Last week, the Stone Roses released their first song in 21 years.
To be honest, it’s not that good. It’s a palatable Britpop song with no emotional depth, memorable hooks, or lasting effect. I know definitive music opinions should be taken with a cement truck full of salt, but really, at best “All For One” is meh. It’s about as far from the revolutionary, mind-blowing, makes-you-want-to-dance-and-take-drugs sound from The Stone Roses as you can get. It’s not even close to the grittier sound of Second Coming. It sounds like a trite late-period Oasis pastiche.
The lyrics are not great.
All for one, one for all
If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall
Inside of me, for I to see
In harmony, all designed to be
Yeah, that’s pretty far from the oblique references to the French student revolt of 1968 and the poetic ramblings on the role of religion in society from the Stone Roses’ debut album from 1989. The cover has a classic lemon throwback, but it feels like a cheap marketing ploy to bring back all the old fans. As if we needed that. I also saw that they had bought a sponsored Twitter ad to promote the song. Right now, it seems like the Stone Roses are just another band of old geezers trying to make a comeback for a cash grab. The band officially dissolved in acrimony in 1996. Trying to act if the Stone Roses are relevant with output like “All For One” makes me sound dumb.
The Stone Roses released one of the greatest rock records of all time. I consider this to be a concrete fact. That opinion is not shared in the United States, in which they are a semi-obscure early 1990s alternative act. Rolling Stone placed The Stone Roses, the band’s eponymous debut album, at #497 out of 500 albums in 2012, and didn’t even include it in their original list. That’s hilarious. This is the album that British music magazine NME considered the greatest British album of all time. Yes, better than Revolver. Better than Exile on Main Street. I’m not even sure if I agree with that, but it just goes to show the massive reputation of the Stone Roses across the pond. Also, just remember, never go to Rolling Stone for music opinions unless you really like 1960s rock.
The Stone Roses were at the forefront of the “Madchester” movement of the late 1990s, a fusion of classic British rock, post-punk, funk, dance music and a lot of psychedelic drugs. None of these bands made it that big in America, but in terms of quality and critical acclaim, the Stone Roses are at the pinnacle, almost entirely due to the brilliance of their debut album. Are they overrated? Yes, slightly, but they’re still absolutely fantastic.
It’s hard to beat the first three songs on The Stone Roses in terms of quality. It is hard to find any record with three introductory songs that are better than “I Wanna be Adored”, “She Bangs the Drums” and “Waterfall”. “I Wanna be Adored” is an instant classic and just a masterpiece of sound and guitar/bass hooks. “She Bangs the Drums” is pure joy. “Waterfall” is also great. I think the album drops off a bit with “Don’t Stop”, but “Bye Bye Bad Man” is a treat and the most underrated song on the album. Then there’s two filler track, the relatively average “(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister” (really wish “Going Down” or “Elephant Stone” was here sometimes).
If the album ended here, it wouldn’t be that great, but it then transitions to more classics. “Made of Stone” and “I Am the Resurrection” are again, complete masterpieces of guitar playing. The bass line in “I Am the Resurrection” is superb. The second half of the song has no lyrics, but the instrumental jam out the band has is just legendary, blending together funk and crazy guitar solos. Finally, the 1991 re-release of the album comes with “Fools Gold”, a dance/funk track that sounds like a hip-hop beat. Actually, RUN D.M.C. used it as a beat for one of their songs. The Stone Roses were everywhere in the early 1990s.
Just listen to it. If you don’t like rock, you’ll probably find it boring, but any fan of the current indie rock scene and even pop music will find it accessible and moving. Pop fans should head directly to “She Bangs the Drums”, which is really just a pop track, and indie fans should head directly to “I Am the Resurrection”. The Stone Roses inspired a whole generation of 1990s British rock music. The basis for Oasis, Blur, Pulp, James etc. can all be found in this album.
That being said, I have no idea why The Stone Roses are making a comeback. Second Coming, the band’s hyped-up second album (at the time), is a mess that I both enjoy and do not understand (“Love Spreads” is still amazing). The band fell apart in the mid-90s and was replaced by a whole new generation of British indie rock. In fact, there’s a famous story in which the band was scheduled to play at Glastonbury in 1995 but couldn’t due to internal turmoil, thus allowing Jarvis Cocker and Pulp to perform a legendary rendition of “Common People” to the crowd. That was one of the quintessential Britpop moments of the 1990s, but it occurred as The Stone Roses were being phased out.
There are plenty of current bands that have fused classic jangly rock with dance music. Jagwar Ma, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tame Impala…they’ve taken the base philosophy of The Stone Roses and run with it. I can’t listen to Innerspeaker without thinking about “Fools Gold” and “I am the Resurrection”. Howlin’ by Jagwar Ma might as well be a Stone Roses sequel album. The Stone Roses’ ideas, music and guitar playing spread, but the band itself disappeared. That was the narrative, and it was the truth for 21 years.
And then last week, The Stone Roses released another song. They will probably go on tour again with new music, delighting fans by playing the oldies while annoying them with their new work. Everyone will reminisce about the old times. There will be tons of nostalgia and memory pieces. But as someone who was not alive for The Stone Roses, I find the idea of a comeback to be disconcerting. I’m not sure I want to see the older version of the Stone Roses, some of whom were not even in the original band. In my mind, they exist as a band of young political ideologues making incredible music. There is nothing “old” about The Stone Roses. The songs are about student political movements, the experience being young and living a fulfilling youth. That is really what makes it so great. “She Bangs the Drums” being sung by a bunch of 50-60 year-olds just doesn’t seem right.
I don’t begrudge the band for making a comeback. In purely business terms, I’m sure it will be a hit. And if the new songs they are cooking up turn out to be good, than all the better. I’m sure Ian Brown and Co. have been dying to start producing new music again, and I give them credit for that. I realize they will never recapture the past. Trying to recapture the past is both uninteresting and impossible. But on a strictly personal level, this comeback makes little sense to me.
I recently asked my dad, a go-to source of information about 1980s alternative rock bands, about whether I should go to watch a New Order concert, another reunited British band with different members that continues to release music today. I thought their new album Music Complete was quite good, and I asked if I should go try to see them in concert before they (eventually) stop touring.
“Don’t go see New Order live. I saw New Order live once and it was the most boring show I’ve ever been to. They just sit by their synthesizers and don’t engage with the crowd. It probably won’t be better now that they’re old.”
Then my dad suggested I go see Courtney Barnett again, or something more energetic. I think I’ll have to take that advice for The Stone Roses as well. While they won’t be playing synthesizers the whole time, they certainly won’t have the energy of the past that made them sound special.
However, even though the comeback might not require your attention, everyone should still be giving The Stone Roses the respect they deserve. They were that good, even if their time has now passed.