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.”
The album offers no let up. Squire’s guitar really soars on “Made Of Stone”. Reni’s drums lead out on “Shoot You Down.” Mani’s bass keeps a solid rhythm while Squire’s guitar shines out with the golden tone of a sunny day. No surprise by this point in the album to find Brown incongruously singing about ending a relationship. “This Is The One” finds the narrator in love. He begs, “Immerse me in your splendor,” and as the song progresses the listener get immersed in an intense wall of sound. The eight-minute “I Am The Resurrection” is an angry kiss-off that segues into an invigorating, instrumental outro for more than the last half of the song.
Disc 1 concludes with a bonus track, the complete version of “Fool’s Gold.” Originally intended as a B-side, the song became such a big hit, it was later included on U.S. pressings of the album. Possibly what they are best known for, it’s a fantastic piece. Squire goes wild with the effects over what is possibly the best drums-and-bass combo performance in alternative music. It’s absolutely infectious.
Disc 2 is titled “The Lost Demos.” It presents eight tracks from The Stone Roses. Songs are in various stages and arrangements. “Waterfall” sounds pretty close to finished product while “Bye Bye Badman” is just vocal and guitars. “I Am The Resurrection” isn’t as long, but you can see/hear the direction where they were heading. The remainders are demos of material from singles and the previously unreleased bonus track “Pearl Bastard.” Stayed tuned for the Easter Egg.
The DVD offers six videos and an hour-long performance at Blackpool Empress Ballroom on 8/12/89, both available in 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby Digital. The videos are either performance, most of which appears to come from Blackpool, or the band walking around in some desert area. “Standing Around” starts off as an odd collage of visuals but then inserts black-and-white Blackpool footage. Interesting to hear the songs live because the studio seemed to be an important component, but they transition well for the most part. The crowd has a grand time. The liner notes offer reflections from everyone but Squire
The album also comes in a single-disc “Special Edition” (the only one not to offer “Pearl Bastard”), a “Gatefold Vinyl Edition” is the remastered LP with a bonus single vinyl 7” of “Pearl Bastard,” and the “Collector’s Edition” which contains three CDs (the album, the lost demos, and extras) three LPs, the Blackpool/music video DVD, a 48-page book, six art prints by Squire, a lemon-shaped USB containing all the audio, Leckie’s home video “Up at the Sawmill: The Making of “Fool’s Gold” and more.
The Extras disc will please fans looking for rare songs as it collects most of the material from their singles. From “Elephant Stone” (12” Version): "Elephant Stone," "Full Fathom Five," and "The Hardest Thing in the World." From “Made of Stone”: "Going Down" and "Guernica." From “She Bangs the Drums”: "Mersey Paradise," "Standing Here," and "Simone." The Double A-side “Fools Gold” and “What The World Is Waiting.” Full-length versions of non-album single “One Love” and “Something’s Burning.” Lastly, from “I Wanna Be Adored”: "Where Angels Play."
No matter your level of interest and attachment, some variation of this album should be in your collection. Celebrate The Stones Roses anniversary by getting yourself a gift. It's a much better option than the traditional China.