Well, what's five years to a Donald Fagen or Blue Nile fan? (Or a Billy Edd Wheeler fan?!). Of course "Second Coming" would be greeted with nowt else but a sense of anticlimax and a barrage of cheap puns regarding its title, that was to be expected, but the credits suggest it was a difficult, as well as a long, haul, littered with "initial recording by" and "partly recorded by", testament to the various producers who gave up and went off to work on the new Ride album instead. And the songwriting credits are revealing too: written almost entirely by John Squire, less one group effort, one by the more familiar Squire/Brown partnership (up there with Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richard for those of us born at the right time!) and one by Ian Brown alone. Looks like some rum things have been going on in the Roses camp.
But what's it like? I'd venture a cautious 'superb': it's a grower, definitely (but so was "The Stone Roses", if your memory stretches back sufficiently to when you first heard it!), and it's about four tracks too long to be a truly classic work, but a let down it ain't.
The eleven minute opener, "Breaking Into Heaven", summarises the new sound, after four minutes hanging about admiring the rainforest: a huge, dirty, sprawling guitar, Ian Brown hollering through a severe cold somewhere in the background, and the much discussed Led Zeppelin influence (well, more "Led Zeppelin II" influence) all over the place, but successfully absorbed into
the band's style circa "One Love", rather than subsumed by it (Ride and Primal Scream take note - this is how you should've done it!). Other highlights include "Ten Storey Love Song", gorgeous dreamy pop a la "Sugar Spun Sister"; "Begging You", which is Husker Du play the Jeff Mills songbook (or Jeff Mills plays the Husker Du songbook, I suppose), and thus joins "Screamadelica" and the Underworld album at the pinnacle of seamless indie/dance fusion. "Tightrope" starts off as a drunken campfire singalong but soon improves, and the genuinely heartbreaking "Tears" showcases John Squire's now-even-better guitar playing as Ian despairs at casting "a shorter shadow with every passing day". And then there's "Love Spreads" - yes, it does sound like "Voodoo Chile" (but not as much as Ride's "I Don't Know Where It Comes From" sounds like "You Can't Always Get What You Want"...or as much as Primal Scream's "Movin' On Up" sounds like "Sympathy For The Devil", come to think of it) (but nothing like Captain Beefheart's "Clear Spot". despite what that bloke from Therapy? seems to think) but "Voodoo Chile" doesn't have lyrics about Jesus being a black woman (allegedly)...and it's another perfect demonstration of the new Stone Roses sound, halfway between the dust bowl and the Arndale Centre.
It's not all top quality killer cutting edge rock 'n' roll thrills though: "Daybreak" and "Good Times" sound like someone left the tape running during a soundcheck, to slightly endearing and infuriating effect respectively. "Your Star Will Shine" is cod Eastern mysticism, entirely without mystery until the chilling final line pay-off. "Straight To The Man", Brown's sole solo writing credit, is terrible (and would remain so even without the wobbleboard soloing) and should never have been allowed near the finished product. And there's nothing here that will singlehandedly revolutionise yoof culcha in the same way that "Fools Gold" did.
It's not a problem, though. "Second Coming" is the product of an older, more confused, less idealistic and fuzzier Stone Roses, but it still makes for a, by turns, thrilling, annoying, uplifting and frightening listening experience, and in these tune-starved days what more could you ask?
THE STONE ROSES The Stone Roses (Silvertone)
Notoriously exploited every which way by the Silvertone label during the band’s mostly inactive lifespan, there seems to have been surprisingly little media outrage at the 20th anniversary reissue/repackage/repackage of this seminal debut in a bewildering variety of formats. I’ve certainly got little cause for complaint with the freshly-minted vinyl edition: the bonus 7” and limited edition numbered sleeve are inessential, but the album itself sounds better than I ever remember it doing.
Does it seem two decades old? Not for a second. Jangly guitars, Beatles, Byrds and Stones influences and oodles of attitude never really date, do they? It’s like one continuous 50-minute pulsing surge of confidence and cool, coursing with forward momentum. This, remember, was a debut album that opened on a track called “I Wanna Be Adored” and closed with “I Am The Resurrection”.
Looked at objectively, maybe “The Stone Roses” has its flaws. Sequencing the similarly-paced “Waterfall”, “Don’t Stop” and “Bye Bye Badman” together might’ve sunk a weaker album, especially the disorientating backwards rush of “Don’t Stop”, the closest the album gets to sounding like it’s aimlessly filling time. Yet even that breaks out in a moment of sunshiny epiphany. The anti-monarchy sliver of “Elizabeth My Dear” channels the spirit, if not the sentiments, of Simon & Garfunkel, and “(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister” is possibly the album at its most lysergically dappled, managing to hold down its centre whilst sounding seemingly amorphous. “Made Of Stone” is perhaps the closest the album gets to evoking the ghosts of its raincoat-clad Mancunian forebears Joy Division; “Shoot You Down” is almost jazzily offhand, soaked in self-belief, and the invincible dynamics of “This Is The One” smack your face around even as it builds to a choral crescendo.
In showbiz tradition, though, “The Stone Roses” saves the best for last. “I Am The Resurrection” is an ecstatic culmination of the album’s 60s reverence, uncanny knack for sounding eternally now and swaggering pride. And then, barely believably, in kicks surely one of the most awesome instrumental sections of the last, ooh, 30 years, at least. I remember a review in Punch dismissing them as “Led Zep in prep school outfits”, an example of fairly spectacularly overshooting the point. Really, ”The Stone Roses” is the sound of lightning bottled, and we shall never hear its like again. If you have any interest in rock music and you’ve somehow escaped owning this album, now would be an excellent opportunity to rectify that lack.
Given Silvertone’s history of rapacious avarice it’s a surprise to discover that anything releasable could remain unreleased until now, but on a one-sided white-label 7” packaged with the album here’s “Pearl Bastard”. Underdeveloped, and clearly only of demo standard, it probably wouldn’t’ve passed muster as a b-side 20 years ago, but thanks all the same.