Martintox Presents: Discipline Reviews
THE STONE ROSES
"I don't need to sell my soul, he's already in me / I wanna be adored!"
Artist: The Stone Roses
Released in: 1989
Producer: John Leckie
# of Tracks: 11
Best Track: tracks 1, 2, 3, 8, and Fools Gold could all count
TRACKS: 1) I Wanna Be Adored; 2) She Bangs the Drums; 3) Waterfall; 4) Don't Stop; 5) Bye Bye Badman; 6) Elizabeth My Dear; 7) (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister; 8) Made of Stone; 9) Shoot You Down; 10) This Is the One; 11) I Am the Resurrection
NOTE: some issues of The Stone Roses include the singles "Elephant Stone" and "Fools Gold". Since I feel they're worth talking about, I'll mention them, even if they are not on the normal track listing.
I got a question for my United States audience: how does it feel to realize that maybe 70+% of the older artists you like, those that have paved the way for almost everything that's playing on the radio and probably make up a healthy chunk of your own music library, are artists from the United Kingdom? I'm hardly trying to downplay the influential musicians that hail from the US, Russia, France, Canada (hey, Rush!), or anywhere else for that matter, but I find it profoundly funny that the UK has been the host of musicians that have helped define the culture of places thousands of kilometers away from it.
Fittingly, a lot of cities in Great Britain are hotbeds for music acts. London and Liverpool are obvious examples, but there is also Manchester, which gave the world acts like The Hollies, 10cc, and The Future Sound of London; it's been a pretty active scene in the 80's also, with groups such as The Smiths and New Order, the latter which would play a big part in the scene's evolution in that decade. See, in the late 80's, the popularity of synthpop would lead to the Madchester scene, characterized by music that mixes alternative and psychedelic rock with dance music. This would be kickstarted in October of 1988 with the release of multiple singles, one of these being The Stone Roses' "Elephant Stone".
In all honesty, I would have a hard time finding you a music act that 1) is considered an essential by everyone and their mothers even though this reputation is founded upon one album and a few singles, 2) released only two real studio records or less, and 3) isn't The Stone Roses. Their self-titled debut is considered the seminal album of the Madchester movement, and a big player in the creation of Britpop. Though it had an understated (but positive) reception upon its initial release, praise grew to the point that their sophomore Second Coming, 5½ years later, was just about blasted due to the weight of expectations that it didn't fulfill (partly because it dropped the debut album's sound, which was part of their success).
So, what's so special about The Stone Roses, then? The All-Music Guide says: "What made the Stone Roses important was how they welcomed dance and pop together, treating them as if they were the same beast." Since the importance is, apparently, musical, then let's start with the genre. There is quite a bit of experimentation in The Stone Roses, but overall, I'd consider it a mix of alternative rock (as accessible as it sounds, it is pretty adventurous in terms of composition and sound), pop rock (it's very accessible), and a mesh of dance and funk (the drumming; a few of the cuts on the record have some notable drumming, but this is most notable in the single "Fools Gold"). There is also a tinge of jangle pop, and you can hear that in the clean sound and some of the album's guitar lines, but that's not where it ends: much like The Smiths, The Stone Roses is a guitar/vocal-centric record, but due to the large stylistic diversity, the bass and the drums shine a lot more often.
Speaking of alternative rock, "I Wanna Be Adored" might be the best example of it: though it was hardly the lead single (it was the fifth, actually), it's got a presence that makes it a very fitting opener, and an unconventionally good single at that. Introduced by the sound of strange thumping that seems to be coming from a cavern, the "downbeat" (it doesn't seem to follow a particular mood) smooth bass part comes in, followed by the clean, reverberating guitar lines, and the drums. The beat then drops, and in front of that dark backdrop, vocalist Ian Brown starts singing like he doesn't want to wake up his parents next door. I'm joking, his subdued vocals are amazing, perhaps due to their nonchalance, and every moment where he calls out "I wanna be adoooored!" is an absolute delight.
"I Wanna Be Adored" quickly introduces most of the essential elements of The Stone Roses' sound, and the most important part to note is how clear it sounds. That doesn't necessarily mean the music is 100% audible; there is a notable amount of reverberation, and when all the instruments play together, it occasionally causes a sonic mess, like with the chorus of "Made of Stone". However, that's a very good thing: though many instruments are very crisp in sound (particularly the drums; the impacts have a lot of punch to them), the reverb turns The Stone Roses' songs into some brilliant atmospheres, as if the group recorded these tracks in a cave (which explains "I Wanna Be Adored"'s excellent atmosphere)... that or a pool full of large shards of crystal.
Although the reverb is present in every song (OK, maybe the short interlude "Elizabeth My Dear" doesn't have any, but it's only got a modest vocal line and a guitar; it's not a bad song, by the way), some numbers wash more over you than others. "She Bangs the Drums", for starters, washes over you like a tidal wave, but the production wouldn't matter if it wasn't an upbeat pop rock masterpiece in its own right, founded on a crunchy drum line and packed with hooks, including the unbelievably fun chorus and the superb guitar line that ecstatically leaps from the background in the middle of the song and suddenly kicks into overdrive, delivering an awesome bridge. It is, of course, a bit strange that an opener as dark as "I Wanna Be Adored" would be followed by something this fun and energetic, but it is just energetic enough to pump you the fuck up for what comes afterwards.
