“The past was yours”
There’s few albums that have had as much impact on my life than The Stone Roses eponymous debut. When I was in school, I can remember a couple of the lads talking in hushed tones about this band. I’d been on a steady diet of the Beatles, Pearl Jam, Guns n Roses whilst at the same time I was getting into the Prodigy, Altern 8 & some of the rave music that was coming out. In my group of mates, you generally had to be one or the other. You had the “rockers” & the “ravers”. They both had an inherent mistrust of each other & each side tried to outdo each other in terms of coolness. Rock music had that energy, emotion & lyrics. Fans would say it was more “real” than music produced on synthesisers. I always wondered why it wasn’t possible to be both. Enter the Roses.
I got a tape of the first record & copied it onto my own 90 minute TDK tape. I used to take joy in neatly writing down each track name. I’ve got to be honest the first time I clicked play on the tape deck, I wasn’t that impressed. As a kid, if a song didn’t have an immediate melody I didn’t get it. The Roses tunes had a bit more layers than the music I was into. I do remember thinking it was interesting though so I gave it the Walkman test. Listening to it in my headphones, I started to appreciate the different textures & colours in the sound. Thanks to Bros, I never really connected with “I wanna be adored” lyrically. Still, that intro to a record has to be one of the greatest ever. The bassline slowly creeping into the song. Genius. Interestingly, most DJ sets will start with an ambient synth sound to ease into a set. If you click play on the first Roses lp, it could well be the start to a classic Sasha mix. In fact, the beginning of the renaissance collection isn’t 100,000,000 miles away sonically.
“She bangs the drums” has a lyrical hook that’s as much about the arrogance of youth as it is a love song. I see it as summing up the optimism of that period in time when psychedelic influenced jangly guitar music met percussive driven synth music. “The past was yours but the future’s mine, your all out of time” could be describing the naive optimism felt after doing your first E. You know the feeling will only last for a short period of time. “Through the early morning sun, I can see her, here she comes…she bangs the drums”. I always feel the euphoric rush of youth when I hear this. Maybe it’s just me! The glue that holds the Roses together is without doubt Reni. The drums on this track are so fluid, so unique, they just bubble under the surface of the track. Credit has to go to Leckie too, seeing this track live in the Phoenix Park in 2012 just brought it home to me how the Roses could never really replicate the sound live. It’s too ethereal, too electronic. Dance music’s rhythms are usually made on sequencers or computers. Both are more accurate than live drumming. Not better, just more accurate, different. Reni’s the closest I’ve heard to a living, breathing, sequencer. Except with all the emotion & rhythm of a human. Leckie managed to help Reni cross a bridge between between the rock drummer & the sequencer that nobody’s been across before or since. Musically, he’s my favourite member of the Roses. Listen to Rattle & Hum & then Acthung baby. Which record do you think Larry Mullen had in his Walkman?
When you go to a live gig, what makes it work? In the electronic music scene, it’s not artists/bands/producers that play but DJ’s. Their skill was to physically match the tempo of two records playing at different speeds. Not many artists tried to replicate the sound of sequencing electronic beats live as it was quite difficult & uninteresting to look at on stage. The Roses sound is in some ways electronic. Not in the sequencing of beats but in the length of some of their tracks. Lots of electronic music tracks can be upwards of 7/8 minutes long, listen to some of the Roses tracks like “Resurrection”, “fools gold” & “one love” & they’re all quite long. Of course there was rock bands doing long tracks beforehand – especially prog rock in the 70s. Jazz & classical music have had long tracks since their inception. However, the Roses had long periods of their music with largely percussive segments in between the normal verse, bridge, chorus of a rock song. Again, it blurred the lines between rock & electronic music like never before and, to these ears, never again. DJ’s used to play Roses tracks in their sets. “Elephant Stone” was released as a single but also had a 12″ remix with it. Nearly all electronic music comes with a remix & the Roses tapped into this. The difference between the two versions is a wonderful intro by Reni on the 12″ mix. Easy for DJ’s to use and it really opens the track up & let’s it breathe.
