Musings On Music

Posts tagged “#coachellamusic

Who The Fuck Are The Stone Roses???

This is a question I never, ever expected to hear, in all of my life, much less one I had to answer…repeatedly, for the few days since they were announced as the headliners for the first day of Coachella 2013. I do notice that since the initial announcement the poster has switched Blur’s position with The Stone Roses, which is funny, because if Blur (the band that eventually replaced the Roses as my BritPop fave) hadn’t played Coachella, I was firmly settled on heading to Barcelona in May for them alone. Nevertheless, when someone asked me why I was so excited about the line up, all I could say, was “Really? The Stone Roses? Blur? Hell, the only topper would be if Ride reunited,” and to that declaration, I got more blank stares. The friend to whom I was speaking didn’t know who Ride was either. Normally, this would make me feel old, but in this case I feel a bit more defensive about the legacy of The Stone Roses (and for that matter Ride) in perspective of modern music history. The only reason I can argue that they knew who Blur was is because they’ve had a much longer career and continued to put new music out on this side of the century–though, I’m not sure they were as influential as either The Stone  Roses or Ride, I’m also not entirely sure that Blur would have ever occurred had it not been for The Stone Roses and several other bands hands that exploded from the “Madchester Scene” that exploded out of Northern Britain in 1989-1991. Honestly, The Stone Roses did it with one and only one album, their flawless debut (in whatever form you have it, it’s many permutations range from 11-13 tracks) and the slew of singles that occurred in the wake of that album (eight singles all together and the many much hunted, at the time, b-sides of said singles). With this bevy of releases between 1989-1992 The Stone Roses created a road map for everything that would pretty much define British guitar rock for the next decade and beyond. This is not hyperbole, this is not exaggeration.

I suppose this also needs some historical perspective placed upon it. You see, the 1980s were kind of a dark time–and up until 1989, it seemed like there was no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The music was dark, depressing, angry, forlorn, melancholic–this was the decade that defined Goth rock, mope rock, sad music for sad people during sad times–Reagan and Thatcher were in power, in short, there simply appeared to be no hope. We didn’t even have a name for the music we listened to, “Alternative Music” hadn’t quite become a term yet, it was “post punk” or “progressive” or “post-modern”, the term alternative hadn’t quite caught on. Not only that, Goths were called Mods as they were seen as an extension of a Mod revival long past, we all wore makeup, used too much hairspray, listened to a lot of Cure, Bauhaus/Love & Rockets, Jesus & Mary Chain, Joy Division/New Order and at that point in  the decade, we were seriously mourning the break-up of both The Smiths and Echo & The Bunnymen. Then something happened. For one thing, that was the year the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War seemingly ended (which seemed like a great idea at the time), but suddenly, some of us and a few bands decided simply not to be so fucking sad anymore. I know that sounds slightly insane or improbable, but after the suffocation of the previous years, it was necessary–for me it began the day I heard “She Bangs The Drums” by The Stone Roses.

For me, the 1990s officially began in 1989, because on both sides of the pond, shit got great really quick that year. Sure, one can argue it had been building for a while, The Stone Roses had put out their first single in 1987, things had been brewing in Seattle for just as long, but it was 1989 where it seemed musicians in both the UK and the States decided it was time for a radical change. In the US, the roster of SubPop records and their associates revived rock’n'roll through a fine blend of punk, metal and classic sensibilities. In the  UK it seemed that almost overnight, the oppressive suppression of the 1980s was done and that, quite frankly, it was time to reintroduce the holy trinity of drugs, sex and rock’n'roll to the all but willing, starving masses. As an interesting exercise, look at British album covers before that year, often black and white or monochromatic renderings of black and white photos, or simply dark, dark album covers, enshrouded with more darkness. Enter the “Madchester” bands, grinning wildly out of their head on E’s and Whizz, pupils dilated with brilliantly wild beautiful album covers, like The Stone Roses’ Jackson Pollock inspired cover, or Happy Monday cover for Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches or even Inspiral Carpets cover for Life or the Cool As Fuck ep…the artwork alone signalled that the ’80s as England knew it was over–this was followed by at least a decade of colourful, brilliant album artwork designed to marvel your eyes whether under the influence or not.

