What the World Is Waiting For, or Fools Gold?…The return of The Stone Roses

20 Oct

15 years after they split, and still with something to prove.

The Stone Roses have been resurrected. Ian Brown, John Squire, Reni and Mani have done what few thought could be done, and reformed one of the most seminal British bands of the last 25 years. It was a long time coming, and all four members had previously said it was never going to happen, but the band that defined an era have actually returned. The only other event that could surpass this in stature or unlikeliness is the reformation of fellow Mancunians The Smiths. Now, I could say that that has absolutely no chance of happening, even if Morrissey and Marr are now on speaking terms. But we could have said a similar thing about The Stone Roses until very recently.
On Tuesday the band announced their intention to perform again (and perhaps even record some new music), and this was done in their usual irreverent manner.
The band are so entwined with the Manchester music and social scene of the late 1980s and early ‘90s that it’s worth considering if they won’t be an anachronistic embarrassment in 2011-12. The era known as ‘Madchester’ and the music ‘Baggy’ (after the huge flared jeans that became prominent) has now long gone; another chapter in the long history of popular culture. The Stone Roses’ music was of the time- euphoric, proud, edgy and full of bravado, with often life affirming lyrics. “Made of Stone”, “Fools Gold”, “I wanna be adored”, “I am the resurrection”, and even the Roses-on-autopilot “One Love” were all anthems for a generation sick of making do with drudgery, and willing to reach for the stars (even if it was a skewed illusion, and it was just reaching for the weekend or the hope of a less grim tomorrow. Of such things social revolution can happen, or so The Roses would seem to suggest). Technically they were unique, despite their nods towards ‘60s grooves and acid rock. Brown’s assured and cocky stage presence (which taught everything to Liam Gallagher), that hypnotic yet untrained voice of belief, Squire’s exceptionally fluid guitar and the most loose and mesmerising rhythm section in any so called indie band- The Roses sounded like no one else really, despite the obvious references to the past. Tales from ‘Baggy’ era Manchester are legendary, from the stories of Ibiza inspired foam parties at the Factory Records founded Hacienda club to the dying days of the scene, when The Mondays bankrupted Factory by spending thousands on a burgeoning drug intake in the Bahamas, actions which masqueraded as the making of an album. The Roses had gone to ground by that time, as the hedonistic club and gig scene gave way to parody and bad records. Caught in a legal wrangle with label Silvertone, the band released no new material for four years after 1990, while Silvertone systematically released practically every track off their debut album as a single. This sorry mess was a long way from the almost religious fervour and self belief the band displayed as 1988 turned into 1989 and the word about the band began to circulate wider. It’s often said the edition of Top of the Pops where The Roses and The Mondays appeared on the same show was a defining TV moment for the era. Suddenly the media were travelling North on a regular basis to Piccadilly to catch something of this new feeling- other bands told you about what it was like to be living in Thatcher’s Britain, but the Roses and bands like them (not to mention the radical changes being seen in the dance club scene), well, they were different. They were an escape from the austerity of that Britain, particularly for the young working classes. The Stone Roses epitomised this new attitude- to celebrate the moment and perpetuate your own hedonistic self belief. No wonder it was a scene strongly underpinned by dance fuelling euphoric drugs.

The NME- so far up The Stone Roses arse, I'm surprised they got out in time to create the new issue, but good news worth sharing, admittedly.

Following their hiatus in the early ‘90s, The Roses did return to release a second album, which was quite brilliant, swapping trippy grooves for Zeppelin-esque riffs, but it came so long after the first it couldn’t have been anything else but a disappointment. Despite a No.2 comeback single in “Love Spreads”, their 1994 return after four years of inactivity, felt out of step with the times. The new breed of British bands led by the likes of Blur, Oasis and Pulp eclipsed any chance The Roses had of achieving the commercial greatness they once threatened (and their creative achievements were largely ignored at the time; The Second Coming is, as I said, a fine album). The self satisfied ‘Brit Pop’ scene strongly referenced them as an influence, but shunned them as leaders. Their last live performance, at Reading ’96, was an embarrassing shambles, with only two of the original members present. So although Mani has since had success joining Primal Scream, John Squire briefly headed The Seahorses, and Ian Brown has had an interesting solo career, you can’t help think that the band could have created so much more together. You could argue this is a chance to put things right again, and cement the band’s legacy and memory.
Yet, they remain a pivotal band in late 20th Century British Pop, in a way that makes the recent Blur and Pulp reunions seem inconsequential (as wonderful and vital as those two bands were). The Roses mattered in a deeper way, perhaps because they defined the zeitgeist so strongly, and for a certain generation are THE band. While Ian Brown never ingratiated himself into the public affection in the way Jarvis Cocker has, it didn’t matter as it was all about the pack mentality and impact- his band were more about a group image and the aspirations of The Stone Roses were therefore less introspective than many of the Brit Pop bands (Oasis aside, who took a huge influence from them)

The band in 1990. John Squire assured of his "best preserved" status.

But, despite their legacy, the band still has a lot to prove, and I wouldn’t say anything is guaranteed. As Reni said in their recent press conference, it could all go tits up. I’m sure he was joking, but it wouldn’t be the first time would it? Few bands come across as if they’re flying by the seat of their pants as The Roses do, and that could mean great things or total disaster.
Next June we’ll find out which it is. Nothing in-between will do for a band like this. For the sake of their legacy, and to quote their own song, they have to be the resurrection.

Tickets for The Stone Roses reunion gigs, at Heaton Park in June, go on sale tomorrow (21st October). Er…good luck with that one!

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