POLARITY #6: “It seems like there’s a hole in my dreams” ‘The Stone Roses’ Ranked

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These oranges will protect you from tear gas, maaaaaan!

Silvertone, 1989

Hello, ZME. It has been a while, hasn’t it? You’ll have to forgive me. I fell off the face of this benevolent cyber-planet due to some bizarre misconception that I had anything better to do. Fortunately, a complete and utter submersion into academic navel-gazing had recently gifted me with the epiphany that, contrary to the elevated sense of self with which coming of age in the 90’s injected me, I really don’t have anything better to do with my time than share my thoughts on music through a conduit of poorly placed language and run-on sentences. Also, because I’m definitely not getting any younger, let’s talk some Stone Roses.

“WHO ARE THE STONE ROSES FART DERP I’M 15 LOL” rang the twitternet no longer than twenty minutes after Coachella announced their lineup. When I saw that Blur and the Stone Roses were co-headlining the Friday night(s), I flipped out in both positive and negative ways. I reacted positively because Blur are quite possibly my favorite band of all time, and seeing them headline a cornerstone ‘Murrican music festival acted as validation in a sense (even if it’s only because the festival brass couldn’t convince Morrissey and Johnny Marr to bury whatever over-referenced hatchet still exists and do a perfunctory set as the Smiths). The combination of Blur and The Stone Roses is ingenious either way, so serious respect is due to whomever made it happen. Oh, and I reacted negatively because Coachella is really fucking expensive and I’m not rich in anything monetary or spiritual. Moving on, let’s discuss the Stone Roses and their album that changed the history of pop music and affected every single person reading this in ways they couldn’t fathom (or even care about).

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Ian’s onto you, and apparently Mani’s onto Ian. (Photo: The UK Daily Mirror)

Put in the simplest of terms (particularly if any of you are preparing for the SATs), The Stone Roses:Europe, Late 80’s :: Nirvana:North America, Early 90’s. Over the early 90’s, the jangly, dance-able influence of Ian, John, Mani, and Reni spread like they claimed that “love” does in that quintessentially “meh” comeback single they released in 1994. I would never claim that Britpop would have (or even should have) happened without an elaborate history of Bowie, T. Rex, Orange Juice, The Jam, and an infinitely deeper cast of weirdos, but The Stone Roses tied it all together in a handy quilt that totally got you high if you stared at it long enough, maaaaan. Blur, Oasis, Suede, blah, blerg, blurp, and boom would likely not have happened (or had a stratospheric effect that prompted invitations to Downing Street by the mid-90’s) had it not been for this one monumental record. I understand that as an American (especially one who didn’t even know the proper pronunciation of marijuana until Sublime had taken over the charts), I am in no better position to “understand” this impact than any white suburbanite who miraculously “sympathized” with the black struggle because Dre and Snoop were so cool in that video (it took me a very long time to appreciate “The Chronic”). But, as a music fan who likes to hear himself talk and see himself write, I am in a position to deconstruct this album in the style that any grad student seriously gets off on deconstructing anything.

Seriously, though, this record really is a marvel of musical production, the likes of which hadn’t been heard for over twenty years prior, and it accomplishes the Herculean task of making all four members seem like gods at their respective instruments. Even Ian Brown, whose live vocal shittiness is well documented, sounds on par with the greatest Anglo-pipesmen. Before we get to the countdown, a few notes: I’m not going to include “Fool’s Gold” because it was a non-album single that got tacked onto the CD release and is basically ten minutes of amazing percussion and jamming that doesn’t really feel like a pop song. Also, I’m listening to it as I write this sentence, and I can’t stop imagining Bez dancing around to it. Anyway, time to break down the most British album ever by the most British band ever (let that sink in). Here we go:

12. Don’t Stop (Track 5)
In his 33 ⅓ book on The Stone Roses, Alex Green makes a compelling argument that this track is almost universally misunderstood. Despite the track consistently polling last in rock fans’ lists of Stone Roses songs, it took a particularly innovative tack to the English guitar-pop song, reversing both John Squire’s lead and the group’s vocals in a trippy tape loop and throwing it back into the listener’s brain. I don’t disagree that it’s interesting, but I really don’t buy any argument that it isn’t the weakest track on the album. Group mentality isn’t always necessarily the gospel, but when it comes to albums that require a degree of listener investment, there has to be something wrong if it’s that universally maligned.

11. Elizabeth My Dear (Track 7)
I hate putting an under-one-minute transitional track in any position other than last, but I do enjoy the genuinely creepy, creepily genuine threat to Her Majesty. Producer John Leckie deserves serious credit for successfully stripping down such a grandiose sound and aesthetic to an echoed guitar, vocals, and random laser sound at 0:37.

10. Shoot You Down (Track 10)   
Alright, here is the point where I need to hit the “reset” button. “Don’t Stop” and “Elizabeth My Dear” are the only tracks on here, in my opinion, on which the band and Leckie did anything at all incorrect. So, going from 10 through 1 is going to be an exercise in objective fandom. This track, in particular, is the band at their most blissed out. John Squire makes love to that 12-string in ways that would make even Roger McGuinn’s head spin, Reni breaks out the brushes with style, Mani dials up the Britfunk with ease, and even Ian gets away with practically whispering some sweet nothings. At the end of the day, though, it’s just a smooth bridge between the wonders that are “Made of Stone” and “This is the One.”

