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The Stone Roses ‘Second Coming’ Re-evaluated
It seems like yesterday.
It was early December 1994 and I was interviewing baggied up youth outside the now closed Virgin Record shop in Manchester city centre, waiting for the midnight opening of the doors so they could buy the Roses about to be released second album.
Many of them were already too young to have been there for the band’s first coming- the triumphant baggy rush of 89/90 but here they were waiting for their own piece of history.
The massive queue snaked down the street and when the doors opened the album was being blasted out from the shop and the atmosphere was electric.
When the needle hit the groove, would the record change the world like the debut? Could it mean as much?
The Stone Roses second album came out with the same sort of build up and suffocating expectation as the Clash’s second album album, Give Em Enough Rope’ and on release the reviews had the same sense of deflation that has totally skewed the record’s place in history. It didn’t change the world, it was only a great rock n roll record but the expectation altered its position in rock history.
The problem both bands had was that to release one life changing album that defines a generation becomes an impossible hurdle to follow. As I detailed in my book about the band, The Roses spent years recording the second album. At their peak they had looked like they were on the fast track to big time, the proper big time of stadiums and American success but their in built, punk rock bullshit detector would see them implode long before this.
Born out of punk rock the band wilfully threw everything away in a glorious anti- career burnout. If they had done the smart thing they would have banged out the second album whilst they were peaking with the ”ËFools Gold’ single and those funky loose jams that were hinted at on the next single ”ËOne Love’ and its sensational b side ”ËSomething’s Burning’- arguably the band’s best ever song. This period saw a collision of Can, Public Image, Sly Stone, post punk, Hendrix, funk and all the band’s own strengths. This funkoid Roses would have formed the kernel of a great follow up album and redefined the band permanently as the kings of the loping groove.
That would have been the moment.
Instead the disappeared for years and pulled each other apart with different drugs, different musical tastes and different lives and somehow in the middle of this they created a great second album that is often overlooked because it didn’t fit in with the myth.
When a band loses its intensity and its drive it never gets it back.
The moment when the mates against the world, last gang in town vibe has gone it can never be recovered. It’s a natural part of the process- who wants to sit in a transit van or a studio for ever! You get older, you change and you move on. Take that into consideration and it’s amazing that the Roses actually produced a second album and one of such quality.
The band had done a pretty effective job of disappearing off the scene after the 1989/90 dominance. By the time the rest of the world had caught up with them with all the British bands were doing their version of the Stone Roses under the banner of Britpop the mentors and the masters were still beavering away in Rockfield in Wales trying to make sense of what they had.
The album could have ended up like the Beatles ”ËLet It Be’- scraps and hints of former genius, instead it came out like ”ËAbbey Road’- a last act of wilful discipline as their whole world came crashing down.
The tensions are apparent on the record, John Squire wanted to go Led Zep, Ian Brown wanted to go more black music despite this and whilst John wrote nearly all the words and music somehow the band made it sound like their own- taking Squire’s ideas by the scruff of their neck and adding their own sound to it. John Squire may have been in creative hyperdrive but the band’s rhythm section was fluid perfect and Ian Brown’s loping supa-cool, Bruce Lee swagger is all over the album, it’s like they can’t help playing to the way their frontman walked.
The first single off the album was Love Spreads which broke the band’s silence with a late night radio play which I clearly remember hearing whilst we were driving over the moors late one night. In the pre-internet age the idea that a band could disappear so effectively seems insane but the Roses had become invisible until that sudden re-emergence, making the radio play of their single all the more powerful.
The first press for ‘Second Coming’ was that famous Big Issue front cover. That they decided to do their exclusive comeback interview with the Big Issue was perfect. It was media suicide to not go the traditional press route but the Roses were so far off the beam by now it was perfect.
I bumped into them in the street in Manchester as they were on the way to do the interview. The four of them rushing out of a Manchester city centre hotel- it was one of the last times that Reni was with the band. The interview was controversial with the mainstream press who were angry they didn’t get the exclusive but the band figured that the revenue raised by the Big Issue would go into the right pockets.
It was a cheeky and amusing move and very punk.
It set the tone for the whole campaign, with the band operating behind a shroud of smoke. They had always been fond the tease thing, stretching out the tension, it was part of their music. It was now part of their whole set up. The very idea of releasing an album that close to xmas, when all the pop schlock come out getting in the way of number one was a mental risk that would help to cloud the record’s impact but the Roses always had a lot of front.
