Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Manhattan Centre, New York
Melody Maker, May 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Then and now, there's a curious blankness at the heart of the Stone Roses phenomenon. Neither diehard devotees nor the band themselves seem able to articulate exactly why the Roses mattered so much. Because of this, the fervour that greeted The Stone Roses in 1989 and the bitterly disappointed response to Second Coming in '94, both seem--rom a detached, non-partisan standpoint--equally out of proportion.

Perhaps, first time around, it was just a question of right place, right time. There's a theory that people fall in love when they're ripe, and project their latent amorousness onto the least unsuitable candidate to come along. In
Manchester, E seems to have facilitated the bonding process, as freefloating fervour and will-to-belief found a focus in the band; this spread to the rest of the country by plugging into Brit-rock's latent hunger for a Big Band, a four-man trad-guitar combo (the Smiths, the Jam; Suede, Oasis).

But why the Roses, and not, say The House Of Love? If there was a kernel of magic to the Roses (discounting their obvious assets i.e. good-to-great songs, Squire's
flair, the band's flares, the looselimbed rhythm section, the cryptic class-war lyrics), it's got to be that oft-cited, seldom elucidated intangible, 'attitude'. Really, it was just a self-confidence that fit the turn-of-decade positivity like
a glove, and briefly resurrected a heretical notion: that being young could be fun. The Roses' melodies had a soaring unfettered spirit that echoed the optimism that coursed through everything the Beatles did, even their sad songs.

That idea--adolescence as endless possibility as opposed to endless torment--seems illusory and irrecoverable, post Kurt and Richie, despite the insouciant efforts of jack-the-lad combos like Oasis, Supergrass etc. The difference between the Roses in '89 and Oasis in '95 is that the latter are all ME ME ME, a purely individualistic escape route from dead-end drudgery into self-willed rockstardom. With the Roses, it was more a case of WE, "we can all it make it out of this place": their narcissism was somehow on behalf of a community.

Anyway, right now the Roses are in the unenviable position (although the money probably eases the pain) of being just another band (now that everyone's copped their attitude and Sixties recycling is this nation's seventh most profitable industry). Divorced from the context that lent them the lustre of meaning, the Stone Roses must bear the brunt of everyone's disappointment (as if any band could
singlehandedly turn back the clock to the happy daze of '89/'90). They have to get by on good singin', good playin', on the trad virtues of their deeply traditionalist thang. In America, where the resonances of 'Madchester' were always impossibly remote, the Roses must above all make it as a ROCK BAND. And that's how they project themselves tonight.

After a mood-establishing prequel of Hendrix' "1983, A Merman I Should Turn To Be" (Electric Ladyland being a life-changing aural revelation for John Squire), the Roses EXPLODE onstage in a glare and blare of searchlights and overdriven guitar. They start, like they useta, with "I Wanna Be Adored", only now it's much heavier than before, a monolithic shock-wave of sound that almost obliterates Ian
Brown's wind-tunnel vocals. Next is "She Bangs The Drum"; all the lithe and lissom bouncincess of the original is exchanged for Steve Jones-like aggression ("God Save The Queen" being another formative moment for Squire). Apparently this is how the band wanted the debut LP to sound, until John Leckie got his emasculating hands on it.

What's weird about Second Coming, and about the Stone Roses tonight, is the way the band replay the entire 1965-72 era at once--from mid-Sixties beat through psychedelia to heavy rock-- but jumbled and anachronistic. So "10 Story
Love Song" has a Merseybeat melody but a Santana/Hendrix solo, while "Good Times" fast-forwards Brown's 1966 Manc mod whine to sit uneasily amidst blues-boogie bombastics circa 1970; the Crosby Stills & Nash acoustic balladry of "Tightrope" contrasts with the ZZ Top-isms of "Love Spreads". After Brown's done with his cod-bluesman jivetalk, "Daybreak" provides Squire with pretext and launching pad for an
extended fretboard freak-out, the kind of polychromatic ejaculation-fiesta last heard with Beck, Bogart & Appice's "Jizz Whizz". It sounds great, actually: along with J. Mascis, Squire's one of the very few contemporary guitarists
who can sustain a solo. If nothing else, this kind of phallocratic pyrotechnicism will get the band on the cover of all the muso guitar mags.

As you might have twigged, the guitarist dominates proceedings so extensively that it can only be a matter of time before the band is renamed the John Squire Blues
Explosion. Poor old Ian Brown (whose own 'instrument' is by comparison expressively rather limited) is utterly eclipsed by his schoolchum's onanistic exhibitionism. In truth, these days the Stone Roses' balls-out rockist furore really requires a singer as histrionic as Robert Plant; Brown emanates from an aesthetic universe whose cut-off point is 1967.

A band as good as the Roses can get by with one weak link, but not two. It's early days yet, but it looks like new sticksman Robbie Maddix is no replacement for Reni (one of the few great drummers this country's produced in the last decade). A rock band is a complex rhythmic engine, and you can't just replace a crucial component like Reni and expect things to swing along as groovily as before. The resultant
stiffness doesn't really mar the heavy-rock that most of the set comprises, but "Fool's Gold" is a farce: what was once exquisitely poised and in-the-pocket becomes clod-hopping, closer to funk-metal than baggy-beat.

Now that the Roses are hard rockin' muthas rather than dance-pop, "Begging You" works better as a rave/rock hybrid than "Fools". A weird crush-collision of blues rock and technorave dynamics, Yardbirds and Joey Beltram, "Begging" is
the set's highlight, just as it's the pinnacle of Second Coming. The song is apparently an evocation of that period in 1990/91 when the Madchester party soured: E'd up euphoria turned to edgy paranoia as punters necked one pill too many,
while the drug gangs' bloody struggle to control a lucrative market killed the luv vibe good'n'proper. 16 year old "baby-gangsters", as Brown puts it, stalked the Hacienda openly sporting guns and selling dodgy powders. With its churning
cylindrical groove and almighty turbine-roar guitar, the song sounds exactly like the panic rush of an E'd up raver wondering how and why the rave-dream's dying all around him.

"Begging" sort of begs the question: now the Manchester moment's long gone, what are the Stone Roses "about"? What are they good for? (More good-to-great songs? Yet another axe hero?). I don't think the Roses really know, and in some sense the blitzing bombast of their performance tonight masks that abscence; the volume is almost like a barrier between audience and band. You can barely see the players through the swirling dazzle of the lights; likewise, there's no banter from Brown to the crowd. Beneath the glare and the blare, that curious blankness remains.

1 comment:

Andrew K said...

I spose The Roses' first coming did amount to a genuinely great album, & them as the principa; pipers at the gates of a blissed out dawn. Until they quickly fucked it all up. Gotta keep striking while the iron is hot. Imagine if it took The Beatles till '71 to follow up Revolver...