COLUMN: THE STONE ROSES reunite… but is it a good idea?

Stone Roses, photo Pennie Smith/thestoneroses.orgSo the SERIOUS rumours started late on Thursday night that legendary baggy/Brit Pop-Before-Brit Pop-Was-Brit Pop Manchester band The Stone Roses were reuniting. These rumours were greeted with both elation and suspicion – after all, the band have spent, oh, the last 15 years actively hating on each other and shooting down any suggestions to reunite faster than you can say “I Don’t Wanna Be Adored.”

Plus they made it through a solid five-plus years of reunifications around ’em – Pulp, Blur, Pixies, Pavement et al – without biting. And in fact, biting back.

Press Conference ahoy

But now, as of today, they’ve confirmed that yes, they’re back together, yes they’re playing two live gigs in Manchester next June, yes there will be a bigger tour after that and YES they’re working on new material. What the fook? We can only imagine the money on the table for a couple of gigs, sure. But to properly reunite and plan new music? How much money on the table are we talking about?

Maybe that’s too cynical. And I’ll come back to that point in a minute. Although the guys in this press conference hardly look “excited” (but then, they never were).

For those of us Anglophiles, Anglos or otherwise obsessed with the actually-good music of the 90s, the Stone Roses were gods. In 1989 they created a near-perfect self-titled debut album, representing an equally perfect moment in UK musical history. Ian Brown was the blueprint for Liam Gallagher – the King Monkey – who didn’t give a toss, swayed and strutted. He had swagger. Mani and Reni were the perfect sidemen, Reni had the stoner, beach-hat that started a fashion fad and Mani had the liver and the floppy fringe. And John Squire? An amazing, self-taught guitarist whose style (described in the Guardian perfectly once as “plangent”) pretty much defined the band’s signature sound. It was glorious. “I am the Resurrection”, “I Wanna Be Adored” “Elephant Stone” “Waterfall”…were all genius. Gush gush gush.

Ian Brown, Stone Roses, pic by Mikala Taylor/

Ian Brown in 1995. Pic by The BackstageRider

A perfect album?

I remember the first moment I heard the Stone Roses album. It was playing over the speakers of a big record store and I had just completed an important test at school. I was rendered slightly breathless by its sound and asked the clerk what it was. I was delighted when the name that escaped his mouth lined up with what I’d been reading about in my coveted NME mags. I bought the – *cough* – cassette that very day. It was 1989. Listened to it again today. It still holds.

But the Stone Roses were a bunch of gobshites who eventually and detrimentally started to believe their own hype . Festival appearances (see: Spike Island) were awful, the band released a shitty second album (The Second Coming), Reni left, and the rest of them disappeared up their own heavy drink- and drug-taking arseholes. In 1995 I saw them in a tincan warehouse where they played an actually good set – though they had an additional guitarist and a drummer and it didn’t feel RIGHT. Though I was thankful to have seen them “back in the day”, the Stone Roses are Ian-John-Reni-Mani, forever and ever amen).

The band disbanded in 1996 and for 15 years shunned any notion of ever getting back together.

But I still maintained a reverence for their unique sound. When Squire’s new project The Seahorses (nicknamed “The Shirehorses” ‘cos they were actually rubbish) came to Toronto, I found myself miraculously talking about art – he’s also a painter – with John Squire on the street. It was… a moment for me.  A big one. But it wasn’t the Stone Roses.

So here we are in 2011…

…and I have no idea what to make of the reunion. Yeah, it could be about the money. In fact, let’s be realistic – I work with enough bands to know that right now, any extraordinary efforts in the music industry have to be about the money. There is no money generally to be had in the music industry…most bands are the 99%, as it were, not the Rhiannas. Reunion shows are ways for bands in their 40s to feed their families. There is no shame in wanting to make a living. I have ceased to be cynical after seeing The Pixies play a rather-quite-amazing show last year. They don’t have to like each other but they do have to give good show. And they did. And sounded amazing. Even Pavement surprised me.

Stone Roses Concert Poster, thestoneroses.orgAnd if the Roses’ announcement was strictly about the money, then why wouldn’t they just do a Police-style one-off tour? It was obvious then Sting and Stuart Copeland wanted to eat each others’ entrails, but they muddled through a tour and charged a fortune. So I’m certain there’s a BIT more motivating the Roses here. Call me naive. It could also be the guys ’round the table going “mate, if we get back together, we have ta do it proper-like, with new music and stuff…”

My guess: the band are likely no longer drug-addicted, total dicks. Maybe they’re just partial dicks and it’s that halving of egos that will allow them to bypass the kids stuff and make something exciting happen. They’re older, a bit wiser (still gobby) and have been punting around between their various low-to-middling support gigs (Mani’s efforts in Primal Scream notwithstanding) long enough to probably want to see if it’s even possible to recapture – or recreate – some form of magic. It might not be. But if it is?

Older musicians also sometimes mean better musicians. They’ve had time with their arts and crafts and time to get whims out of their systems. Take a look at Sebadoh, for example (okay, am biased, but..) Here’s a band who are better live NOW than they were back THEN. They work hard. And are now talking about making new music. They’re energized.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the Roses reunion will be an abject failure. There’s also a very, very real possibility that any new music might suck. Pint glass half-empty, mate.

