Twenty years on and the debate still rages. Reignited by this anniversary reissue, given the stamp of authenticity in the remastering process by Ian Brown and producer John Leckie, the big issue for discussion: Is The Stone Roses really the greatest debut album of all time?
Not surprisingly, opinion remains split. In the red corner are those who would have the Mancunians down as a bunch of irritable slackers, incapable of putting together a consistently good live show or, once they had made this debut, following it up.
The blue corner, the more vociferous, begs to differ – and has far more armoury to its arguments. For this is one of those records that doesn’t necessarily need any musical prowess to prove its worth. Ian Brown took a long time to develop as an assured vocalist in terms of pitch, but his vocal emotion was there in bucketloads from the off – and nobody else could have sung these songs with such feeling.
And there’s the appeal. The Stone Roses connect emotionally and directly, without even trying. Try listening to I Wanna Be Adored without singing either the vocal line or John Squire’s exquisite guitar counter-melodies. If you can’t, you’ll probably find you’re air drumming to Mani instead. As statements of intent go on album opening tracks, it couldn’t have been bettered. Not only that, but its promise was seized upon in the tracks that followed. By the time this album was out, Ian Brown was indeed adored.
It’s instructive to think of the initial response to this album on first listen those years back. There was something of a shock that, as the album proceeded, anthemic single after anthemic single was bestowed upon us. Waterfall, She Bangs The Drums, Made Of Stone, This Is The One – all songs that deserve the vastly overused status of ‘classic’, all songs that lift the listener on to a higher plane, regardless of any liquid or chemical enhancement on the side.
Even the ‘album’ tracks fizzle with their subtle euphoria. Bye Bye Badman explores Brown’s lower range, a quality he’s put to good use since, while even Don’t Stop, one of the many ‘reverse’ experiments carried out by Leckie (in this case Waterfall) is brilliantly woozy, a rush of guitars for the Hacienda masses. And despite accusations to the contrary, the musicians are all on outstanding form – Reni’s drumming is flawless yet somehow understated, Mani’s bass is rock solid but feels some funk, Squire’s guitar counter melodies are inspired and Brown preens behind the mic, his vocals relaxed yet softly majestic.
Perhaps the most flattering thing for the Stone Roses to consider is the sheer breadth of inspiration drawn from this album in the 20 years it’s been out. Few Manchester bands have been untouched by Ian Brown’s artistry – Oasis certainly haven’t – while the more recent examples of Kasabian surely wouldn’t have happened without them. Nor would the phenomenon of Britpop happened, or the slightly more patchy flurry of so called ‘indie dance’ bands.
While it’s regrettable The Stone Roses took an age to follow up their debut, finally landing in 1994 with the underrated The Second Coming, that’s surely because that debut was so good. It’s a landmark album in British pop, and deserves its handsome reclothing. Will fans be that bothered about the remastering? Even if they’re not, the temptation of the demo versions of I Wanna Be Adored, with heavier bass and withdrawn vocals, and a Mani-dominated She Bangs The Drums, may well be enough to draw people in – along with video footage of the band live in Blackpool.
All are housed in Squire’s striking, Pollock influenced artwork, and all make for a fitting tribute to an album that no lover of British music in the last 20 years can reasonably afford to be without.