Where Angels Play

By dean

Distant, metallic noises. A small swirl of wind. A growing, sinister gasp of machines. And then, out of the haze and out of somewhere above, one of the most emotional bass-lines you've ever heard breaks out like cold sunshine. It is a singular, defining moment in "indie" music. One that has changed lives, saved lives, and has yet to be toppled with such grace in the past ten years. By the time the final chorus hits its climax, by the time you scream with pride, "I gotta be adored...," you've been instantly converted into nearly worshipping a band for the rest of your life. You have no choice.

That's just how it is.


So it's been ten years - ten years - since THE STONE ROSES made their mark. No matter how many times you say that to yourself, it's still hard to choke down (tenyears-tenyears-tenyears-tenyears-tenyears-tenyears-tenyears...). It is a long time. And why did it have to pass so quickly? Has it really been that long since David Lynch first entered television, Neil Gaiman gave us SANDMAN, small bears started to sell us toilet paper, and four optimistic twentysomethings (twentysomethings!) decided to show the world what they could do? I guess it has.

I guess that it's also time to take an easy look back ("Look back, Dean?" "Yes, my hefty sidekick for life, look back...all the way to the year 1989"). In the year 1989, THE STONE ROSES released their debut, self-titled album. In the year 1989, THE STONE ROSES halted the scarred, post-SMITHS, chart-avoiding landscape and took control. In the year 1989, nobody figured we'd be celebrating a ten-year anniversary at this very moment with re-releases and undying, devoted fans. Yep, in the year 1989, music was saved yet again.

You probably think that's hyperbole. But it's not. The album is good enough to say such immature fan-boy inanity. That's just how it is. That's just why it's hard to write this without tripping over old toes. After all, there isn't much to say that hasn't already been chimed about in the various music publications and fan circles already. We know how good things were: the ethereal feelings pouring out of songs like "Waterfall" or "Sugar Spun Sister" are almost useless to try and describe further, the feeling of vindication we felt when we heard lines like, "The past is yours, but the future's mine" are difficult to slap new words on, and the swooning vindication of the escalating "This Is The One" was never going to leave our hearts. How can one talk about an album that has already been praised, discussed, and cherished over and over and over again? It's not fair

At least it wasn't fair to other bands too. While other upstarts from the same era had just as much of a positive outlook or a determined call-to-arms, they seemed to lack the distinct class and gifts of THE ROSES. Compare the decadent drum rises of pre-album single "Elephant Stone" and try to find an equal. Compare the clever turns in "Bye Bye Badman" to, well, any other song from that year. It's true: THE ROSES' stool samples were bigger than any other band out on the playing field. And things got worse for these others as time went on. Even though it was added to later pressings, there was even another song that shattered any past goals of theirs...after over ten years of attempts and re-attempts at making the meld of "guitars" and "dance" work right, nobody - nobody - has even come close to the arm-swaggering, genre-splattering, gloriously meshed up funk of "Fool's Gold." It is fantastic. Putting it on today still makes any other band's guitar/dance attempts sound like Ling-Ling the Panda trying to master a 303.

Of course (and I hate to do this), one cannot praise The Stone Roses without supposedly condemning Second Coming. That seems to be the accustomed rule. But, come on. Was it really all that criminal of a maneuver? Second Coming, amidst its insurmountable pinnacles of hype and anticipation, was often quite, quite good. "Breaking Into Heaven," with its effort-to-outdo the debut album's own intro pounds in with refreshing third-world influences (and how many bands have gotten that wrong too) and proud lashes of guitar. If the first album started from the ominous factory landscapes of ERASERHEAD, the band here cut their way through the tall grasses of APOCALYPSE NOW. And it worked. Even better, the blues slugs of "Driving South" and "Ten Storey Love Song's" remarkable rushes of melody kept everything in the realm of Thank The Great Maker That This Band Made A Follow-Up.

Not to mention that any sane man who saw the band tour with the Second Coming material (on a good night) was either quickly a born-again fan or a proud believer that the band always knew what they were doing in the first place. The "Daybreak / Breaking Into Heaven" duo is an amazing mix to this day, "Tightrope" quickly became a charming and unpretentious sing-a-long, and even the over-played "Love Spreads" had the purest of all concert cross-armers flail out in grinning air guitar.

Second Coming's main flaw, however, rests sporadically in the second half. Stuff that wouldn't even be fully fathomed as first album b-sides were now paraded and a-tracked like they were fat whales of men strutting down public beaches in 2-inch Speedos with no clue just how truly sad and unappealing they really were. "Straight To The Man"? "Tears"? Sheesh. No over-the-top guitar twiddling helped these suckers either. About half of the album ends up making you want to join the dissenters and let you admit that it got sucked in by those cliché twins of ours, Twiddle TooLittle and TwiddleTooLate. But yeah, don't forget, it's easy to get distracted by the losers: the other half still absolutely kills.

