With the Pixies reforming and both Morrissey and The Cure making long awaited comebacks this year, 2004 seems to be shaping up as a bit of retrospective year. As the sounds of the late '80s/early '90s are reappraised though it's pretty safe to assume that at least one leading group from that era won't be reforming.
The Stone Roses were, for a time, the best band in the country. It wasn't just their songs - although not many groups can produce someone as timelessly perfect as that debut album - it was their whole image. The Roses were a gang, and as Ian Brown, John Squire, Reni and Mani swept all before them they gave people something to believe in. Spike Island was more than a gig, it was an event, something that passed into legend for those who were there. Why, they even brought flares back into fashion.
Of course, it couldn't last. The recording of the follow up, The Second Coming, was endlessly delayed amongst allegations of large cocaine addictions and squandered advances and when it was eventually released it was to a chorus of disillusioned disappointment. Reni departed the band soon after its release, followed by Squire some months later and the band acrimoniously split for good in 1996, just as .
Nothing could tarnish the band's legacy though and that first album still stands proud as a classic (even The Second Coming isn't as bad as was thought on its release). Incredible as it may seem, this is the very first Stone Roses DVD and although there's no new material for the committed fan, it is still worth investing in as a souvenir of one of the most influential bands of the time.
The first disc contains a 50 minute live gig from the band at Blackpool's Empress Ballroom and a selection of videos. The visual presentation of the live show leave a lot to be desired (poor lighting, out of focus shots etc) but the music more than makes up for it. Brown and Squire prove what good counterparts they were to each other, the former doing that strange, open mouthed monkey dance while the latter stands quietly nearby producing a whole range of inspired sounds from his Gretsch guitar. Reni and Mani too demonstrate why they were such an important rhythm section, with the former in particular on scintillating form.
Brown's singing is out of tune at times admittedly, but his stage presence makes up for that, whether he be playing with a yo-yo or shouting out seemingly random phrases at the audience ("International, continental" for example). The band race through highlights such as Waterfall, Mersey Paradise and end with an incredible 12 minute version of I Am The Resurrection. As a live record of a band at the height of the powers, this really can't be beaten.
The videos are less impressive. Most are either live footage or feature the band wandering through a barren landscape, with some dated psychedelic-style effects layered on top. Fools Gold, one of the finest songs of the last twenty years, is served particularly badly here. The music still sounds fantastic of course, but the videos are probably the least interesting feature of this DVD set.
The second disc is fascinating though. A hilariously awkward interview with Brown and Squire show the pair being sullen and arrogant - uncomfortable viewing but it makes great TV. Best of all is a collection of TV performances gathered together, including the now legendary appearance on BBC 2's The Late Show. The band start to play Made Of Stone before a power cut brings the song to an abrupt halt. As presenter Tracy McLeod desperately tries to fill time, Brown can be heard shouting "amateurs...amateurs...we're wasting our time here lads". There is also some excellent footage of the band's debut Top Of The Pops performance, gigs at the Hacienda and footage from the much missed Snub TV and Rapido programmes.
Add to all that some fun home video footage, and you end up with an essential purchase for anyone even vaguely interested in the Madchester scene. They may never reach these dizzy heights again (Brown was last spotted in a silent cameo in the latest Harry Potter film!) but this is a fine reminder of why the Roses were just so vital.