However, it was this blending of the two genre’s that made them an inconsistent live entity. The Roses had a very mixed history when it came to live shows. Spike Island was dogged by sound issues, their reading shows after second coming were shambolic. Even their coming of age shows, like the Empress Ballroom, had sound issues. Browns vocals are widely documented as being poor. I think this is because the first record is so well produced, so perfect, it has the rhythm of a cleanly sequenced beat mixed with all the flair & energy of a band. However, creating these beats live is nigh on impossible & to achieve the balance they created in the studio live just can’t be done. When they played the Phoenix Park in Dublin, the sound was awful,which has been the case numerous times at this venue. It wasn’t just MCD’s dodgy soundsystem or the ropey acoustics in the park though. The Roses looked like their balance had deserted them. Squire was doing his bluesy solo’s, Brown was doing his frontman thing, Mani & Reni were trying to tie the whole thing together.
But it just sounded like they were being pulled in so many different directions & the loose, shuffly feel to the first record was lost in the live performance. Like a like of the post rock music that followed, the Roses also possess the innate ability to fleet between loud & quiet seamlessly. One of my favourite tracks of theirs is “standing there”. It begins all heavy guitar solo & ends with Ian Brown singing “I should be safe forever in your arms” over some mellow chiming guitars. I was excited to hear this live &, again, it didn’t stand up to the live treatment. Maybe, like most of the post rock that was to follow, it would sound better in smaller venues.
Electronic music is inextricably linked to technology. It thrives on new developments to keep it sounding fresh. Like Science fiction movies, this is why it becomes dated quickly. The Roses backwards songs (“Guernica”, “Don’t Stop”) were innovative when they first came out, creating a song by playing the instrumental track backwards. One amazing thing on the 2012 show is how they did “don’t stop” live. He sang the song backwards live- how did he do it? It was great to hear them still pushing music forwards in 2012.
“Waterfall” went down a stormer at the gig. I must be honest I never emotionally connected with this song as much as the others. Beautiful as it is. Going back to my earlier question though “what makes a live gig work?” Well, surely enhancing the sound of a particular track has to be the aim. “Waterfall” sounded as good if not better live than on the record. It sounded fuller & more fleshed out & took on more of a rock singalong vibe to it than on the LP.
Brown introduced “Elizabeth my dear” in the live show as A different track! What a lovely acoustic track to mix up a record & live show though. It’s so beautifully random, summed up by the cough near the end of the track. Brown bigged up the anti monarchy sentiment of the track to baying whoops from the crowd. This was always going to go down a treat in Ireland. I found “Made of Stone” to be similar to “Waterfall” live. It’s turned into this singalong pop song which worked well. “Shoot you down” is complex song structurally with all the stops & starts & layering of lead & rhythm guitar. Large parts of the song rely on Brown’s vocal &, to these ears, it just doesn’t work well live. No surprise really that “This is the one” gets played at Old Trafford before kick off to this day. It builds into a crescendo of noise, guitar & loud singing that matches tend to when a team scores. Lyrically it also taps into the communal feeling too, of getting rushed away with the crowd when they burst into song. This was probably the best track live. The crowd, similarly to a football match, sang every note & word simultaneously.
“Resurrection” is the best example of the band having a krautrock style electric jam after the conventional song structure is finished. The choruses worked great live but, as above, the thumping rhythm wig out didn’t quite live up to the 1989 recording. “Fools Gold” & “One love” are the closest the edges of guitar & synthised music ever got for me. Both released after the debut LP, it seemed they would continue on the magical path they had begun treading. “Fools Gold” in particular is still included in a lot of house music DJ sets. Pop music fans love it too, it breaks down all the barriers. It’s impossibly funky for a guitar band. Needless to say, this track didn’t work live. I never thought it would. It’s too complex sonically & too rhythmical. Genius track, one of their best.
The first album, if I had a gun put to my head, would be my pick for best record ever. It genre hops with complete ease between the styles that I love & grew up with. Or maybe that’s the point with records that you loved as a kid. They’re untouchable in your head. A word of advice though, don’t rely on a live performance of those records to live up to what’s in your memories. It can’t.