Like lightning in a bottle, The Stone Roses debut album captured the energy of an emerging movement which would influence the British pop scene for the better part of a decade. The Stone Roses received critical accolades for its quality of songwriting and perfect illustration of the “Madchester” movement – an indie rock phenomenon that fused guitar pop with drug-fueled rave and dance culture through the late eighties and early nineties. The album originally peaked at #19 on the UK charts, but incredibly re-charted four times over the next 20 years (in 1995, 2004, 2005, and 2009), twice reaching the Top Ten.
Lead vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire formed their first band together, a punk inspired group called The Patrol in 1980. Three years later, bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield and the group started to migrate towards sixties-influenced pop. Around the time the band adopted the name Stone Roses, drummer Alan “Reni” Wren joined, completing the quartet that would record this album. Through the late 1980s, the group recorded and released several demos and singles as their popularity grew in Central England.
The group started recording their debut album in Wales in 1988 with producer John Leckie, who had previously worked with Pink Floyd. The lead single “Elephant Stone”, was left off the original album but included in later versions. Another non-album single, “Fool’s Gold”, became a hit in the U.K. The completed album contains simple but catchy hooks, bright and rich guitar riffs, and a rhythm section that blends sixties psychedelic pop and eighties dance grooves in a masterful way.
A long, noisy intro gives way to Mounfield’s fade-in bass and Wren’s drums to introduce the opener “I Wanna Be Adored”. The song sets the pace for the album with catchy hooks, droning guitars, and emotionally nuanced lyrics. The Top 40 hit “She Bangs the Drums” is more of a melodic pop song but does contain cleverly suggestive lyrics and innuendo by Brown. “Waterfall” is the first song on the album with a definite sixties vibe, from Squire’s chiming guitar riffs to the well harmonized vocals to combine for an infectious riff and melody. This results in the most indelible song on the early part of Stone Roses, if not the entire album. The song is followed by a reprise called “Don’t Stop”, which is a totally tripped-out, psychedelic version of “Waterfall”, with backwards masking and sped up tape effects in an experimental track which is, perhaps, a little too long for its own good.
The pop parade continues with “Bye Bye Badman”, another great song with a sixties vibe but also with modern drum beats and guitar motifs of differing styles. The true genius of the song is the vocal melodies which deliver the quasi-violent lyrics with incredible accessibility. The album cover displays an abstract painting by Squire, which “Bye Bye Badman” was named after. After a short shot at the queen, set to the melody of “Scarborough Fair”, Squire’s jangly guitar chords drive the intro of “Sugar Spun Sister”. The song later grows into a more intense arrangement, with ever more the potent electric guitars starting with the second verse. “Made of Stone” sounds the most like 1980s rock, it is darker than most songs on the album but still being a rewarding listen. The choruses do bring the song up a bit more than the verses and the great musical arrangement throughout by dual guitars, driving bass, and drums, make it the last great song on the album.
The Stone Roses concludes with three adequate but weaker songs. “Shoot You Down” employs a much more cool jazz in approach, with crafty guitar work throughout, a rhythm like a moderate dance song, and an acapella vocal hook. After what seems like a false start, “This Is the One” meanders in a choppy motion, never really hooking the rhythm until the second verse, but after this song gets a bit repetitive. The closer “I Am the Resurrection” starts with upbeat drum beat, joined only by bass during first verse before strong guitars introduce the chorus. The song proper is punk rock in its attitude but Brit-pop sonically and the long outro starts as a funky groove before it grows more psychedelic as it moves along.
As The Stone Roses gained popularity and critical acclaim, the group was in no way humble about their accomplishment. Lead vocalist Brown proclaimed in late 1989;
“We’re the most important group in the world, because we’ve got the best songs and we haven’t even begun to show our potential yet.”
Of course, this measure of hubris proved unwise. The closing track’s title was a deFacto preview of the title their follow-up album, Second Coming, which would not be released until five years later. In between, the Stone Roses rode a roller coaster of ups and downs from the high of their legendary Spike Island concert in 1990, the lows of the lawsuit that ensued when they tried to terminate contract with Silvertone Records. Ultimately, the group never quite reached their potential and officially disbanded in 1996.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.