by Rob Stimpson
On the evening of Friday 29th June 2012, The Stone Roses will stride out on to a stage in Heaton Park, Manchester, and play their first British gig (excluding a very low key warm up in Warrington) since their shambolic outing at the Reading festival in 1996. That previous final gig is rightly regarded as one of, if not the worst live performance given by an internationally recognised band – ever. For starters, John Squire and Reni weren’t even present having already left the band, and Ian Brown’s attempts at singing were akin to drunken primordial groans, the kind of singing that is best left to the audience rather than the front man of the band they have paid to see. They even had dancers on stage. Rumour has it that grown men in the audience were in tears at the burning wreck of this band, the one time Best Band In The World – their Stone Roses.
Now, nearly sixteen years later, a devotion akin to those tear stained witnesses of the Madchester Apocalypse is once again being shown, as tickets for the now unified Roses’ Heaton Park shows, the first to go on sale, sold out within 14 minutes. In all, following the addition of a third date, the Roses sold 220,000 tickets for the three nights. A huge world tour followed in due course. The fervour and borderline rabid excitement at the now imminent return of this most seminal, enigmatic and frustrating of bands is now at its peak, and any easing of ecstasy, or agony, will not be experienced until the culmination of that long Manchester weekend. The fairytale dictates that The Stone Roses return must be a triumph; the returning kings playing in their home city once more, awaiting coronation, rightfully reclaiming what they so nonchalantly released all those years ago. But the history of this band is far from a fairytale, and as painful memories dictate, the last time the Roses were burdened with expectation after years of inactivity, the ensuing result was the disintegration of the band.
So, why the excitement, then? The Stone Roses are a band who released only two studio albums in their time; the first, The Stone Roses, is now considered to be one of the greatest British albums ever made. It’s amalgamation of musical styles and influences is kaleidoscopic, offering not just sound, but colours, visions and places. It’s rock, it’s indie, it’s funk, it’s house, it’s dance, it’s folk, it’s psychedelic. It’s ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, it’s ‘Waterfall’, it’s ‘Made Of Stone’, it’s ‘I Am The Resurrection.’ It inspired an entire generation of new musicians and set the tone of British music for the decade to follow.
The follow up album, Second Coming, was released in December 1994, five and a half years after their debut offering. The release was delayed due to contractual and legal wrangling, followed by an incredibly long recording process. If it wasn’t the greatest album ever recorded then it was doomed to failure, because the sheer weight of expectation that had grown and festered around the band in their creative absence was insatiable. Sadly, Second Coming is not the greatest album ever recorded. It is bloated and overlong, it has a sense of its own importance. It was out of place, and The Stone Roses had become a band out of time, replaced by those in the burgeoning Britpop scene that they themselves had inspired. Second Coming isn’t a bad album, by any means, with a similarly eclectic mix of styles and influences as its predecessor. But it’s dirtier, tribal, more abstract and less accommodating and, quite simply, it couldn’t afford to be any of those things. The reaction was mixed, to say the least, and the cracks began to show.
This band, then, with the small and inconsistent back catalogue, the band that showcased genius and banality in equal measure, is the same band that has the indie nation in raptures once more. And why? Let me tell you.
For all of our supposed advances and achievements moving further into the new century, Britain remains a country in which the majority of the population is still part of a working class, even if that no longer constitutes coal faces, rows of bleak terraced housing and pints and pies at the social club. We are, for the most part, still a country populated by people who work hand-to-mouth, working jobs for basic survival rather than interest or joy. Members of this class of people require outlets for their frustrations; they need very specific places to bathe themselves in joy and passion for the few hours of the week they are granted away from work. For some, this outlet is going to sporting events, for others it’s simply getting as drunk as possible at the weekend, while for others it is an immersion in the modern forms of art, namely film and music.
In the dying days of the 1980s, the young working class people of Britain had been ground unceremoniously into the dirt and dust beneath their feet by a decade of Thatcherism. There was still no light at the end of a seemingly eternally dark tunnel. The Specials, The Jam and The Smiths had all offered commentary and a temporary relief of sorts earlier in the decade, but their time had been and gone. But in those last days of the decade, The Stone Roses made their rise. They looked like scruffy lads pulled from any council estate street corner; they wore bucket hats and unexceptional clothes; they had songs of such a light, ethereal nature that anything else happening in otherwise ordinary lives was irrelevant while their music was playing. They were us, they represented the masses, a point no better exemplified than the fact that Ian Brown sings with perhaps the broadest regional accent to ever break into the mainstream. The appearance of these four men juxtaposed with the fantastical sound of their songs was the living definition of musical alchemy.
The Stone Roses were the perfect band for their moment in time. It would be incredibly convenient to simply take the highlights of Second Coming and wipe away the mediocre remainder. All songs released under a band’s name become part of their legacy, for better or worse. But it is so incredibly rare for a band to not only capture the zeitgeist, but to be the zeitgeist itself, that The Stone Roses deserve the revered esteem in which they are held. For those old enough to have been around the first time, The Stone Roses are a specific moment in time, and for those too young to have been part of the moment itself, the songs say everything that needs to be said. They have aged incredibly well, and regardless of which year they were recorded, great songs will always remain great, rewarding generation after generation of the more adventurous of music fans.
There is something incredibly British about the story of The Stone Roses. Be it incredible potential squandered and unfulfilled by bad decisions, hubris or complacency, or perhaps being cast under a self-destructive, monolithic shadow by an act of fleeting genius that could never be recaptured, The Stone Roses are a band who seized their opportunity and took on the world. They captured their moment first time around; now is the time for the second coming they truly deserve.