I consider the Stone Roses to be one of the best bands that ever existed. Their 1989 eponymous debut opened a new world for me, filling my brain with catchy guitar hooks that grooved and rocked. Singer Ian Brown’s soothing vocals combined with drummer Reni’s fills just seemed so natural. Even their non-album singles, such as ‘Elephant Stone’ or ‘Sally Cinnamon’ were all perfect examples of what would eventually evolve into Britpop.
They weren’t the first band to introduce me to rock or, hell, even the first band to really make me love music. But ever since I first heard ‘She Bangs the Drums’ and ‘Made of Stone’ on my mum’s old CD, I was hooked. I bought their best-selling debut on vinyl, on CD, I hung up a huge poster of them on my wall during first year of university. I’m telling you all this, so you know that I really do love this band. And saying a bad word against them feels like treachery.
Anyone who knows the Stone Roses know their legendary fall from grace. Entangled in legal troubles and record contracts, five years after their 1989 debut, the four Mancunians released Second Coming. Finally. Except, despite initial public hysteria, it became a target for ridicule and disappointment, among fans and general public alike. The Stone Roses never really recovered after that. Brown went his own way, eventually reforming the group decades later but never releasing a brand-new studio album. I decided to take a listen to the notorious record a second time, free from expectation, and see what I thought.
The album opens with ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, itself opening with the sounds of serene water, much like Oasis’ eventual seminal ‘Champagne Supernova’, only twice as long and half as interesting. An above ten-minute track as your album’s opener is always going to be ambitious, but this one just leaves me wanting to click ‘Skip’ before we’ve even passed the ‘intro’. At four minutes in, we finally get some guitar and things begin to pick up. The formulaic groove and kicking drumbeat make a return, but somehow just not as punchy as the band’s debut. The chorus is about the only decent part of ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, but you might as well just wait for the sun to come round again – it’s a long climb there.
‘Driving South’ is a vast improvement with that classic Roses vibe leaving you both mellow, and banging your head along, too. It’s actually not a bad song, it just suffers from being drawn out over five minutes, quickly becoming old and tired. Even the last four minutes of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ from the band’s previous effort didn’t seem like filler. Here, however, it doesn’t capture your attention as much.
The second single from the album, ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ is the best track so far, more upbeat and akin to their non-record single, ‘Elephant Stone’ than anything from their debut. It’s not a bad song, but it’s not amazing, either. However, it still remains a highlight of the album, with great guitar from John Squire.
‘Daybreak’, a track with songwriting credits to more than just Squire, unfortunately doesn’t really go anywhere, and at six minutes is just too long. ‘Your Star Will Shine’ is a welcome ‘short’ track (just under three minutes), with Brown’s hopeful vocals – and lyrics – lifting this more toned-down number to quite a refreshing entry. I expected more of a buildup, like with ‘(Song For My) Sugar Spun Sister’ or ‘This Is The One’, but I dig it nonetheless.
‘Straight To The Man’ is a mellow song that probably sounds great whilst under the influence of casual drugs, but not for those completely sober. There’s nothing especially terrible about it, but equally nothing all that interesting. It’s the beige of music.
‘Begging You’, another single, gives us some reverb and Reni time to shine, with harder drumwork than usual. The antithesis of ‘Your Star Will Shine’, it’s not unlike the band’s first single, ‘So Young’. It’s harsher, more sporadic, and a track I quite like. A good mix of groove and rock. ‘Tightrope’, meanwhile, is a stripped-back piece that is simply fascinating to hear. It slowly builds up, and I found myself taking a shine to this one. Hand claps and harmonies bring it to a satisfying climax.
‘Good Times’ has an almost bluesy intro, complete with Brown reiterating centuries-old passages and stomping rock that remains some of the best on the album. It’s just one of those songs that makes you feel cool – and that’s exactly how the Stone Roses should be. ‘Tears’ is a night-on seven minute piece with sorrowful classical guitar taking us through a Roses-patented drumbeat. This track divides me. On one hand, I do actually rather like it, but on the other I’m left wondering if it’d make a better song… shorter. This happens an infuriating number of times on Second Coming.
‘How Do You Sleep’ is a generally upbeat track that toes the line between ‘mediocre’ and ‘almost decent’. There’s not really a lot to say, here. ‘Love Spreads’, the lead single of the album, reached number two on the UK Singles Chart, the highest peak for any song by the band. Swampy, almost southern guitar lays down a dirty riff, giving us a glimpse into how good this album could have been. It’s a really decent song – no ‘She Bangs the Drums’ but still great – and yet it’s all the way at the bottom of the album. It sits like a sloppy artwork half-finished, shoved at the back of the storage locker, waiting to be salvaged and recognized for what it truly is.
Of course, the Stone Roses wouldn’t be the Stone Roses without throwing something weird onto the album. And the ‘hidden track’ at the end is it. Except, instead of playing music in reverse and creating vocals to sound like the lyrics backward – a masterstroke of Brown – it’s six and a half minutes of four-second tracks, finally culminating in some kind of cacophony of violin, keyboard and piano. It sounds terrible and was likely intended as some joke for those who left their CD player on (other platforms lacked this hidden piece). Nicknamed ‘Foz’, this track serves no purpose. Still, it adds a level of intrigue that the rest of the record doesn’t, embarrassingly.
Overall, ‘Second Coming’ isn’t some abomination of the music world, as it’s so often purported. It’s certainly not brilliant, and especially from a band of the Stone Roses’ calibre, perfect. But that does come with releasing one of the best albums of all time as your debut.
The second record is always tough to get right, and even when you do, it may never live up to what’s come before. That’s why bands who do, like the Roses-inspired Oasis, are so needing of praise. Coincidentally their debut, Definitely Maybe, was released the same year.
Second Coming has a few okay tracks, ‘Love Spreads’ and ‘Tightrope’ being personal favourites from me. But it seems to skirt around that line, never quite mustering the courage to cross it. It’s a dire shame really; the Stone Roses could have given us another record full of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’s and ‘Made of Stone’s.
Then again, perhaps that’s precisely why they didn’t. We’ll never know.