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Listening

The Stone Roses, Second Coming

‘It sounds like tree frogs.’ ‘It sucks.’ ‘Did Ian Brown just spend the last five years making field recordings?’ ‘It sounds like they’ve been recording in a rainforest.’

That was me and my friends and our general mumblings about the then-new Stone Roses album. We, along with everyone else in the world, had waited five long years for a new Stone Roses release. And here it was, with a title befitting what was probably the most anticipated second album from anyone, ever. At least in our lifetimes.

The Stone Roses were the greatest band on the planet. Their self-titled first album was an instant classic, a riveting collection of top-notch tunes with loads and loads of attitude. It defined an era of music: It was the Manchester sound. Hundreds of British bands of varying success based their sound entirely on the music of the Roses. Every lead singer wanted to be Ian Brown, but none could pull it off convincingly – even Liam Gallagher. Every guitarist wanted to be John Squire, but none had the technique – even Noel Gallagher. The public bought it all up, hungry for the return of the fabled Roses, for with that first album the Roses set a high-water mark that none of their successors could match. And, it would turn out, one that not even the Roses themselves could touch.

The years following the first album were full of rumors. We discussed all new developments with the enthusiasm, interest, and hope that can only come from genuine devotees, a gossip fence gathered around by legions of NME-reading obsessives around the world.

‘I heard something about heroin.’ ‘Or drinking, right?’ ‘Maybe.’ ‘They’re in a legal battle with their label.’ ‘Silvertone?’ ‘Maybe. Or did they sign with somebody else?’ ‘Maybe that’s why.’ ‘They poured paint in the Silvertone office file cabinets.’ ‘No, that was their old manager.’ ‘Was it?’ ‘I heard they broke up.’ ‘No!’ ‘I heard they’re supposed to sound like Led Zeppelin now.’ ‘No!’

A single, ‘Love Spreads,’ was released. Yes, it sounded like Led Zeppelin. It was, at the time, agreed as being ‘okay.’ Second Coming was finally released on 10 December 1994. And it sucked.

And this was fairly well-agreed upon by all. It was weak. It had holes. The first song, ‘Breaking Into Heaven,’ had great moments, but it also had an interminable ambient intro sequence: Cue the tree frogs. After five years, please, please, please just kick in with the bass line. ‘Driving South’ doubly confirmed the Led Zeppelin thing, and was a little dopey on top of that. ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ was gorgeous, but maybe too much so. ‘Daybreak’ was funky, with a truly great guitar line, and a lot of other good parts. Things were picking up. ‘Your Star Will Shine’ showed a new side of the band, and hearkened back to better days with the backwards guitar and obscure, caustic lyrics. It’s getting better. Then: ‘Straight to the Man’ was too funky, and prominently featured a mouth harp. Ack. ‘Begging You,’ however, seethed out as a surprise: a techno-based, hard-floor dance number with vocal effects and distorted guitar lines that was truly brilliant. ‘Tightrope’ was forgettable. ‘Good Times’ were hardly that. ‘Tears’ was a shot at ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ ‘How Do You Sleep’ sounded like Jimmy Buffett. Uh-oh. ‘Love Spreads,’ which we’d already heard, closed the album and, essentially, the book on the Stone Roses.

The wait, the recording (an album was supposedly recorded before Second Coming, but was aborted at the last minute), the stress, the pressure: The wilderness years destroyed the Stone Roses. Drummer Reni left. Lifelong friends Brown and Squire were no longer on speaking terms. Squire quit the band, or was replaced. More rumors abounded. Bassist Mani quit. The dissolution was assured after that.

Years later, rediscovering this album, it’s plainly obvious that Second Coming is, in fact, truly great work. It’s lovely to hear: the hooks spotless, the lyrics provocative, the sound actually ageless. It’s a more accomplished album than many bands are ever capable of. It’s great. ‘Begging You’ is astounding. The intro to ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ is, well, it’s really extraordinary and it sets a lush mood. But, then – at the time – none of it was enough for us. Nothing, no matter how good it was, could have met our challenge. The Stone Roses were the greatest band in the world. And with their second album they were knee-deep in the insurmountable challenge of reinventing the face of music all over again.

In the end, it came down to them either just recording an album and putting it out, or worrying about what all of us thought of them for the way they did it. We loved them because they were the band that didn’t care what anyone thought, that wasn’t ruled by public opinion. But when what we thought came second (or later) to what they wanted to do, we were angry. They didn’t put out the kind of album we wanted from them! How could they! Only now can we realize that maybe we took the true lesson of the Stone Roses to heart. And it took their sacrifice to make any of us realize that, whatever the cost, you only have yourself to answer to, despite your own fears, your friends’ pressures, or the world’s chatter.

biopic

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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