The Oasis Archive interview: Nick Amies talks about his new Oasis book Where Did It All Go Wrong?

In a departure from the usual features written by myself, I would like to reproduce the interview I did with the Oasis Archive website recently on my book Where Did It All Go Wrong? Oasis and the Millennium Meltdown 1995 – 2000.

Tell me a little about your professional background and what made you become an author.

authorI’ve been a journalist for over 20 years now and in that time I have worked in jobs that have required me to write about pretty much everything; business, football, politics, you name it… It’s the diversity of the job which has kept me interested and motivated. One day I could be writing a piece on architecture for the New York Times, the next interviewing a Hollywood director like Terry Gilliam for the Economist. But music has always been my main passion and I’ve been able to keep that side of journalism going even when I’ve had a full time job on a news desk. It keeps you sane when you’ve been writing about war and suffering all day to be able to get to a gig, spend some time with one of your heroes backstage and then cover their concert. I’ve been lucky enough to interview many of my idols and then to write about their lives and their music…it doesn’t get much better than that for me.

As for the books, I’ve always written stories, ever since I was a little kid and it was always a dream of mine to write a novel. After a friend of mine read a screenplay I was working on, he suggested I expand on the story and write it as a novel instead. That turned out to be my first book, the Madchester road trip novel “Mersey Paradise”. It was a good experience but I felt I could do better. So I started a second book shortly after, the Britpop love story “She’s Electric”, which I’m very proud of. Writing books is now one of the many side projects I have, on top of holding down a full-time job as an editor, maintaining a relationship and being a father.

Do you remember where and when you first heard of the name Oasis? Was it their music, or did their reputation and press precede this?

It was 1994. I was living in Norwich in the East of England and I was at a friend’s place getting high. We were watching the Channel 4 late night programme The Word and Oasis came on – their first TV appearance – playing Supersonic. I was blown away. Later I found out that they had played the intimate Arts Centre venue in the city the week before that, and I’ve been gutted about that ever since. It would have been amazing to catch them at that time, before it all blew up. Supersonic was like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was a massive Stone Roses fan at the time and waiting for them to get their arses into gear had left me looking for something new. I dug Suede and I was a big fan of Ride but Oasis just felt tailor-made for me at that time. It all made sense. And Liam was just spectacular. When you watch that clip again, just remember that he was barely 21 and on national TV for the first time. He fills the screen. He invades your home. After that I was hooked.

The artwork for the book is obviously inspired by the artwork for the “Standing On The Shoulder of Giants” release, and it fits very well with the title and theme of the book! Was that a stock-photo, and how did you go about finding this?

6144jy0t0elI wanted to design my own cover but using any of the official Oasis logos would have been problematic, what with the copyright issues and such. And you can forget about using photos of the band if you’re a self-published author on a shoestring production budget. So it’s a Shutterstock image which I found in their database and it’s the closest I could find to the shot of New York used on the cover of SOTSOG. I know the fans get where I’m coming from with it but a few people have asked why I have the Big Apple on the cover when the band come from Manchester. I hope reading the book will lead these people to the music if they’re not familiar with SOTSOG, which in my opinion is a sorely underrated album.

There is obviously a very strong British identity in the visual artwork for the first three albums and related singles (designed by Microdot). Later albums seem to deliberately move away from this, sporting a new logo and images locations far from Burnage. Do you have a favourite record sleeve, and what was your feeling on the shift in design?

I have to say that the final album, Dig Out Your Soul, is my favourite in terms of artwork. It’s as much of a departure from the traditional Oasis style as the music inside the sleeve is from their original sound. It’s psychedelic and mature – just as the recording itself is.

As for the shift in design from the Microdot sleeves of the 90s, I just accepted it as part of Oasis progressing. Those Brian Cannon designs are iconic and part and parcel of the Britpop legacy Oasis left behind when they moved into the new millennium. The single cover of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ is perhaps my favourite from that time. Moving away from Microdot, I loved the SOTSOG cover, the first one Simon Halfon did for the band, and the other covers and portraits he did after that really captured the band in that decade out of time, an older version of Oasis removed from the craziness of the years they dominated. Halfon’s style perfectly caught the band as they matured into serious artists and national treasures from the wild upstarts and party animals they were during their heyday.

R-817735-1293478865.jpegHalfon was a good choice to document these years. He’d been a long-time collaborator of Paul Weller’s and started working with the Modfather on art direction as far back as his days in The Jam. As such, through Weller’s friendship with Noel Gallagher, Halfon got to know the Chief, who appreciated his work with Weller and shared his love of The Beatles. But it was through a friend who was hired to shoot the video for ‘Supersonic’ that Halfon and Noel became friends. When it came to choosing an art director for SOTSOG, Noel called Halfon and asked him to do it. He then went on to photograph and design for Oasis throughout the rest of the band’s career.

Why did you decide to focus on Oasis’ career from 1995 till 2000, and not 1994-2000, or up until their very last meltdown (2009)?

The rise of Oasis with their slash-and-burn approach to touring and the momentum which started to grow around the band in the lead up to the release of their debut Definitely Maybe is of course one of the great rock and roll stories – streetwise lads from the wrong side of the tracks making it mega big; it’s one of those classic origin stories. But a lot has been written about that phase, and rightly so. But for me, if you break down the career of the band into narrative sections, the most interesting is the one featured in the book. It starts with the release of Morning Glory, the second album, through the band’s imperial phase which followed when they were untouchable, playing to a quarter of a million people over the Knebworth weekend, and then – when the fame and fortune were at unprecedented levels – they dived headfirst into their third album, Be Here Now, and into a Himalayan-sized mountain of coke. The excess during this period is legendary but there are so many threads running through this story, behind the music and the madness, and that’s what I wanted to write about as much as anything; the press intrusion, the pressures the band were experiencing professionally and personally, the dynamic within the band, the changing musical and social landscape in the UK at the time. These are the things which contributed – along with the massive intake of drugs – to what I call the millennium meltdown. By the end of the 90s, all of this had taken its toll and it was unsurprising that Oasis Mark 1 fell apart before the 21st century began.

Do you ever see yourself writing a sequel to this book focusing on the next chapter of the Oasis history?

I’ve been asked by a few people if I’ll do a follow up and it certainly appeals to the fan side of me to dive back into Oasis history and start digging again but I chose to focus on a particular time period in the band’s career because that had not been done before. Besides, for me – as I’ve said before – the era I cover in the book is the most interesting part of the whole story: Oasis ascending to the summit of British rock before descending to the depths, where – ironically – they were probably at their highest, if you know what I mean. The years between 2000 and the split in 2009 are filled with great music but in terms of incident and precedent, there wasn’t that much to compare to the events that I’ve documented. What would we have? Noel storming off the tour in 2000 after Liam allegedly questioned the legitimacy of his daughter; Liam getting his teeth smashed out in a Munich bar fight in 2002, the divorces, the Spinal Tap procession of drummer’s after Whitey was sacked in 2004? The truth is, up until the split in Paris six years ago, the stories behind the music kinda fizzled out. They made some great tunes during that time but the sensationalism was over.

