ALBUM REVIEW by Victor Stranges
I was working in a suburban record shop that still carried vinyl in 1989. CDs had, by then, outstripped sales of vinyl. Some may remember this, but in 1989 cassettes seemed to outsell everything as cassette players were still in literally every car. In the store, I remembered we stocked The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut LP on vinyl.
This was before the internet and we heard this was a great album. We heard through word of mouth, or if you were fortunate enough, you may have caught a review in one of the overseas British music rags.
The Manchester scene going on at the time with pill-popping acts like Happy Mondays providing a soundtrack to the ecstasy crowd, wearing floppy hats and baggy trousers. Closely aligned with the indie dance scene, there was something unique going on in Manchester. In came The Stone Roses.
The Stone Roses actually viewed their music as better than any other band in the world. But was the hubris warranted? I can’t say they were better than whatever band you can think of but in short, their self-titled album is one of the best debut albums of all time.
Like Patti Smith on the first line of her debut album, Horses (“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”), The Stone Roses singer, Ian Brown, asserted a different spiritual claim on the first line of their album’s first track, ‘I Wanna Be Adored’. “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me.” The brooding minute-and-a-half lead-up of Gary "Mani" Mounfield’s bass build-up cascades into John Squire’s glorious guitar avalanche as drummer Alan John "Reni" Wren hits his stride. This is a triumphant opening to an album that is full of surprises and unexpected turns.
The Stone Roses recorded their debut album at Battery Studios and Konk Studios in London and Rockfield Studios in Wales between 1988 and 1989. It was produced by John Leckie with enough freedom given to the band in the studio which gave them songs ranging from under one minute to nearly10 minutes. Though they had an indie band sound, there was a 1960s sentiment that covered much of the record. From the musical bed of Simon & Garfunkel’s 'Scarborough Fair' in the band’s 59-second song, ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ to the pastoral guitar leads in the wondrous, ‘I Am The Resurrection', which interestingly starts off sounding like Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman’ drum intro.
I often think about why I love this record to this day and I am thinking it’s that classic musical sentiment that had one foot in musical tradition and one in the future but looking forward. It was a musical summary of what came before 1989 in Manchester to what was to come when other great bands used a similar template, such as Oasis.
Guitarist, John Squire, influenced a generation of rock guitarists with his psychedelic approach to guitar playing. It wasn’t ‘guitar shredding’ or power chords but the subtle melodic designs that were entwined amongst the most brilliant of songwriting. ‘Waterfall’, ‘She Bangs The Drums’, ‘Bye Bye Badman’, ‘(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister’ and ‘Made Of Stone’ are categorically timeless classic British songs that sound just as fresh today as they did in 1989. And ‘Shoot You Down’ is a tremendously original song if you want to seek out the album’s softer side. It epitomizes the beauty of Squire’s guitar, Mani’s bass trances, Reni’s understated drum shuffles, and Brown’s narcissistic and mysterious softly sung lyrics.
There were at least a couple of tracks that fit right into the Madchester scene such as the 9-minute and 54-second, ‘Fools Gold.’ I can’t tell you how great it was in 1989 to walk into a mainstream club and hear ‘Fools Gold’ pumping through the PA system.
One of the most affecting tracks on the album is ‘This Is The One.’ The song precedes Nirvana (or Pixies) in the quiet-to-loud and back-to-quiet department. Though not as pronounced or ironic as the aforementioned 90s groups, the song is braided by a 1960s musical obsession. The lyrics are beautifully simple, interesting, and sometimes indecipherable but always melodic.
The historical significance of 1989’s ‘The Stone Roses’ was formidable according to writers, Sean Sennett and Simon Groth. They said that The Stone Roses "virtually invented 'Madchester' and built a template for Brit-pop" with their debut offering. Although the record had some fellowship with rave culture and dance music, Angus Batey from The Quietus argued that it was a 1960s-inspired jangle pop album featuring little or no influence of dance beats or grooves, with the exception of ‘Fools Gold.’ The album had more to do with The Byrds guitar sound and classic songwriting smarts than it did with the dance music of its time.