The band were in great spirits on the street that day. It was the first sighting of them for years. The last time I had seen Reni was on the same spot and we walked back to Hulme. He told me a lot of stuff about the album, as well as his shoes and about how great it was that the album had breakbeats on it instead of his drumming and how he was sampling and looping his drums in the studio which seemed strange coming from the best drummer of his generation. He also claimed he was skint!
Soon after the Big Issue interview Love Spreads had wafted out of the radio and it sounded so amazing that night that we stopped the van on the moors and got out and opened the doors and listened to it with the cold chill of the moon lighting up the background.
It was magical and mystical with its strange quasi-religious lyrics and its rumbling dark power. It has to be one of the best comeback singles of all time. Lots of people eventually said that Ten Story Love Song should have been the proper comeback single and it would have been a bigger hit- its pure pop and uplifting stanzas would have been perfect but ”ËLove Spreads’ has the mystery and weirdness and the intangible genius that the Roses at that point of time were after. The video compounded this- fuzzy images of distant weirdness, cine 8 snatches of the band goofing around and disappearing from view, it perfectly matched their mystery.
A tape of the album arrived the next day and I immersed myself in it. Having written about the band for years I got the tape first from the great Hall Or Nothing PR people (who unbeknown to them I had gifted the Roses to after meeting ex- Roses manager Gareth Evans on the train to London years before. Evans has asked if I could write about the band for the NME after my 1987 feature on them in Sounds. I pointed out to him that you could only write for one music paper at a time and gave him the numbers of two PRs- the great Jeff Barrett and the then more established Hall Or Nothing. Both were the best PR’s in the business, who only did the best bands and were also approachable and always had time for the bands and the journalists. I said that Hall Or Nothing were bigger and more established and he rang them first”Â¦).
The cheekily titled ”ËSecond Coming’ was a shock because it was so different and yet so similar. It didn’t have the euphoric, pure crystalline pop of the debut. it came with amore world weariness but it had an added slinkiness in its grooves and even if it was not 100 per cent perfect it had some really mind-blowing highs.
Sure there was an element of Led Zeppelin to the record, not the heavy Zep but the grooving, neo-folksy Zep. The remnants of the punk generation always had a problem with led Zeppelin but they were a great band and the Roses put their own stamp on the classic sound.
The Roses return was already a mixture of massively heightened expectations and muted disinterest. Oasis were now the top dogs. The bands had met at WH Smiths in Wales near the studio- Noel and Liam bumping into Ian Brown- the baton was passed over, the same baton the Brown had picked up from the Clash when he sneaked into the Westway wonders recoding on ”ËBankrobber’ in the now defunct Pluto Studios in Manchester. Oasis had taken the Roses template, cranked it up and were now the biggest band in the country.
Into this vacuum would arrive an album that wasn’t playing easy to get- with a marked move away from the pretty pop and dark heart melodies of the debut. This time there was a collection of songs that were not instantly accessible melodically and were far heavier than the debut.
Even the sleeve was different. It was darker, meaner, harder to make out, murkier and hinting at something more menacing than the Jackson Pollock pop art of the debut album.
Even the band’s photos for the Big Issue, snapped in Manchester’s Chinatown by legendary lense woman Pennie Smith (whose collection of shots of The Clash ranks as the finest collection of shots of a rock n roll band ever) showed a group looking more pensive and less surly than the late eighties photos, not looking that comfortable in eachother’s company. It was almost like they had forgotten how to pose as a gang.
Had they forgotten how to make records as well?
The Second Coming kicks off with a swathe of meditative Zen like feedback before segueing into a tape of a river behind the studio in Buckley, the cold river water sluicing down the mountain captured by Ian Brown on a portable DAT player. Shades of ”ËApocalypse Now’ soundtrack? especially with the swathes of dark feedback.
The track fuses gently into Reni’s drum pattern, a tribal workout that sounds almost like Fleetwood Mac’s great ”ËTusk’. Squire kicks in and we’re off into the album’s debut eleven and a half minutes track, ”ËBreaking Into Heaven’ and we are into classic rock country. There are shades of Jimmy Page with some of the guitar licks- a precursor to the whole album that has that Led Zep stamp on it with the loose, slithering guitar playing.
