Welcome one and all to the first installment of #ThrowbackThursday, a weekly segment I'll be writing here at Earhole. The goal here is to take a close look at classic albums--maybe they're albums you haven't heard of, maybe they're albums you're aware of but haven't ever bothered giving a proper spin, maybe they're albums you love and wouldn't mind being reminded of. Regardless, I'm hoping to spark conversation about (if not appreciation for) albums that played a role in shaping music as we know it today. Hell, maybe I'll write about terrible music. I don't know. I don't plan things out very far ahead.
This week, we'll be looking at The Stone Roses' eponymous debut album, released in 1989. The Stone Roses formed in 1983 and are best remembered as being part of the "Madchester" scene, based in Manchester, England. Think of it as a second Summer of Love, only with less emphasis on the "love" aspect and even more emphasis on the drugs. This is when ecstasy started to influence rock music and (naively optimistic thought!) when rock music began to influence ecstasy usage, too.
Bands incorporated beats from house music to cater to the taste of the zooted-out ravers of the day, along with elements from earlier pyschedelic music. The result was a jangly, supremely danceable form of pop that channeled the manic energy of punk rock through the halcyon lenses only afforded by rolling copious amounts of face, and that challenged every stereotype of the British as a straight-laced people. But thankfully for us modern and presumably more sober-minded audiences, a lot of the music was pretty damn good, too.
(As an aside, if you haven't seen the film 24 Hour Party People, I'd really recommend it. Among other things, it tells the story of the Hacienda, the club where Madchester was centered.)
On to the album itself:
The opening track, "I Want To Be Adored," shows initial restraint: emerging from industrial noise, palm-muted chords from guitarist John Squire and a lurching bassline from bassist Mani drive the song into a shimmering guitar lead. As singer Ian Brown proclaims that he "[doesn't] need to sell his soul," the band grows in fervor and drummer Reni's fills become more frenetic and pounding as Brown makes his vision clear: "I want to be adored."
The next track, "She Bangs The Drums" (which you might remember as a bonus track from Guitar Hero III, smdh) starts off with a rapid hi-hat pattern from Reni, and Mani's melodic bassline that provides a joyous counterpoint to an equally joyous vocal line. As Brown proclaims that he "feels [his] needle hit the groove," Squire's swirling guitar line provides a second counterpoint. The rhythm section is the highlight of this song: as the guitar alternates between chunky chords and chiming Peter Buck-style arpeggios, the constant churning of Mani's bassline and Reni's toms and hi-hat take this song to an almost transcendent level of blissed-out pop. This song is Britpop before Britpop was Britpop. This song is pure come-up.
(Fun fact: the Roses' first gig with Reni was at an event hosted by The Who's Pete Townshend, who promptly offered Reni a spot as his drummer. That's pretty dope.)
Remember how I said things in Manchester got a bit psychedelic during this period? The next track, "Waterfall," makes this apparent. A carefully plucked arpeggio and another melodic bassline (this time teasing at the higher registers of the instrument) dance around a steady kick drum and hi-hat pattern punctuated by regular ghosted snare notes. Reni's fills constantly tease that the song is going to erupt, but aside from some guitar leads, the song again shows restraint that leads perfectly into the next song.
If "Waterfall" was the gradual build-up, "Don't Stop" is the full-blown shrooms trip. Over another churning rhythm track, reversed guitar eventually gives way to a heavily-warped vocal track. This is a song you're either going to love or hate. The best point of reference I can provide is the end of the third episode of Twin Peaks:
This song is the aural version of that, but less terrifying.
(Also, I really hate how much I'm using the word churning, but it really is the perfect word for the combination of Mani and Reni.)
The band returns to relative accessibility with "Bye Bye Bad Man." Brown's laconically peaceful vocals stand in juxtaposition to the song's lyrics, as the band swaps between a quiet, throbbing pace and a double-time chorus with country-style licks courtesy of Squire.
"Elizabeth My Dear" is just really an interlude to the tune of "Scarborough Fair" (did I mention these guys are English?) and can be safely skipped if you're not a strict completionist.
The opening tracks of the album's second half hint at the groovy, jangly pop that the band hinted at so strongly on the album's first half. Reni's tom drums pound through "(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister" and the rest of the band follows.
