The Stone Roses
20th Anniversary Edition
- Buy the CD
Reviewed by David Medsker
The album’s beauty is in the variety of songwriting styles while possessing a uniformity of sound. "She Bangs the Drums" is pure jangle-pop bliss, while "Shoot You Down" owes a small debt to the Moody Blues. (A recent playing of "Minstrel’s Song" was eye-opening.) The ominous but ringing "I Wanna Be Adored" is brilliant in its simplicity (the lyrics contain roughly 15 words), and "I Am the Resurrection" – quite possibly the greatest song ever recorded – is one part pogo-beat rave-up and one part Deep Purple freak-out. What ties them all together is the drumming of Alan "Reni" Wren, a Keith Moon-style basher with a sixth sense for groove.
The other major takeaway from The Stone Roses, for better and for worse, is the breathy vocal performance by singer Ian Brown. He wasn’t the first to do it, of course (Daniel Ash, to name but one, came before him), but Brown certainly became breathy’s poster boy. Perhaps moving Brown down in the mix was a matter of necessity (more on that later), but the ripple effect that his vocals had within the Manchester scene was arguably the worst thing that ever came from this album. Even good singers, like Tim Burgess of the Charlatans, hid their true talents in order to do the breathy thing.
Don’t throw out your original copy of the album in favor of this set just yet, either. Disc One is modeled after the initial UK pressing of the album, which means no "Elephant Stone," which was released before the album. (The 12" mix of the song, however, makes an appearance on Disc Two in the Collector’s Edition of the album.) Curiously, "Fools Gold" does appear as a bonus track. Was "Elephant Stone" excised because it’s the only track not produced by John Leckie, who returned to do the (marvelous) remastering job? Who knows, but if you want the single mix of "Elephant Stone," you'll need to keep your original copy.
Disc Two, subtitled "The Extras," is one of the best bonus discs we’ve seen in ages. It includes all of the non-album singles from the era and their B-sides, including their backwards experiments ("Full Fathom Five" is "Elephant Stone" backwards, "Guernica" is "Made of Stone" backwards, etc.). Several of these songs failed to make the album for a reason, but everything here lands somewhere between good ("The Hardest Thing") and revelatory ("Fools Gold"). If you pony up for the edition with the CD of demos, prepare to hear, well, a bunch of poorly recorded demos. Several songs came to the studio intact, while others were massaged a bit.
Lastly there is the DVD portion of the program, which consists of the band’s music videos plus the now-legendary performance at Blackpool in late 1989. It’s one of those shows where only a few thousand people could have fit into the venue, but 50,000 now swear they were there. You can see why this show was a big deal: Reni puts on a clinic behind the drums, but Brown could have used a bucket – or perhaps a trough – on stage to help him carry a tune. Seriously, the band was great, but Brown’s vocals were awful, which might explain why he wound up so far down in the mix in the first place. And who’s that guy dancing backstage, Bez from Happy Mondays? The music videos are hilarious to watch now, because the band clearly hated making them. Footage from the Blackpool show appears in three videos, while two other clips ("I Wanna Be Adored" and "Fools Gold") were shot at the same time and incorporate much of the same footage. And what was Mani thinking when he wore that ponytail in the video for "One Love"? Stone Roses don’t wear ponytails – they’re too cool for that.
We’ve seen some nonessential reissues of late (ahem, Radiohead), but Legacy’s reissue of The Stone Roses delivers the goods, covering every possible angle that a fan could possibly ask for. It sounds great, they left no B-side behind, and threw in a video to the band’s best live performance to boot. If we’re lucky, this collection will launch another thousand ships.