There are several layers of guitar- most of them forwards and some of them sliding in backwards, joining the occasional backwards snares that slurp in and out of the collage. Unlike Zep ‘breaking Into heaving’ floats away, it has a delicate beauty and a real tough groove, it is perhaps the Roses playing together at their best with a tightness and looseness that goes way beyond the fractious situation the band found themselves in at the time.
The track was one of several jammed versions of the song. Breakout, the flipside of Love Spreads was yet another version of the tune. The jam sessions were a key to the album as producer Simon Dawson told the Melody Maker.
“We spent a lot of time getting the backing tracks feeling good. They’d go in and just jam it for maybe a few days. They’d sort of play it all afternoon and maybe get bored with it and play something else and come back to the first song later with a slightly different feel. They just like playing together as a band, so that’s what they wanted to try and capture. If you want to make an album that sounds live, it’s as simple as that. They did spend a lot of time jamming in the studio, and a lot of different feels came out of that.”
Finally the song kicks in and Ian Brown sings with a strong, nasally northern accent. It’s a million miles away from the American blues tradition and stamps a northern stamp all over the song. His voice is husky and rough- it sounds like a man dragged out of bed which suits the deadly poison of the song. Reni’s backing vocals on the chorus are great whilst Ian Brown’s vocals are great on the album, defining the time and space as a singer should, putting a stamp on the proceedings with a husky whispered intensity reminiscent of JJ Burnel, another karate fiend, on the Stranglers The Raven track from years before.
About eight minutes into the song there is a great chord change and the song shifts a gear. how many times do I have to tell you that you don’t have to wait to die Brown intones darkly as the song builds towards a climax.
For an opening track it’s a weird one. Most bands put on a punchy radio tune to get things going but the Roses were putting all their cards on the table, stretching and flexing, playing to their strengths and creating that half focussed wall of mystique that over the years has strengthened the album.
From the off you can tell that this is Squire’s record. There are heaps of guitars on here. Piles of them dominating the band’s sound- layers and layers of guitar sound much like the way Jimmy Page piled up the 6 strings in his days with the Zep. Squire’s 59 Les Paul cranked through a hotwired Fender Twin whilst Mani’s Rickenbacker bass is deeper than ever before- an almost bowel shaking tone- closer to the Jah Wobble wobble that dominated Public Image’s finest moments.
The album is the same combination of hard rock and English folksiness that Zeppelin mastered, it’s music that slots into US rock FM. Except that The Roses had maintained some sort of edge, a smattering of Manchester tuffness that stopped their music tipping over into rawk boredom.
This was a record made in its time, this was not the tripped out sixties or the excess of the seventies, this was a band who were fusing rock tradition to something of their time, they couldn’t help their Mancunian vowels to shape the songs, their very northerness leaking through the songs epic reach.
Maybe this was down to Ian Brown’s voice. Brown’s vocal’s are one of the key points of the album, squeezing some sort of emotion, in a menacing and laid back manner out, of John Squire’s words.
Squire wrote nearly everything on The Second Coming. It’s never easy singing someone else’s lyrics, Brown when pressed on this said that.
“He was constantly writing really good stuff so there was no point in me doing anything.”
There is an air of folksiness throughout the album- the campfire shakes of Your Star Will Shine’ is an acoustic workout with the added spice of the line about the bullet being aimed ”right between your daddy’s eyes’ and Tightrope is maudlin, almost English folk rock .
Driving South is twelve bar Zep boogie driving on a mean riff, it contains the hilarious line ”Ëhe must be pretty but he sure as hell can’t sing’- what the fuck is that about? There was dark sardonic humour and a general darkness inside the tracks.
Already the difference between the two albums is becoming apparent- on the debut The Roses played as a team, as a sum of their parts but now they are all plying their separate paths, all chasing those Squire guitars and somehow making it work.
Not that Reni is panicking; his drums are effortlessly brilliant throughout with deceptively simple skip beats and great timings jamming to the breakbeats. This guy is a constant, totally amazing. He never even changed the skins on his kit and was still using the same drum kit from the first album. Reni was not averse to messing around with his rhythms. As Simon Dawson remembers.
“Reni is well into taking bits of something, sticking it into a sampler and re triggering it and see what comes out, getting a groove from that. We’d go down that line for weeks sometimes.”
”ËTen Story Love Song’ starts off with a squelch, sounding like it is tagged onto the end of a studio jam- all drums and guitars attempting to find the song before the song’s pure pop perfection slopes in. When it comes in it sends the heart soaring. Heaps of melody pile up, each change in the song is yet another great tune heaped up all the way to the chorus. It is the album’s musical link to the pristine pop of the old days, melodically and lyrically.