Did you get to see the band live during the timeframe of the book (1995-2000)?

BHNI saw them headline Glastonbury in 1995 and then on the Be Here Now tour at Wembley Arena in 1997. Both shows were splendidly shambolic for different reasons. At Glastonbury, Liam was more interested in intimidating the crowd, which failed to respond to many of the songs from Morning Glory that no one had ever heard before. At Wembley, they were just back in the UK after the first leg of the BHN world tour and they looked and sounded a bit frazzled. Plus the popularity the band was enjoying by then meant it was like a variety show with all the families and young kids in the stands, especially as it was around Christmas. It wasn’t very Oasis. The danger and menace was absent. But don’t get me wrong – I loved both gigs purely because it was Oasis. I went on to see them another five times in the years leading up to the split and Noel Gallagher nailed it when he said recently that the band got better as the songs got shitter! Late-period Oasis were still a fearsome live act, even if the youthful mayhem had long been left behind by then.

The book is very well researched with a lot of good quotes and references. Did you spend long researching it, and what were your primary sources?

It took about two years in total, although I did nothing on the book during the nine months my partner was pregnant with our daughter. The research itself probably took six months in all. I planned the book out in the themes I wanted to cover and went trawling through the Internet, reading all the interviews I could find, looking for relevant quotes and information which fitted. I contacted a number of people who were close to band but received the same response: there seemed to be an unwritten rule that no-one would speak about their time with Oasis. And the band members themselves rarely talk to authors because they just get too many requests. But there are some exclusive quotes from Noel and Liam in there as I’ve interviewed them both in the past. And former Oasis press officer Johnny Hopkins was especially helpful and actually helped a great deal to fill in a lot of the black holes I had in some of the chapters.

Have you ever met any of the band members, and if you were given the opportunity to ask only one question to Noel, Liam and Bonehead respectively; what would it be?

beadyI’ve interviewed Noel and Liam before; Noel when Oasis were still going and Liam when he was with Beady Eye. I’ve also talked to Gem Archer and Andy Bell a couple of times, both as members of Oasis and of Beady Eye. I never met any of the other original Oasis members.

I guess if I had to ask one question, I’d ask Bonehead if he had ever considered getting a hair transplant during the band’s heyday. I always respected the fact that Oasis didn’t give a fuck about having a bald guy, or a fat bloke, in the band. It wasn’t about that to start with. But I also always wondered if he’d thought about getting his thatch thickened when the fame and fortune flooded in!

Here is a question from a forum member on SupernovaHeights, named joladella: In your acknowledgements, you thank Noel’s manager Ray McCarville for explaining, why he and the other former band members usually decline requests by authors. I’d love to know what that explanation was. I guess you might not be at liberty to say, but “… situation which prevents [them] …” (p. 236) sounds intriguing, what situation? Legal reasons? Or just a complicated way of saying they simply don’t want to?

There’s nothing sinister about that, as far as I know. The former band members get so many requests for their involvement in books that they simply wouldn’t have enough time to contribute to them all. As a result, they politely decline all requests. That’s the message I got from Ray.

It seems that very few (if any) of the members who left Oasis over the years – from Tony McCaroll in 1995, up until the final split in 2009 – actually ended on good terms with Noel Gallagher. Who do you reckon is the most difficult being in a band with; Liam or Noel?

tony-mccarrollHmm…If you were kicked out of Oasis or forced to leave, it’s very unlikely that you’d have an objective view of those who were responsible for that, right? And that person, more often than not, is going to be Noel because he’s the boss. If you leave under a cloud, you’re more than likely gonna hold grudges… So I think you have to look at who’s saying what and why in those situations.

I’ve spent time with both brothers and both were absolute gents during the time I spent talking to them; eloquent, intelligent, thoughtful and above all very funny – not quite the surly thugs which many journalists portray them as. But I’ve never worked with, or for, either one of them. I would say that both of the Gallaghers are very driven people – yes, even Liam – and that they can be very demanding of those working with them in the pursuit of what they want to achieve. Neither suffers fools gladly. If I had to give my unqualified opinion, based only on the reports and anecdotes I have read during my research, I would say that the young Liam circa 1994/95 would have been a nightmare at times due to his erratic and explosive nature. I would also say that Noel circa 1997 would probably have been quite hard to be around too as he struggled with his substance abuse and the pressure of being the driving force behind the massive band Oasis had become. But this has to be put into context. Liam was struggling with fame and all the attention he was getting at the tender age of 21 and Noel was being crushed by the expectation of millions of fans and the media which had built him up into a Godlike genius. It’s likely any one of us would be an arsehole to some people in the same situation!

What Oasis songs mean the most to you?

That’s like being asked to choose which of your children you love the most. It’s a very tough question as I love pretty much everything Oasis ever did. But if I’m to attach meaning and memory to songs as a way of narrowing things down, I’d say – in no particular order – Supersonic, Listen Up, Let’s All Make Believe, and Who Feels Love. And that’s only from the period in the book. I’d be here all day if I did it for the band’s entire career.

Oasis_supersonic_sleeveSupersonic because it’s such a statement of intent and it was the song that brought me to Oasis. When that drum intro starts and that woozy guitar line starts jangling, it’s goosebumps all over, even today. “I wanna be myself, I can’t be no-one else” – as Bonehead says in the book, that’s Oasis barging to the front and saying ‘right, we’ll take charge here…This is how it’s going to be from now on.’ And they were right. After that, all bets were off.

Listen Up contains some of the best lines Noel has ever written and Liam’s delivery of the whole song is pure magic. I came to this song when I was questioning a lot of things and it helped me get my world view sorted out. The lyric “day by day there’s a man in a suit who’s gonna make you pay, for the thoughts that you think and the words they won’t let you say” – that just fired me up.

Let’s All Make Believe is again a song which came to me when I was at a low point. There were a lot of false people around me at the time and I needed to make a change to get out of that situation. Then a true friend did something amazing for me and through his sacrifice, I made a life-changing decision which I have never regretted. I’m here doing what I do, living the life I have because of that and because of that friend. The song really resonates with that period but beyond its meaning to me, it’s just a beautiful song and, in my opinion, one of Liam’s best ever vocals.

Who Feels Love is probably derided by many because it’s a bit cod-psychedelic and it comes from the period of the millennium meltdown I write about where Noel had to start again from scratch in many ways. But for me, it’s a really uplifting piece of music and has such a light atmosphere to it that I love to kinda float along with it – which is something you don’t expect from an Oasis track. And it reminds me of the love of my life, so there’s that too!

