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Stone Roses still fresh on 20th anniversary album

The Manchester band's debut album is remastered in various editions that capture its best moments on the British rock scene.

September 01, 2009|Robert Hilburn

Mixing the psychedelic sensibilities of the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" period with a tuneful Byrds-like jangle, the first, self-titled album from the English quartet the Stone Roses was a spectacular work whose best moments laid a blueprint for scores of other British bands, namely Oasis.

It remains one of the great rock and roll debuts and was a massive success in England, but "The Stone Roses" failed to receive much attention in this country when it was released in 1989.

Twenty years later, Silvertone/Legacy is celebrating the album's anniversary by releasing the music in various editions on Sept. 8. The good news for latecomers to the Roses is that the debut still sounds fresh and inspiring. In fact, the tales of youthful independence and ambition feel like the awakening of a new generation -- much as the music of the Beatles and Bob Dylan did in the 1960s and the Sex Pistols and the Clash did in the 1970s.

Though the group broke up in 1996, its reputation has continued to grow; a Legacy spokesperson estimates that the band has now sold more than 500,000 records in the U.S.

The Stone Roses

"The Stone Roses 20th Anniversary"

Various editions


The back story: Manchester was such a hotbed of young rock talent at the start of the 1990s that the English pop press spoke of the city as the new Liverpool. Tony Wilson, the late British TV personality and a major booster of the Manchester music scene, went back even further for a parallel when I interviewed him in 1990. He called the new wave of Manchester groups, including the Happy Mondays, "the first blue-collar revolution in pop since Elvis in 1956."

Wilson, who was the central character in "24 Hour Party People," Michael Winterbottom's marvelous 2002 film about the Manchester music scene, continued: "The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols were very middle-class, art-college. The old joke is the Beatles' mommies gave them their first guitars. The Manchester groups stole their first guitars."

In an interview the next day in Manchester, Stone Roses guitarist John Squire smiled at the joke. Actually, he said, his first guitar was a Christmas present. But, he quickly added that the band paid the rent on its rehearsal hall room for years with money from the four members' welfare checks. In other words, Wilson was right in spirit.

"There's not a lot of future for most kids in England, unless you come from a wealthy family. But rock gave us strength and we built our own scene," he said. "We hope we can pass on whatever strength we have . . . give other people the idea to try to do something themselves, whether it is be in a band or just get through the week. The idea is for everyone to be able to find a way to walk around with their head up."

Like earlier bands from Manchester, including the Smiths and Joy Division, the Stone Roses had a very personal sound, one contrasting melancholy and sparkling elements. The group also consisted of singer Ian Brown, bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield and drummer Alan "Reni" Wren.

The music: The single-disc "special" edition anniversary package contains the original, remastered album plus the nearly 10-minute version of "Fool's Gold," the band's funky 1989 single. But a two-disc, one DVD "legacy" edition is much more satisfying. It includes the single disc from the special edition plus a disc full of demos and a DVD featuring footage from a classic 1989 concert as well as six Roses videos.

Watching Brown, it's easy to see where Oasis' Liam Gallagher got his cool, almost indifferent stage demeanor.

A lavish collector's edition is for hard-core fans and features everything in the deluxe edition plus a third disc of rarities (many of the tunes are as inviting as the tracks on the debut album), a 48-page booklet on the band, a vinyl version of the album and more.

Unfortunately, the Manchester quartet peaked with its debut. The group's follow-up was delayed five years by a lawsuit between the band and Silvertone Records, periods of writer's block and too many drugs. By the time the second album arrived in 1994 with the cheeky title "Second Coming," much of the magic had gone. Oasis' debut album, "Definitely Maybe," arrived the same year, and they became the new kids on the block in England.

However disheartening the Stone Roses' demise might have been, these retrospectives replay for us the glorious moment when the four lads from Manchester seemed to hold the future of British rock in their hands.


Backtracking is a monthly column devoted to CDs and other pop music items of historical interest.

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