(I don't want to harp too much on Reni, but Jesus Christ is he an incredible drummer. English listeners tend to remember him for his iconic bucket hat. ScHoolboy Q didn't invent it, folks.)
"Made of Stone" sees a stately minor key song give way to increasingly frantic drumming, and everything eventually gives way to a charging bass-led instrumental bridge with jet-engine guitar. The song returns to its hushed, quiet origins as Brown inquisits, "are you made of stone?"
"Shoot You Down" is a buoyant, poppy song about, y'know, wanting to kill someone. You'd never know from the bouncing rhythm section and contemplative guitar melodies that shift into choppy, fevered chords with Brown's lead. The band drops out to let Brown casually sing, "I'd love to do it and you know you've always had it coming" without interruption.
"This Is The One" is the thesis statement of the group's pop ambitions. The elements that define this album--driving basslines, all-over-the-place guitar, and thunderous drum fills, alternate with plaintive verses, giving way to a prolonged outro that displays so much of the Keith Moon-esque energy that Pete Townshend saw in Reni, as well as angelic backing vocals from the group.
Did I just say "prolonged?" Wait for the album's closing two tracks. Really, the album is a warm-up for the colossal 1-2 punch of "I Am The Resurrection" and "Fools Gold," both of which substantially exceed the 8-minute mark.
"I Am The Resurrection" channels the band's trademarks to quasi-religious heights: "I am the resurrection and I am the life, I couldn't ever bring myself to hate you as I'd like." The song morphs into a super extended instrumental led by Mani's bass and Squire's scratchy guitar. Wait, are the Stone Roses a funk band now? And then it stops.
And starts again. These guys were jamming way before you ever listened to Phish in your cousin's car for the first time. The song gives way to a soaring slide guitar-led outro that gives "Layla" a pilled-out run for it's money.
If "I Am The Resurrection" demanded two whole paragraphs," the album's closing track, "Fool's Gold," deserves a small novella. A steady, bouncing guitar lick is matched by a stuttering drum riff. Reni's ghosted snare notes constantly dance around the beat in a way that you could listen to this song twenty times and still not figure out.
(It should be noted that it would take you over three hours to listen to this song ten times.)
Brown's waves of laser beam wah-wah guitar descend at you from all side as the band vamps over the repeating guitar pattern. Bongos join in as the track becomes even more acid house-y. The other instruments drop out aside from a steady synthesizer pattern, and before you know it, you're texting your sketchy friends if they know a guy.
(Aside: I asked the rest of the Earhole staff to listen to this album earlier this week. This was Treske's reaction to "Fools Good":
"FOOLS GOLD HOLY SHIT. This song is fucking amazing."
He's playing it on tomorrow's edition of Filet Mig. Be sure to peep that, folks.)
The song ends the album so far from where it started: what began as cheery, careful, lighthearted pop ends as legitimate dance music that simultaneously seems sleek and primal. Draw your own parallels.
Ultimately, The Stone Roses' defining characteristic is the energy lying beneath it. This is a dynamic, constantly morphing album. But even at its most quiet and furtive moments, the band displays a yearning hunger that carries you to the next shimmering guitar lead, the next spastic drum fill.
This is the kind of manic glee that only occurs in certain places at certain times. Height-Ashbury in 1967 was one of those times. Manchester in the late 80s was also one of those times. And The Stone Roses is the most iconic monument to this fact.
The reason I'm writing #ThrowbackThursday is to get people to reflect on how the music of the past has informed today's music. The Stone Roses marks a point in indie rock's history when indie rock became danceable.
You can't listen to bands like tracks like LCD Soundsystem or Death From Above 1979 or Cut Copy or Arcade Fire's Reflektor* (or hell, anything Treske likes) and not see how how this provides some stylistic foundation. The Stone Roses (especially on "Fools Gold") took beats straight from clubs and injected them into guitar-based music. Next time an indie band makes you feel like dancing like a shaman (and also maybe taking a shit ton of drugs), remember The Stone Roses.
Next time you meet a posh middle-aged Englishman, imagine him in his twenties listening to this in various states of stimulation.
And next time you see your favorite Figside rapper wearing his preferred headwear, look to Reni.
*I'll be writing a Bowie #TBT sometime, have no fear.