Brown’s vocal on this is great one of the key points of the track and somehow dredges an innocence from the song whilst Squire’s guitar is a simple chime and nails the melody down, the whole song sounds as effortless as the first album.
”ËTen Storey Love Song’ segues straight into Daybreak’ which again moves along great fractured drums sounding like something they knocked together in a jam. A jam where Reni is totally on form. There is some pretty neat Hammond pumping through the track. It has that late sixties vibe to it- at that point when the white beat bands started stretching out and just before they fell into progressive rock. The whole thing might have worked better if there was bit more Can in there or a bit more of the black psychedelic soul fused into its grooves.
Brown’s one and only self written track Straight To The Man’. Its easy shuffling groove and odd bounce gives it a sleazy swagger all of its own making it one of the stand out tracks on the album and missed chance of a single with a charm all of its own. Its packs a swagger that Shaun Ryder would capture with Black Grape’s debut months later. The jew’s harp in the track gives it an almost red neck biblical preacher man feel, and the song is Brown- all at once being thrown away and sinister and a precursor to the type of music he would do in his successful post Roses career.
Begging You’ sees the Roses finally cut a track that could be perceived as indie/dance. Its disturbed helter skelter, pile driving, neo-industrial nature is perfect for remixing and when it finally came out a single months later it was reworked several times. The Roses worked with a lot of loops and samples, sometimes running the loops through monitors in the studio and jamming along to them, building up whole new tracks from the collision.
The Roses then gather round the campfire and have a singsong for Tightrope’. It sounds like the mysterious air of the Welsh hills is getting to them and they are further loosing that city touch, that urban howl that fuses all great pop.
Good Times’ and ”ËHow Do You Sleep’ are side two’s excursions into classic Brit rock, the former is a up tempo boogie workout it was The Roses attempting to write a rock classic. Whilst the latter is their potential ”ËStairway to Heaven’ it even has a similar pipe sound winding through the mix and the big rock coda.
Thank god for Love Spreads’- the zig zag wanderer and another of The Roses total classics and as good as anything they ever wrote. It storms in with that great riff and spends five years oozing a mysticism all of its own.
And that was it, unless you left the CD running for about ten minutes till it hit track 64, when you were treated to The Roses dossing around with violins and a plinky plonk piano for a very drunken sounding exit.
Second Coming’ was on a hiding to nothing. For most fans the record was inevitably going to be an anti climax. For many of the true believers who had been burned by the sky high experiences of the late eighties, the record would never capture the same sort of heady euphoria that the debut almost unintentionally caught.
The Stone Roses had released a record. It was not a normal rock record but weighed down by the past they were always going to be struggling to a certain extent. The reaction was so different, this one wasn’t soundtracking the times- you couldn’t hear it pumping out of every bedsit window, it wasn’t accompanying anyone’s life, it was just a great album and one that sounds better and better over the years and is stuffed full of hidden gems.
They may have released a fine album but there was no way it could have been an historic album. It was a problem that any group who ever captured the times would have to face, the inevitable crash down to the real world can make them seem so human, so vulnerable.
Arguably, though, the album is as easily good as their iconic debut.
Some quotes from Ian Brown about the making of the ‘Second Coming’
‘We believed in that album at the time once we got it on the bag. I wrote a lot of lyrics on that album that I never put in for. I changed all John’s negatives into positives- there were loads of negatives in the lyrics- he had this line I got his dead shrimp baby’ about male impotency and I was saying I’m not singing that’ He was saying it’s a dead powerful singing about male impotency and I was saying I don’t feel like that! I wasn’t a negative person I didn’t want to make a dark album. John’s idea was the first album was all sunshine and colours so the second album will be dark and I’m thinking I don’t like dark music- I love reggae and Tamla Motown and uplifting hip hop and punk rock. I don’t like dark music. I don’t feel dark as a person. I don’t feel I have a dark side. I mean I might do but I don’t want to find it! I felt at the time it’s only an album so I can let that go now- I was thinking we got another three LPs in us and we could work differently on those.’
Love is the Law’ was going to be on the ”Second Coming’. We demoed it. Reni just plays an acoustic on it and John just plays an acoustic as well. It’s good song, yeah, I was dead keen to get it on the album but John wasn’t.
