Published on January 12th, 2019 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Panned Gold: The Stone Roses – Second Coming
The Stone Roses’ Second Coming suffered from high expectation syndrome. It’s not the life-changing Stone Roses album, but it’s a better record than people remember.
Panned Gold is our way of reminding music fans of the wealth we miss out on when we adhere to a critic or algorithm’s notion of ‘the best.’ Albums that deserve to be heard, but for many reasons, have become known as missteps or duds.
If The Stone Roses self-titled debut (1989) is a five-star record, and Second Coming (1994) is a two and ½ star record, then one of those things is wrong. And no one is going to tell you that the first record is anything short of pop perfection, not only nestled snugly in the zeitgeist of its time but perhaps the very flag of the Madchester scene itself, so…you must realize, time to reconsider.
I couldn’t say we get off to a great start on Second Coming. The (US) debut record ends with ‘I Am the Resurrection’ and ‘Fools Gold,’ clocking in at just over eight and just under ten minutes, respectively. After those experiments proved that rock records of that era could hold songs of that length, Second Coming begins with the 11 ½ minute intro of ‘Breaking Into Heaven.’ It builds (well enough) to crescendo just under the half-way point, but it’s certainly over indulgent. It would take a couple more tracks to find the true pace of the album, and risks losing listeners before the real gold begins to shine. But by the time we reach ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ and it bleeds into ‘Daybreak,’ we can finally, if temporarily, feel vindicated.
The opening notes of ‘Driving South’ always makes me wonder why John Squire is so underrated. He’s hardly a household name, unlike the similar lead guitar swashbuckling legends of Slash or Brian May. I listen to Second Coming and I sometimes think that Squire made his guitars sound a bit like cars, the snarl of an engine and the purring idle of a blacktop cruise. This in turn makes the album a driving record. Passing the time in your car in the summer, windows down, arm out, sunglasses on. I would use Second Coming to soundtrack a road trip in the same way I would use Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, War on Drugs, The Band, Bob Dylan, or Alanis Morissette (yes, I like Jagged Little Pill).
‘Begging You’ sounds like an out-of-state (or province, as it were) car chase, top down, white t-shirts and dirty jeans, whiskey in your lap, cigarette smoking, sheriff eluding mayhem. Slap some leather pants and a top-hat on the Squire, march him up some steps to stand, straddled, upon a grand piano and you’ve got some Use Your Illusion type-riffs. Squire sometimes sounds like David Gilmore if he took more cocaine, or Keith Richards if he didn’t take so much.
‘Begging You’ somehow dissolves into the campfire bongos and lithe strum of ‘Tightrope,’ and we get a song that sounds like it’s trying too hard followed by a song that isn’t trying hard enough. By this point in the album we’re past the best parts, but it doesn’t matter. From the eventual build up of ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ through the end of side A2, there’s enough to make you want to listen to what
you’ve heard on repeat. There’s a drop in the last 90 seconds of ‘Daybreak’ that makes me want to air-guitar. Every. Single. Goddamn. Time. It would make Johnny Marr raise an eyebrow.
As the album cruises on, landscape flashing by your window, there are some more jams to be found. I always liked ‘How Do You Sleep,’ a delightfully cheery delivery of a rather sombre lament. Brown continues to sing just fine, that smooth rasp of his delivery a confusing texture that is so good, who cares what’s in it. Mani and Reni do more than fill, they drive the whole damn thing from start to finish and let us concentrate on the hypnotic Ian Brown and gun-waving riffs of Squire by not being distracted by a shitstorm of confusion in the background. No confusion. Mani and Reni know exactly what they’re doing and they’re tight about it. There remain blends of style that defines Stone Roses – the scat of jazz, groove and rhythm of blues, rock, and all their contemporary influences of production.
The last real track (other than the perfectly forgettable ‘Foz,’ hidden behind a silence too long to let happen) was the first single: ‘Love Spreads.’ I can’t for the life of me find out what’s wrong with it — it’s a perfectly cromulent track, from the long legs, short skirt, muscle car guitar to the distant thunder of the baseline, snap of the drum groove — right down to the soft rain of piano keys in the background. Brown’s vocals are, per usual, Mancunian cool, floating words above it all that are easier to understand because they are sung, not spoken. But I don’t think the single did what it was supposed to — not in the UK and certainly not in the US And that was it. That was the last song on the last album we would see for twenty-two years.
Listening to the two records track-for-track — ‘I Wanna Be Adored’; ‘Breaking Into Heaven’; ‘She Bangs the Drum’; ‘Driving South’; etc. — is a sure-fire way to see the clear winner in a ‘which album was better?’ contest. But that’s probably the case with most bands and few exceptions. That experiment raises more questions than it answers when you try the same track-for-track listen with Rubber Soul and Revolver, which begin to sound like a double album. But The Beatles put those out a mere eight months apart, while The Stone Roses’ releases were nearly five-and-a- half years apart — in two different decades, nonetheless. At the release of their first album, the 80s were coming to a close and people were ready for a change. And change came fast via Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and Primal Scream. By the time of Second Coming, the charts were consumed by Oasis, Blur, Pulp, and the like, all bands that could only exist because of The Roses.
I can see why people were peeved, after waiting five years for a follow up to The Stone Roses. That album changed lives. But, five years later — god, that’s a long time when you’re waiting — what were they expecting the next record to do? Change their life again? Change their lives back? Second Coming wasn’t as good as everyone wanted, but it’s as good as we deserved. And if you didn’t live that life, if you haven’t heard Second Coming (or The Stone Roses), you have an opportunity to experience their incredible history without having to live in the storm. It’s not as exciting, but it’s not as disappointing, either. Listen carefully.