A Long & Tiresome Post About The Stone Roses

By shane

The following was originally posted to the Excellent Mailing List on October 5th, 1999, as my direct response to a thread on the Stone Roses. You see, it's a bit of an anniversary this month, as the world (or at least Silvertone Records) are celebrating the 10th anniversary reissue of "The Stone Roses," an album some would claim to be (one of) the greatest of the decade. One member's pro-Roses message to the list brought forth a surprising number of anti-Roses posts, and no sooner than you can pull out a knife and carve "4 REAL" into your arm, we've got a full-on brouhaha on our mailing list. Which made me sit back, take a deep breath, and wonder just what all the fuss is for. My comments are below.

To: The Excellent Online Mailing List
From: Shane
Date: Oct. 5, 1999 12:21am
Subj: A Long and Tiresome Post About the Stone Roses

You know, first off, I have to say one fundamental thing about the Stone Roses.

For ONE band... to create ONE album... that upon the briefest of references on this list, can cause THIS much controversy... is an immediate testament to the reverance and all-around importance that some people place on this band.

That said, here's my take on it.

"The Stone Roses" is an album that changed music history. Speaking as a (somewhat uninformed) American, British music was in a bit of a nosedive in terms of popularity in the late 80's (and by this, I'm referring to the loose term of "impact.")

The decade had seen some pretty amazing things happen to the world of popular music. The advent of MTV had caused a mini Brit invasion of the States... little American kids were going ga-ga for the likes of Duran Duran, Howard Jones, etc. But sooner than later Joe Q. American realized he had a lot more in common with W. Axl Rose than with B. George, and the public (and, of course, MTV) floated politely away from the British music scene. As we entered the late 80's, the most exciting thing from England was, at least according to our charts, Rick Astley.

While the Trinity of Evil (Stock/Aitken/Waterman) were shoving Bananarama and Kylie Minogue down our throats, what happened to the rest of the British scene? It got classified as "alternative/progressive" in the States. That's where I come into the picture. While in high school in the mid-80's, I'd quickly graduated from the Police and Simple Minds into bands like Depeche Mode... The Cure... New Order... The Smiths... Bauhaus... the Sisters of Mercy. These were the bands that were capable of making the crossover onto our shores, to be idolized and adored by those of us with the gall to stick our hair straight up and wear (gasp! shock!) black turtlenecks. We were the freaks. Aye, we were our very own Trenchcoat Mafia (sans weapons and penchants for mass destruction.)

But it was getting a bit old by the time I was reaching college. The Smiths were petering out, New Order was waiting longer and longer between records, The Cure were quite frankly sucking (Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me still makes me shudder), Depeche Mode were becoming (gasp) popular (can't have that, you know.) Anyways, you get the point. Things were becoming stale... at least from OUR end of it.

Overseas, it was a bit of a different matter. Sure, there were some great scenes developing - but we didn't know about bands like My Bloody Valentine or the House of Love or Primal Scream or what-have-you. The best we had to work with were the bands moving up the Warner Bros. developing roster -- the Jesus & Mary Chain, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Housemartins, the Mighty Lemon Drops... and you had to look pretty far and wide to find THOSE when you're an uninformed kid living in the midwestern US in the pre-Internet days. Hell, I'll freely admit being shocked upon finding out that Paul Weller was in a band BEFORE the Style Council.

And then "it" happened.

I remember the day I discovered "it." I was working over the summer at my hometown's college radio station and was going through the new albums that had turned up that day... when I stumbled across a rather plain-looking LP called "The Stone Roses." I took it out, played "She Bangs the Drums" over the air (cause there was a sticker pointing me to that song,) and thought, "Hmm.. this sounds fairly nice." I later swagged that copy and filed it among my own at home, not really bothering to give it a good play even.

A couple of months passed... and I started seeing the name pop up more and more. First in hipster magazines, then on 120 Minutes. I remember going, "If I have to suffer through this desert video one more time..." to my friends. But it was obvious there was something afoot.

It wasn't two months after that when I first heard "Some Friendly" and officially was a convert into the dorky darkness of BritIndieDom. Only then did I take out my near-virgin vinyl copy of "TSR" and begin to play it. By then, things had gotten a wee bit MASSIVE.