We were not used to music that made us happy or truly rocked and on account of those two factors, Madchester and Seattle changed our worlds completely in the span of about one years time. It permeated every layer of our lives–now, I agree, this is something that happens easily at a certain age, and I was indeed at that age, but it actually became a fashion revolution as well. The 1980s as I said before, were an oppressive time–our jeans were never tight enough, we even pegged them to make sure of this, we dressed in emulation of our well dressed heroes–with enough gel, hairspray and very expensive clothing we could model ourselves after Morrissey, Robert Smith, Andre Eldritch, Ian McCulloch or any number of well dressed, make-up wearing dandies that appealed to our own imagination. 1989 and beyond seemed to rush in the world of the ultra-casual, it gave birth to indie  rock and suddenly our hair got shaggy, we remembered clothes could be comfortable, boot cut jeans and bell bottoms were rebellious, after an age of AIDS we realized sex was great and that, unlike the gospel of Nancy Reagan preached so hard, we could say no to just saying no. It was freedom. We watched how great The Stone Roses looked in their 60s drag, how comfortable The Pixies looked in clothing that looked like shit your Dad or at best, your cool Uncle wore and eventually, we discovered the joy of flannel, or as my friend Kyle termed it, “the cloth of kings.” It was as though overnight we stopped pegging our pants, spending a half hour on our hair, applying eyeliner, shopping at Banana Republic or gave a fuck about anything other than clothes that were purely comfortable to dance without inhibition in, clothes that were, admittedly easy to remove and a look that simply said, we’re just here to have fun, listen to music and get our groove on. After years of oppression, an age of nouveau hedonism had suddenly begun–after all, we saw them tear down the wall, we saw that things were changing and The Stone Roses were at the start of it all, for those of us that were there.

Another thing, I suppose, that must be explained is the cyclic nature of what will now be described, in revisionist history terms, as the history of alternative music, is the progression of music on both sides of the pond. Though I’ve espoused and/or mentioned it during my entire writing career, I have never like the term “Alternative Music” because I don’t see it as that, I just see it as the progression in the natural course of music…rock, which led to glam, which led to punk, which led to new wave after it mixed with disco and then became goth and then…well, you get it, I see the thought train from the start. So in the states, you had The Pixies who served as the connective tissue between Husker Du and Nirvana–The Pixies formed through an ad in a Boston paper from Black Frances who wanted a band where Husker Du and Peter, Paul and  Mary met in the middle, eventually, Kurt Cobain wanted a band that evoked The Pixies with touches of Meat Puppets and The Vaselines…all the rest is history. In the UK, you had The Stone Roses who claimed that  The Smiths were their greatest influence, were then declared as the greatest thing to happen to British music since The Smiths, but in the end as history would have it, served as the connective tissue between The Smiths and the dual monsters of BritPop, Oasis and Blur, and eventually, the ironically most successful (in everywhere but the States) in retrospect, The Manic Street Preachers (the band that eventually replace Blur as my BritPop fave, who had replace the Roses). Convoluted enough for you? This is how the history of music works. Keep in mind The Pixies were T0p 40 artists in Europe pretty much from the start, but not until the end of their career in the US, if at all.

It wasn’t all fashion and lifestyle though, that changed in 1989. Those were just the side effects. It was the fucking music. You must understand, it was liking nothing we had heard for the last decade–it somehow combined all the best we loved from the psychedelic 60s, with an astute pop sensibility and a bitter lyrical wit that appealed to all the nihilism we had learned from our favorite bands. It was just one of those bizarre chemical reactions and they had nailed it, in much the same way The Pixies had nailed it for disenfranchised American youth–the right amount of psychedelia combined with weirdness and a natural ability to make your hips come to life while making you feel absolutely ALIVE! It was as though the world had shifted from Black & White to Color in a summer. Because it had. Until, that point, bands had stuck to the sound of the times, there seemed to be a certain range in which they operated and everyone was a bit too scared to color outside of the lines. While The Stone Roses first single “Sally Cinnamon” didn’t quite break from that mold too much, the cover of their third single, “Elephant Stone” sure as shit sent a message to the world–a bloody colourful Pollock tribute courtesy of guitarist John Squire that announced their emergence into themselves. The song itself was as colourful as the cover and its impression was even larger, more grandiose than the revivalist abstract expressionism could convey.

