One of the things that makes debut albums so interesting to me is that they provide a first impression, a firm starting point for a career, and when put into the context of an entire career are extremely informational and extra interesting in hindsight. Some artists will spend their first album or two wearing their influences on their sleeves (think Rush being mistaken for Led Zeppelin), others establish their own unique style which they will perfect and develop over their following albums (College Dropout put next to Kanye’s 2nd and 3rd albums), and sometimes the artist will just spend it all on their first album and never quite reach that height ever again. Today’s album fits in with the last of the 3 categories I just outlined. Released in 1989, The Stone Roses’ debut album was met with universal acclaim, with some critics going as far as to call it one of the greatest British albums ever, immediately. Very many people put all of their chips into The Stone Roses’ basket and after a mediocre at best follow up the band fell out of public conscious and never released another album. But today’s blog is not about lamenting over what could have been , it is about appreciating and celebrating the singular brilliance of that one shining moment in The Stone Roses’ career: their self titled debut.
All of the praise and adoration that The Stone Roses received upon release was anything but misplaced. Sometimes albums get a ton of praise instantly before being all but forgotten, often times aging poorly, but I am pleased to report that The Stone Roses holds up wonderfully. Part of its timelessness comes from its terrific originality, and as such it can be pretty hard to appropriately place this record in a genre. I can pull the cop-out answer and say that it’s pop and/or rock, but that’s hardly any fun. I’ve seen multiple sources cite this album as one of the pioneering works of madchester, which from my limited research seems to be a cultural movement as much as a genre, and one that I don’t totally understand at that. I do recognize, however, the way that The Stone Roses so magically blends appealing dance/rave grooves with pop-rock instrumentals and melodies and do so alongside lyrics with actual substance. Thanks to this, The Stone Roses falls into the rare and coveted category of “albums that work as background noise AND as an object of study”. In preparing for this month’s Musical Training Plan I listened to this album plenty of times and on less than half of those listens did I actually put forth the effort of truly hearing it, but I enjoyed it every single time regardless. I will admit that, lyrically, I don’t totally understand this album, but I think that each song is left just vague enough that the listener can derive their own meaning, most of the time. The thematic thread that seems to tie it all together, though, is the topic of relationships: romantic relationships, familial relationships, a citizen’s relationship with their government, a band’s relationship with their fans, etc. Again, this is just how I found myself reading the lyrics, but I’ve got a feeling that even if you disagree with my interpretation, you’ll find just as much emotional nuance in the lyrics as I did. The lyrics are certainly a huge part of why this album holds up, but just as much of that weight rests on the shoulders of the actual music.
You could tell me that this album came out anytime between the late 60’s and yesterday and, thanks to its unique and distinctive sonic stylings, I’d buy it. It feels as much brit-invasion era pop-rock as it does post Y2K alt-rock and indie. This cross section of styles so clearly marks the influences of The Stone Roses while also being pretty clear who it went on to influence. It is important to note, though, that this doesn’t make The Stone Roses feel overly derivative or overdone. As far as my ears can tell, nobody else really sounds like The Stone Roses do on this album, or if they do they certainly didn’t do it as well. From the very first minutes of the album on “I Wanna Be Adored” it is hard to not nod your head or sway your body. It all feels different, but it feels right all the same. While studying to this album I found myself just getting lost in the music without even really hearing it at all, but something unconscious kept me moving with the music regardless. I guess I can’t promise that you’ll have any physical response to The Stone Roses, but damn, it gets something out of me every time. I hate to say it, but there isn’t really any instrument or section that I can give particular praise to here, it all just works together very well. The guitars sound good, the basslines go largely unnoticed but are there laying a sonic foundation like they’re supposed to, the drum work is excellent and drives every song forward without being too flashy, the vocals are smooth and pleasant, and it’s all produced and mixed nicely. I wish I could give a shoutout to something specific but I just can’t, there is no shining star, just a collection of well oiled parts making the machine run perfectly.
The Stone Roses is an absolutely phenomenal, beloved, influential, culturally significant piece of music by a band who never did anything noteworthy outside of it. It’s not uncommon for bands to peak with their first album, but The Stone Roses fell short 1 time and then just called it, almost tragically. Knowing this almost makes The Stone Roses eponymous debut album all the more special. Nothing but this album has ever really sounded quite like it, not even its creators could capture the magic again. Was it luck? Was it some singular bout of inspiration? Did the band get burned out, using all of their juice on one album? Who’s to say? All that I know is that, with The Stone Roses, lightning really never did strike twice, but sometimes all you need is one well placed moment of greatness to land you a spot in music history.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoy today’s album.
Bye Bye Badman. Byeeeeeee Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.