What is your take on the ‘Be Here Now’ album? From its initially raving reviews, to its backlash of people returning it to second hand shops; did you opinion on the album also change?

oasis_be_here_now-ad_11078I remember that I bought a knock-off cassette from a night market in Thailand shortly after it was released and the quality was unsurprisingly a bit dodgy so I didn’t really get the full experience until later but I loved the ambition and the sheer weight of the tracks at first. Once I got a CD copy, I really got into it. It really was a soundtrack for that summer for me and my friends. I’ll admit though that I had a period where I skipped a lot of the tracks on Be Here Now. I also admit that I may have been swayed by the criticism it’s got over the years. But I’ve rehabilitated it and I play it quite regularly, although my opinions of certain songs are forever coloured by the negative associations. I love D’You Know What I Mean?, My Big Mouth, It’s Getting’ Better (Man!!) but tend to tolerate rather than celebrate songs like Magic Pie, Fade In-Out, and even All Around the World. There’s a great song in there somewhere but it’s just too long!

If Oasis were set to release a new retrospective release of any format; what would be on top of your wish-list? A Noel Gallagher penned autobiography? A coffee table book of pictures? Noel’s demos from Mustique, or a concert film from the pompous Be Here Now tour? You decide!

There’s a long-mooted Knebworth documentary and concert film floating about somewhere which would be a great historical as well as musical document of those times. I’d love to see that. An autobiography from Noel would also be an essential read, especially if he really went warts-and-all on the dynamic within the band and his relationship with Liam. But this idea which has been talked about, to do a feature film on the band’s story? No way. Who could play the Gallaghers better than themselves? No actor I can think of. It would be like fucking Stars in Their Eyes. “Tonight Matthew, I’m gonna be Liam Gallagher…” However, if someone wanted to pay me to write the screenplay, I’d be on it like a shot.

What’s next for you? Any new projects you’re working on?

I have a whole graphic novel series sitting around in various computer files and parts of my brain which is so massive in its depth and scope that it kinda scares me! There’s so much there. I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day because it’s really fucking good, to be honest! It would take a really committed artist to bring it all to life and I haven’t found that person yet. I’m still looking. So that project’s just sitting in the shadows, watching me, whispering my name every day…

Other than that, I already have plans to do another non-fiction book, this time on Happy Mondays. I want to work with an old and very good friend of mine on this but we have to wait until his current projects are completed before we can start. Plus I need a bit of a break after Where Did It All Go Wrong? Once the promotion of that has slowed down, I’ll start the research on the Mondays book and we’ll take it from there.

Related content:

I also gave an interview on WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? to Phonic FM’s Britpop Revival show as part of their great Manchester special in September. It’s worth listening to it all but I come on at the 52′ 30″ mark if that’s all you’re interested in. Click on the image below to go to the show on their Mixcloud page.

3f6263a3-d498-457b-a6ae-9f49a0d90ca2

WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? Available to buy on Amazon and Lulu.com NOW

coverimage_lulu 2After exploding onto the British music scene only two years previously, Oasis played the biggest free-standing gigs the UK had ever seen over two nights at Knebworth Park in the summer of 1996. Playing to a combined crowd of 250,000 people on what would become the defining weekend of the Britpop era, Oasis made good on their many claims that they were destined to be the biggest band on the planet. What happened next is a rollercoaster ride through the wildest excesses of rock ‘n’ roll; from the highs of mega-stardom, mass adoration and tabloid ubiquity, to the lows of drug psychosis, mindless mayhem and a media backlash. WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? charts Oasis’s journey from the mid-90s euphoria of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? to the turn-of-the-century comedown of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants; from the all-conquering Knebworth shows through the cocaine blizzard of Be Here Now, the madness and chaos of their 1997 world tour and out the other side.

Buy WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? on Amazon

She’s Electric interview on Puluche.com

In a departure from the usual Tales From Down the Front articles, I am posting an interview I gave to the US music site Puluche.com about the release of my second novel She’s Electric.

Nick Amies is a journalist and author based in Brussels who writes for publications such as The New York Times, The Economist and Red Bulletin magazine and is also a senior contributing writer for Puluche. While his freelance work ranges from international politics to architecture, his main passion is music. As well as his magazine work, Nick has written two novels, each set in an important period of British pop culture. Here he talks to Puluche about She’s Electric, his Britpop-era love story and ode to excess.

electricPuluche: Firstly, congratulations on She’s Electric. I found it to be an extremely interesting read. It certainly is a multi-faceted love story with a sex, drugs and rock and roll backdrop, but within a “Cool Britannia” culture which many might not know about. How does your book relate to international audiences when it’s such a Brit-focused topic?

Nick Amies: I think the emotional themes running through the book – love, loss, desperation, insecurity – are universal. When we first meet Danny, the narrator of the story, he’s a young man coming out of a long-term relationship into a world he doesn’t really understand. He’s been one half of a high school love affair as long as he can remember and now he’s on his own. He’s hurt, lonely and angry due to the break-up but also confused and lost because he doesn’t know who or what he’s supposed to be. I think that wherever you’re from, you can relate to feelings like that and it’s part of the human condition to question the reasons for our existence and what it’s all supposed to mean. As for the cultural setting, again I feel that while it’s specifically British, anyone who has ever had their life changed by music or have bought into a particular scene wholesale will identify with the characters. The music is not just a soundtrack to their lives but a way of life in itself. It comes with an identity, a fashion and a sense of belonging. Anyone who has ever been a fan of a band will know what that means. Plus being a music fan, I believe, is essentially being part of a global community. We may have different tastes but the emotions that music elicits are built into our DNA. She’s Electric is set in the Britpop era but it could have been set anywhere at any time where a musical phenomenon has moved a generation of young people.

In that case, why set the book specifically in the Britpop era?

Firstly, I followed the old advice of writing about what you know. I lived through this period and experienced a lot of things I wanted to document. Secondly, the Britpop era is extremely well suited as a setting for a coming-of-age story with all the insecurities which come with that. It was a uniquely superficial period and as such it was the best and worst time to suffer from an identity crisis, which is essentially what each of the main characters in my book are going through. On the one hand, the movement itself and its association with a new permissiveness which openly tolerated bad behavior, casual sex and substance abuse came with a blueprint. If you weren’t sure who you wanted to be, you just did what everybody else did. There was an attitude, a way of dressing, a way of behaving that was connected with the whole idea of what it meant to be young and British at the time. But on the other hand, if you were really searching for something, buying into this could really drag you further away from yourself. This is the situation facing the guys in the book. They have whole-heartedly embraced Britpop and Lad culture but, as time moves on, they realize that there is little substance behind it and that the void they have in their lives is still there behind the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

Is it a very personal story then? Perhaps a thinly-veiled autobiography?

