Unpicking the brilliance of The Stone Roses’ classic debut album, 30 years since its glorious release
An album’s greatness can be measured by the number of generations it influences, and The Stone Roses‘ debut has enjoyed multiple resurgences since its release. The most prominent was during Britpop, a cultural movement that wouldn’t have existed without the poppy and positive sound of the Roses-led baggy scene that came before it. It would have had different figureheads, too, as the Gallagherbrothers and Damon Albarn have all credited The Stone Roses with igniting their interest in music. But ‘The Stone Roses’ lives on more broadly, too. Any band that’s ever decided – consciously or otherwise – to fuse rock and dance music is cribbing from the work the Roses did in the late ’80s. Squire, Reni and Mani are all maestros on their instruments and made a then-daring collision of genres seem effortless.
But, really, the most timeless aspect of the album is the lyrics. Ian Brown gets a lot of shit for his vocal ability, but that’s like slagging off a great author for their handwriting. The important things here are the mood and the message, and the Roses singer is an underrated philosopher. Many great songs contain a meaning that’s poignant whenever and wherever they’re played because they speak to fundamental aspects of the human condition: Pulp‘s ‘Common People’, LCD Soundsystem‘s ‘All My Friends’, Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Born To Run’. On ‘The Stone Roses’ there are 11 of them. Optimism and hope reign supreme.
The Stone Roses’ love of Jackson Pollock was well known prior to the release of the band’s debut. Two of the singles that came before it – ‘Elephant Stone’ In October 1988 and ‘Made Of Stone’ in February 1989 – both featured B-sides (‘Full Fathom Five’ and ‘Going Down’ respectively) that referenced the American artist in the lyrics, and featured Pollock-inspired artwork by John Squire. For the album, Squire produced a painting titled ‘Bye Bye Badman’ that was his take on the May 1968 Paris riots. So it’s obvious why the French flag is on there. But why the lemons? Ian Brown explains: “When we were in Paris we met this 65-year-old man who told us that if you suck a lemon it cancels out the effects of CS gas. He still thought that the government in France could be overthrown one day; he’d been there in ’68 and everything. So he always carried a lemon with him so he could help out at the front. Sixty-five – what a brilliant attitude.”
Throughout ‘The Stone Roses’, Ian Brown softly delivers lyrics that combine anger at the Monarchy (“It’s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear“) and the government (“Every member of parliament trips on glue“) with sacrilegious arrogance (“I am the resurrection and I am the light“) and the unbridled optimism of talented youth (“Sometimes I fantasise, when the streets are cold and lonely and the cars they burn below me“). These are mood-lifting and perspective-changing anthems. Best of all, from ‘She Bangs The Drums’: “The past was yours but the future’s mine“. Any young person who doesn’t have that attitude is doing it wrong.
One of the myths around The Stone Roses is that their success came out of nowhere. But the band formed in 1983, six years before their debut came out, and had been through a lengthy process of trying out different sounds, line-ups and and band names. Nothing they did was simple. The same went for picking a studio to record ‘The Stone Roses’ in. It was made in between June 1988 and February 1989, and spread between Stockport’s Coconut Grove Studios, Battery Studios and Konk Studios in London, and Rockfield Studios in Wales. One constant producer was John Leckie, who’d worked on ‘John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ and ‘Real Life’ by Magazine. He described the Roses as a band who were “very well rehearsed” and keen to “try lots of things”.
The Recording Sessions
On the first day of recording, Reni was late and had to borrow £10 from producer John Leckie to get there in reasonable time. Yet Leckie has positive memories of the band: “They weren’t frightened. What you hear is the band. That’s the way I work, really. They play and I record them and we enhance everything with overdubs and double-tracking – any number of different things. You have to do a degree of arranging, but that’s part of the recording process. They didn’t seem to feel any pressure other than that they were a band making their first album and didn’t want to lose the opportunity to make it good. So there wasn’t any pressure to prove themselves – they knew they were good”.