“I don’t have to sell my soul
He’s already in me”
In an already congested field of late-’80s rock star arrogance, it took four lads from Manchester just two lines to establish themselves as world heavyweight contenders. The Stone Roses self-titled LP not only rode the baggy, ecstasy-soaked wave that came to define both Madchester culture and the UK’s Second Summer of Love; it also immediately catapulted Brown, Mani, Squire, and Reni to iconic status in their home country, a legacy they still enjoy even after 30 years, two breakups (sort of), and one divisive Second Coming.
Such status, and the arrogance that accompanied it, came with good reason, for their debut album is a generation-spanning magnum opus; timeless and influential to the extent that many of those gurning up at the group during their long-awaited Heaton Park homecoming in 2012 were either in highchairs or yet to see the light of day when the record first hit shelves in 1989.
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The easiest way to break the album down today is by its three distinct phases. Tracks one through four make up Phase One, with few openings matching ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, a slow-burning, egotistical epic that sets the tone and establishes Brown and Squire as a legitimate song-writing duo. Squires free-flowing, jangle-inspired riffs spill from the speakers on ‘She Bangs the Drums’, his first real slice of anthem-minded guitar pop that also features some of the album’s most memorable lyrics. ‘Waterfall’ dips us deeper into the ’60’s style psychedelia hinted at in the first two tracks, with Squire and Reni throwing everything up as they take over for the glorious 90-second finale. ‘Don’t Stop’, built on a reversal of ‘Waterfall’, acts as a twisted sister outro to its predecessor. Some call it dispensable, but it holds up and works well as a quasi-floating bridge to Phase Two.
Immediately evident from these opening tracks is the raw quality of the group’s musicianship. The greatest of the classic, single-guitar four-pieces – a lineup synonymous with British legends such as Zeppelin and The Who – are separated from the rest by the ability of those wielding the axes and sticks to effectively lead a track at any given moment, culminating in three uniquely talented musicians operating as an interchangeable unit.
Mani’s bass lines, much like John Entwistle’s before him, add a crucial, ever-fluctuating dimension to the record, acting as the rhythm to Squire’s noodling and an out-front driving force from track to track, with the duo’s creative understanding arguably peaking on the funk-infused ‘Fool’s Gold’ (included on the US release). It didn’t hurt the pair to have one of the finest drummers of a generation perched behind them. Reni’s style was slack; his off-beat grooves the ideal foil for the chaps plucking the strings. In short, he was a master and a myth. Upon witnessing a kid playing drums on the streets of New York in 1995, Reni, shocked to have finally found someone better than him, allegedly quit the skins for over a year.
Since the band’s dawn, the voice of one Ian George Brown has been the subject of both bemusement and amusement to fans and critics alike. All that matters, however, is that he still sounds good on record; specifically this record. It is a performance defined by light, restrained vocals that pop and hold just fine when they need to. Regardless of technically proficiency, “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine / The past was yours but the future’s mine” is up there with the all-time great rock n’ roll deliveries.
Phase Two of The Stone Roses – ‘Bye Bye Bad Man’ through ‘Made of Stone’ – is less inventive than what came before, but nonetheless comprises a mini-collection of straight up pop gems. The opening riff from ‘Made of Stone’, the album’s lead single and the phase’s most well-known track, still emits an eerie power 30 years on whenever Squire peels it off. Oh, and there’s a folk ballad promoting the assassination of the Queen. If anyone from the Daily Express is reading (*shudder*), it’s not too late to alert the pensioners.
When you walk into a conversation about The Stone Roses, the first track of Phase Three is rarely under discussion. ‘Shoot You Down’ is not underrated, but it is underestimated; a stripped back, groove-laden masterpiece of composed attitude. It’s the beginning of the end; the calm before the storm, for ‘This Is the One’ soon takes us back to belting anthem territory before, out of nowhere, ‘I Am the Resurrection’ (“and I am the light”) brings the record’s underlying arrogance full circle, while simultaneously launching it into the indie stratosphere. As the album wraps, the four-and-a-half-minute monster of an instrumental outro sends the same shivers down the spine that it did when pumping out of a certain someone’s offensively souped-up Fiat Punto speakers way back in 2006.