Released in 1989, The Stone Roses debut was not actually that much of an immediate success; the album peaked at number 19 in the UK album charts and at number 86 in the US Billboard top 200. Where this album gains its stature is from its longevity, and from countless bands the album went on to inspire. To my mind, there are only a handful of records that have matured as well as ‘The Stone Roses’ has. I’m not alone in thinking this; many critics hold it highly in their estimations too, with the album now often being considered one of the best debuts of the last 30 years.
Despite it often being said, the band did not burst out of nowhere in 1989 and were, in fact, well practiced by they came to record the album. They had already been together for six years and had a few singles (including 1988’s ‘Elephant Stone’ and 1987’s ‘Sally Cinnamon’) already under their belt. The album was largely recorded in London and was produced by the former Pink Floyd producer, John Leckie.
The album, along with the band themselves, is as important culturally as it is musically. It arrived at the height of the ‘Madchester’ scene and the gigs the band did to promote the album solidified the band’s position as one of the scene’s key acts, along with contemporaries, Happy Mondays. As the cultural movement that surrounded the band gained more momentum The Stone Roses were invited to perform on Top of the Pops in late 1989, which gained them more exposure and contributed to earning them nation-wide success. By 1990 they were a force to be reckoned with and their success of the previous year culminated in a now legendary gig on Spike Island, which was attended by 27,000 people. Many people consider the gig to be the peak of both the ‘Madchester’ scene and of The Stone Roses’ success; the band would go on to release another album, ‘Second Coming’, but it would not prove to be as successful as their debut.
Musically, ‘The Stone Roses’ achieves a lot in the sense that it brought a fresh sound onto the landscape. What it does most successfully is fuse dance and rock music into a brand new and infectious sound. The sound is largely held up by its rhythm section, with Mani and Reni laying down bass line grooves and percussive sounds that give the album it’s up beat feeling; the intro to track two, ‘She Bangs the Drums’ along with track 11, ‘I am the Resurrection’ showcases the drive that the rhythm section gives to the album brilliantly. John Squire’s guitar is also a key component of the sound on the album and adds a layer of psychedelic inspired melodies to the dance grooves laid down by the aforementioned rhythm section. Specifically, track three, ‘Waterfall’ and track 10, ‘This is the one’ to my ears, feature guitar that could have come straight out of 1968.
The stand out sound on the record, however, is Ian Brown’s vocal. Much in the same way that Oasis’ ‘Morning Glory’ wouldn’t have sounded the way it did without Liam Gallagher’s voice, I feel this album is propelled forward by the sound of Brown’s voice. The album’s opener, ‘I wanna be adored’ features a groaning and drifting vocal that floats between the lines of the track. For me the track sums up everything The Stone Roses were and it’s Brown’s intoxicating vocal that does it. I don’t consider Brown to be a fantastic singer, far from it in fact, but I do consider his voice to suit the sound of the band and specifically this record incredibly well.
Lyrically the album stands up well against its contemporaries as well as in the modern landscape, which is no small fear for a record that is now over 30 years old. The lyrical themes are mainly floating around the topics of interest to the youth at the time as well as know. It showcases a similar kind of teenage angst to the one the Sex Pistols were shouting about ten years previous, but does it in a more poetic and subtle way. Track 6, ‘Elizabeth My Dear’ is almost revolutionary in its lyric, aimed at the royal family: “It’s curtains for you Elizebeth my dear” sings Brown, not shying away from expressing his opinion. Similarly, ‘She Bangs the Drums’ features the line: “The past is yours but the futures mine” which shows Brown’s own optimism regarding the future and seems to showcase him suggesting that the youthful audience adopt the same attitude. Lines like these go a long way in setting the thyme of the album to be one of youthful enjoyment. The lyrics are almost instructing the listener to embrace the good things in life and to go forward with open eyes. Lyrics like these will always resonate with whoever listens, whether it be in 1989 or 2089.
Overall I think that, despite the band that made it not lasting long after its release, ‘The Stone Roses’ has lasted longer than could ever have been imagined at the time. Its upbeat grooves, along with Brown’s poetic lyricism, make this album one to last the ages. Many bands have been driven to pick up instruments by ‘The Stone Roses’ and many more are likely to to do the same. To my mind, they are the benchmark in feel-good rock-pop and their debut is one of the records of modern history.