If you are reading  this, primarily out of curiosity abut who the fuck The Stone Roses are indeed, I hope it’s clear how in 1989 they appeared to be the greatest band in the world, only because they were talented enough, strange beyond compare and contained the exact vision needed so that everyone could fall down the rabbit hole afterward and for those who came to late to the show, well I guess they never realized that they woke up in indie rock wonderland, largely due to the influence and design of The Stone Roses. I have included my favorite version of the debut album below through YouTube–ironically, it’s an American release that includes both the pre-album single “Elephant Stone” and the immediate post album track “Fool’s Gold,” but it sums up the explosion that was The Stone Roses at the time, better than any other version I know of, because it includes all of their facets. There’s not a bad track on the album, everything is constructed perfectly and this hadn’t honestly happened since The Smiths released The Queen Is Dead in 1986. It is one of those rare, all too rare, perfect albums and I could give it no less than five stars, ever and forever. From the roaring indescribable start of the fey, beautiful, hippy-dippy swirl of “I Wanna Be Adored” starting the whole event off, with a thumping drum that alerts you to the fact that this is not typical revivalist tripe, to the breathy vocals, the spiral guitar work–this is something different from that age and unlike anything else and by the time if finishes, it is a roaring tidal wave of self-aggrandizing guitar driven bliss, rather than self-deprecating, sullen mopiness. “She Bangs The Drums” is simply an explosion in prime 60s psychedelic joy, brought through a lyrical blend of which only the 1980s could wrought, but yet, suddenly, this is sexy–not cold or aloof as the words we lived by had been for so long. “Elephant Stone” was a brilliant placement on the late American release for the third track–it sometimes maintains the undeniable energy better than the original UK release and the lyrical finale describes it best of the feeling at the time, “Seems like there’s a hole, in my dreams, Or so it seems, Yet nothing means anything anymore.”

“Waterfall” follows and it is a trippy ballad if there ever was one, but a brilliant mover nonetheless–which was an amazing touch of The Stone Roses, they could make their sweetest songs swing just as hard as the others and it was deemed so good, that it became a post album single with remixes by a then emerging Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne. It is brilliant in every way and by the end, what started seemingly as a filler track is a mindblower. More mindblowing though is “Don’t Stop” which is essentially “Waterfall” literally in reverse, with abstract tracks, backmasking and forward lyrics places over top–this is where the old era ended and the new world began in one moment–”Don’t stop, isn’t it funny how you shine?” the lyrics ask but not with the bitter retort of the times, “Oh, won’t you just ask me, you’re an imbecile.” It’s brilliant and clear why it was chosen as a post album remix single. What follows is the greatest song on the album that was, for some unexplainable reason, never made into a single, perhaps because “Bye Bye Badman” is the most bitter, vengeful song on the album, but also, simply one of the best. “I’m throwing stones at you man, I want you black and blue and I’m gonna make you bleed, Gonna bring you down to your knees…I’ve got bad intentions, I intend to knock you down, These stones I throw are lethal kisses, Are the only way I’ve found…” A beautiful song about terrible things, which seems to do them right.

