The Stone Roses - Reflecting on the 30th Anniversary of Their Self-Titled Debut Album | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

The Stone Roses - Reflecting on the 30th Anniversary of Their Self-Titled Debut Album

The Stone Roses Was Released on May 2, 1989

May 02, 2019 By Ian King
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Twenty-five years ago, updates were trickling in to the UK music press about the chronically delayed second studio album from The Stone Roses. "Baggy revival still on ice!" declared a short NME news item in early February of 1994, reporting that Second Coming (which did at least have its title) was once again being taken off Geffen Records' release schedule, only a month before it had previously been set to come out. "The band are still in Rockfield Studios near Monmouth, Wales with producer Paul Schroeder," the item reaffirmed.

Two months later in the same paper, another news item, under the heading "The band that forgot time," reported the unfortunate development that "The Stone Roses' second album looks likely to be delayed even further, following news that the band have parted company with their second producer, Paul Schroeder." Whatever was happening at Rockfield Studios, it wasn't happening fast. "Next month is the fifth anniversary of the release of The Stone Roses," the item ruefully concluded, reminding readers both how long they had been waiting for the band to return, and why they should still care so much in the first place.

Schroeder's departure in early '94 was a telling sign that The Stone Roses were going in a different direction on Second Coming. John Leckie had been the producer on their debut, but Schroeder had been the engineer. "Paul Schroeder's role in the album was vital," John Robb writes of The Stone Roses in his book on the band (The Stone Roses: And the Resurrection of British Pop). "He was the connection with the acid house scene some of the band were into. If the Roses were never directly acid house, it was this sonic coating of reverbs and flavours of acid house that Paul Schroeder provided that tinged their music with a futuristic edge."

That kind of unquantifiable influence is what made The Stone Roses what it was, an album for its time, and what it is, an album for all time. What elevates the LP above being simply a collection of great songs are some of its least tangible elements. The band themselves, their creative drives and motives, were not exactly consistent and easily pinned down either. Both before and after their 1989 high point, The Stone Roses spent a lot of time being different bands.

Decades later, the band's past is now fully documented and out in the open. Back in they day, however, it could catch American fans off guard to discover that these urban-hippies-on-ecstasy were once a brooding, hard-edged bunch. In fact, their origin was in a punk band called The Patrol, featuring singer Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire, in Manchester at the start of the 1980s. A few years of intermittent activity in different bands passed before Brown, Squire, and a couple others aligned under the name The Stone Roses in 1984 and recruited a heavy metal drummer named Alan "Reni" Wren.

"The label more often hung around the Roses' neck in this period was 'goth,'" writes music journalist Simon Spence in his book on the band (The Stone Roses: War and Peace). Spence places significant blame for this on a picture of the band taken by photographer Kevin Cummins in which Squire wore a bandana, Brown's hair was slicked back, and the whole crew appear less than cheerful. The Stone Roses might not have been consciously goth, but Cummins' image is a fair reflection of the way they styled themselves at that time, not just that day. What's more, the songs they had written up to that point do bear at least some of the goth comparisons out.

The Stone Roses is only the band's debut because Garage Flower never saw the light of day. (That is, until it was given a limited release in the mid-1990s.) Recorded with Martin Hannett, the notorious Factory Records producer, Garage Flower was the band's first stab at an album, and captured them at the start of a fascinating transition. Propulsive, malevolent songs like "Heart on the Staves" and "Trust a Fox" were what the Stone Roses were about in 1985 when the recording took place. If after they got big they tried to play this side of them off as a very brief phase, the tracklist of Garage Flower, as well as the fact that they got as far as releasing "So Young"/"Tell Me" as their first single, shows that they had actually put significant time and effort into this version of themselves.

Wisely shelved for different reasons, the Garage Flower sessions nonetheless managed to produce "I Wanna Be Adored" and "This Is the One," the latter of which was written when Hannett put the band on the spot to come up with a new song. "Virtually note for note, word for word, it was the version that would appear on the band's eponymous 1989 album," writes Spence. This is where the first major intangible of The Stone Roses' trajectory comes in, and it's a question that comes up in the story of a number of great bands: How did their songs suddenly get so good? What instigated the change?

Once they turned this corner The Stone Roses disowned their early material, but the only answer they could give for the new direction was that they had begun to concentrate on learning how to write songs, as if the songs they had written up to that point were written compulsively without skill or forethought. Brown and Squire had taken to sequestering themselves together to write with an acoustic guitar, a process that takes away the noise of rock and focuses attention on the notes. This is an answer, and certainly an honest one, but it's not the one fans are really looking for when they ask "How did you write this song?" The process doesn't explain the result. 