The Stone Roses hadn't "given a rebirth" to the British music scene in the States -- they'd merely split the "alternative/progressive" gang into factions. It seemed like you either liked The Stone Roses or the Revolting Cocks... the Charlatans or the Pixies... the Happy Mondays or REM. For the first time I could consciously remember, the US had a "scene" - a microcosm - of kids whose only uniting aspect of their lives was a true affection for the Stone Roses and the satellite bands lumped next to them.

What did the Roses do for British music? They gave it a swift kick in the arse. They allowed the NME to do what the NME does best -- build a scene and sell more copies. Behold, MADCHESTER - the scene that wasn't. But it didn't matter: the kids were into it. Festivals heated up. Drug sales soared. Men dressed as giant daisies and danced about onstage to songs called "Weekender." Music, culture, life... was exciting. And, yeah, I'll make the ballsy claim that it all comes back to the Roses (and, to a smaller extent, the Mondays.)

But what exactly are we holding up as the Holy Grail here? Could it possibly be ONE RECORD? A 45 minute piece of music that shook the world off its foundation?

Nope. Truth is, it's a good album. But NOT a great one.

What is "The Stone Roses"? It's a happy re-tread into the Mersey Paradise of yesteryear. Not too many world-shaking ideas to be found on this record, kids. It's a tidy melting pot of about two decades worth of influences, all packaged together with a slice of lemon on the cover. And that's about it.

The music? It's polite, harmless, and an altogether good listen. Did it influence a generation of popstars to come? Nope. Here's a dare for you all: Name me five credible (i.e. NOT the Northside) bands who were audibly "inspired" by THE MUSIC of the Stone Roses. (And the Seahorses don't count.) It's some lovely tunes, some fabulous hooks, and some breathtaking production from John Leckie. But there's nothing ground-breaking about the music of the Stone Roses. Mersey guitar riffs + funky bass + breathy vocals + acid house beats = The Stone Roses. It just happened that they pulled off that combination perfectly on the record. Reni was one hell of a drummer, and could pull off a rave-style beat without the added benefit of a drum machine. Mani knew how to play a funky bassline and make it mold into the catchy doodlings of John Squire. Ian didn't know how to sing -- but Leckie could fix that easily enough.

The lyrics? C'mon, they're crap. Nobody could exemplify that point quite like Lee "Burnweed" D'Onofrio, the nutter who claimed that the Roses were angels signalling his ascension to become the new Messiah. As laughable (albeit entertaining) as ol' Burnie was, his plight points out the obvious: the lyrics of the Stone Roses are, at base, quasi-religious hocum-pocum. Add to that a nicely self-righteous slant ("I Wanna Be Adored," "I Am the Resurrection") and you've got enough of an enigmatic tome to cause people's heads to spin round a few times. But when you look at the lyrics by themselves, I can't help but think the whole thing was contrived.

Now please, please, PLEASE don't go thinking I'm a bastard who hates the Stone Roses. This was a band that damn near changed my life in who they were and what they represented. And they put out one hell of a debut album. But it's just that -- a debut album. They were a PHENOMENAL experience... and a DECENT band... with a GOOD album.

The Stone Roses hit me like few other bands before or after them. INDEPENDENCE. Damn, I was a college student... I was on my own... free-thinking... and this was the music of FREEDOM. The music of CAREFREE HEDONISM. They were WHAT my WORLD WAS WAITING FOR. ONE LOVE, ONE HEART, ONE SOUL...

But they were only a band. A band whose early recordings are horrid. A band whose second album was even more retro than the first. A band whose solo members havn't been able to produce anything of extreme merit since their demise. (Although I'm hoping Mani's entrance into Primal Scream produces amazing results...)

So, what I'm trying to say is: Yeah, adore the Roses all you want. They deserve it. They ignited a scene... hell, they ignited the whole decade. But it really wasn't ALL due to that one record. Let's look at the anniversary of the album's release as what it is: yet another attempt from Silvertone to milk more money out of fans. Don't buy the reissued version of the album. Put on your old beat-up copy instead, go through the photo album, dig through the closet and find those flares, and smile in the knowledge that you lived through a pretty amazing time in pop culture.

But just keep this in mind: At the end of the day, when the scores are tallied and the trophies handed out, the Stone Roses were simply able musicians who hit the right note at the right time.