Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 1)
A flat grey sky hangs over London. Cars rumble by the front steps of Konk Studio as a shaggy haired fellow takes a long pull of a cigarette. A group of kids run past; laughing over a joke he was too far away to hear the beginning of. An old man eyes him suspiciously from a window. He pauses for a moment, glancing towards the brick rooftops of the houses across the street, with one motion he flicks his cigarette onto the pavement before heading back downstairs. He ambles past the engineer and heads for the vocal booth. The producer leans into the booth, a couple words are exchanged and he nods and grabs a seat behind the glass. He points something out to the engineer and returns his attention to the booth; he holds up a hand and begins to count off.
4… 3… 2… 1…
England spent the ‘80s watching its own legacy crumble. Margret Thatcher had waged a decade long war against unions and miners strikes while the country gathered round the television to watch their own police force brutalize workers preventing other workers from working. A shift of focus from the coal industry to the service industry closed factories all over the country with the working class neighborhoods hit the hardest. The punk movement that galvanized the late 70s and early 80s was receding in favor of increasingly same sounding new wave and pop music. The thrill of money was polluting the airwaves; nothing mainstream had real energy anymore. Slick professionalism was the order of the day; all the exciting music was coming out of America.
The thing about Americans is loads of them just don’t know what happened over there during that decade. They think of grunge and boom bap rap music and sigh with nostalgia. But everyone who knows anything about music from a slightly more xenophobic ‘merican perspective knows that the 90s belonged to the English. The amount of absurdly exciting things that swept the country during that decade changed everything and the USA is still playing catch up.
Local Manchester band The Patrol was about done with doing Clash knock-offs, nobody was saying it but this show was going to be the last one. Just for fun, the group decided to give the bassist a chance at the microphone to sing one last song, a cover of The Sweet’s “Blockbuster” to finish things up. The bassist was Ian Brown and that night he realized that he felt more at home singing in the front than plunking along in the back. That was in 1981 and Ian wouldn’t find himself where he was meant to be until Andy Couzins approached him to share vocal duties in his band, The Waterfront. After The Waterfront split, Andy and Ian linked up with Peter Garner on bass; John Squire was recruited for guitar and Alan Wren joined on the drums. Their name, picked for its contrast, was The Stone Roses.
The key to the Stone Roses’ appeal is that Ian Brown is kind of a sh*t singer. His range was limited to a few octaves at best and he was completely flat. This is extremely important. Because his voice was so limited, everything else had to be strong. The hooks needed to be massive, the melodies always on point, harmonies bewilderingly realized and every single song had to be sweating confidence to such a degree that nobody noticed Ian’s deficiencies. This limited range would prove beneficial to the Stone Roses appeal as well, anyone could sing along with these tunes.
Pause for a moment and think about how many Britpop bands that paragraph applies to. Maybe The Stone Roses
wasn’t the beginning of Britpop (Ahem, The Queen is Dead
) but it laid down the groundwork for nearly everything that followed it in England during the 90s.
”I wanna be adored.”
Ian Brown and England wanted to be adored. And whether or not you think Britpop began here, musical movements don’t get mission statements as big as this. Everytime I listen to “I Wanna Be Adored” I get that feeling that something huge is beginning. That thick bass line, that atmospheric guitar riff, and the drums hitting with a mighty thwack
. It’s a stunningly epic opener; Ian gets away with the hubris of the lyrics because you totally believe him. Its hypnotic the way he beckons and calls to you.
”You adore me.”
It’s so perfect that the rest of the album may come off as a bit of a disappointment at first. It is a bit of a bummer that the rest of the record isn’t as drivingly atmospheric; instead it’s a pitch perfect collection of pop tunes. The hooks here are things you’re born with, even if you’ve never heard “She Bangs the Drums”, “(Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister”, or “Made of Stone” before; you’re going to feel like you did. They feel ageless, coded into the DNA of pop music. “Waterfall” tumbles and pours forward; “Shoot You Down” injects a bit of variety into the back half of the album with a bassy jazz tune. It’s superb stuff. Things you could base an obsessive fandom around.
And an obsessive fandom soon followed. Hundreds of thousands of working class nobodies (Noel Gallagher included) found themselves looking at these lads on stage making this great music without looking or sounding much different than they did. Anyone can close their eyes and croon along to anything on here and imagine the spotlights beating down, if lowly bassist Ian Brown can shaggy his way on stage, anyone could do it. The Stone Roses kicked off the 90s with a concert at Spike Island in front of 27,000 drug wallowed Brits. It was the Sermon on the Mount for the coming decade.
Next: “First you look so strong/Then you fade away”