Indeed, if the selling point of The Stone Roses isn't the crystalline production, the clean but prominent guitar, the often groovy bass line and/or the delightfully "wimpy" vocals, then it has to be the fucking amazing songwriting. Very aptly named when you consider the sound of the record, "Waterfall" is another masterpiece; this time around, it's a ballad, and while "ballad" does not necessarily mean "love song", the fact that the warm guitar melody and the inexplicably tender vocals are part of this engulfing musical "stream" backed up by a simple, effective drum thump makes the track radiate love, happiness and joy like a Chernobyl survivor. Plus, it is somewhat a love song, or at least an admiration song. Although the (guess what instrument) guitar-driven instrumental passage at the end does disrupt the warm mood a bit, I don't mind it at all, because it's really memorable (it's even got some funk guitar hooks), and the last forty seconds is a perfect way to send the song off: that is, by reprising the main melody with a crunchier sound and having the instruments go responsibly wild.
Now, this is the point where many people will start putting The Stone Roses' status as an essential album in question. As brilliant (both in composition in sound -- literally and figuratively in the case of the latter) as these first three songs and the other two singles, "Made of Stone" and "I Am the Resurrection", are, that still leaves 6 other tracks. I suppose it doesn't help make a good first impression that "Don't Stop" puts the instrumental backbone of "Waterfall" backwards, throws in some mystical-sounding guitars, and makes a new song out of it. I could consider it a low point (hell, it might just as well be the weakest cut, barring "Elizabeth My Dear"), but I can't bring myself to: it's long, but it would have been much worse had it been placed anywhere else, and if anything, it's still loads of fun. The Stone Roses is a very fun album when it doesn't tug at my heartstrings.
See, I discovered this record very soon after my graduation from high school (yeah, the reason I posted my review of Viet Cong at 1 in the morning is because I came back from the prom), so the fact that all this was coming to an end made it so that "Waterfall" and "Bye Bye Badman" quickly brought tears to my eyes. That aside, the latter is a very good side-closer: disregarding the driving rhythm, it's a very "mopey" and conclusive song, the emotional peak being when Ian Brown sings the chorus in a very subtly melancholic tone. It's not all-out sad: it's just a little, but they still manage to make the song hit hard. The second side starts with "Elizabeth My Dear", then begins proper with "(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister", a quaint, fun, tender, hook-laden ditty about a guy who's in love with a girl that sells candy floss (and hates it), and keeps buying some to get her attention, to the point where he feels really sick.
After that comes "Made of Stone". If "I Wanna Be Adored" was dark, then this could very well be menacing; apparently, it's inspired by the 1968 student riots in France (LIBERTÉ! ÉGALITÉ! FRATERNITÉ!), and it sure sounds like it, because the chorus packs one hell of a punch. Along with that, it's driven by a particularly threatening guitar melody. Hell, listen to how it ends, that certainly doesn't sound like an upbeat conclusion. "Shoot You Down" is the other weak point of the album, but again, I can't bring myself to hate it: its only crime is that it's much calmer than most of the material on here, and it's not like I don't need a breather at this point. Yes, though, it's a very lounge-ish song; my favorite part would be the bass line.
The album quickly picks back up with "This Is the One", an upbeat anthem of sorts that is continually punctured with these HUGE, SWEEPING CHORDS. What helps make it warrant its 5-minute length is the fact that it builds up; two minutes in, a complex, fast-paced rhythm drops in, and while it disappears 30 seconds after words, it re-appears just as quickly, and the last two minutes are an abominable amount of fun, hearing the instrumentation go insane while the vocals continually repeat "this is the one!" like a mantra. It might just be one of the best songs I know that I would consider a "glorious mess" at times.
Now, finally, we get to the last song. "I Am the Resurrection" is, clocking in at 8 minutes, long as hell, but there's a good reason for that. The first half is another fun anthem, and although it's already great in its jumpiness, the best part is listening to it as it builds up, climaxing with the chorus that sounds SOOO FUCKING GOOOOOOOD. At 3:40, however, the song abruptly turns into a funk track. That's right, funk. It's here that the crunchiness of the guitars and the complexity of the drumming finally shine in their full glory, and needless to say, this is the unexpected thing that makes the song so good. At the 6:30 mark, the main melody comes back, and the glorious, stomping passage that ensues is a perfect way to close the record...
... that is, unless you had the 1989 US re-release, which adds in the singles "Elephant Stone" and "Fools Gold". Honestly, I don't find the former that amazing (it's still very fun and fast-paced, but as good as the drumming is, I'm not sure this was the best choice for a lead single), but the latter is so good it's a top contender for the best track on The Stone Roses, even though the original edition doesn't even have it (if it did, it would automatically be the best track). Simply put, it's a funk rock tune that lasts 10 minutes, and it's worth every minute, thanks to a particularly memorable drum line, and all sorts of hooks and solos laid throughout that make the song quickly breeze through, even though there isn't that much progression throughout.
Here's the thing to remember in the end: The Stone Roses may have been innovative at the time, but more than 25 years after its release, it's easy to think that it's no great shakes. Much like The Velvet Underground & Nico, the territory it discovered has been thoroughly explored by now; fortunately, unlike VU&N, The Stone Roses is still excellent without the historical importance to back it up, with insanely catchy songwriting, wonderful production, and hooks up the ass. Really, I think it would be a shame not to listen to it at least once: after my first listen, I seriously couldn't stop coming back to it for a good two weeks.
PERSONAL RATING: ****½
RECOMMENDATION RATING: ****½
LETTERED RATING: Delta (Leaning Towards Epsilon)
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