I would never admit that even if it were true! What I will say is that the characters are fictitious but the experiences are very loosely based on those I and my friends were part of but everything is exaggerated for narrative purposes. Of course the cultural reference points detailed in the book such as the massive Oasis gigs at Knebworth in 1996, the 1995 Glastonbury festival and the 1997 General Election in the UK are all documented historical events. The emotional turmoil and search for identity are all written from a personal viewpoint but don’t get the idea that we were all suffering some kind of existential angst! It was the best time to be young and the most concentrated period of partying that I’ve ever lived through so we were hardly crying into our beers every night, wailing about how hard our lives were. It was a lot of fun. I think that comes across in the book. Danny and his friends live it large and enjoy every excessive minute but at some point they realize that there’s more to life than picking up a different girl every night and waking up with self-induced memory loss and that’s when the internal struggles begin.

What are the subtexts and messages in the book? What did you set out to say with it beyond reminiscing about a great time in music?

The book moves from the present to the past and back again with flashbacks from the Britpop era used to illustrate certain themes or show contrasts to the lives the main characters are leading in the present day. All of them are struggling with different aspects of their lives as adults with responsibilities and their reunion back on their old stomping ground emphasises how much things have changed. Danny is the last one to really give up on the old life and is using the reunion to see if returning to his old ways is a viable option, despite having a partner and child at home. His identity crisis has gone on the longest. I suppose there’s a message here about the risks of trying to recapture former glories or trying to relive the past at the risk of your future. I also wanted to point out that even though we get older, things don’t always get easier if you’re not prepared to leave history behind. We can only grow by letting go, which doesn’t mean we have to forget or deny the past. The sections dealing with Britpop are clearly a celebration of that time with their depictions of all the fun that was had but as that timeline moves on to 1997 it shows that the façade was beginning to slip and the party was clearly coming to an end, something the guys address with hindsight in the present day sections of the book. In short, I wanted to show that youth cultures are not built to last, much like youth itself, but you should live them to the full while they’re there just as you should embrace your youth and not pine for it when it’s gone.

electric-bmpWhy was Britpop so important to British culture?

Youth and popular culture movements tend to rise as a reaction to the socio-political climate of the time. Before Britpop, we’d had a reaction to the years of oppressive conservatism which had become entrenched in the UK under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This reaction gave birth to acid house and the Madchester music scene. Driven by the ecstasy explosion, these movements provided an escape route from the poverty and hopelessness that many parts of Britain were suffering from at the end of the 1980s. When that phase passed, British music retreated and US grunge flooded in. Britpop was a reaction to that as much as anything else. People like Blur’s Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher of Oasis said that their bands’ early Britpop output was a direct riposte to the nihilism of grunge and an attempt to reverse the flood of US culture swamping the UK. So, Britpop was important in the way that it gave the country something to be proud of again and made it okay to be patriotic. Britpop got an extra boost when Tony Blair and the Labour Party finally ended 18 years of conservative rule in 1997. Suddenly it was like the heavy curtains were drawn back to reveal a new land of hope and opportunity stretching into the distance. When things like that happen in my country, we Brits tend to go a bit mad and make the most of it without really thinking about the consequences. But before it was all revealed to be a false dawn and that we’d actually been manipulated into thinking things would be truly different, Blair’s labeling of all things cultural with the “Cool Britannia” tag revitalized everything: music, art, literature and film. Even though it turned out to be a cynical marketing plan of the government’s making, the idea to tie it all together and brand it was an inspired one. It was an identity we could all get behind and one which could be sold abroad. Britain was the centre of attention during that time and I think the music, fashion and attitude which came out of that time began to influence a lot of other cultures.

And what about the music which was at the heart of it all?

The success of the big bands such as Oasis, Blur and Pulp for example inspired many others to make music with varying degrees of success and quality so to be a fan of the genre at that time was to be spoilt for choice. It was a great and productive time for British music and it also exported well. The Europeans instantly understood it and quickly grew to love it, the Japanese went crazy for it immediately and even the US succumbed to a certain degree. Its popularity in the countries which embraced it can still be seen today in the way audiences welcome back the legends and react to British bands in general as a result of that Britpop Invasion.

It’s also worth remembering that Britpop happened at a time before the internet exploded. Oasis sold over eight million copies of their debut album and followed that up by selling over 22 million copies of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? without the help of Twitter, YouTube or online marketing campaigns. This was an age before the digital revolution so all those sales were actual CDs, records and cassette tapes. There wasn’t any downloading going on – legal or otherwise. So in that respect, Britpop still represents the zenith of the British music industry before it imploded. It is a high watermark that will never be reached again.

glory-bmpIs this era still relevant today?

It’s relevant in the way that punk is still relevant or the Sixties are still relevant. We are where we are musically in the UK because of Britpop. And Britpop couldn’t have happened if bands hadn’t heard the Sex Pistols or had never listened to their parents’ Beatles records. It’s a signpost on the road of Britain’s musical progress, whether people like that or not. If there had been no Stone Roses, there would have been no Oasis. No Oasis, no Arctic Monkeys and so on. So as a legacy with a continuing influence, yes it’s relevant. As a reference point on the quest of knowledge about Britain’s musical heritage, it’s relevant. But most importantly, it’s relevant in the lives of all those who love the music that came out of that era. For us, it’s as relevant now as it was then because it is such a huge part of our lives. That’s why in She’s Electric, Danny and his friends continue to celebrate those days even as middle age creeps up on them. Their lives have gone separate, very different ways but they will always have those crazy days when their friendships were formed. For the Britpop generation, it will always be relevant.

What is the true current status of the Britpop genre? The remaining bands that consider themselves a part of this movement, do they still represent the genre well compared to the originals like Blur, Suede and eventually others such as Oasis?

When the party ended, there were a lot of casualties. No-one escaped unharmed and I think that can be heard in the material that the original bands put out after Britpop came to a close. If you listen to Blur or 13 they are polar opposites of The Great Escape and you can’t compare the cocaine bluster of Be Here Now-era Oasis to the washed-out comedown of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. So whatever Britpop was musically, it stopped existing soon afterwards. But even at the height of the movement it was a very contentious thing to say that one band or another sounded “Britpop”. There was never really one style. It was more of an attitude than a sound. When that attitude became more introspective, Britpop ceased to exist. There may be bands around now which get labeled Britpop but that’s just lazy. They can’t be Britpop because there is no such thing. That particular zeitgeist – every strand of cultural DNA from which Britpop was constructed – is history. It can never be repeated or cloned.

