FEATURE: A Resurrection Down by the Waterfall: The Stone Roses’ Eponymous Debut at Thirty




A Resurrection Down by the Waterfall

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/ARTWORK: John Squire

The Stone Roses’ Eponymous Debut at Thirty


THIS might be a day late but...,

 IN THIS PHOTO: The Stone Roses in 1989/PHOTO CREDIT: Joe Dilworth/Photoshot/Getty Images

with one thing or another, it is not always possible to get things out on time! I don’t think The Stone Roses would object to some well-meaning tardiness when it comes to their eponymous debut record. Released thirty years ago yesterday, it has been celebrated by fans and the press. I was five when it was released but, as explorative children often walk, it was soon in my vision. 1989 was a truly wondrous year for music and, alongside the golden age of U.S. Hip-Hop, there was some fantastic music coming from the U.K. House and Dance music was in full swing and, whilst a lot of influence was happening from Europe, there was something great blossoming in the U.K. In this country, bands like The Stone Roses were about to add their huge footprint to music. Their debut, The Stone Roses, was a bolt from the blue – and its influence is still being felt now. The band did not become an instant success when the album was released on 2nd May, 1989 but the band gained a huge following after touring more; a fixture of the Madchester and Baggy scene that was happening at the time. Although The Stone Roses had been playing together since 1983, it was their anticipated debut that broke them into the mainstream. Many claim that The Stone Roses, on their debut, invented ‘Madchester’: they definitely popularised it and made it ignite!

Although some of their peers were offering a more jangly and mellow form of Pop, The Stone Roses were channelling Dance, Rave and Psychedelia from the 1960s. Their debut album, in effect, was a mixture of the 1960s’ best and brightest with the growing and influential Rave scene of the late-1980s. If some of Ian Brown (the band’s lead) lyrics and confident vocals put some in mind of The Beatles, there was humour and arrogance that harked back to the explosion of Plunk and nodded to Mancunian heroes such as The Smiths. When supporting the album, The Stone Roses played some high-profile gigs – including playing at The Haçienda nightclub. There was a feeling by many – including the press and followers of the band – that The Stone Roses were offering something more explosive than The Smiths and something more substantial than a lot of their Manchester peers. Many have been writing about The Stone Roses on its thirtieth anniversary and I shall get to that soon. Of course, acclaim for the debut from The Stone Roses was instant and there has been a boat-load of retrospective regard. Pitchfork, when celebrating the album’s twentieth anniversary, had this to say:

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”.

AllMusic, in 2014, had this to offer:

Similarly, Brown can claim "I Am the Resurrection" and lie back, as if there were no room for debate. But the key to The Stone Roses is John Squire's layers of simple, exceedingly catchy hooks and how the rhythm section of Reni and Mani always imply dance rhythms without overtly going into the disco. On "She Bangs the Drums" and "Elephant Stone," the hooks wind into the rhythm inseparably -- the '60s hooks and the rolling beats manage to convey the colorful, neo-psychedelic world of acid house. Squire's riffs are bright and catchy, recalling the British Invasion while suggesting the future with their phased, echoey effects. The Stone Roses was a two-fold revolution -- it brought dance music to an audience that was previously obsessed with droning guitars, while it revived the concept of classic pop songwriting, and the repercussions of its achievement could be heard throughout the '90s, even if the Stone Roses could never achieve this level of achievement again”.

If some critics have been dismissive of the impact regarding The Stone Roses, there is no denying the influence of the album. In fact, the album constantly features on ‘best of’ lists – suggesting it is more popular now than back in 1989! At the time, in 1989, it was a revelation and opened the eyes of artists around the world. The sheer bombast, experimentation and confidence from the band stunned and enthralled. There is evidence that future icons such as Oasis were taking note when The Stone Roses was unleashed. Look at the anthems on the album and how consistent the material is. From the opening of I Wanna Be Adored to She Bangs the Drums; Made of Stone and I Am the Resurrection, there is an overloading of quality. One of the biggest hits from The Stone Roses, Fools Gold, was added to the U.S. edition of their debut but was, perhaps, the perfect fusion of 1960s trip and pure bagginess. Later in life, in the early-1990s, I was latching onto The Stone Roses and it was sort of a gateway from the Rave scene to Britpop. One can argue there was Britpop precursor on The Stone Roses’ debut: the album is such a marvel and mixture it is almost impossible to pin down! NME, when celebrating The Stone Roses, focused on the unique lyrics and Ian Brown’s original aspect:

