Review Summary: The album that made and broke The Stone Roses.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
The Stone Roses. What do we make of the 4 lads from Manchester? A successful and hugely influential band that along with the Happy Mondays led the charge of what was known as the 'Madchester' Baggy scene of the late 80's and early 90's. An outfit that inspired a generation of up-and-coming bands from Oasis through to the Arctic Monkeys via Primal Scream, to carry on the legacy of their 1989 eponymous debut well into the 2000's? Or a band that failed to achieve their goal, ending disastrously at the 1996 Reading Festival, a band desperately forging ahead without 2 of their original lynchpin members in John Squire and Alan 'Reni' Wren, after creating this album, 'Second Coming', an album that to this day receives mixed reviews from fans and critics alike.
Whatever your opinion on the album, it was regarded as one of the most anticipated albums in British history and is still a hot topic with anyone with even a passing interest in the band. Upon release, critics, who said that it didn’t stand up at all against their classic debut album, savaged the album. So what reasons can be given for the album failing to even be as good as their first? For one, ‘Second Coming’ was mostly written by guitarist John Squire, who by this stage had taken control of the band and took to writing blues-rock songs in the vein of Led Zeppelin and Cream, making the band's style, let alone the album, sound distant to anything that came before. Other contributing factors include a 5-year gap between albums, leading the Roses to lose momentum they had gained after the success of their first album, and tales of infighting between members, especially between old friends Ian Brown and John Squire. This led the band to implode in April 1996, when John left the band, leaving Ian and Mani (Reni left in early 1995 after the album was released) to continue on with replacement members. Whatever the reasons, it still stands that 'Second Coming' was a crucial release that sealed the fate of one of Britain's finest, yet intriguing, bands.
Ian Brown: Vocals
John Squire: Guitar
The albums starts with distorted guitar feeding back then playing a riff, which leads into a soundscape of a rainforest, with birds chirping and the sound of a river stream, while a guitar can be heard playing in the background. A jungle-style drum beat kicks in after 2 minutes, with the sounds of the forest still going on in the background. This goes on for 4 ½ minutes before ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ comes to life, with Squire’s wah guitar riffing over Ian Brown’s distinctive vocals, coupled with the strength of a boldly fluid rhythm section. It is a perfect opening for the album, and a great way to introduce the band after a 5-year stint in the wilderness, but the opening was just too long and unnecessary for me, leading the song to last for over 11 minutes in total. I can see what they were going for with the long opening, trying to build anticipation, but it just detracts from the tune, instead they should have opted to open up the album with the main song. John’s blues-rock influence really comes to the fore on ‘Driving South’, with it’s very zeppelin-esque riffing, whilst retaining some of the Rose’s old spark, mainly by Reni and his funky drumming patterns. There is really nothing special about this song, but John really does riff like a madman here, which does make a change to the spacious fills of the opening track.
One of the highlights of the album, ‘Ten Story Love Song’ introduces itself with drum rolls and a phaser effect before a nice intro riff introduces Ian’s great vocal performance. This song is a great example of how the new riff-heavy Roses and the old Roses have come together, combining John’s older guitar sound reminiscent of their debut, and how he has taken to playing solos on this album. It’s a rather lovely tune, and Ian gives a brilliant vocal performance here. Things get a bit funky on ‘Daybreak’ with Mani’s tumbling bassline leading the charge, John playing small Wah-Wah fills and Ian singing like it is 1989. Whilst these 3 members all play great parts in this song, the tune belongs to Reni and his amazing drum patterns and fills, fitting them in perfectly around the bass and guitar. It’s a great tune and just rolls along before it kicks in towards the end. A folk sounding acoustic intro opens up ‘You’re Star Will Shine’, including backwards guitar parts interspersed with the acoustic and Reni’s alternate percussion. It is a rather sweet song, with Beatles style harmonies from the entire band, which keep this pleasant song short and sweet. The only song written solely by Ian Brown, ‘Straight To The Man’ starts with the sound of bongos and John’s twanging slide guitar, leading into quite a laid-back and funky tune, which was a sign of things to come from Brown in his current solo work. It has a fluid bassline coupled with Reni’s funky drum pattern, and John’s slide guitar perfectly matching the mood of Brown’s attitude-laden vocals. The funky vibe of the previous song is all but dashed when ‘Begging You’ kicks in, with its choppy guitar intro and dance-beat. A very synthesized affair, this is the sort of song you could easily dance to in a club, what with John’s soaring guitar fills riffing their way across a Reni dance-beat and Mani’s bold bassline, easily one of the best songs on the album.