Knowing you as a music reviewer as well, one that can be quite critical, you recently rated Arctic Monkeys latest album AM as a perfect release. Such new releases are sadly few and far between in modern music compared to previous decades. What are many of today’s bands missing compared to a release like AM where they just get it?

am5

It’s easy to point the finger at The Man but that doesn’t change the fact that The Man has a lot to answer for in this respect. There are just too few risk takers in the music business these days and not enough labels who are confident and savvy enough to let their acts experiment. I have a lot of respect for Domino for letting Arctic Monkeys go their own way. They could have forced them to stick to the tried and tested formula of the early days but they gave them space to evolve. They could have panicked after Humbug saw the band suffer what was essentially the first bit of backlash but they let them work it out themselves and move on to great effect. I wrote in my AM review that freedom and confidence bring their own reward and for great music to be made there has to be less emphasis on the bottom line and shifting units. Bands have to be shown love and trust, not balance sheets. Reducing the number of accountants and employing more people with a passion for music would be a start.

In your opinion, is rock music in a continuing period decline?

I wouldn’t say it’s in a continuing period of decline but I would say that it is in one of the longest periodical downswings for some time. We haven’t really seen a movement crash into the collective consciousness and change the musical landscape for a few years now. We seem to be relying on individual bands to innovate and excite rather than expecting a wave to sweep in with all the added extras like the fashion, the attitude and the message to compliment the music. Usually these things grow from a scene in a particular city. I’ve been pinning my hopes on the Perth underground for a while now, with Tame Impala, Pond and others coming from this alternative community on the Australian west coast but I think there should have been more of a collective impact made by now. Perhaps growing a local scene from Down Under into an international phenomenon is harder than if you are in New York. I don’t know. Perhaps the general problem is that the opportunities previously enjoyed by those being nurtured in the traditional breeding grounds are shrinking. The question then arises about funding and support for small venues and you’re then into a political debate. But who can say for sure? Maybe it is all crap and we’ve already been condemned to an eternity of rubbish but we haven’t yet realized it. I sincerely hope not.

She’s Electric is available in paperback and Kindle versions on all Amazon’s international sites.

This interview first appeared on Puluche.com

Arctic Monkeys – AM (Review)

2013ArcticMonkeys_Am_150713In much the same way that the career of The Beatles can be summed up as pre- and post-Revolver, Arctic Monkeys are now clearly in Sgt. Pepper territory with AM. After the rough-and-ready, double-barrelled salvo of their first two albums which were littered with spiky agit-pop anthems about prostitutes, nightclub bouncers and one-night stands, third album Humbug heralded a huge paradigm shift towards a darker, rockier, more mature sound. It didn’t sit well with everyone, such was the departure from their cheeky-chappy, scallywag roots. After perhaps playing it safe with the intelligent pop of 2011’s Suck It and See, the Monkeys have returned with an album which again confounds with its change in direction but raises the bar to stratospheric levels in terms of ambition and artistry. Injecting hip-hop beats and R&B rhythms into the heavy rock sound they cultivated out in the Californian desert under the tutelage of QOTSA’s Josh Homme on Humbug, AM shows once again that this is a band which views stagnation as the death of creativity. Despite the massive leaps this album takes, it’s still very clearly an Arctic Monkeys record. The acerbic and observational lyrics which mark Alex Turner out as the most intelligent and dexterous lyricist since Morrissey’s heyday with The Smiths are still here on songs like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” and “No.1 Party Anthem” but L.A. nights and the cult of celebrity now dominate his source material. Turner somehow avoids coming on like the ex-pat rock god of endless showbiz parties and manages to narrate stories of authentic experience from the surreal, corrupted heart of Tinseltown with that knowing Northern wink in his voice. It proves you can take the boy out of Sheffield but you can’t take Sheffield out of the boy. Musically, they’re a world away from their 2006 debut. This is Arctics 2.0; a band of magpies snatching gems from every genre and not only making them their own but brushing them to a blinding sheen. Songs like “Do I Wanna Know” and “One For The Road” swagger in on beats which invite languid rhymes while “R U Mine” fuzzes with stadium metal guitars and the funky-sexy “Knee Socks” has echoes of disco scattered amongst the falsettos and chugging strings. “Mad Sounds” is almost alt-country in its mellowness and delivery but also nods a well-oiled quiff at the melancholic darkness of the Jesus and Mary Chain. The playing is faultless and tight throughout while the production is crisp and professional yet avoiding the bloated excess which can come from huge success. AM is a brave, flawless move into a league of their own.

Everything the Arctic Monkeys have done before seems to have been building up to this groovy, infectious statement of intent. All the best experiments from their previous albums seem to come together here – and often within the length of one song. The wonderful “Arabella” for instance starts off like one of their standard off-kilter ballads before trowelling on the Homme-inspired crunchy rock guitars and stadium-demolishing drums. AM is a record which is unafraid to wander off into songs which are wildly diverse from one another, giving it the feel of a late-era Fab Four album. And yet, as with the Beatles at their best, this is a cornucopia of styles which still sounds brilliantly cohesive. “Fireside” with its Spanish guitars and soft vocal, is a wholly different beast from the thrilling glam stomp of “I Want it All” and the swaggeringly excellent R&B-tinged “One For The Road”. These in turn have little in common with the brilliant “R U Mine” which is a sultry and devilishly catchy rock workout. What could be a jarring selection of disparate tunes, however, is carried off with aplomb by a band at the height of their powers. Freedom and confidence are wonderful things and Arctic Monkeys have embraced both to great musical effect on AM.

ArcticWhen one considers how dramatically the Arctic Monkeys sound has changed over the last seven years (while still managing to maintain its innate Monkey-ness), it’s very difficult to predict what will happen next. An indication of where they may fly to next will come from the band’s attitude to the AM songs after two years playing them on the road. The band confessed that by the end of the Suck It and See tour they were sick of that set of songs which partially influenced the direction they took on AM.  But what could be the reaction to this? They’ve been spiky pop upstarts, they’ve been hairy rock monsters and now they’re a greased-back groove machine.  It’s anyone’s guess what they’ll come back as next – but this writer for one can’t wait to find out.

First published on: Puluche.com

Nobody’s Puppet: Miles Kane & The Return of the Wirral Riddler

miles_kane_1249265You should really know who Miles Kane is by now. Even if you missed his turn as the precocious 18-year-old guitarist in short-lived Merseybeat combo The Little Flames or his first front man gig as singer with The Rascals, you will surely have noticed him as one half of the Last Shadow Puppets alongside a certain Mr. Alex Turner. Failing that, his breath-taking work rate during his solo breakthrough year in 2011 should surely have seen the 26-year-old Wirral troubadour pop up somewhere on your radar. After releasing his début album The Colour of the Trap in late 2010, young Miles spent most of the following year on tour. Even if you didn’t catch his own shows, there’s a good chance that you may have seen him supporting the likes of Beady Eye, Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys.

Despite a musical CV which now spans eight years in the business, and the imminent release of his second solo album, Don’t Forget Who You Are, Miles Kane somehow still finds himself saddled with the ‘next big thing’ tag. For a tender-aged stalwart of the scene, with a long list of fans and collaborators which reads like a Who’s Who of modern rock royalty, surely it must be frustrating for recognition to only now start being bestowed on his narrow shoulders.