9. I Wanna be Adored (Track 1)    
Despite how long it takes to get going, this is a surprisingly compelling opening track. I found it confusing listening to this album for the first time at fifteen, especially given a lazy Allmusic.com review that didn’t reflect on this song any deeper than the title. I’ve never listened to this song on a $2,000 sound system, but I’m sure that doing so would validate why such premium items deserve to exist while people still starve in the third world (see: people who say $200 meals deserve to exist).. Even on shitty $10 speakers, Mani’s opening bass drawl pulls you into the vortex of transport noises and other relics of gritty Manchester (seriously, Leckie is a goddamned wizard). So, if you listen to this on a premium juggernaut sound system, does it make you teleport there?

8. Waterfall (Track 4)    
It’s hard ranking the single most prototypical “Madchester” song ever recorded this low, but in being so, it also evokes the hippie-like zen of a raver gallavanting through your house in ecstacy when you really wish he would get to rocking out with you. In other words, it isn’t as phenomenal as it is enjoyable. To this song’s credit though, I simply cannot imagine this movement laying the tracks that it did without the psychedelic instrumental barrage across the final two minutes.

7. Bye Bye Badman (Track 6)  
“Salt me to my skin…” sings Ian Brown at the onset (in my mind); he actually sings “soak,” but either way it’s a great opening line. Just when the MAN thought no one could write a sympathetic, gorgeous, and surprisingly fun jingle in tribute to the 1968 French student riots, in came Brown n’ Squire. AND there were so all “whatever” about it that they turned the album’s cover art into a reference to those oft-forgotten events (outside of France, at least. Is Paris the Detroit/Los Angeles of Europe, rolled into one?).  The opening and verses are pure wistfulness, but tell me that the sped-up chorus and bridge don’t make you want to shuffle-dance around your kitchen.

6. Made of Stone (Track 9)    
One of Britpop’s greatest traditions is shining an excessive spotlight on the singer and guitarist. Damon and Graham. Liam and Noel. Brett and Bernard. And here, Ian and John. “Made of Stone” as much (if not more) than any song on this album gives Mani a much-deserved opportunity to shine. Normally, he provides the canvas for Squire’s eccentric multi-layered guitar freakouts, but here, his bassline commands attention, and it gets it more with each repeated listen. “Sometimes I, fantasize…”

5. Song for my Sugar Spun Sister (Track 8)  
This is a true gem. Loud/Quiet/Loud in a way that would have made the Pixies tremble, because it proves that the Stone Roses were masters of subtlety (or at least Leckie was, and the band had no problem obliging).

4. She Bangs the Drums (Track 2)    
The way the group cycles the kinetic energy through this one is just unbelievable. It’s particularly well-placed after the plodding introduction of “I Wanna Be Adored.” The listener’s interest is piqued, the metaphorical ball is set, and then the quartet spikes the ever-loving metaphorical shit out of it. It contains their second-best chorus, right behind [drumroll]…

3. I am the Resurrection (Track 12)  
If any British pop group has ever recorded a better, more arrogantly life-affirming chorus, I would love to hear it, and then I’d probably say that it isn’t as good as this one. Reni’s Northern-Soul thumping gets the crowd jumping, the buildup leaves them in near-painful anticipation, and then as soon as Brown starts yelling that he is “the Resurrection,” an entire generation is screaming along with him. Once they reach the apex, they repeat the chorus, then pull the listener’s plate out from underneath their devouring mouths. “No, you don’t get another go, but you do get an iconic instrumental freakout.” This was the song that their generation had to prove they had truly arrived; no wonder this is consistently voted the best Stone Roses song in NME polls and such. Because I wasn’t “there” when this album dropped, I still can’t get into the jammed-out three-minute finale, but the first half is so good, I’ll look past it. This was the “Layla” Clapton could have written if he’d been able to trade his white powder for white pills (or whatever color X usually is; someone get Bez on the line).

2. This is the One (Track 11)  
The first time I heard this song, it knocked me straight on my fifteen-year-old ass. That grandiose production: the way the kick drum echos and fills up every corner of the room. The way the vocals are lathered on beyond belief. I grew up holding fast to this being the most impressive and best overall Stone Roses song, but ranking this record is nearly impossible. I had never heard anything quite this “big” before, and to a degree, I still haven’t. It brings a tidal wave of sheer volume that bands like Muse have spent (and made) their careers trying to equal. I’ve heard people bash on this song, and I never really understand their reasoning. There are few better demonstrations on why this may be the best-produced rock album of the past forty years.

1. Elephant Stone (Track 3)
At the risk of sounding like a comment string under a Youtube video of this song, I really don’t understand why Reni isn’t all over “greatest drummer ever” lists. Actually, he is, but not enough baby boomers have died for Moon and Bonham to slide down and vacate the top for Alan and his bucket hat. It’s probably because these lists haven’t catered to the 40ish college rock demographic (at least, not yet). Now that I think about it, that’s the same reason that John Squire isn’t all over “best guitarist ever” lists. Anyway, Reni holds it down here like a ten-ton anchor from the moment he enters, answering Squire’s squalling entrance. The quartet buoys the terrific energy from “She Bangs the Drums” into a concise, three-minute earthquake and manifesto of a pop song. It’s the tightest song they ever recorded, the most “Stone Roses,” and the best.

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