One of the most important independent releases ever, The Stone Roses’ debut album conquered the U.K. in 1990 at the height of what was called the “Madchester” scene (which also included the Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Charlatans, Inspiral Carpets, and others). This album produced beautiful, tuneful, wistful pop with a touch of psychedelia that echoed the grandeur of sixties groups such as The Byrds and Love while featuring delicious vocal harmonies and the crystalline production touch of John Leckie. What makes The Stone Roses such a gorgeous sonic landscape is the shimmering, ringing guitar of John Squire matched to the dreamy, whispered vocals of Ian Brown, who displays the arrogant confidence of a born superstar (pre-saging Liam Gallagher), while also managing a disarming sweetness. Squire’s luscious, echoed, chiming guitar textures and the super-tight rhythm section’s seductive dance beats influenced many subsequent bands who would also go on to marry trippy '60s pop with '90s club rhythms while adding a liberal dose of funk as well. It helped that The Stone Roses also sported superb songwriting, with a special knack for the catchy chorus, making “I Wanna Be Adored,” “She Bangs The Drums,” “Elephant Stone” (only available on the U.S. version of the album), “Waterfall,” "Made Of Stone," and "This Is The One" among the most stunningly flawless pop songs ever, while "Bye Bye Badman" and "(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister" are also extremely enjoyable if not quite as perfect. True, most of the album offers variations on a set tone, “Don’t Stop” is merely “Waterfall” backwards with tape loops, “Elizabeth My Dear” is a slight minute-long Simon & Garfunkel rewrite, "Shoot You Down" is unremarkable, and the 10-minute funk workout “Fools Gold” seems unnecessarily tacked onto the end of the album. (Actually, this major U.K. hit was tacked onto the U.S. version of the album, as the U.K. version of the album ended with the excellent epic “I am The Resurrection,” which I also sometimes feel would've been better off as a spectacularly trim 4-minute single minus the funky extended jam ending, which like “Fools Gold” is very good but seems somewhat out of place.) Ultimately, however, these are minor weaknesses that do little to dampen the timeless overall appeal of what is simply one of the best British albums ever.
Second Coming (Geffen ’94) Rating: B
The Stone Roses’ stature grew to mythological proportions during a five year absence (caused in part by record company problems) before finally delivering album number two, the modestly titled Second Coming. The album was generally considered a major disappointment, both critically and commercially, and The Stone Roses broke up soon afterward following a disastrous tour. I initially bought into the negative hype, which was considerable at the time, but upon further review I’ve decided that this underrated follow-up is actually a good album. More muscular but less memorable and certainly less focused than their debut (for example, the first song takes a good 4+ minutes before it really gets going), this is clearly John Squire’s album, and his guitar heroics (which echo the great Jimmy Page) make most of these songs worth hearing. The songs are stretched out to epic lengths, and though I still much prefer the more melodic Stone Roses (still apparent on songs such as “Ten Storey Love Song,” “How Do You Sleep,” and "Love Spreads") to this harder-hitting counterpart, the band's dance grooves and psychedelic tendencies are still intact. In fact, the band’s standout rhythm section (Alan John "Reni" Wren, drums; Gary "Mani" Mounfeld, bass) is more prominent here, and Brown’s voice is much rougher edged, though his charisma remains even when his thin voice fails to match the music, which is more indebted to '70s hard rock (i.e. Led Zeppelin) than '60s pop (i.e. The Byrds). Granted, it’s hard to follow up on a great debut album, especially given the enormous expectations and long layoff, and this second coming didn’t come close to matching their lofty first impression. Still, I’m glad I own it, and the band should get points for not even trying to replicate their original success, which was part of the reason why this album was so poorly received (i.e. it wasn’t what everyone expected). Note: The hidden "bonus tracks" are a waste of time.
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