We had a lot of arguments about ”Driving South’ which was a Zeppelin riff- the key of it is quite high and I wouldn’t sing it high like Led Zeppelin and I was saying it would sound like a heavy metal band if I sung it high. I said ”Ëyou fucking sing it’ so John reluctantly let me sing it the way I wanted.
There’s a couple of songs I wish we hadn’t done like How Do You Sleep’. I know a lot of people like that one but I don’t and I don’t like that Good Times’ either. I don’t like hoary old rock n roll.
That’s why I put Straight To the man’ on there.
The album sounded far too rocky so I wanted to put something funky on there.
Breaking Into Heaven’ starts with a tape of baby crocodiles on it sampled off a video of sounds of nature and the running water I got a little DAT and there’s a little stream behind the studio in Buckley and I taped the stream- Breaking into Heaven’ is a great tune. We wrote that over the Eric B and Rakim beat
It’s a real shame we didn’t do the second album round the time of ‘Fool’s Gold’. When we started recording in ”Ë92 we had Reni playing the drums for 40 minutes and it was out of this world. We were in this place, like an old brewery in this cellar with a natural echo and I remember John Leckie turning around with a big beam on his face after 40 minutes of Reni on the kit and saying ”Ëcan’t this be the album?’ And I’m saying ”Ëfucking right!’ the second album then would have been fucking amazing, Reni’s like Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa- just him on the kit- no toms on the kit- just fucking amazing.’
‘Love Spreads’ came out and went straight in at number 2 in the charts. There was a sense of excitement. We had a big world tour- the agent got out a world map and said here’s a pin where do you want to go?
‘But then Reni was out of the band. Me and him had a row. We were sick of it. We couldn’t wait any longer for him. He didn’t turn up for the interview with the Big Issue, which was our first interview and was for the homeless and the music media who where to buy the interview off us which would be a positive thing from us for the six homeless people in Islington to get homes off the money we raised. Reni didn’t turn up for that interview and the next day we met an agent and he didn’t turn up for that either. The next day we filmed a video for Ten Story Love Song’ and he didn’t turn up for that either. We said we can’t wait for this kid any longer- then we had a cover shot for the NME that only me Mani and John appeared on- it was like the comeback cover and there’s only three of us on the fucking cover because he didn’t turn up!
We had this guy, Doug Goldstein, who managed Guns n Roses holed up in the Midland Hotel who had left this message that he’s not leaving town till he met us and we said fucking let him stay there- he give Steve Adge a Rolex watch to bribe him to go and meet him! We went to meet him after three or four days. He was a lovely fellow actually but we didn’t take him on in the end and Reni didn’t turn up for that as well! Doug Goldstein said ”Ëlook, I’m your perfect manager because what you got in your band I’ve already been through.’ He knew exactly what he was talking about with Guns And Roses. I thought you’re a sharp fucker. He said all the problems you got in your band I can help you with- believe me it’s nothing to me this is what he told us.’
We just got fed up with Reni not turning up and one day me and him had a bit of a barny and he said to me ”Ëright get yourself another drummer’ so I did. I heard that Robbie Maddox was a good drummer so I phoned him up and that was it.
The next day Reni phoned me and said I need to get down to rehearsal early so that me and Mani can rehearse and you and John can come down later’ and I said I done what you told me to do last night’ and he said what do you mean?’ and I said ”you told me to get another drummer so I have’ and I said ”what you going to do now then?’ And he said sign on I suppose’ I said I’ll make sure you get your quarter of money.’
It was sad but we couldn’t be waiting on the kid any more. He was getting up at 8 O’Clock every night. He wasn’t turning up to all the important things. We can’t spend our lives waiting on him. We was all 31/32 years old and we couldn’t spend our lives waiting on someone, so Reni never made that tour- so his last gig was Glasgow Green.’
John was going mad but John hadn’t spoken to Reni for ages- to be honest it annoyed me because it was like I had forced Reni to leave the band. I was like, we can’t work with him. I think we then did 12 dates in Japan in 7 or 8 different cities which was cool and then we went to Australia- some of the best shows were in America. We soon realised that America is all pressing the flesh and meeting all the Artie Puffkins and meeting all the retailers- every single night having a game of pool with the lads from the local HMV or whatever- that’s how you get on in America and we were not the sort of people who would do that. We went to a couple of them things and it nice to meet people but we realised that’s how you do it in America and it’s not about how great your chorus, it’s how about how many hands you’re going to shake and that just wasn’t us…’