Stone Roses reunion would be Fool’s Gold

The doyens of Madchester have announced a comeback, but they should stay where they belong: in our memories.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

It would be no exaggeration to say that the Stone Roses were one of the best bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and certainly one of the most influential. Not only did they produce one of the most beautifully crafted albums of recent times – their eponymous LP of 1989 (which the NME once declared ‘the greatest album of all time’) – but in Britain they made guitar-based music fashionable once more, and it remains so today.

The 1980s was an electronic era and the keyboard synthesizer was the default instrument. Before Madchester, of which the Stone Roses were the doyens, the only guitar-based bands to trouble the charts wore spandex and sported mullet haircuts. What is more, the Stone Roses made indie music mainstream.

Many Stone Roses fans are delighted with reports this week that the group, which split up in the mid-1990s, is reforming. A straw poll taken by the Guardian on Monday suggested a narrow majority would welcome their return, while a poll by Q magazine showed two thirds in favour of the move.

And who can blame them? What ageing indie kid wouldn’t want to see or hear a band that is seldom described without the adjectives ‘seminal’ and ‘iconic’? Critics may carp that this is a cynical decision, driven by financial expedience rather than artistic endeavour. After all, it’s not as though the Roses broke up amicably. Guitarist John Squire once made a piece of art bearing the slogan ‘I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group the Stone Roses’, and singer Ian Brown, when once asked about a reunion, replied ‘No chance… not in the next three lifetimes’.

Still, I suppose people are entitled to change their minds and earn a living in what one must inevitably refer to as ‘this difficult economic climate’. And reunions can be successful. Blur, Pulp and the Pixies seem to have navigated the process well, as did Take That (for a bit), while Ozzy Osbourne’s return to Black Sabbath seemed to have pleased the punters. Another band whose members notoriously came to hate each other, the Eagles, managed a comeback in 1994. Hell, this week the rejuvenated Steps even went to number one in the UK album charts.

In my opinion, however, the Stone Roses reuniting is bad move. It was all very well for the reformed Sex Pistols to embark on their brazenly entitled ‘Filthy Lucre’ tour of 1996, because punk in general (and John Lydon in particular) is cynical in its essence. The music of the Stone Roses could be wry and acerbic, but never cynical. When at their best, it was wistful and ethereal, even messianic. It had a dignity about it, and like The Beatles or Abba, the Stone Roses would do better not to tarnish that memory with a tacky superannuated get-together. (If only the Rolling Stones had had their own disruptive Yoko Ono figure in about 1972, to spare us their subsequent geriatric capers.)

Indeed, they managed to diminish this aura of mystique with their modestly-entitled 1994 album The Second Coming, a bloated blues-rock affair which, apart from anything, demonstrated that Ian Brown is a lousy singer, prone to going flat. Their catastrophic performance at the 1996 Reading Festival only heightened the suspicion that the Roses were already past it.

The Second Coming exposed a painful truth: the Stone Roses were a brilliant flash-in-the-pan. Like Guns N’ Roses or the Darkness, they made one amazing album and should have called it a day thereafter (and please, no excuses for GNR’s turgid Use Your Illusion I & II). There are a lot of thirtysomethings out there, misguided by nostalgia for their bell-bottomed, Paisley-shirted youth who are going to be very disappointed by all this.

The Beatles were saved such a fate by Lennon and McCartney’s bickering, the meddlesome Yoko Ono and then, alas, Mark Chapman. Abba turned down an offer of $1billion to reunite in 2000, which I think shows some dignity and, not least, wisdom. Away from music, the five surviving members of Monty Python have consistently poo-pooed the idea of a reunion, rightly pointing out the ridiculous prospect of men in their sixties making jokes about dead parrots and singing songs about transvestite lumberjacks.

Indeed, there is a perfectly acceptable substitute for Abba, in the form of the phenomenally successful tribute band Bjorn Again, which in the words of Benny Andersson are ‘the closest you can get to seeing Abba. Abba will never return!’ Likewise, for those who found it baffling that Pink Floyd continued after Roger Waters left, and especially now that its keyboardist Richard Wright has gone to the great gig in the sky, there has since 1988 been the now-internationally renowned and acclaimed Australian Pink Floyd Show.

Tribute bands, entirely fitting for our postmodern, karaoke, X Factor culture, can often be better than the real thing, especially when the real thing has become a shadow of itself. Somewhere out there I’m sure there’s a decent Stone Roses tribute band. In any case, I hold out little hope for the forthcoming ‘Four Craggy-Faced Grumpy Old Men From Manchester’ album and tour, and I feel sorry for those who do.

The Stone Roses should not be appearing on stage or in the studio; their members’ rightful place today is in ‘the identity parade’ on Never Mind The Buzzcocks.

Patrick West is a freelance writer based in the UK and Ireland. Read his blog here.

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Topics Politics


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