The other mystery of The Stone Roses is their timeline, which is marked by abrupt shifts, bursts of activity, and long spells of missing time. In 1985, Brown and Squire wrote "Sally Cinnamon," "All Across the Sands," "The Hardest Thing in the World," "Sugar Spun Sister," and "Where Angels Play." It took two years for the first two to come out on record, and longer for the rest. They played only 10 shows in the whole year of 1987, and four of those were at a club called The International which also served as their rehearsal space. Of course, the very next year they would begin their steep ascent, recording The Stone Roses and releasing the "Elephant Stone" single, which signified their allegiance with Manchester's dance scene.

In the "Madchester" universe of the late 1980s, a hazy space between reality and hype, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays were essentially The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, without the same kind of competition. Their first singles had been released on the same day back in 1985, but otherwise they had more passive creative influence on one another. The effect of Happy Mondays' rhythms on The Stone Roses is apparent, and Happy Mondays' increasing interest in melody as the decade wore on might be in part due to The Stone Roses' own developments. Yet aside from "Elephant Stone" and post-album singles "Fool's Gold" and "One Love," The Stone Roses didn't so much make dance music as absorb its pursuit of bliss into their system. That's where a presence like Schroeder, or Stephen "Cressa" Cresser, the band's one-time vibe mascot in the style of Happy Mondays' Bez, came into play.

Countless acts come and go in the space of a few years, but, whether intentional or not, it couldn't have worked out any better for The Stone Roses to take their sweet time between '85 and '88 the way that they did. Their lone single from 1987, the proto-Britpop gem "Sally Cinnamon," feels designed to wipe their slate clean with its childlike sweetness. It was a near-perfect introduction to the band they were becoming, even if technically the band they used to be had been around for years, recorded a full album, and released one single already. The Stone Roses might also have been using some of that time to get their wardrobes in order. For a group so central to such a fashion-conscious movement, they were by some accounts slow to figure out the right look for themselves.

All of the time taken to develop into the band they became paid off when people finally caught on and their successes started to add up. They appeared cool and confident in the eye of the storm around them. Recorded over the second half of 1988 and released on May 2, 1989, The Stone Roses, as some noted back then and so many more have noted over the years since, was a set of songs without a weak link, a dreaming whole greater even than the sum of its impeccable parts. In the UK, 1989 belonged to The Stone Roses. Driving that point home, for their year-end issue the NME took the band to the top of a mountain in Switzerland for a photo shoot and put them on the cover with the headline "TOP OF THE WORLD! The Stone Roses: Band of the Year."

The Stone Roses put out an unbeatable run of singles from their debut that year: "Made of Stone," "She Bangs the Drums," and "I Wanna Be Adored," as well as the "baggy" genre-cementing jam "Fools Gold" in November (which wasn't on the original album but was tacked on to the U.S. release). In 1990, they played significant concerts like the now mythical Spike Island event, but only released one new single, "One Love," an extension of the "Fools Gold" feeling that fell short of their impossible new standard. From there, they famously became tied up in record label limbo that carried on for years, and which exacerbated their internal issues.

"If people expect The Stone Roses to stand still they're following the wrong band," Ian Brown once said about their first transitional phase in the '80s. It's a funny claim to come from a group that took five years to get their first album together and another five to record their second, but, creatively speaking, he wasn't wrong. The Stone Roses of 1989 were not sustainable; not even because of external pressures, but because they were never on a straight trajectory. Happy Mondays started rough, got better, got great, and then got rough again, but they always sounded more or less like the same band. The Stone Roses were three different bands from Garage Flower to The Stone Roses to the overthought and undercooked Second Coming, and possibly others in those long interims between.

Instead of being a mark against The Stone Roses, the band's instability is a factor in its greatness. Skills can be taught, practiced, and honed over time with accumulated hours and determination, but classic songs are floating in the air, and The Stone Roses is a prime example of that. Squire and Brown had their own alchemy for a time, Reni transmuted his heavy metal background into a new Summer of Love swagger, and bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield came on board at just the right time in 1987 to make the picture more than complete. But when you try to follow how those songs happened and where they came from, the trail disappears. The Stone Roses was always going to be unrepeatable.

www.thestoneroses.org

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