“For me, the last five years have been all about working in bands and learning my craft so I haven’t really been that interested in whether people have been taking any notice of me during that time,” Kane says, his chirpy Scouse accent adding authenticity to this assertion. “I was too busy being on the journey, dealing with the highs and lows and taking the learning curves at speed. I’ve started from the bottom a few times and have served more than one apprenticeship. Everything that’s gone before has been driving me to this point so if people are now taking notice, I’m more than happy with that and ready for that because I’m really happy with where I am now and the sound I’ve developed.”

That sound has come on leaps and bounds since the early days as a teenager playing in and around Liverpool’s club scene, sweating through the circuit playing jangly pop alongside contemporaries like The Coral and The Zutons. Don’t Forget Who You Are takes the 60’s rock’n’roll vibe developed for The Colour of the Trap and puts it on rigourous gym regime. It’s another urgent record, full of choppy guitars and brimming with cocksure attitude, but it’s a much more muscular effort than before. The orchestration is more lush and the choruses, as you would expect, border on the anthemic, which suggests a growing confidence. But with lead single ‘Give Up’ screaming along to a heavy, crashing beat and almost metal guitars, it appears the Wirral Riddler is in no rush to lay aside the high octane rockers in favour of the cinematic, John Barry-esque theatricals of the Last Shadow Puppets which so distinguished his work with Alex Turner from anything he’d done before.

“I’d describe myself as a rock’n’roller even though there are some cinematic, grand tracks on the album,” he says. “It was great doing the big wide-screen tunes with strings with the Puppets but my heart’s in the rock’n’roll. I like to dabble with songs which people might be surprised with though, like covering Lee Hazlewood and Jacques Dutronc, and that’s one of the great things about being a solo artist that I don’t have to run that by anyone. I’m just obsessed with music and doing tunes like that lets people know that, it shows what mood I’m in.”

It seems that being a solo artist suits the perfectionist side of Kane’s character, the trait that refuses to allow him to leave the house without being immaculately suited and booted, usually in something from his favourite designer Adrien Sauvage, even to go to the shops. The dapper Miles certainly doesn’t regret his decision to leave The Rascals in 2009, even if it meant having to build a new identity from scratch.

“It felt right to go solo after two years of considering it,” he says. “I asked Alex one day whether I should quit and he said I should do it. To be fair, I’d already decided so it wasn’t a case of Alex Turner splitting up the Rascals. I could have gone on and formed another band after the Shadow Puppets but something beautiful happened with the songs I was working on to convince me to front it myself. It’s been a beautiful time for me. I’m a completely different lad. It’s a total buzz.”

Being a rock’n’roller from Merseyside, the obvious weighty legacy of a certain band hangs over Miles as it does all bands and artists from in and around the port city of Liverpool. There’s no escaping the influence of the Beatles; it’s there in every street, in every bar, in every heart. For some, fighting against the omnipotence of Liverpool’s favourite sons could be a way of asserting their individuality. For Miles Kane, however, it’s been the opposite to a certain extent.

“I’ve never felt any pressure from Liverpool’s legacy, in fact I’ve always embraced that and have never hidden that,” he says proudly. “There have been so many great bands from Liverpool and the influence is clear but you have to tread your own path. I’ve always been inspired by the great Liverpool bands and my ambition is to try and be bigger and better than any of them. Considering the Beatles are in there, that may sound a tall order but you’ve got to be in it to win it. If you don’t want to be bigger than the Beatles, what’s the point?”

With Don’t Forget Who You Are soon to be on general release, could this be the moment that Miles Kane finally goes from being the The Next Big Thing to an accepted national hero? Whatever happens, one gets the impression that it won’t matter to him as much as the quality of the music itself. People can view him how they like. How Miles Kane defines himself is through his art and that is something which won’t stop evolving, regardless of the titles awarded him by the public.

“I just don’t really want to stop working,” he says. “I put everything I have into every record and if it’s a hit or a flop, I know there’s nothing more I could have done. I just want to make every record better than the last; I want to improve my singing, my playing, my writing. I’ve always got to be at it. That’s just how I am. It’s like the music – that’s just me. No bullshit. I approach it all the same way. Full on.”

XTRMNTR – Primal Scream (Review)

screamAfter making Screamadelica, one of the defining rock-dance crossover albums of the Madchester era, Primal Scream lost their way on their follow-up release, Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Rendered sloppy and uninspired by the heroin that had replaced ecstasy as the band’s drug of choice and hugely indebted to the more formulaic aspects of the Rolling Stones back catalogue, the Scream’s latest reinvention felt like a huge anti-climax. The band’s chameleon-like ability to reinvent not only themselves but also the musical landscape around them seemed to have been misplaced at their local dealers. Two years later, with Stone Roses bassist Mani joining the line-up, Primal Scream’s rehabilitation began with Vanishing Point, a rumbling sonic road trip which bucked the Britpop trend of the time. Vanishing Point was a brave move considering the guitar-driven, retro-fitted über-popularity of the Scream’s peers. Rather than being seen as an anomaly, the album gained widespread acclaim from critics who hailed it as a return to form. But the band’s full artistic recovery (and in light of subsequent releases, their post-Screamadelica zenith) came three years later in 2000 with the release of XTRMNTR. Even long-term fans who had gotten used to adjusting their perceptions and re-learning how to love the band every few years were taken aback by the album. Relentless, dark, savage in places, XTRMNTR left many stunned. Those looking for the lilting, soaring vocals and the addictive guitar hooks and melodies of the past were beaten back into reality by an art-punk onslaught. Gone were the dreamy paeans to lost love and the head-in-the-clouds romanticism of old; aided and abetted by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and the Chemical Brothers among others in the production booth, XTRMNTR would become one of the defining pre-millennium angst albums, summing up the climate of anxiety in which the world lurched irrevocably towards a new age. Its warnings of reptilian usurpers, Illuminati conspiracy theories and anti-corporate calls for anarchic revolution weren’t the ramblings of a paranoid and drug-addled mind, but poetical-political messages from a freshly coherent artist set to the sound of carpet bombing. Bobby Gillespie had woken up from his mid-90s torpor with the knowledge that Primal Scream had to right some wrongs and that any call to arms had to be accompanied by the rumbling drums of war. Combining apocalyptic codas with seismic bass, screaming horns and shredding riffs, Gillespie and his crew brought the 20th Century to a close not with a bang but with an atomic blast. It was – and still is – the band’s best work of the last 20 years.

