The year 1989 saw a heavy presence of glam-metal bands on the radio and MTV and an increasing exposure of rap and hip hop onto the mainstream. It was also the year of debuts by De La Soul, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and The Stone Roses, which NME dubbed “The Greatest Album of All Time.” While I wouldn’t go that far, The Stones Roses’ eponymous debut still remains very impressive 20 years later, and Sony/Legacy honors it by releasing it in four different formats.
The 2CD/DVD Legacy Edition opens with the album proper on the first disc. Coming out of the Madchester scene, the album offered something different for the time and still sounds fresh as it incorporates influences from the past. Produced by John Leckie, who worked with Pink Floyd on Meddle and The Beatles on Abbey Road, the album offers psychedelia-infused music that will appeal to both dance fans that like to rock and rock fans that like to dance.
The opening track has a slow build. Different sounds swirl around softly, becoming more recognizable. They intensify and then surprise the listener by coalescing together as bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield starts to play. Drummer Alan "Reni" Wren lays down a groovy beat that works well with Mani. Guitarist John Squire offers different riffs and runs that counter Ian Brown’s melancholy vocals repeating a universal desire: “I Wanna Be Adored.”
“She Bangs The Drums” has a mid-‘60s pop sound and Squire’s jangly guitar brings to mind fellow Mancunian Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Brown’s sought-after adoration appear to have found him unable “to describe the way I feel.” “Waterfall” continues in a similar vein with steel drums added to arrangement. The music builds to a great crescendo then fades away quickly only to return played backwards on the next track, “Don’t Stop,” reminiscent of The Beatles' “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
The band reveals the depth pop songs can have. The music is light, airy, upbeat, seemingly innocuous, but John Robb reveals in the liner notes “Bye Bye Bad Man” is a serious political song of rebellion, influenced by intellectual French anarchists and the 1968 Paris riots. These ideas also made their way into Squires’ album cover. Three think brushstrokes reference the French flag and lemons were used “by the rioters to dispel the tear gas.” The line “Choke me smoke the air/ In this citrus sucking sunshine” references this situation. They continue their anti-authority streak by having a go at the Queen during the 50-second interlude “Elizabeth My Dear.” An acoustic guitar performs the traditional “Scarborough Fair” while Brown evokes a hymn in perfect contrast to the lyrics: “I’ll not rest till she’s lost her throne/…It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear.”