t’s now 17 years since Manchester awoke to find the name of The Stone Roses daubed in spray-paint across the façades of the city centre, 13 years since the seminal debut album, since the expressionist Jackson Pollock terrorism of corrupt record company bosses, since televisual sabotage and insouciant interviews, World-conquering quotes delivered on the edge of narcolepsy, decked out in flares, hats and all-weather coats...
But this goes beyond context and influence and pop cultural trivia, beyond knowing that their name was a reference to shapes etched in desert rocks by swirling winds over the course of aeons, beyond Manchester and beyond baggy and beyond any meaning or significance that any commentator has ever tried to pin on them, because these songs are magic, simple as that. From the moment the shimmering, wraith-like intro to “I Wanna Be Adored” rolls in and sends shivers up your spine, the laconic kick drum, the hypnotic bassline drawn equally from heaven and hell, ominous and beguiling at the same time, the guitars like Atlas holding up the world, with Ian Brown, broken Salford choirboy, crooning like he’s been kissed into stupefaction by the most beautiful girl you could ever imagine, the devil in him and powerfully so.
Over the years, since Silvertone and The Stone Roses parted company, there have been many problematic compilations designed to milk the Mancunian quartet’s legacy for all its worth. At their best (Turns Into Stone) these have been essential listening, bringing together various non-album singles and b-sides which equal, and occasionally better, the material from their seminal debut. At their worst (everything apart from Turns Into Stone) they’ve been blasphemous crap. The version of “I Am The Resurrection” on The Complete Stone Roses, for example, was a both badly mixed and instrumental-shorn single edit that should never have seen the light of day, let alone inclusion on something claiming to be ‘complete’. Worse even than The Complete Stone Roses is Garage Flower, a set of goth-inflected demos from circa 1985 which added nothing new in terms of (good) songs, and had precious little Anthology-style curio value either. I shan’t go into the cack-handed remixes project from a couple of years ago, or the 10th anniversary re-packaging of the debut album, which fleeced fans of another £14 (of which The Stone Roses themselves saw none, just as they never saw any money from CD sales of Silvertone releases, hence the protracted legal battle during the early ‘90’s which finally allowed them to sign to Geffen). And now this, The Very Best Of The Stone Roses, those same songs repackaged yet again, only this time combining the Silvertone years with Second Coming-era material, collaborated on by the band members themselves, remastered at Abbey Road under the supervision of John Leckie and Simon Dawson. Have they, at last, done it properly?
The answer is a resounding ‘yes’. It’s evident that a lot of thought and time has gone into the production of this record, into the sequencing, the sleeve notes, the cover art, the remastering. The early material is imbued with the depth of sound it has always lacked on CD, Leckie’s intricate and warm production now revealed exactly as it was intended. Meanwhile, the Second Coming tracks are made friendlier and less studio-focused in their sound. Songs are included in the forms that make most sense; “Breaking Into Heaven” is shorn of the pointless four-minute intro, “One Love” is shorn of the pointless four-minute outro, we get the 12” mix of “Elephant Stone” rather than the abrasive 7” edit, the magnificent full version of “Fools Gold” is present, and “Sally Cinnamon” is included in its joyously wilful 12” mix, replete with chiming, shuffling coda. These songs simply aren’t right in any other form.
Oh man, I love these songs. I’ve been in love with them since I was ten and heard them tumbling from my older brother’s bedroom, since I was 15 and rediscovered them for myself. I played Mani’s bassline to “Adored” once, the only notes I ever learnt to play, clumsily and ineffectually, but I still felt magic for those eight bars. I love the way “Waterfall” has lyrics about “brigantine sails” and “steeple pines”, the girl who is the object of the song’s escapism captured in beautifully obtuse detail. I love the Technicolor meltdown at the end, Reni’s drums swinging through the speakers as John Squire’s guitar cascades, melodic water over rhythmic stones. “Breaking Into Heaven” is too much, too strong, too long, too dark, but it still has a power and a majesty to it, voodoo in its grooves. It may lack the charm and the magic of the earlier tunes, but it is still awesome.
If I have any qualms at all it’s that a single disc cannot contain everything wonderful that The Stone Roses produced. I would have loved to have “Standing Here”, “Where Angels Play”, “How Do You Sleep” and “Something’s Burning” included, but there’s so much else here, and sounding so powerful and so fresh, that their absence is barely noticeable. “Made Of Stone” still shimmers like liquid mercury, “Begging You” is a maelstrom of kinesis, frantic and disorienting, “She Bangs The Drums” the most perfect pop single ever recorded, breaking the rules of how a pop song should flow, never once mentioning the word ‘love’ and yet still describing it so much better than anything else. And the double hit of the final two tracks is still, after 13 years, almost too much to take, the beautiful, crushed aspiration and fading but not forgotten dreams of escape and love captured in “This Is The One”, with its words about fleeing the country and burning down your past, the whirling, heady climax that rolls in on itself again and again and again until your chest feels like it might burst... To follow that with the matter-of-fact conceit and god-baiting impudence of “I Am The Resurrection”... If it weren’t such a towering artistic achievement they would have seemed foolish. As it is they seemed divinely inspired. These songs are the reason I love music.