Commendations

“Subvert normality…kill all hippies…” So XTRMNTR begins. A frantic phone rings, a creepy keyboard refrain seethes, a child’s voice exhorts the extermination of the flower power generation. It’s immediately obvious from the first few bars that you’re entering a dark, new world. Mani’s bass begins to roll and thunder over screeching electronic feedback as an inappropriately soulful Bobby Gillespie starts to croon over the building chaos like a malevolent Curtis Mayfield: “You got the money, I got the soul…can’t be bought, can’t be owned.” ‘Kill All Hippies’ slithers through dirty, blood-stained alleyways, shiftily looking for victims. It’s an unsettling precursor to ‘Accelerator’ which crashes into your head on fuzz-boxed punk riffs and screaming vocals. It’s a distorted mash-up of rave and metal with Gillespie snarling through a megaphone at the head of a baying mob. “Here we come, we’re coming fast…out the upside, into the past…forced to screaming in my head, into the future.” It’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish; a thrilling thrash. ‘Exterminator’ then bleeps into life, an R2D2 intro which then slides into squashy sequencers and monotone vocals, slipping in and out as if intoned from the windows of passing cars. Gillespie robotically laments about civilisation’s slide into slavery – “no civil disobedience” – in a world of techno control and chemical manipulation. “Insecticide shots for criminal cops…all jails are concentration camps, all judges are bought…Everyone’s a prostitute.” Despite it’s doomsday narrative, it’s a chugging, low-fi dance tune carrying the Scream’s trademark skill of delivering killer hooks amid a maelstrom of noise. The rave vibe returns with ‘Swastika Eyes’, perhaps the stand-out track on the album. Distorted sirens wail in among electronic beeps and a frantic yet groovy bassline supported by sequenced drums which clatter and click. It harks back to the bug-eyed, sweat-drenched warehouse parties which the Scream soundtracked in the early 90s, only instead of lyrics about being higher than the sun, we have warnings of the shadow government’s “elimination policy” and the “military industrial illusion of democracy.” At over 7 relentless, addictive minutes, ‘Swastika Eyes’ threatens the listener with dehydration and with a six-minute Chemical Brothers refrain coming later in the album, there is a danger that the song’s many qualities might start to suffer from overload. Thankfully, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons mix it up enough to present it as a worthwhile addition. ‘Pills’ chimes in in its wake with a trancey keyboard coda and Gregorian chants, suggesting we adjourn to the chill-out room…but Bobby’s not finished with us yet. Oh no. Just as you’re ready for a sit down, Gillespie starts hurling insults in a pseudo-rap: “I’m gonna tell the truth, the truth about you, you’ve never been true, you’re nothing, you’ve got nothing to say, shine a light on you, you fade away.” Then his mates join in. They start bludgeoning you with a fierce dance beat and whipping you with sampled violins as Gillespie shouts over your inevitable demise.

The influence of Mani on XTRMNTR cannot be overstated. The former Stone Rose has full co-credits on XTRMNTR, his first full Scream album, after joining in 1997 when Vanishing Point had already been written. His presence is most keenly felt on the instrumental ‘Blood Money’, which – intentionally or not – opens with a drum beat reminiscient of the intro to the Stone Roses epic ‘I am the Resurrection’. Mani’s bass then strikes up an ominous lead guitar line which is part horror movie tension-builder, part chase scene. Chemically compromised Blaxploitation funk horns scream in and a jagged, almost crystal piano refrain begins to stab its way into the composition. But this is Mani’s domain and the clearest indication yet that the Scream will be a much different proposition with him in their ranks. ‘Keep Your Dreams’ is a surprising change of pace within the context of what hangs around it, with restrained trip hop beats, suppressed melotron runs and electric bells chiming throughout. It’s the closest to the heaven-staring balladry of the early albums and is a jarring, yet beautiful shift to a more sensitive side amongst the chaos and oppresiveness.

After this moment of calm, the whirlwind begins to gather pace again with ‘Insect Royalty’, a discordant slab of electronica splattered with car horn trumpets and Gillespie’s stream of distorted consciousness, followed by the Kevin Shields-controlled ‘MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill ‘Em)’, a mystical opus of speed-freak psychedelia built on wah-wah guitars, sampled sitars and tribal drums. The album finally returns to fever pitch with ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’ with Mani again to the fore on what is effectively Krautrock legends Can on amphetamines. It’s a nonsense; a message-free blast of repetitive bass, electronic screeches, sampled sighs and Gillespie repeating the song title ad nauseum. And it’s great! An upbeat conclusion to a thunderously dark and apocalyptic journey. It promotes the feeling that the new millennium is coming whether we like it or not so put the pedal to the metal and go in with all guns blazing.

Next Steps

Bobby Gillespie says in the Creation Records documentary Upside Down that XTRMNTR is Primal Scream’s best album. He doesn’t add the caveat “…after Screamadelica” which would be the response of many people. It’s hard to disagree with him when placing XTRMNTR up against all the albums the Scream made after it. XTRMNTR is certainly a more proficient , expansive and challenging album than Screamadelica but whether it had as much cultural impact remains debatable. Regardless of where one stands on the argument, there is no doubt however that XTRMNTR is one of the two definitive Primal Scream albums.

Despite Gillespie’s complaint that Creation bosses Alan McGee and Dick Green “fucked us over” by shutting the label just as XTRMNTR was released, depriving it – in the singer’s opinion – of any kind of support or marketing, the record still went to number 3 in the UK album charts and eventually went gold. Its follow-up, Evil Heat, continued in the same vein but with softer, dub-tinged edges. Primal Scream would then abandon the electronica of XTRMNTR to return to a more traditional guitar-driven style with mostly mediocre results. XTRMNTR therefore remains the band’s creative, artistic – and most abrasive – high water mark.

Also published on: PULUCHE.COM

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (Review)

This review was published as part of Puluche.com‘s Exemplar series – historical albums which score a perfect 100.

Comments

stone_rosesMany bands have burst onto the scene with a debut album which defines their entire career, and many of those albums then go on to define the era in which they were released. The first album from the Stone Roses does both and much more besides. It is an album which perfectly encapsulates the climate of growing up in late 80’s Britain; the messianic self-belief of the chemical generation, the introspective questioning of desperate and disillusioned youth, the pure and simple euphoria of being young, pretty and cool. And yet, while The Stone Roses is undoubtedly the masterpiece of the Madchester period, it is also a timeless classic which sounds as innovative and vital now as it did in 1989. Put it next to any of the classic rock albums of the 60’s or 70’s, or any of those which arrived in its wake in the 90’s and new millennium, and The Stone Roses can confidently rub shoulders with the best while towering over the rest. It manages both to sound both modern and nostalgic, tipping its hat to its influences while also blazing a trail into the unknown. All these things combine to make it an artifact of the zeitgeist. Beyond the depth, the meaning and the legacy, it’s just a fantastic sounding record. Expertly mastered by producer John Leckie, a band of clothes-conscious, mop-haired street urchins are exposed as the consummate musicians they are, something which is often overlooked when talking about the band’s story and legend. And at the heart of it all is a song-writing partnership which began in a childhood sandpit and was forged over a mutual love of The Clash. The Brown-Squire axis has never been stronger than on this record…although who knows what the future might bring.