Seemingly to repeat the trend, the side-projects after the band's dissolution were also disappointing and have expectedly been far from up to snuff. THE SEAHORSES were a fun band and did well replicating the straight-ahead blues rock of the Second Coming era, but with too much John Squire ego and without the sense of underlying beauty. Ian Brown's solo material is fantastically reflective, schizophrenic, and (heh) dada-esque, but it never reaches the hushed splendour of anything he did with his former band. And Mani? Part of the unreliable, but sporadically incredible PRIMAL SCREAM now...but no matter how good his new band can be ("Kowalski's" bass-line alone is one for the record books), he still "loses" by default since it's still Bobby Gillippses et al's band and not his singular own. And Reni' still missing. So it's all a bit depressing: the end of the century might not show where all the talent resides, how the band escaped their own sophomore slump, or (admittedly) any other piece of really good news. Instead, we're merely proven again and again that the only moment of precise magnificence still remains with one, eponymous album.

A mixed blessing, however, is still a blessing. So please, don't misunderstand my badly written digressions: the memory of their debut still shines like the brightest star, and that's what matters ten years on. But one thing pokes at the side like a goth's sense of denied insecurity: where's all the retro press hype? Where's the countless retrospectives? Where's the magazine cover upon magazine cover upon dedicated radio broadcast upon dedicated radio broadcast upon television specials upon television specials upon re-issues upon re-issues? Well, we got the last one so far, at least. And while it will be a genuine, emotional experience to go back to the album in such nostalgic veins (and supposed extra video footage, no less), the feeling that the world is already forgetting something undeniably special is disturbing. It's not right. The world should take a glance back before championing every Tom, Dick, and GOMEZ. The world should be thankful for what we were given. We were given more than just a collection of "gee, that's nice" songs. And anything but a serious glance back is insulting to what they truly gave us.

So I have to admit something. You might have noticed an odd exclusion of a certain song. I apologize. It's just hard to talk about, and I've been delaying describing it this whole time. Yes, I'm (not) talking about that song. You know the one. Crisp back-beat. Immaculate bass-line. And lyrics to scream out to the world as you lead yourself to the incinerating after-life. That one. Let me start by asking it this way: is there any song out there that even remotely gets close to the vengeful, ennobled majesty of "I Am The Resurrection"? If you say there is, you're either 1.) a liar, 2.) an idiot, 3.) sad, or 4.) all of the above. It's one of the few endlessly impressive songs ever written. It's impressive how it's a song -- and one of the only songs in existence -- where a gigantic, soaring guitar solo works. It's impressive no matter how many times the Gallaghers endlessly try to replicate its proud power, they fail miserably. It's impressive how the song's central theme and impeccably delayed chorus are moments for the history writers. It's just...if one had to choose one song to listen to for ten years, this wouldn't be that bad of a pick... and if I could accurately convey the flood of emotions this song releases, I would retire from writing forever.

Anyway. You made it through that paragraph (the drooling praise there was so thick you could probably shammy your car with it). But it brings up the point: the music is the thing and that's what should be understood more often. After all, as the sounds of an epic moment in music fades out, we can only fumble with teeny-bopper compliments and only stop to reflect. Yes indeed, ten years on, because of this album and this band, "indie" music hasn't been the same. After all this time, music hasn't been the same. They've influenced almost every slightly unconventional band in Britain. They continue to keep their old fans, and suck in new ones every day. They've showed what you can do with the right passion, the right energy, and floppy hats. And the realization that they are still broken up when they had the potential to blow open every door and window in the world, is one of the uniquely crushing moments in modern life.

Yet we can carry on. We can live in peace. Because we still have the sleeves and the memories and the music. We still have the chills from a song like "I Wanna Be Adored". Nothing changes that. Ian, John, Reni, and Mani might have all parted ways, but THE STONE ROSES still exist. And no in-band bust-ups, sophomore mis-fires, or ropey live vocals will ever destroy their gift to us.

So I sit here writing this, a bit depressed (they are gone), a bit confused (why is it so difficult for Dean to write an intelligent, coherent sentence about the band?), but very content. We actually have it pretty easy...you know, being a fan of THE STONE ROSES still means something. As long as we respect what we were given, we should be okay. And you know what else? For some reason, it's easier to describe the events and emotions surrounding this band than the music itself. Dammit. It's not fair. The instant you first heard a song of the band's, you were theirs forever.

Because that's how it is. Because that's why you have no choice. And because - for a brief time on this spinning sphere of piss, pain, and sorrow - we had a chance to stop what we were doing, put our ears to the sky, and hear, for just a moment, the sound of angels playing.