded like. (That this potential record never got made is a musical tragedy as far as I’m concerned.)
The instrumental coda of “Where Angels Play” is so mellifluous it practically levitates before your ears, content to exist as music and be beautiful without making a fuss. There’s something you’d probably have to objectively call a guitar ‘solo’, but it’s a million miles away from the cockrocking nonsense Squire would inflict in later years. Likewise the guitar playing on “Standing Here” feels effortless and lightweight, from the opening distorted yowl to the constantly varying chops through the verses, and the beatific, sad-eyed coda. And I’ve not even mentioned the rhythm section; Mani and Reni are doing things on these songs that I’ve never heard another ‘rock’ band do, rolling, floating, and swaying. If other music exists that sounds like this, I’ve never found it.
Even “Simone”, which I believe is simply a portion of “Where Angels Play” spun backwards, looped, and played around with, lead me outwards to ambient music; I doubt I’d have as much love for Eno or Stars of the Lid if I hadn’t spent hours as a teenage trying to figure out what it meant or how it made me feel things despite doing basically nothing but oscillate gently for four minutes.
Which is why the new single, their first in 20+ years is so disappointing; that subtlety, control, and grace that I was obsessed with, and which I still adore on the rare occasions when I revisit it, has evaporated completely. It shouldn’t be a surprise; it had gone by Second Coming (though I still rate “Begging You” as a fabulous piece of music), and there’s no trace of it in The Seahorses, or any of Brown or Squire’s solo music.
I feel like I listen to and enjoy a completely different version of The Stone Roses to the incarnation of the band that other people hear; we’ve often talked at record club about how we often like the same records as each other but for quite radically different reasons, and this band are a definite case in point for me.
Tom listened: The Stone Roses are a funny one as far as I am concerned. Loved them at the time, bought the debut on its release (despite the lukewarm reception from both NME and John Peel – two of my early musical barometers), went to an early gig at The Leadmill just as it was all kicking off, listened to little else during the glorious summer of 1989. Then Fools Gold came along, as well as that other single I can’t remember the name of and, for me, the lustre was gone and what came before was tarnished beyond recognition. A bit like Dorothy pulling back the curtain, Fools Gold revealed the mechanisms, showed the cogs at work, was ponderous and plodding and I fell out of love, just like that.
Fast forward almost thirty years, having barely listened to their stuff since, and I feel a mixture of emotions. The songs, in the main, have not recaptured that initial magic; I Wanna Be Adored just makes me think of the risible brothers Gallagher, Made of Stone whiffs of straightforward indie rock as pilloried by Lou Barlow a couple of years later, Bye Bye Badman does nothing for me and I never really got the appeal of She Bangs The Drums in the first place. However, the rest of the album gave me a huge dose of warming nostalgia, took me back to those endless sunny days when I felt that I was witnessing something culturally significant. It was a good time to be in the north of England and, possibly precisely because I haven’t been regularly revisiting it, The Stone Roses took me back in a way that few albums I’ve listened to recently have.