And what about the argument that music of a time – of a moment, something as perfect as their debut – should be left there? Leave us to our memories and let the new generation discover a band the way they were meant to be discovered? Or the counter-argument: that a new generation will NEVER discover the band unless there’s a reunion like this? Or the argument that so many rehashes are just too boring? Or the counter argument that…yunno…it’s music, wonderful music! and we shouldn’t let our own personal memories or feelings of ownership prevent more possibly good music entering the universe. Or, or, or…

At this stage I have nothing that would indicate that The Third Coming will be any good.

But, and if we’re talking about filling up pints here, what if…WHAT IF IT IS GOOD AND WE GET TO SEE THE STONE ROSES AGAIN?

I’m willing to risk it. Why not?

Are you? \m/

Posted by Mikala   @   18 October 2011

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Oct 18, 2011
4:22 pm
#1 Michael D :

Good point about Sebadoh, though I’ve still (ahem, cough) not had the chance to see the reunited and re-energized band. And great news they’re talking new material cause, like, that’s pretty much what they were about back in the day, right? Writing and playing songs.
I hope you’re right: the Stone(d) Roses have certainly had time to grow up a little bit. I’m sure I’d be willing to drop some cash to find out. And no shame in making some money. I only hope they can keep it together this time, ignore the hype already building to a near frenzy, and make a good go of it. I’ll keep a grain of salt, just in case, but this is a bit more exciting than a Blink 182 reunion.

Oct 18, 2011
4:32 pm
#2 Steve :

I would be cynical. Reunion tours and shows tend to lead the charts when it comes to highest-grossing shows. That’s because the demographic has shifted; the 30+ crowd are now the high-paying consumers of concert tickets, not the teens and twentysometings. They have been cultured to expect music for free.

So, whether it’s the Police or Pavement, Stone Roses or the Pixies, they can go back on the road without any expectation to have to make new music. And, as the myth of the Stone Roses album hasn’t subsided — it’s still at the top of many best-of-all-time lists — they can arguably reap bigger paydays than they did when the band was together full-time.

Will these be a couple of shows? Or, once the band has felt out things, will there be more. My guess is that they have let all the promoters in the world know that they are back as a commodity. If they can prove it by not imploding onstage, then more offers will come. The word is out; will the booking agent get some calls?

Oct 19, 2011
10:41 am
#3 Si :

When the rumours started flying last week, I think my first response was “I can’t wait to see what artfully-wrought denial is going to spring from John Squire’s studio this time”, and in between then and now I’ve been a bit torn as to whether or not this is a good thing as I’d seen them (accidentally) being rather brilliant at the start of their tenure, and utterly awful at the end.

And now, all I can think is “good on them”.

That Ian and John have started talking again is brilliant, band reunion or no. A childhood friendship destroyed by business must have been awful for both parties, so that side of things is brilliant.
Interviews with Mani (who was the last member to join the band and so has the advantage of being slightly detached from the politics) over the years have always shown him to have been completely up for this, so it’s good to see this realised just for his boundless enthusiasm and because he’s just a lovely bloke.
Their disdain for the mainstream media (who latched onto them just as their part in Madchester was pretty much done – their Late Show appearance is the stuff of legend – and who villified them for not being some sort of scene messiahs afterwards) continues apace – anyone with a pulse should love Ian Brown’s response yesterday to an inane question from the Daily Mail with “how does it feel to work for a newspaper that once supported Hitler?” is a healthy sign that they’ve not settled back into the comfy armchair of middle-age, and displays an attitude that is almost 100% missing from popular music nowadays.
And having signed possibly the Worst Record Contract Ever (Ian once mentioned something along the lines that his 1st album hadn’t sold 1/10th of the first Roses album but made him 1000 times as much cash), it’d need a heart of stone to begrudge their making a few quid from their art.
And hopefully, old habits that so badly affected latter performances are long behind them. they’re not kids any more, this reunion will either cement or destroy their legacy. And they’ve all got far too high an opinion of themselves to want to repeat their previous final days…

But for me, two main reasons stand out for supporting this reunion:

1. Their first album remains astonishingly beautiful. This generation needs to know that. And if they re-released the 2nd coming without that 2 minutes of monkey noises at the start of it (or, just release the amazing side 2 as an EP), then opinions of that would lighten too.
2. In the last couple of weeks, Steps reformed. This is a “group” with no discernable talent other than basic choreography who were formed through an ad in a thesps’ (not even music) paper for people to dance along to a manufactured linedancing song. Just because they announced their bizarre reformation, their “Greatest Hits” album sits at the top of the UK charts. And (especially given that Westlife have split up merely hours ago! Nope, I can’t remember if that’s the one with Ronan in it or not either) I can’t think of a better bunch of people to swagger in and knock them flat off their artificially smiley perch 🙂

Oct 22, 2011
3:04 am
#4 Michael D :

Isn’t it odd how we expect our musicians to constantly churn out new music? I quit listening to Beethoven and Mozart years ago because they haven’t written anything NEW in ages. Seriously, they say they are working on new material- so I’d expect them to be trying some out on stage. And there is a tour in the works. My only reservation is regarding their ability to “keep it together” on and off stage, but as Mikala pointed out, they are older, the testosterone level probably lower, making them mellower, and hopefully wiser, so…..
And I have no problem with bands finally making some money in their middle age. Most of these reunion bands (well, the ones I care much about, anyway) paid their dues. Sebadoh and Pixies being prime examples. The Pixies show I attended was a very multi-generational thing. Kids who weren’t even born, or still in diapers in the day to geezers like your’s truly. And if they are finally lining their pockets, well good on them.

Oct 29, 2011
3:11 pm
#5 Adam :

Good points but let’s remember one very important thing: Ian Brown singing live. Terrible. It’s still the greatest record ever made.

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