The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition

by Evan Sawdey

10 September 2009


What's even more amazing is how much tighter the album gets by excising "Elephant Stone".

What’s even more amazing is how much tighter the album gets by excising “Elephant Stone”. Before, the upbeat charmer “She Bangs the Drums” fades right into the squiggly, psyched-out “Elephant Stone”, which really forced too many of the group’s pure pop numbers up front, making the album seem more bubbly than it actually is. Now, “She Bangs the Drums” fades right into the mid-tempo guitar number “Waterfall”, and—lo and behold!—the album’s flow suddenly makes sense. We now realize how immaculately sequenced the original LP was, the band showcasing their rock (“Adored”), pop (“Drums”), and love song instincts (“Waterfall”) within the first three tracks, flexing a lot of musical muscle in a very short amount of time. “Elephant’s Stone” threw off that delicate balance, and now that things have been restored, the disc has never sounded tighter.

Unfortunately, this leads us into the biggest problem with this whole re-release. Though the “Collector’s Edition” is undoubtedly the way to go on enjoying all these exciting revelations, not everyone is going to be willing to plop down $120 to get this four-disc behemoth. Some may settle for the 2CD/1DVD version that’s getting released at the same time, but you’re not getting the same thing. The 2CD/1DVD version (and the single-disc re-release that’s coming out as well) both add on “Fool’s Gold” to the end of the original album, which is an erroneous move for multiple reasons. In short, The Stone Roses should end in the way it was always meant to end: on “I Am the Resurrection”, a funky dance number that evolves into a psych-rock guitar explosion that touches on everything from traditional folk-rock to Who-styled power chord excursions all over the course of its delightfully overstuffed eight minutes. By adding on the even more club-oriented “Fool’s Gold” at the end (which itself is nearly 10 minutes long), we not only A> end the album on a completely different tone, but also B> wind up devaluing “Fool’s Gold”, one of the Roses’ best singles. It isn’t rocket science: by placing two extremely up-tempo dance tracks right next to each other, the intended effect is somewhat dampened, as they cancel each other out somewhat. Simply put, the climax of “Resurrection” just isn’t as stunning, and “Fool’s Gold” isn’t as funky by contrast.

“Fool’s Gold” was meant to be a standalone track: it was constructed to be a pocket dance odyssey, not an alternate ending to the foundation of all of Britpop. Hell, if we’re putting “Fool’s Gold” back in the running, why not toss in “Elephant’s Stone” as well, and make the whole thing exactly like the 1989 version all over again?

Which leads us to yet another confusing extra: the various bonus discs. The Lost Demos is one of the “gets” to this compilation, and listening to it is nothing short of fascinating. On “I Wanna Be Adored” alone, John Squire sounds positively amateurish—frequently missing notes, showcasing positively none of the flash or flourish that would ultimately become his trademark, and seeming tentative (afraid, even) to do anything “too wild” with his solos. Contrast that to the way he plays on the Blackpool Live DVD included here, and you’d be hard-pressed to claim it’s the same person in both places. During the Blackpool performance (shot entirely in black and white), Squire plays with an effortless cool, never really looking up at the audience (or cameras) while casually showcasing his virtuoso guitar chops. Brown—whose reedy voice never really seemed like it would hold its own in a live context—also proves why he had reason to believe his own hype: the man could still draw out an impressive howl just when you least expected it (and his spastic between-lines dancing proves to be a visual spectacle within itself).

If anything, the Lost Demos show just how far the band came in a relatively scant few years, and further show that a lot of what made The Stone Roses so special in the first place wasn’t made by accident. Producer John Leckie heard what the boys were doing, but decided to up the stakes considerably and made things sound a lot more dramatic, playing down Mani’s bass just a bit in the mix (it comes thudding through in a couple of the demo recordings) and giving Squire and Brown just the perfect amount of reverb, forcing both of them to sound a bit “important” but ultimately proving that such a gamble was well played: that little bit of drama gave the songs a bit more spark. Leckie also made some great judgment calls by killing the double-time drum beat that comes through on the “I Wanna Be Adored” demo, adding in the guitar arpeggios that decorate the start of “Bye Bye Badman”, and toning down Reni’s drums considerably on “Shoot You Down” (it certainly doesn’t help that on the demo recording, Squire’s guitar sounds positively pedestrian compared to the album version). Again, The Lost Demos wind up giving us a huge amount of insight into what ultimately made The Stone Roses what it is: a carefully constructed tour through Britian’s rock history that was made through a lot of painstaking labor and tough calls on the artistic front; this wasn’t just something that the guys “stumbled upon” by any means.

If you’re buying the 2CD/1DVD version, then you get the remastered album, the Blackpool Live DVD (which also features a bunch of horribly uninteresting music videos from the era), and The Lost Demos. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with including The Lost Demos, the decision to include this doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, as the third CD on the “Collector’s Edition”—simply titled Extras—winds up having far greater entertainment value. On it, there are collected non-album singles (“Elephant’s Stone”, “Fool’s Gold”, “One Love”), B-sides (the fantastic “What the World is Waiting For”, featuring a drum beat that Blur totally ripped off for their single “There’s No Other Way”), and various other assorted rarities (“Guernica”, “Mersey Paradise”, etc.). The 12” mix of “Elephant Stone” positively destroys any memory of the original album version, downplaying Squire’s psychedelic guitar excursions in favor of a far more dance-oriented vibe that allows Reni to show off his considerable skills, the triple hit coda during the final stretch sounding positively booming here. Though the highlights come quick and heavy (“One Love” ranks just below “Fool’s Gold” in terms of quality non-album singles, and “Going Down” introduces the slightest bit of twang into the band’s sound), there are also a few backwards-tape experiments (“Guernica”, “Full Fathom Five”, “Simone”) that are worth listening to maybe once but not much else beyond that.

Though it would’ve made more logistical sense to include Extras instead of The Lost Demos on the 2CD/1DVD version of the Stone Roses’ 20th Anniversary re-release of their unquestioned masterpiece, such qualms are relatively minor in the long run. The bottom line is simply this: the Stone Roses eponymous debut has always been considered one of the greatest albums ever made, but only through this 20th Anniversary re-master do we actually get to feel its intended power. There has never been a better time to reacquaint yourself with this milestone, because even if you already know it front to back, this Collector’s Edition makes you reconsider the disc in exciting new ways. In short, this is the new standard that any Deluxe Edition album should be held to from this point onward. How many re-releases can you truly say that about?

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