So, the news that The Stone Roses are getting back together for a “world tour” and new recording has thrown me for a loop. The Roses loom large in my musical imagination; nearly as large as singer Ian Brown’s outsized ego. Their 1989 self-titled debut album, which I first discovered in a friend’s room in Battell Hall in the spring of 1990, essentially soundtracked my life at Midd from that moment forward. A clue to its impact is that I can actually still remember that moment, hearing “Fool’s Gold” for the first time, with the Pollock-inspired CD art in my hands. My mind’s eye may have embellished the gorgeous amber light suffusing the room and rising chorus of angels. Still, love at first listen.
In the days before Nevermind swept the campus in the Fall of ’91, the Roses album was the one record that everyone I knew could agree on—from indie rockers to my pal who swore by Slayer’s Seasons in the Abyss. (We all also agreed that the backwards-tape-loop dirge “Don’t Stop” could have been left off the album with few complaints. I’ve grown to like it.)
It’s fortunate the album is so good, because that was pretty much it for the band, aside from a b-sides collection and a couple of stray singles. A dispute with their label kept the group out of the studio through the rest of my college career and beyond. Finally, in 1994, the legal clouds lifted and their follow-up Second Coming was released to inevitable disappointment. There were a few good songs, but during the forced layoff their tastes had clearly morphed from lush, Byrds-inspired guitar pop to warmed-over Led Zep riffs, half-hearted rave tracks, and worst of all, the jive pseudo-funk practiced by so many of the lesser “Madchester” bands they had helped to spawn. By ’96 the band was no more, and it seemed like a mercy killing.
Now the Roses are reunited, seemingly ready to right the wrongs of their awkward, bitter implosion, boasting that they’ll finally live up to their promise. I’m not holding my breath—at least not in anticipation. In some respects, this reunion comes at just the right time, as R.E.M. gracefully folds their tent and Kim and Thurston are about to make daughter Coco’s future Christmas plans twice as complicated. There’s something nice about one of my favorite old bands burying the hatchet just as many of their 80s-era peers finally call it quits. I look forward to the chance to see them live, despite Brown’s erratic (to be charitable) voice in concert. In other respects, however, I’m 83% convinced that this isn’t going end any better than the last time around. I’m wary of having perhaps my strongest music nostalgia monkeyed with. Not every band has it in them to pick up where they left off live, like the Pixies, or even better, release more classic albums like they never skipped as beat, as with the amazing Dinosaur Jr. We’re about to find out if lightning can indeed be put in the bottle twice. If they can make some money, fine. But I don’t need them to do this. That first album doesn’t need them to do this. It’s taken on a life of its own.