As far as this album goes, the track listing could have been thought out a bit better, with the songs all having different moods and styles being thrown together, it can confuse the listener. None more noticeable than with ‘Tightrope’, probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard, but because it follows up such as intense and draining song as ‘Begging You’, it does dull the effect of this track. It is a very melancholic and loving affair, with John’s acoustic guitar playing a great chord progression over light percussion and yet another solid bassline, but the highlight is not just Brown’s vocals, which are great, but the way in which the band harmonize with each other, a re-occurring feature of this album. ‘Good Times’ is next, with its stable bassline, harmonica and solo riffs that easily sound like a tune that could have been written in the 70’s. When the song kicks into life, It features yet more excessive riffing from John and Ian’s trademark vocals, rendering the song as nothing new as far as this album goes. Yet another acoustic guitar intro introduces ‘Tears’ and features more harmonica, and reminds me a bit of Guns ‘n’ Roses, especially when the song kicks in. To me this song sounds just like ‘Good Times’ except the electric guitar has been swapped with an acoustic. It’s not a bad song, in fact it’s quite good, but it sounds a bit too much like the previous track. A bongo drum and quiet electric guitar open up the penultimate track ‘How Do You Sleep’, which sounds a bit like Bachman Turner Overdrive in the intro, that is until Ian Starts singing. It’s a quite an up-lifting, yet bitter song from the writer’s perspective, but much like the ending of this album, it offers up nothing new, even when being compared to the band’s debut.
Just when you thought the album was going to crash out towards the end, the leadoff single tears into the action and ends it in spectacular fashion. ‘Love Spreads’ is just what the album needed to finish off on, a roof-lifting track compete with blues-rock slide guitar, brilliantly constructed riffs and solos and Ian’s vocals, which snarl at you, giving the song enough attitude to keep Oasis in comments for 6 months. This is easily the best song on the album and one of the Rose’s greatest tunes ever, the line ‘let me put you in the picture/let me show you what I mean/the messiah is my sister/aint no king, man, she’s my queen’ will be stuck in your head for hours after. The lyrics sort of make no sense but this was the best way to finish the album.
The 12 songs are now followed up by 78 blank tracks, with track 90 on the album consisting of a song called ‘The Foz’. The tune lasts for over six minutes and consists of what sounds like a banjo, piano and even more bizarrely, a hand saw, playing together but way out of time, basically just making sort of noisy jam, with chatter, surrounding noises, howling dogs and every now and again a clearing of someone’s throat interspersing with the song. This is then followed up by another 9 blank tracks, leading to 99 in total. This is a totally pointless way to end the album and kind of takes the shine off a bit.
In all, ‘Second Coming’ was a very different album to what the public were expecting at the time of release. The band (particularly John) was setting out to make a huge comeback after 5 years in the wilderness and it well and truly backfired on them badly. After the release, the band fell apart rapidly, with Reni quitting 4 months after the release, and not featuring often in the public eye since, going on to form a band called The Rub as vocalist and guitarist. A UK tour was cancelled in mid-late 1995 after Squire broke his collarbone while mountain-biking, then he too quit the band on April fool’s Day 1996, famously phoning up Ian Brown to tell him he had quit, going onto a solo career that has more or less failed miserably. The 2 remaining Roses, Brown and Mani, soldiered on with replacement members right up until Reading 1996, apparently a disastrous gig, with the band calling a painful end to the Stone Roses a month after. This is not the way any of the Roses would have wanted it to end. Since then, Brown has forged a successful solo career, releasing albums and touring constantly, and Mani is now a full-time member with fellow funk-rockers Primal Scream. As of 2007, rumours of a reunion persist, with Brown being the only member not up for the idea at all. ‘Second Coming’ is essential to the collection of Stone Roses fans everywhere, and whilst the album didn’t achieve the goals the band had set out to achieve with the album, it still stands as a pivotal moment in the history of one of England’s finest bands.