Pretty Green

The Stone Roses Second Coming album – What went wrong?

The Second Coming Album CoverYes this album is almost 20 years old.  Looking back from this perspective is enormously advantageous because in my book The Stone Roses could not have had a harder hill to climb compared to most any other bands sophomore effort. Plus It’s easier to see things for what they are in time. Their story is well written chances are you already know it or can find out about it elsewhere. In any case for me “The Second Coming” is a guitar rock album that takes far too long to get going and when it does: it sounds like a mix of different possible albums while being at odd’s with itself almost all the way through. This despite sounding very together in that song writing formula The Stone Roses pull off effortlessly.  You could find yourself saying “I like this song they could have taken this direction” for a number of songs. The trouble is it never manages to do it even for a few songs in a row. Even more troubling for me is that the songs on their own sound great yet that’s where the album falls apart: because The Stone Roses were about the 4 of them, not their single pieces.

Starting off an album with a length of 4 minutes of essentially nothing – the time it takes for most bands to get to song two – is about as brazen as it gets. If this was meant to be the “Adored but updated” homage I fail to see it. A sad reality (post tape world of course) is “Breaking Into Heaven” is a really boss song with it’s riveting and anthemic chorus, blistering guitar sound, and funky bass. It is often skipped by me because of the time to get to minute 4 without scrubbing ahead 4 minutes. Then there’s the matter of the loud and over-mixed guitar that creeps in. It really spoils an otherwise fantastic and complex set of guitar runs.. What is perplexing is that John Squire is a man who was enormously aware of his guitar tones. It was to the point that when you listened live generally you couldn’t tell the difference between the two other than “more reverb” because it’s live. So for it to sound so out of place is striking. And that’s not an engineer’s lack of mixing problem either I think. Thankfully, and this is that part of the at odd’s of the album, is that Ian’s vocals and harmonies are some of the best he’s ever pulled off  even if in a more rocking way than his strengths might not lend to.

As I mentioned the album is at times at odds with itself. It can’t decide if it wants to be a blues album, or some kind of funk album, or some grand musical follow up – and on track 2 you reach that brutal realization. Where as “Breaking into Heaven” was a fairly psychedellic rock song your next track is another completely different direction in “Driving South”. While a personal favorite because I love the main riff of the song – it is generally sub standard lyrically, and even musically by 12 bar blues standards. And we all know there are some bad blues songs out there.

The third track “Ten Story Love Song” is, along with a later track “How Do You Sleep” , seemingly the holdover songs from the Roses pop writing days. Ten Story is a classic trudging along song taking over a minute to really get going. It then builds up to one of the greatest chorus’s ever written by the band. It also features one of the few situations where you hear Reni’s classic and lovable backing vocals. If you dislike this song I don’t really know what to tell you as it’s about as good as it gets with the Roses.  The other song “How Do You Sleep” even follows a very early creative pattern on drums where Reni utilizes the ride and kick that you heard in the likes of Waterfall, Made of Stone and the She Bangs the Drums Demo that then builds into a larger fuller drum sound for the latter part of the song. These two tracks  – despite the heavy reliance upon the guitar for filling out the sound with leads – is what I wish this album was like all the way through.

The middle of the album is rife with equally as confusing yet almost classic songs. “Your Star Will Shine” is beautiful even if it’s a bit “Houses of the Holy” era Zepplin. Almost taking cue from the Houses album you have “Daybreak” and it is probably the most dissapointing  of all. Lacking the overdubs of the rest of the album you wonder where the hell they are. Then there is the total song writing credit of the band that was never present. Is this to say this is what we can accomplish if we bang out heads together. The shining joy of this track is the actual effort on drums from Reni. And it’s not even that complex.The quality drumming really only shines on the fact that it’s not really present anywhere else to this degree and you wish it was. What did they hope to accomplish with this song? Is this meant to show hey “this is what we are to become”? Again the complaint for me is that this is what could have been.

The latter part of the album with “Tears” – an outright homage to “Stairway to Heaven” is good in some cases but seems forced. Quite like another track: “Good Times”. The message even seems fales in it’s sincerity which is: “That life sucks but we as humans keep on searching for that feel good moment over and over. We can either live in the past or we can  party now so fuck it lets try to make this moment the good time.” Maybe in that way the music is reflective of it’s lyrical content but that’s kind of an awful connection for  some to make at first listen. It’s far too self-reflective.  Then there is Love Spreads.  Oh, Love Spreads. A glorious song on it’s own but if you heard the demo’s and they stuck to THAT direction rather than the dubbed masterpiece it became this album would be yet another direction. Standing on it’s own I have to say it’s great and no real need to change it other than tone down the overdubs. Again I just point to what might have been. Here take a listen to the demo.

Coming from an artistic perspective what made The Stone Roses so great was that even their b-sides from the “Turns Into Stone” when put together sounded cohesive. For me to even ask why this grand miss was made is confusing to me. I mean this album swings from 12 bar bar blues: Driving South to pop rock: Ten Story Love Song, and club dance music: Begging You, and off-beat reggae: Straight To The Man, and acoustic sing alongs: Your Star Will Shine, and then glorious swamp rock in Love Spreads. What I’m saying is I get that some pieces are part of a larger picture and as art it is what it makes you feel.  Picking apart something reveals nothing sometimes but viewed together you can understand it’s greater meaning.  And with The Stone Roses that is what they were. For them to create an album that doesn’t fit with itself and miss so spectacularly is a bit perplexing but maybe almost self-fulfilling given the bands nature. To me: It’s the great album that never should have been made.

Or at least should have been their 6th album.