Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Defense of the Second Coming (of the Stone Roses)

To put it simply, in the pantheon of British alternative music, the Stone Roses are somewhat of an anomaly. A bit rock, a bit dance, a bit funky, but certainly pop, they were a mixed bag to be sure, carrying a sharp groove like Happy Mondays, a wash of psychedelic fuzz like the Boo Radleys and a good injection of retro rock along the lines of Oasis (several years earlier, and whom they influenced). Yet they combined all of that into a sound that was very much their own, allowing the elements of each genre to stand brazenly apart (blistering solos - what??), while forging them together into a brand of music that you could both dance and head bang to at the same time. And it didn’t sound strange at all. In fact it was quite inviting, and deadly infectious.

I spent a lot of time shunning and funning these guys, a good portion of which was just to annoy JT. Truth be told, they were a touch too baggy for my tastes at the time, yet once one recognizes the brilliant aforementioned blend of styles, not only can said bagginess be overlooked, it can even be appreciated (even though I’ll always hate Happy Mondays). So then my deal was to hate the Stone Roses but be a fan of their debut, which is silly because they only have two albums and even the biggest fans pretty much pan Second Coming. (That’s not entirely true, Simon Pegg likes it if you believe anything he says in a movie.)

And the Stone Roses had a lot of ups and downs throughout their career, mainly due to label tomfoolery, which we all know can hamper the quality output of anyone’s music. And so it’s really hard to judge them for one (alleged) misstep when they were essentially only a two-step band to begin with (yes, there are a handful of singles and a “lost first album,” but I’m going strictly official here).

The first thing to keep in mind when approaching Second Coming is their 1989 debut. I’m just gonna lay it out there – this album is flawless. Even amongst my all time favorite albums, there are few that I would consider perfect, but this is without a doubt one of them. From the opening noise of I Wanna Be Adored to the close out wah-wah slink of Fools Gold, every note is exactly where it should be, every beat precise, every lyric so sinisterly cool that it drips with righteous venom. This album soars in a way that is so devastatingly hip that it’s impossible to not want to shake your tail raw by the second minute of She Bangs the Drum. Just the playing alone is so chic, so smooth, that it makes these grooves not only sound fresh, but so effortless, so pleasingly simple, that even a child on a ukulele could pull them off to perfection with room left to wiggle. Meanwhile, the lyrics and vocal delivery are so droll, so pompous, so full of self-worth that these words literally exist for themselves alone, but Ian Brown will sing them for you, and you can listen if you want, whatever, it’s cool. Seriously, every single song is essential. I mean do you need the five plus minute backward rant of Don’t Stop? No, but you want it, and we all know that what you want is so much more enjoyable than what you need. Simply put, this album is cocky, self-assured and flat out bad ass. Really, I’m not doing it justice. Just go get it and find out for yourself.

And then the people waited…and waited…and waited…

Coming a full five years and I don’t know how many headaches after the debut, Second Coming is rather aptly titled, and yet the religious tongue in cheek (which also existed on the debut) might be a bit too…well, cheeky. Yes, this was a highly anticipated album, and yes, it coulda, shoulda, woulda been all that, but in point of fact - it sorta isn’t. And what is “isn’t” is the debut. And that in and of itself puts Second Coming at a bit of a disadvantage, because as has already been said, the Stone Roses debut was/is a HIGHLY lauded album…yes, even religiously so. And while it’s impossible to approach this album without the biased of the first, and truly, this album is not the “second coming” the world was hoping for, it’s still not a bad album…not really.

Most of the elements that define the debut are in tact, with the notable exception of the dance vibe that made that first set of tunes ridiculously infectious. But what really seems to be missing is an overall cohesiveness that would make this album the slinky pop that folks just couldn’t get enough of. There are still plenty of solid grooves and smooth moves, but the major focus is more on rock than, well, roll. And while there are tons of solid workouts that flow nicely from the speakers to your ears, there are precious few hooks to catch on and take hold, which makes Second Coming more an album of the instant and not one of later in the day, when you canNOT get Elephant Stone out of your head and you MUST hear it two more times.

Still, there are some great moments here, and the extended intro of Breaking into Heaven (very reminiscent of I Wanna Be Adored), when it (finally!) kicks into the beat, is pretty fantastical, and not a bad song all the way around. And one simply cannot deny the saccharine sweet of Ten Storey Love Song, the most debut-esque, pop centric of the lot, and easily the catchiest four plus minutes on the record. And to be honest, with the first several tracks, those are the highlights, as a lot of the songs are more pleasantly pedestrian filler than “that should be a single!” (Though your Star Will Shine is growing on me with each listen.) However, the second half of Second Coming is where the magic begins to make some mischief, with plenty of standouts like the (Rolling) Stonesy Tightrope or the rollicking rock outs of Good Times, Tears (some flat out amazing acoustic work from John Squire) and ode to wasting away, How Do You Sleep, all of which sorta have debut “counterparts,” but really bring to mind a 70s rock vibe that is absolutely fantastic…if you dig that sort of thing (which I do). The loss overall is relying more on riding a groove, which has its merits, while forgetting to throw in some memorable melodies here and there. Again, it’s hard to follow perfection, and there are enough attempts here to shake up the mixture with something fresh, but a lot of Second Coming just sounds either enjoyably leftover or trying too hard, and while it doesn’t deserve to be panned, it likely won’t break anyone into heaven.

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