The Stone Roses
The Stone Roses (1989)
Silvertone

In the 1980s, Manchester must have been a cold, gray place ― a Thatcherite metropolis that birthed such cheery artists as Joy Division and The Smiths. But by the second half of the decade, things began to change. Fueled by local talent, electronic music and, most importantly, the ecstasy tablet, the once dreary city saw the rise of acid house and rave culture. There’s no question that this melting pot of drugs and DJs pushed the city’s rock scene in new directions. The single greatest statement of this era’s Mancunian rock, however, came from a relatively traditionalist four-piece with a penchant for Jackson Pollock and Beatles haircuts ― The Stone Roses.

It’s still hard to believe the band’s 1989 eponymous full-length was also their debut. Practically everything about The Stone Roses is so perfectly crafted that it sounds as if they’ve been building it up for years. John Squire might’ve started out playing punk, but his guitar work here sounds more 1963 than 1977. His partner in crime, vocalist Ian Brown, crafts vivacious pop songs and satanic poetry in equal measure. Behind them, bassist Mani and drummer Reni make up the greatest rhythm section in the history of British indie rock. The pulsating undercurrent they added to Brown and Squire’s rock’n’roll marks the completion of the band’s signature sound. On this album, it made for an air-tight collection of some of the best guitar-pop tracks of the post-punk era.

But The Stone Roses weren’t just technically great — they were iconic. Their reputation rests not only on the appeal of their sound, but on the mystique and legend they consciously built on top of it as they went along. Brown didn’t just “want to be adored,” as the self-aggrandizing opener states — he damn well expected it. And when faced with the throbbing beats and kaleidoscope guitars of the first 30 minutes, who’s to argue? “She Bangs the Drums” may have made it as a bonus track on “Guitar Hero III,” but any number of songs would’ve been equally suitable.

Take, for instance, “Waterfall” and “Made of Stone.” The first is a chiming mid-tempo number over which Brown paints a romanticist landscape of “steeple pine / (and) hills as old as time.” Squire not only lays down a breezy solo, but adorns the whole track with a drone that subtly references their debt to the nightclub dance floor. On the latter, Brown’s lyrics take a more sinister turn, describing a car crash with devilish glee. Together with the anthemic chorus and another soaring guitar solo, it is a standout track on The Stone Roses.

One of the major differences between The Stone Roses and their indie peers is that they unabashedly embraced rock stardom in general and the ‘60s in particular. The Clash and other sneering revolutionaries of the punk revolution might have called for the public execution of The Beatles’s legacy, but the Roses were steeped in it. Squire’s guitar sound takes a page not just from George Harrison, but from The Byrds and Simon and Garfunkel as well. Brown’s lyrics aren’t far behind either. On “Bye Bye Bad Man,” behind a deceptively mellow instrumental track, Brown celebrates throwing stones at the police during the ’68 student protests. With “Elizabeth My Dear,” he takes it a step further and calls for stoning the queen.

The bulk of The Stone Roses’s legacy rests on this appeal: An indie band, maturing amid the same scene that produced Tony Wilson and Morrissey, but at the same time, unapologetically shooting for the top of the charts. For a testament to their influence, look no further than Britpop and the meteoric rise of self-conscious bands like Blur and Oasis — none of it would’ve been possible without the success of The Stone Roses. And in turn, The Stone Roses would never have achieved success if its first album hadn’t been such a thorough masterpiece. From the megalomaniacal chant of “I Wanna Be Adored,” to the earth-shattering coda at the end of “I Am the Resurrection,” The Stone Roses synthesized the past, embodied its time and promised a glorious future. A generation of British indie kids would never be the same.

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