Roses back in bloom with remastered first album
It’s somewhat frightening, especially for those of a certain age, to think that it’s 20 years since the Stone Roses' eponymous first album hit the shops.
A lot has happened since then - a change of Government, ill-advised dabbling in wars, the downfall of communism in the Eastern bloc, countless fashion trends, and in the case of the Roses themselves, a four-year gap between damp-squib single One Love and damper-squib second album, the modestly titled Second Coming.
It had its moments, sure, but nothing, nothing would live up to the John Leckie-produced debut that encapsulated a moment in time, and that has been heard pounding out at thousands of clubs since, as teenagers who were in their cradles when Cressa (some time on-stage accolyte) did his dancing, now throw the same shapes having studied the Blackpool Live video to exhaustion.
One thing that’s been consistent throughout those 20 years, though, was the poor sound quality of the album on CD. You couldn’t deny the quality of the music, but half the time you had to have the volume up pretty damn high to even get a reasonable amount of punch.
Even throughout the reissues – and there have been a fair few… split 12in on vinyl, deluxe CDs, compilations galore, as record label Silvertone tried to re-gain its lost investment – the original album still sounded weak.
Mercifully, Sony, which now owns Zomba/Silvertone, has taken pity on us and brought in John Leckie and Ian Brown on remastering purposes prior to a re-release of said original album, and a whole host of other goodies.
Bringing in the writer of the songs isn’t always a good thing, witness Lou Reed’s decimation of the Velvet Underground back catalogue in the 1990s, but Brown and Leckie have accomplished the impossible and finally the Roses have developed sonic might.
Leaving aside the extras (I’ll go into them in a minute), the album has to be heard to be believed. Songs such as Waterfall with its Gretsch-fuelled arpeggios, and Sugar Spun Sister bound out of the speakers at you.
John Squire’s coltish guitar never sounded so capable and Brown’s voice, amazingly, never sounded so sweet. Every production subtlety that had been steamrollered over before is now on view; from delicate use of echo on vocals, to the neat background percussion that had been tucked away in the mix.
But importantly, this album now has life, punch and verve, and the crisp sound that we now get is what we should have had 20 years ago. So, and yes I have to say this, is there a downside? Purists may hate the ‘new’ I Am The Resurrection , always the Roses flagship song, following a remix that’s put the emphasis on the propulsive drums and forced some of the fluid guitar work backwards. The jury’s out with me on this one, but if there is a weak point – that’s it.
And now, the extras – there have to be some (naturally), and it looks like they’ve been given the same treatment as the album. Disc two has the Silvertone singles, and songs such as Elephant Stone, Standing Here and Mersey Paradise are still vital here and now, and the sublime Where Angels Play still sends shivers down my spine God knows how many times after first hearing it.
Chances are though, if you’re fan you’ve already got all of these on every format available so there’s no surprises there. The joker in the pack here is disc three – the Lost Demos. Now, demos are mainly hit and miss in most cases, but always provide a sketch of the finished product, and it’s mainly interesting hearing a work in progress.
For some reason the Roses demos have never appeared on bootleg and despite many of the songs appearing on such vinyl rarities as On The Sixth Day God Created Manchester…On The Seventh the Lord Created The Stone Roses, these are versions I’ve never heard before.
As a final nudge towards your wallet you even get an unreleased track, Pearl B*****d, which sounds rather like All Across The Sands (a single B-side from 1987), explaining why it was probably dropped in the first place.
The fact of the matter is that ‘Roses purists are going to want those demos and more than likely shell out for them – if you’ve got everything since 1985’s So Young/Tell Me why stop now?
Tacked onto all of this – and depending which edition you buy – you also get Squire’s Pollock inspired artwork, the Blackpool Empress Ballroom gig DVD, a book, USB in the shape of a lemon with various goodies and a nifty box. Phew.
These extras are all delightful but they’re the icing on the cake to the album, and, really, that’s what you should be aiming for – even if you get the cheapy, cheapy issue. Get the CD, put it on and just enjoy it – remember why you like the Roses, and goggle at the host of other, paler bands who stepped in to try and fill the gap when the original was this good.
When I was 15 I thought the Stone Roses walked on water, forget everything else. I even – sadly – wrote the words to Waterfall on my DM’s in Tippex among various other bits of graffiti, and posed with my (then) girlfriend underneath the last piece of original ‘Stone Roses’ graffiti (from 1984 fact fans) in Manchester.
As time went on I started listening to other things and now my musical taste is pretty diverse – Basil Kirchin to Graham Nash, and a whole lot of oddities in between. But nothing will ever come close to the buzz I get from this album – I’d forgotten that, and shame on me.
The remastered Stone Roses is out on Silvertone/Sony BMG on August 10.