Commendations

To retreat from the world and allow The Stone Roses to be your reality for 49 minutes is to indulge yourself in a musical experience filled with rare beauty and genius. From the unearthly echoes, steadily building bass and jangling intro to ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the extended, psychedelic abandon of ‘I am the Resurrection’s ecstatic finale, it is a collection of songs which scales impossible heights with every passing spine-tingling, skin-prickling second. Just when you think you may have heard the best song ever, another arrives to steal the crown.

The opening track rattles into existence on the echoes of distant dirty train tracks and guided warily through sinister, echoing alleyways by Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield’s slowly building bass. John Squire’s guitar offers the first chinks of light, sending sparks over the brooding intro before taking the lead with a muscular, chiming riff. Ian Brown’s eerie, breathy vocals start swirling in the mix, offering cryptic hints at Luciferian deals: “I don’t need to sell my soul, he’s already in me…I wanna be adored…” It’s a stirring, sinister opener with hints of the band’s early days as a Goth outfit. ‘She Bangs the Drums’ then fully dispels any gloom. Drummer Alan ‘Reni’ Wren opens with a skittering Shaft-esque cymbal shuffle before Mani’s playful hook drags us in. Squire then crashes through with a sunburst power chord and suddenly it’s a better day. Ian Brown then delivers the killer blow: “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine…the past was yours but the future’s mine…” And with that, The Stone Roses became champions of the trampled youth. With the kids entranced, these Pied Pipers then conjure the mesmeric ‘Waterfall’. Driven by a Squire hook with peels like church bells, it’s a song of hope and renewal which rolls along on sweet vocals from both singer and drummer. But it’s the guitarist who takes it to the next level. Left to bring the song to its conclusion, Squire morphs and builds his earlier chiming refrain into a rolling 70’s rock riff which takes on a deeper voice and delivers a finale worthy of the song’s heroine and her determined quest for individual freedom.

The old adage “waste not, want not” applies to ‘Don’t Stop’ which is effectively ‘Waterfall’ played backwards with new Ian Brown lyrics sliding queasily through the weirdness in such a way that it sounds like his voice is also a reversed track. The slightly nonsensical lyrics add to the slightly seasick, off-kilter atmosphere. It’s a track which works in the same vein as those strange psychedelic fillers scattered through the tail-end of the Beatles catalogue. The band returns to normality with the beautiful yet scornful ‘Bye Bye Badman’. Conjuring up images of the ’68 student riots in Paris – “In this citrus sucking sunshine” describes the lemons used to counter the effects of tear gas, the same lemons on the album’s cover – it owes much to fellow Mancunians The Smiths in both music and lyrical content. John Squire’s jangly, guitar dances all over the track, subtly paying homage to Johnny Marr. Challenging the establishment, Ian Brown warns that he’s “throwing stones at you, man…I want you black and blue and I’m gonna make you bleed…Gonna bring you down to your knees.” After the anti-monarchy nursery rhyme of ‘Elizabeth My Dear’, we’re back into swaying, braying pop with ‘(Song for my) Sugar Spun Sister’. Brown takes a Byrdsian mop-topped, drug-dazed swagger across blue grass and under green skies while accusing the ruling class of being a bunch of glue sniffers. The majestic ‘Made of Stone’, perhaps the band’s most accomplished song, brings dramatic and mournful imagery to life through anthemic, rousing orchestration and inspired lyrics: “Your knuckles whiten on the wheel, the last thing that your hands will feel…your final flight can’t be delayed…”Punctuated by one of their most rousing choruses, at the time it was a triumph beyond their tender years: “Sometimes I fantasize…When the streets are cold and lonely and the cars they burn below me…”Taking a breath from all the drama, we’re treated to a lazy, warm blues shuffle with a cutting edge in the form of ‘Shoot You Down’. Reni’s drums brush around a restrained Squire as Mani plucks mellow strings and Brown the assassin lilts: “I’d love to do it and you know you’ve always had it coming.”

roses

The run-in is a booming statement of potential greatness. ‘This is the One’ crashes into life before starting its ebb and flow, retreating to catch its breath under harp-like guitar refrains and whispered sugar-sweet lyrics before exploding again with such triumph and celebration that it leaves you utterly convinced that, yes – this is indeed the one. What that is just doesn’t matter. It is whatever you want it to be. That seems to be the point. It is the musical interpretation of just knowing; that feeling of perfect acceptance that nothing gets better than this. But of course, the previous 40-odd minutes will have taught you that behind every peak is another monumental musical Everest to behold – and there, from the summit of ‘This is the One’ we are left with the final colossus, the towering majesty of ‘I am the Resurrection’. Stomping in on Reni’s almost military-beat drums, Mani’s bass injects the groove before Ian Brown starts spitting attitude and sweet poetic put-downs: “Stone me, why can’t you see…you’re a no-one, nowhere, washed-up baby who’d look better dead…” John Squire shyly enters the fray in the background to begin with, letting the rhythm section take the lead and injecting little spiraling fills into the gaps until Brown’s holy refrain brings us to the break. Then all hell cuts loose. Reni starts playing drums like a Hindu god, covering the entire kit like only a multi-armed deity possibly could while Mani unleashes a carpet-bombing, rolling funk bass line over which Squire’s guitar squeals and squalls. The guitars gets dirtier, the drums get faster, the bass gets crazier – and then it breaks to silence…Only to chime back in before more thrashing reverb takes over once again. And then, the storm seems to ease, with a beautiful acoustic refrain filling the void – only we’re not finished yet, the drums, bass and pace quicken and we’re racing to the end again, finally fading out on an acoustic strum and the echoes of another Squire jam which could go on for eternity. It’s ballsy, breath-taking and beyond anything one would expect from a band’s first album. It nearly was the full-stop on their career. If it had been, it would have been one of the best exits since the Ascension.

Next Steps

After such an astonishing debut, some generation defining live shows and the release of the genre-busting ‘Fools Gold’ which left all their rivals in the dust, the Stone Roses dropped the mega-stardom ball and disappeared in a flurry of lawsuits and a miasma of lost focus and impetus. It would take five years for a follow-up to appear, by which time the Brown-Squire dynamic at the heart of the band had been undermined by drugs and ego. Second Coming was much-maligned but isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. It just wasn’t The Stone Roses II. The band limped on, losing first Reni and then Squire before a pale imitation self-destructed in 1996. Years of solo careers, rumors and denials followed until the band the world was waiting for returned in triumph in 2012 to old audiences and new, proving that the Stone Roses have an enduring magic and spirit that can be suppressed but never destroyed. Their debut album remains the best testament to that.

First published on: Puluche.com