But, really, the most timeless aspect of the album is the lyrics. Ian Brown gets a lot of shit for his vocal ability, but that’s like slagging off a great author for their handwriting. The important things here are the mood and the message, and the Roses singer is an underrated philosopher. Many great songs contain a meaning that’s poignant whenever and wherever they’re played because they speak to fundamental aspects of the human condition: Pulp‘s ‘Common People’, LCD Soundsystem‘s ‘All My Friends’, Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Born To Run’. On ‘The Stone Roses’ there are 11 of them. Optimism and hope reign supreme.

Throughout ‘The Stone Roses’, Ian Brown softly delivers lyrics that combine anger at the Monarchy (“It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear“) and the government (“Every member of parliament trips on glue“) with sacrilegious arrogance (“I am the resurrection and I am the light“) and the unbridled optimism of talented youth (“Sometimes I fantasise, when the streets are cold and lonely and the cars they burn below me“). These are mood-lifting and perspective-changing anthems. Best of all, from ‘She Bangs The Drums’: “The past was yours but the future’s mine“. Any young person who doesn’t have that attitude is doing it wrong”.

In a fantastic article from The Independent, they talked about the bond in the band in addition to some of the struggled they faced:

What made it all work were the personalities of the four musicians; a Beatles-esque spatter of contradictions that drove the band to great heights and also, when rancour later set it and it all tumbled apart, set them up as a cautionary fable of British pop.

Yet the Roses, less lightning in a bottle than nitro-glycerine in a flask, were never an entirely stable entity. Early on, Reni was regarded within the ranks as the natural talent. Indeed, Squire and Brown feared constantly that he would be head-hunted by a more established band (one particular obsession was that Mick Hucknall would pinch him for Simply Red).

Anxiety was thus infused into their DNA, along with that teary upstart spirit. Before Mani had joined, eager to expand beyond their loyal but modest fanbase, Brown and Reni had gone on a graffiti rampage, spray-painting the band’s name on walls in the suburb of West Didsbury.

It was clearly, also, that 1989 was a glorious time and one in which The Stone Roses flourished. Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, as the article explains, was also smitten when The Stone Roses arrived: 

Still, it was a glorious time. A period of innocence before their fall. Later, the Roses would be locked in endless wrangles with Zomba and Evans over their lop-sided contract. And they would become bogged down in the sessions for their lugubrious 1995 second record (the apocryphal difficult second album myth made flesh). Even their initially well-regarded 2011 return eventually petered out, leaving us only with two underwhelming, aura-destroying comeback singles.

But as 1989 ambled into 1990, how bright their future must have felt. Manchester, too, was basking in a moment. The Hacienda club was ground zero for acid house. Happy Mondays, James, The Charlatans were taking up the baton. John Squire’s shaggy non-haircut was trending, baggy pants were ubiquitous. We all seemed to live in the Roses’ world and it was magnificent.

“We were into The Jam and The Smiths before that,” Noel Gallagher would recall. “We thought you had to go to college or be an art student to be in a band. When I went to see the Roses, they looked exactly the same as we did … When I heard ‘Sally Cinnamon’ for the first time, I knew what my destiny was”.

The Stone Roses’ debut album can still be heard in modern music and the impact of the album is clear. I remember it, like all great albums, opening my mind at a young age. I was instantly connected to this pioneering band and, although their sophomore album (1994’s Second Coming) did not make such a huge wave, there is no refuting the power and potency of The Stone Roses! I love all the different mood and visions throughout and, thirty years later, I am picking up new shades, strands and colours. It changed the game upon its release and has been responsible for spawning so many bands – all hoping to follow in the footsteps of The Stone Roses. Thirty years after its release, the album still sounds fresh and exhilarating. It is clear that this phenomenal album will continue to motivate and startle musicians and fans…

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

FOR decades to come!