Album Review: The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses
In my last I review, I looked at The Velvet Underground’s self-titled album, an ahead-of-its-time masterpiece whose influence is still felt today. This time, I’m also looking at a self-titled album that just so happens to be an ahead-of-its-time masterpiece whose influence is still felt today. Released this week in 1989, The Stone Roses’ debut album is one of the most crucial records in the development of alternative rock. Reaching back to the jangle pop of the 1960s whilst forging the path for the Britpoppers of the 1990s, The Stone Roses is an endlessly rich and arresting experience that left an unavoidable impression on the British rock scene.
The Stone Roses opens with I Wanna Be Adored, a remarkably bold statement you’d expect from an established rock star but not from the first track on a debut album. Frontman Ian Brown’s Faustian lyrics claim “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me”, exploring (or perhaps embodying) the innate narcissism in those hungry for fame. Musically, the track builds steadily from a crawling bassline to a wash of sublime guitars, establishing the textural beauty that defines this album. She Bangs the Drums similarly opens with the rhythm section on blazing form before Brown and guitarist John Squire gush in to fill your ears with melodic ecstasy. Then, Waterfall infuses this jangly ‘60s sound with a bouncy dance rhythm, at the time cementing the band’s place in the burgeoning Madchester scene. These first three tracks instantly confirm that this album is a big deal, playing with many familiar rock ideas but crafting them into fresh shapes that haven’t lost their appeal in 2019.
In both these songs can be heard some of the earliest rumblings of Britpop, merging ‘60s sweetness with big choruses to produce a catchier kind of alt rock.– Nathan Brooks
Don’t Stop is the album’s heaviest trip through ‘60s psychedelia, employing backwards guitars and droning vocals to produce an intoxicating, hallucinogenic swirl. By contrast, Bye Bye Badman is an ostensibly lighter track, with its tuneful chorus and buoyant rhythm camouflaging the gritty lyrics concerning the 1968 May riots in Paris. The brief Elizabeth My Dear and the quirky Shoot You Down similarly conceal their dark subject matter with a folky appearance, the former borrowing its melody from the traditional ballad Scarborough Fair and the latter adding a subtle jazz tinge through its rhythm section. The album’s ability to shift between dense psychedelia and stripped back folk without it feeling unnatural is emblematic of its organic eclecticism, taking inspiration from various styles whilst maintaining a sensitivity towards consistency.
Sandwiched between Elizabeth My Dear and Shoot You Down lies (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister and the album’s lead single Made of Stone. These two tracks showcase the band’s songwriting at its melodic peak. Sugar Spun Sister’s wistful chorus flows through cascading backing vocals that envelop the fanciful lyrics with a glowing beauty. Made of Stone once again sees drummer Reni flirting with Madchester rhythms during the brooding verses, contrasted against the chorus that channels the same yearning energy as Sugar Spun Sister into an anthemic rallying cry. In both these songs can be heard some of the earliest rumblings of Britpop, merging ‘60s sweetness with big choruses to produce a catchier kind of alt rock.
– Nathan Brooks
Alongside Screamadelica, The Stone Roses is a pivotal foundation for British rock in the ’90s that, thanks to timeless songwriting, remains a luxurious listen 30 years on.
As the album comes to a close, it shows no signs of slowing down. Penultimate track This is the One exhilarates with its dynamic energy; Brown repeats the words of the title in anticipation of the huge, euphoric chorus and Squire’s guitar stabs punctuate the quieter moments to keep you on your toes. However, the album’s crowning moment doesn’t come until the final song. I Am the Resurrection ends The Stone Roses on a stunning high. The lyrics certainly skirt close to blasphemy, even if the conventional anti-religion interpretation is undermined by Squire’s claim that it’s just about “one individual”. However, the main attraction here is the instrumentation. Reni opens the track with a pounding drum beat that he maintains throughout the vocal portion of the song, but switches with the help of bassist Mani into a groovier, dance-rock rhythm for the instrumental outro. Over the top of this Squire provides some of his most blistering guitar work, favouring a more edgy, blues-influenced approach than much of the album. However, in its final moments, the song returns to familiar jangly bliss and The Stone Roses is drawn to an appropriately bombastic finish.
After their debut album, The Stone Roses didn’t release any new music for five years. Once they did return with the cheekily titled Second Coming, most would agree music had moved on from The Stone Roses and consequently their second and final album received little fanfare. However, I would argue that in 1994 music was only just catching up with The Stone Roses. The Britpop sound they foresaw on their debut was finally coming into fruition, with Oasis’ Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Parklife both topping the UK charts that year. As far as I’m concerned it was The Stone Roses that had moved on, making no effort to emulate the sound of their debut with the tribal, bluesy compositions that populate Second Coming. The result is certainly a mixed bag; at over 78 minutes long it is bloated and I don’t think they lean into their funkier influences enough to compensate for the lack of tunefulness on many of the tracks. However, Second Coming is an admirable attempt at progress that also serves to further cement the unique status of their debut. Alongside Primal Screams’s Screamadelica, The Stone Roses is a pivotal foundation for British rock in the ’90s that, thanks to timeless songwriting, remains a luxurious listen 30 years on.
The Breakdown | Album Review: The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
With luxurious textures and euphoric choruses, The Stone Roses’ debut album is a major landmark for British rock that remains a stunning listen thirty years after its release.