The short, sweet rendition of the  traditional “Elizabeth My Dear,” seems to simply be a brilliant stop gap that somehow becomes sinister in their hands, strikingly different than what Simon & Garfunkel did with it, but reclaiming it all the same. “Sugar Spun Sister” returns us to the territory found on “She Bangs the Drums,” and it vies for another single slot that never happened. It is pure Beatlesque pop and perhaps, for that reason alone, it was never released as such and considering all that would follow in it’s wake on the album, it seems as the title suggests, syrupy sweet–but purposefully so. “Made Of Stone” was actually the single between “Elephant Stone” and “She Bangs The Drums,” and it may well be the most trippy of their singles. It is the perfect transition between hits of the day like Echo’s “Lips Like Sugar” and what was to come, it has a sound that recalls, the movement The Stone Roses emerged from, while pre-saging all they were defining. Again, what  would follow, what would seem like a low key filler track, would show more influence than  some of the singles and their flare for pure style and brilliance–”Shoot You Down” was another seeming low-key track that was just as essential to the construction to the album as all the rest and calmly resolute in its violence, “You show it and the time has come, to shoot you down, What a sound, When the day is done and it all works out I’d love to do it and you know you’ve always had it coming.” It  is a perfect mix of the complexity in sexual politics, a blend of vicious intent, revenge and desire. “This Is The One” describes perfectly, in on uncertain terms, the relationship you find, that first relationship you find that absolutely, beyond doubt, sets you on complete fire. You know it will destroy you, you know it is the one that will literally burn you to the ground, completely level you and reduce you to ash–but you’re going there anyway, because  you have to, you have no choice and the experience is much needed.

The original  album ends with the absolutely epic, “I Am The Resurrection” a song that could never be a single, due to length alone. At just over eight minutes, this song was difficult to reckon with, not merely because it was so goddamned brilliant, but because for the time it was so excessively long–but the lyrics, once more vicious, brilliant and describing the true emotions of youth. It was almost too horrible and wonderful to face at once. If anything it plays as though the protagonist inviting trouble to his bed in “This Is The One” is no confessing the result of his brave face toward all the trouble he initially envisioned. “Down down, you bring me down, I hear you knocking at my door and I can’t sleep at night, Your face, it has no place, No room for you inside my house I need to be alone, Don’t waste your words I don’t need anything from you, I don’t care where you’ve been or what you plan to do…” and later, “Don’t waste your words I don’t need anything from you, I don’t care where you’ve been or what you plan to do, I am the resurrection and I am the light, I couldn’t ever bring myself to hate you as I’d like…” While the self-aggrandizement continues from the start to finish, the song is a telling result of the previous songs sojourn, but after the lyrics are over, it turns into four minutes of psychedelic guitar bliss that blows everything that came before it completely away–and that may very well include the forays into indulgence the very influences this song includes.

As if that could not be topped, the American release and all other eventual releases include and even more epic song as the finale. “Fool’s Gold” was a post album single, eventually added to the album in various regions of its release and it is probably the most brilliant alchemical fruition of how The Stone Roses ultimately mixed the joys of psychedelic rock, power pop and house music–the latter of which was pretty important at the time. Like most dance music of that era, the lyrics are virtually meaningless, missing the edge the album contained, but the song does not suffer in the least–this is ten minutes of the most amazing groove ever found, and while there is a hint of something sinister, in all reality this is purely something for dancing and fucking–it was embedded with the spirit of the times and every second of it is brilliant. This means something, because I love short songs and somehow, all ten minutes of “Fool’s Gold” keeps me entranced, every time I play it.

So, that’s the first and most important album by The Stone Roses, it’s the album that set a thousand ships asail and like others of their ilk (The Velvet Underground, Big Star, Nick Drake, etal.) the remainder of their career was a nightmare of legal, label and otherwise bizarre happenings that impeded their complete dominance of a scene they created. It’s an amazingly crazy story actually, but it’s not one for me tell. It’s about why The Stone Roses next album would not be released for five years, why no one except the most fervent cared at that point, why The Stone Roses destroyed an entire studio by painting it in a Jackson Pollock collage as they had their singles and albums, how they faced constant court dates, how they found themselves in trial after trial–how they became rock stars and lost it all because the world wasn’t ready for that yet. It appears that now, the world is ready and they may finally be what  the world is waiting for…again…for the first time. That’s who the fuck The Stones Roses are and that’s why I will be at Coachella 2013. It is a beautiful artifact of when time didn’t seem to matter, when music was reinvented and when both groove and rock’n'roll were restored to music, when a sudden sense that living dangerously was okay for the first time in ages, The Stone Roses, in a sense, said the rest of my life was okay. The Stone Roses said, in a sense, though the innocence was lost, that all was alright, we shall begin to explore the poetry of life.