The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition
Imagine if you will: an album re-release that actually gets everything right, making an already-classic album sound even better than before, deepening our understanding as to what made it so iconic.
Let's actually ask ourselves the question: when someone makes a "Deluxe Edition" of a classic album, what are we -- the listeners -- ultimately supposed to get out of it?
Well, what we should be getting is a deeper understanding of a musical milestone, whether it be because of a substantially-enhanced remastering job or a bonus disc filled with B-sides, rarities, and demos from the era that further illustrate the brilliance of the artist/band in question. What we often get, however, is a hack-job cash-in effort on an album that we already own anyways. DJ Shadow's Endtroducing is one of the greatest albums ever made -- no question -- but the Sony Legacy Deluxe Edition that came out in 2005 featured little more than a bunch of alternate versions and remixes that did very little to enhance our understanding of the album (much less Shadow!) in question. The very fact that a "classic album" album gets re-released is usually enough to garner a mention of its supposed historical importance in in all the websites, magazines, and media outlets that cover this kind of thing, but rarely do these Deluxe Editions let us actually reexamine the album with a fresh pair of eyes. Too often do we go up to our friend and simply ask "hey man -- can you burn me a copy of that bonus disc?" without much regard to what it all means.
So imagine what a genuine surprise it is to hear The Stone Roses: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition for the first time. Although available in multiple formats (standard CD, 2CD/1DVD combo, and a "Collector's Edition" with three CDs, a DVD, and all kind of other bonus ephemera), the "Collector's Edition" is what we're talking about here, and for good reason: this is what every album re-release should aspire to be. This is a disc that alters, twists, enhances, and deepens our understanding of the Stone Roses' debut album -- an album that we've been listening to incorrectly for the past decade (more on that in a moment).
Yet let's first establish why the Stone Roses eponymous disc is worthy of reissuing. In the late 1980s, Britain was caught up in a tsunami of synth-drenched New Wave pop, a sensation that rode out through the end of the decade. When the Stone Roses -- formed by vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire from the ashes of their early group English Rose -- released their single "Sally Cinnamon" in 1987, the track was virtually ignored by mainstream radio, which was too busy playing monster hits by the likes of Boy George, Starship, the Pet Shop Boys, and Rick Astley. It was only natural that a counterculture movement would emerge in the wake of all this synth fluff, and it was during the late '80s that hard dance music slowly established what came to be known as the basis of modern-day rave culture, or -- as it was known at the time -- "Madchester".
Though UK rave culture didn't fully crystalize (at least in a musical sense) until the release of Primal Scream's 1991 masterpiece Screamadelica, late '80s acid house groups like the Happy Mondays were certainly making their mark, yet no group's influence would prove as lasting as the Stone Roses. It always seemed like drummer Reni (born Alan Wren) was having a joke played on him, as here was a kid with a thing for jungle hats and a serious knack for creating blistering, club-ready dance beats on a standard rock drum kit, all while the band played heavily psychedelic, '60s-indebted Britrock all around him. In many ways, the Stone Roses' weren't doing anything new, but what they were doing -- blending dance music with classic popsike rock experiments -- sure as hell felt revolutionary during a time when just about every major pop and rock album suffered from that "'80s studio effect", where every drum hit and guitar lick sounded overproduced and tinny.
Though the Roses' eponymous 1989 debut wound up becoming an amazingly popular album at the time, it wasn't until years later that we really got to see what the Roses had accomplished: they sowed the seeds for what ultimately became known as Britpop, a movement of music and culture that gave the UK a renewed sense of nationalism, with artists and bands making songs that weren't just made in Britain, but were about Britain. Bollocks to those who didn't know what being "on the dole" meant: this new wave of fresh musical blood embraced their musical heritage, and through these bands (lead by the Britpop Godhead made up of Blur, Oasis, and Pulp), Britpop ultimately defined a majority of England's musical output for the rest of the decade.
Though a majority of us have "discovered" the Stone Roses well after the fact, the thing we never realized is that we had been finding out about them in the wrong way. The US CD version of the Roses' debut (released in December of 1989) was notably different from the UK release, as it added two additional tracks that wound up becoming huge non-album singles for the band in their homeland. The ridiculously upbeat "Elephant's Stone" was dropped right in the middle of the US album's lineup, and the nearly 10-minute dance masterpiece "Fool's Gold" was tacked on at the end just for good measure. Though there's nothing inherently wrong with these additions themselves (especially considering that they're two of the band's crowning achievements), US audiences have been lead to believe that this is the way the album was constructed, a belief that lasted for nearly two decades without anyone making any sort of correction (because, really, why would anyone even bother to point it out?).
So imagine, if you will, hearing the Roses' eponymous LP with those songs completely removed. Then, imagine every single song on that album remastered in such a way that you wind up listening to the album with fresh ears, almost as if hearing it for the very first time. This, my friends, is why the Collector's Edition of the Stone Roses' debut is nothing short of required listening.
The set opens with "I Wanna Be Adored", a track that -- when coupled with the closing number "I Am the Resurrection" -- is often used to highlight the projected ego of Ian Brown, who seemingly made no lyrical bones about his desire to become intensely famous (the only actual lyric to "I Wanna Be Adored" -- aside from a repetition of the title -- is "I don't have to sell my soul / He's already in me"). On the original 1989 CD version, the track's quietly menacing bassline seemed to just fade in from the ether, almost as if we the listener are walking in on a session already in progress. On the remastered version featured here, we get so much more of the story: the bassline is, in fact, buried in an indistinct wave of radio static -- something that you can barely hear in the '89 version but can't miss here. Instead of walking in on the song, we can gradually hear the bass and guitar come in at different points, followed by the drums (instead of all the elements being played at once), almost as if the band is constructing the song around us, piece by piece. The end result makes it sound more lively and far more exciting the '89 version that we're all familiar with.
A listen through the '89 version of the LP brings us to another strange revelation: it sounds as if the whole album was engineered almost to be "normalized" -- where the bass, guitar, drums, and vocals are all at the same volume level, muffling a lot of the energy and color and that was so much a part of the band's interplay. The remastered version fixes this: everything has its own place in the mix, and suddenly we can hear Brown's voice slightly reverberated and isolated from his bandmates, a simple trick that gives the vocals a bit more of an impact. Reni's drums gain more punch, Squire's guitars gain a helluva lot more texture, and so on. What this remarkable remaster job does is ultimately give this album a big kick that it was lacking in its original '89 incarnation. That three-note piano coda that comes in at the end of the first verse on "Bye Bye Badman"? It glistens now, instead of sounding grainy like it did before. The sweet interplay between Reni and Mani (the bassist) at the start of the disarmingly sweet faux-ballad "Shoot You Down" now sounds like the work of two musicians feeling out a groove together, instead of coming off like both parts were mixed on the same track, making the '89 version sound positively flat in comparison. Truthfully, we could go and make comparisons between these two versions all day long, but the result is the same: this remastered version of the disc makes these Roses sound fresher than they've ever been.