It took the 1980s nine years to produce a classic pop album.
This may be, of course, a little harsh. However, the offspring of the 1960s 'flower children' had very little to match Sgt Pepper or Are You Experienced? in the 'timeless popular classic, universally revered' department. The Smiths, for example, churned out quality by the Transit vanload, but had always attracted both extremes of emotion throughout their four years of top-notch tunesmithery.
However, after the synth-heavy early 1980s, guitar bands had been enjoying a renaissance in the latter half of the decade. Johnny Marr (The Smiths' guitarist) had almost single-handedly rescued the guitar pop genre by blending the punch of the early Rolling Stones with the melodic foppery of The Byrds. The Stone Roses ran with this idea, pouring layer after layer of gorgeous fret board scampering over dancey, baggy bass line hi jinx and vocals, that oozed and melted like caramel on toast. One of the tracks was one of the other tracks backwards, for goodness' sake.
The Stone Roses emerged from Manchester at the height of the Madchester1/Baggy scene2, which is more usually associated with The Happy Mondays. The charts were suddenly full of bands that looked like car thieves. Flouncing about like a great big ninny à la St Morrissey of Cheadle Hulme would not become fashionable again until Suede sauntered out of the London circuit two years later. The Baggy scene was much derided, but the very best of anything should not be ignored. The Stone Roses were widely considered the very best, not only of the Madchester bands, but for 18 months on the cusp of the 1980s and 1990s, the very best band anywhere in the world.
The Stone Roses - the Album
It should be noted that the track listing here is from the original release. Subsequent re-issues have included various combinations of the singles 'Fool's Gold', 'Elephant Stone', 'Mersey Paradise' and 'What The World Is Waiting For'.
I Wanna Be Adored - Andy Couzen's lazy bass line wanders forth from what appears to be the sound of lifting equipment echoing in a lift shaft and then we're off. This is drama: a rolling, irresistible building of tension - 'I don't need to sell my soul - he's already in me' sings Ian Brown over the gathering storm. The tension finally breaks with John Squire power chords and maniac cymbal thrashing from drummer Reni. It is, by any measure, a remarkable track.
She Bangs the Drums - Airy and brisk, 'She Bangs the Drums' was the perfect afterglow accompaniment to the glorious trauma of 'I Wanna Be Adored'. It was tunes like this that earned the Roses their usual accolade of 'the Beatles of the 1980s'. A faultless pop rush, it is easy to imagine that this is how the Fab Four would've sounded, had they fallen through some kind of wormhole in time and taken even more acid.
Waterfall - The aural equivalent of sliding gently in a warm bath, 'Waterfall' is concerned with trippy, glowing guitar riffs and images of rickety sails and orbital satellites. The Stone Roses were perceived as anti-American in many quarters and it is generally considered that the lines 'Whipped by the winds of the West', 'This American satellite's home' and 'She'll carry on through it all' are references to England3.
Don't Stop - It's 'Waterfall' backwards. Really, it is. With Ian Brown adding dreamy atmospheric trippy half-lyrics. Apparently, one of the lines is 'Now she fishes roses', but it's hard to say. It shouldn't work, but like so much on the album, it does. Marvellously.
Bye Bye, Badman - Swishy and summery, a gentle end to the first half of the album. Probably the best vocal effort - although it should be mentioned that Brown's hit-and-miss live performances were often harshly criticised. The 'Live In Blackpool' video is a good example: fantastic performances from the band, with a disinterested Brown mauling a target vocal range that does not reward half-heartedness.
Elizabeth, My Dear - Fifty-five seconds of burgled 'Scarborough Fair' arpeggio, over which some kind of death threat seems to be issued. Eerie, but intriguing.
(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister - Another '80s Beatles' masterpiece. Concerning the 'candy floss girl' and the 'sticky fingered boy', it could well be the love child of 'Here, There, and Everywhere' and 'I Am The Walrus'. Green sky, grass several shades of blue and solvent-abusing members of Parliament abound.
Made of Stone - A perfect follow on from 'Sugar Spun Sister', this continues the shiny up-tempo pop feel of the second half of the album. The ante is unmistakably upped and there is a decidedly spiteful edge to the lyrics, with fatal car crashes, burning wreckage and knuckles whitening on steering wheels juxtaposed with the usual musical excellence of the rest of the band.
Shoot You Down - Sounding not unlike the Beach Boys before they started hanging out with death cults, this is very much the calm before the storm, a pause for breath between polished pop and the mayhem which is about to ensue in the final tracks of the album. Recorded 'live' in a single session.
This Is The One - The opening bars would not be out of place drifting out of a cathedral. 'Immerse me in your splendour' breathes Brown. Demonstrating the band's faultless pop sensibilities, the track auto-shifts from adoration to exaltation, as if every chord and syllable that has passed thus far has been leading up to the triumphant, repeated final refrain. 'Burn me out or bring me home', indeed.
I Am The Resurrection - Snappy, sassy, stroppy and sharp, this closing track is a study of malevolent charm. The loopy six-minute jam at the end of the vocal section was spontaneous and recorded 'live' by a studio technician as the band grooved out at the end of the session. It is often claimed that this track was the precursor to the rave scene, which was just about to emerge.
Decline, Second Coming and Decline
One of the doggerel lines in 'Don't Stop' is 'So much waste - how we'll be teased'.
This proved to be uncomfortably prophetic. The band began a process of public disintegration almost as soon as the album was released, primarily as a result of a protracted split from their label, Silvertone.
A second album did eventually emerge, five years later: Second Coming. Despite its many merits, it was always going to exist in the shadow of the act it was trying to follow. Rockier and harder, the flagship singles 'Love Spreads' and 'Ten Storey Love Song' would be the high water mark releases of most other bands. However, they simply could not match the incomparable 'Fool's Gold' and 'I Wanna Be Adored', released amid the furore of the debut album. Too much time had passed and momentum had been lost.
Further tours were constantly arranged and constantly scrapped. Finally, in 1995, a comeback appearance at Glastonbury Festival was abandoned, and the band effectively split up, with an expectant public simply too annoyed to hang about any longer. This cancellation lead to the late drafting of laconic Sheffield malcontents Pulp as headliners - it proved to be the touchstone of their career. The very last public appearance was an appalling, embarrassing appearance at Reading Festival in 1996, sans John Squire, whose virtuosity was the most striking feature of the band, and amiable genius drummer Reni. It was a particularly sour final salvo from a band that had given the decade the fantastic Spike Island festival in 1990.
Another scrambled line from 'Don't Stop' is 'Isn't it funny how you shine?’. It is an altogether happier epitaph for one of the great 'If only...' bands of the modern era.