The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses - Review
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critics' view

Surly, sullen and fearsomely confident in shaggy hair and baggy jeans, frontman Ian Brown declared on the Stone Roses' eponymous album, "I am the resurrection and I am the light," connecting with a nation of acid-house damaged kids eager to believe in something. As it happens, Brown's arrogance was misplaced and the band's rock stardom a lot shorter-lived than anyone expected. The Stone Roses made a stunning debut, then bled out in a slow agony of contractual disputes, internal discord, and, eventually, public indifference (though their sophomore release and swan song, Second Coming, is nowhere near as bad as people say). More prosaic than drugs or young death, this trifecta killed a career that now essentially consists of just one great record.

But the story of The Stone Roses is really a tale of two records, divided by an ocean. As Sony (which now owns original label Silvertone) rolls out a remastered version in celebration of the album's 20th anniversary, Brits wrestle with what's become a cultural crucible. When a record's aura or associations, rather than its content, begins dominating discussions — especially when a nation routinely votes it one of rock history's best — clothing-deprived-emperor jive usually isn't far behind. And the fact that the former idols have had the bad grace to survive into their forties and release a string of middling yet well-promoted solo albums hasn't boosted the The Stone Roses' reputation at home.

We Americans are relatively unencumbered (though it'll be fun to see if Nevermind incites as much hair-tearing when it hits 20 in two years). The Roses, and the "Madchester" scene with which they were loosely associated, never translated to the U.S. beyond modern rock radio and late-night MTV. They also failed to hugely impact an underground hostile to anything that implied feet were made for more than propping up a body so it could sip beer and look bored. Many prominent American critics didn't champion the Roses, either. "What do [the Stone Roses] do that the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield didn't do better in 1967?" Robert Christgau wondered in The Village Voice, typifying the Boomer establishment's predictable position on a band of GenXers cheeky enough to remind them, "the past was yours, but the future's mine."

To answer Christgau's question, what the Stone Roses did better was marry smart psychedelic pop to dance grooves in an incredibly accessible and powerful way that appealed both to rock and rave fans, lovers of hooks and beats, punks and people who actually welcomed 10-minute guitar solos. If influence matters, the album influenced scores of other bands, including Spiritualized, Primal Scream (which bassist Mani joined after the Roses collapsed), the Manic Street Preachers, the Beta Band, the Libertines, and, as the Gallagher brothers have never missed an opportunity to assert, Oasis. And unlike most of the Madchester bands, the Roses weren't only about a sound, a vibe, or a scene. They owned a clutch of insanely catchy, emotionally nuanced, lyrically astute songs about love, lust, youth, and raging ambition that didn't require a historical context to understand or embrace. Exploding the false dichotomy of album band/singles band, The Stone Roses is a logical, cohesive album made up of incredible stand-alone songs.

To wit, "She Bangs the Drums", "Waterfall", "Made of Stone", "(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister", and "Fool's Gold" (a later single that was appended to the original U.S. release and, unlike fellow longtime U.S. add-on "Elephant Stone", reappears on the reissue), would make stellar radio hits in any decade. Brown's vocals, guitarist John Squire's intricate fingerwork and mighty riffs, and rhythm section Mani and Reni's sly, lockstepping grooves, are a textbook case of the whole far exceeding its components. Even "Elizabeth, My Dear", a notorious monarchy smackdown set to "Scarborough Faire"'s half-millennium-old melody, was ballsy then and remains deliciously tart today.

But queen-bashing and other acts of symbolic resistance aside ("Bye Bye Badman" and Squire's abstract expressionist cover art reference the 1968 student protests that uprooted France's political and cultural establishments), The Stone Roses isn't a radical, or even particularly progressive, work: From its verse-chorus-verses, to its meticulous overdubs and careful sequencing, to its revival— however cleverly repurposed— of hoary old rock myths ("I don't have to sell my soul/ He's already in me"), the album is a slick production designed for maximum market penetration. And for something that signaled a generational handoff, it's awfully invested in the previous generation's specious valorization of The Album, not to mention the hippie values inscribed in psychedelia (on this point at least, Christgau was correct).

Nobody, therefore, need be put out by Sony's splashy remarketing campaign. The 20th anniversary edition is available in four formats, from a standard single CD or vinyl set to a $120 "collector's" box of four discs, four vinyl LPs, and such extras as signed prints of Squire's artwork, a lemon-shaped USB, wallpaper, and ringtones. I can't recommend dipping into your rent money to buy that thing, but $30 for the elegantly designed deluxe edition, which includes the remastered album, a disc of demos, a DVD with live footage and videos (most of which are lame pastiches of said live footage), and a booklet of band member reminiscences, seems fair to fans. Largely lacking the funk that snuck into the studio, the demos are still a phenomenal bunch of tunes (including some that didn't make final cut) that should finally put to rest rumors that the Roses were nobodies who came out of nowhere. The demos also officially confirm that, left to his own devices, Brown sings about as well as you do on a shit-faced midnight karaoke dare. But hey, he cleans up nicely. In fact, Brown's brooding, beautiful self-harmonies on the album may be one of producer John Leckie's finest achievements.

Leckie teamed up with Brown to remaster the LP, which, produced at the tail-end of the vinyl era, lacked some range at the low end and suffered from its tin-timbred late-80s drum sound, among other issues. Now, the infamous bassline that opens "I Wanna Be Adored" has an even more thrilling anticipatory deep-earth rumble; instead of slaps, "She Bangs the Drums"' beats pack actual punches; and the originally muddy textures of a song like "Made of Stone" are brighter and broader-spectrumed, with crisp chiming guitars and lustrous basslines. The record industry has whipped itself into a frenzy of last-ditch, cash-grabbing CD reissues lately, but the original Stone Roses actually merited a sound overhaul. And the results are brilliant, further supporting the case for classic album status - if support's needed.

Amy Granzin
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