Tracey MacLeod may have reinvented herself as a restaurant critic who makes occasional sarky cameos on Masterchef, but she’ll never really better this televisual treat where she presided over this, the Stone Roses appearance on The Late Show when the power failed.
“AMATEURS! AMATEURS!” Genius…
RESCUING ROCK’S WAIFS, STRAYS AND UNDERRATED GEMS…
First out of the blocks in a new series is The Stone Roses’ controversial follow-up to their eponymous debut. Let battle commence…
Received wisdom about the Stone Roses’ fall from grace usually comes in a soundbite like this: Mancunian fourpiece releases generation-defining debut album, is derailed by a record company legal battle then loses the plot with a much-delayed follow-up.
But here’s the thing. I’ve always thought Second Coming is a superior being to its much-heralded predecessor. It’s not a view that was popular back in 1994 and nobody’s hopped over my side of the fence 18 years later, but I’m sticking to my guns.
Let’s not underestimate the weight of expectation placed on Second Coming’s shoulders. There’s a huge gulf between a hotly-anticipated record and a long-awaited one. Don’t confuse the two. Few people could conceive of Axl Rose repeating his glory days with Guns N’ Roses on Chinese Democracy despite taking 15 years to record it. For the Roses, though, in the UK at least, fans believed that they had the talent to take on the world and win even after almost five years in limbo.
If the band had been allowed to waltz straight back into the studio around the time of their Fools Gold and One Love sessions then events could have taken a very different turn. But thanks to their manager, that was not to be and the Roses lost momentum until they wriggled free from an astonishingly restrictive record contract.
When the band finally reconvened, guitarist John Squire was clearly in the driving seat. Gone were the co-writes with frontman Ian Brown with just one exception. Second Coming is very much Squire’s vision – darker, more cynical and with a new musical direction.
Second time around: The Stone Roses emerge from the wilderness
The chiming, arpeggio influence of The Byrds that threaded its way through the debut is replaced by a much rockier, thicker Led Zeppelin sound. Squire’s appropriation of Jimmy Page’s style is thoroughgoing, although he does add his own funkier touches to solos, too.
For many, the way Squire’s guitars dominate Second Coming is the big sticking point. A self-indulgent coked-out axe hero had soloed himself into oblivion while his bandmates sat idly by and gave up the ghost.
But that’s to miss some extraordinarily fine performances from the rest of the band here, too. Ian Brown’s vocals are strong throughout and infused with the swaggering insouciancewhich he made his own. Mani’s basslines are much fuller than on the debut and he’s more prominent in the mix. As for Reni, the best drummer of his generation is on imperious form. Naturally.
To my ears, the production on the debut sounds thin and reedy. While it was a smart move to downplay Ian Brown’s vocals in the mix to hide his ‘melodic shortcomings’ (ahem), producer John Leckie did a disservice to Squire, Mani and Reni.
And let’s not forget that the debut is not without filler. Elizabeth My Dear and Don’t Stop are little more than makeweights.
Here, Squire doffs his hat at the classic rock monument that is Led Zep IV – mixing Les Paul rockouts with fingerpicked acoustic offerings, although there’s nothing here that you could truly call folky.
The first indication of Second Coming’s heavier bluesy feel came with lead-off single Love Spreads. For me, that’s right up there with anything they ever recorded. A superb, swampy beast packed full of mystery, menace and attitude.
Opening salvo: The Roses’ comeback single, Love Spreads
As for the album itself, all the ammunition for the naysayers is there in the opening track, Breaking Into Heaven.
This isn’t inner city Manchester anymore, it’s something more akin to the Amazonian rainforest as five minutes of sound effects and animal noises beckon us in. An act of monumental hubris, ill-conceived self-indulgence or a cheeky punk rock fuck you to the music world? I’ll go with the latter – the Roses were rushing for no one and would take their sweet time about it.
