The story of The Stone Roses is a curious one: one of the ultimate one-album wonder bands of contemporary music. Their 1989 debut record was as solid a foundation as they come, and whilst their follow-up album wasn’t quite as dreadful as certain fans like to suggest, it certainly came as a disappointment. The Stone Roses laid the groundwork for a special formula, only to never expanded upon it. To many fans, The Stone Roses is just as significant as a nostalgia trip as it is a piece of music, a hark back to a sound that promised so much.
Indeed, the mixture of rock’n’roll and dance music that fuelled the Madchester scene was arguably executed best right here. The basslines are gloriously groovy, without being overtly disco, whilst the drumming retains a sense of arena rock despite the constant implications of dance rhythms. Yet it’s the classic pop songwriting that has aged most gracefully here, which is unequivocally excellent. The record contains a plethora of hits, and they still stand up strong today. The Stone Roses formula is known and adored by a variety of listeners, from rockers to ravers, and it’s somewhat surprising that the blueprint has yet to be well replicated (though the likes of Spiritualized and Primal Scream dabbled in similar swamps).
Though it seems sacrilegious to suggest in certain corners of the scene, The Stone Roses is not perfect. Whilst the album opens and ends strongly, the middle section isn’t quite as momentous. “Don’t Stop” captures a similar sense of psychedelia to that of Revolver and Surrealistic Pillow, though it’s not nearly as refined as either. The production makeup of The Stone Roses is appropriate, but not exactly elegant. Indeed, without meaning to discredit John Squire’s brilliant guitar work, the perpetual phase and flange effect can become grating over time. Even so, it doesn’t prevent The Stone Roses from being one of the most enjoyable records of the ’80s. With a handful of storming tracks, from pop-perfection on “Waterfall” to the climactic closing track “I Am the Resurrection”, it’s no wonder that the record is adored by so many.8 10
Favourite tracks // Waterfall
Shoot You Down
I Am the Resurrection
I think The Stone Roses is one of those albums where you’re not so much affected by specific moments as you are by the quality of the overall experience. It’s an ironic conclusion given how down I’ve been on releases this year for lacking standout traits, but there you go. This album is a cut above and can get away with it. In fact, it positively thrives.
That’s not to say the album being good is a mystery. It’s not. The strengths are clear, and they amount to something very pleasing, if a little passive. Ian Brown’s melodies flow with almost childlike simplicity. That’s the core for me. Everything else — John Squire’s shimmering guitar riffs, Mani’s thick, squelching bass work, the unexpectedly clean ‘80s production — hangs off Brown like a silk Mancunian coat. “Made of Stone” and “Waterfall” capture the synergy of the band best, I think, while tracks like “Shoot You Down”, with its supremely shifty rhythm arrangement, show the variety they were capable of.
I don’t love The Stone Roses, but that’s the worst thing I can say about it. Though clearly a product of the ‘80s the album wears its age with grace. It’s a broody, elegant, sometimes transcendent blend of rock and electronic music quite unlike anything made before or since, even by The Stone Roses. The record laid a foundation that was never truly built on. In a way that adds to its aura, but I can’t help but feel something was left unsaid.8 10
Favourite tracks // Made of Stone
(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister
The Stone Roses’ debut certainly makes me nostalgic for a time I never frequented. Between the prominence in the Madchester movement and the clear influences from music of the two decades that preceded the band, The Stone Roses produces a chilled, clean sound with vocal lines that have aged well.
While it’s not an album of highlights, there are some moments here that can’t go unmentioned, between the guitar hook of “Waterfall” with its soft, subdued bassline and the vocal line in the chorus of “Made of Stone”, the songwriting is catchy enough to keep me engaged despite the hazy atmosphere a lot of the tracks take on. “Bye Bye Bad Man” is a notable exception, distinct in its sound as it adopts a slightly more ’60s influence and punchier instrumental.
Just shy of fifty minutes, the tracklist shouldn’t feel lengthy, but it somehow manages it. Despite slim track lengths, closer aside, a combination of the heady production and the likes of “Don’t Stop”, which feel like variations on a theme, the album can feel a tad on the long side, though it never becomes unwelcome. The album closes on a high too, at eight minutes, “I Am the Resurrection” falls into a roaring jam and adds a final highlight to the album.
It’s an excellent album from a band that disappeared prematurely. While much of the Madchester scene doesn’t click with me at all, this debut album gives me a lot to like. I’ll certainly be returning for that hazy nostalgia this album provides in spades.8 10
Favourite tracks // Waterfall
Made of Stone
I Am the Resurrection