When the band finally get into gear, everything slots into place, particularly Brown’s whispered vocal and Reni’s supremely funky drum patterns. Then, of course, it’s the first appearance of John Squire Mk II in full-on Page mode.
Driving South is a rollicking riffathon, once again powered by Squire’s guitar histrionics and Reni’s monumental drums – the latter steals some of John Bonham’s Led Zep thunder, too, with a cavernous When The Levee Breaks boom. On the face of it lyrically, we’re dealing with the hoary old blues cliché of selling your soul to the Devil down by the fabled crossroads. Whatever the original intent, Brown delivers Squire’s lyrics with tongue planted firmly in cheek. PS - you can contact the Devil via a toll free phone number, which really is very considerate of Old Nick.
Ten Storey Love Song is the most traditionally structured track here and would have felt perfectly at home on the well-honed debut. It’s worth noting it was one of only two songs from the Second Coming to make it into the Roses’ comeback tour setlist of 2012. With its uplifting juggernaut chorus and sweet BVs from Reni, this is the poppiest thing here.
More typical of the Roses’ new approach here is Daybreak, which evolved through tortuous studio jam sessions over several days. It was worth the effort though and is a vastly underrated gem in their canon. Reni, once again, is an absolute joy to behold. Sly Stone would have killed to have him in his band. A four-way co-write, Squire is reined in, only letting loose in a noodly coda. I’ll hazard a guess that the nod to civil rights activist Rosa Parks come from the pen of Ian Brown.
That Led Zep IV template begins to emerge fully with the acoustic strumalong of Your Star Will Shine and a first attempt at some light and shade. At only two-and-a-half minutes it’s a nice little palette cleanser.
Brown’s solo writing credit Straight To The Man is the kind of loose-limbed funk that he’d continue with post-Roses, but as good as it is, it’s blown out of the water by the powerhouse Begging You (video shown below). A full-blooded dance-rock soundclash, once again Reni steals the show. They really throw the kitchen sink at this production-wise – backwards guitars, drums and vocals, loops a-go-go and mysterious opaque lyrics.
Begging to differ: The innovative dance-rock mash-up of Begging You
Tightrope’s always been another personal favourite of mine and another rather overlooked song here. Once again, you could argue the feel has been pilfered wholesale from a Zep in-concert acoustic section, but it’s none the worse for that.
I’m struggling to argue a strong case for Good Times, though. Brown’s weakest vocal showing on the album, it’s enlivened by some fine lead lines from Squire but still feels a little flat a couple of hundred listens later. King Monkey really struggles to hit some of the notes and he’s clearly out of tune on some of the latter verses. Onwards…
If any more proof was needed that Squire’s firmly on a Led Zep IV trip then Tears seals the deal. Finger-picked intro and early acoustic choruses. Check. Slow build to epic rock out. Check. This is his attempt at his own Stairway To Heaven without a doubt. And while he doesn’t scale those giddy heights, there’s a nice dynamic at play here as the band smoothly move through the gears. It’s also one of Squire’s most honest, self-lacerating lyrics as he apparently lays bare his struggles with kicking drugs:
“I don’t know if I’m alive, dead, dying, or just a little jaded….”
“Lost in a maze of my own making,
No way out that I can find, send home your hard-working jury,
I’m going down this time.”
Getting epic: The Roses attempted their own Stairway to Heaven on Tears (Unsuitable picture I know, wrong era etc, but the sound quality is fine…)
The darkness continues for How Do You Sleep. With an illusive lyric, it’s a hard one to pin down.
There’s no denying though that Second Coming ends on a resounding high with the stone cold classic that is Love Spreads. Bobby Gillespie called it the greatest comeback single of all time. He was not wrong.
And by the way, I’m loving the new 2012 live incarnation with Ian Brown rapping a la Eric B & Rakim. He always was a better talker than he was a singer.
BY STEVE HARNELL
One for the Roses geeks - check out an isolated mix of Reni on Love Spreads. Just awesome.