There are still questions about the (final?) disintegration of The Stone Roses in the summer of 2017.
John Squire finally confirmed the break-up in late 2019, but the reasons for the split are unknown and it seems that most of the new songs the band had been working on since their reunion are lost.
Were plans for a third album scuppered by the apparently disgruntled Reni, whose departure back in the mid-1990s led to the band’s first break-up?
Were the batch of songs recorded so far below expectations that they were shelved forever, not even worthy to sit alongside Garage Flower?
Or was the whole promise of a “live resurrection” just cover for a couple of runs through The Hits and an overdue (and well-deserved) payday?
Maybe the two limp tracks that did emerge really were all that there was.
But there were references to new material as far back as a rehearsal setlist for the 2012 comeback shows in Shane Meadows film Made of Stone. And it’s not even known if the two apologetic singles we eventually got actually came from there.
Those two songs – ‘All For One’ and ‘Beautiful Thing’ – underline the problem with The Stone Roses’ presumably final run.
Against all the odds and in the face of a justified amount of cynicism, the comeback gigs themselves were thrilling. It felt as though the band had pretty much picked up where they’d left off. In fact, it felt less like a continuation of 1996 and more an alternate timeline branching off in 1991.
With a setlist almost entirely made up of songs from the Roses’ 1987-1990 imperial phase, and just a smattering of the messy-but-overmaligned Second Coming (I like it), the shows (re)captured a moment in time and almost threatened to transcend nostalgia.
But the reunion couldn’t quite manage that without offering something genuinely new. And so to the comeback songs.
And what goes up must come downThe Stone Roses – ‘One Love’
Turns into dust or turns into stone
The last single of the band’s first (pre-break) run was ‘One Love’. That track dazzled and shimmered, but at the same time there was a sense of it treading water, rather than following the leap forward of the genre (re)-defining ‘Fools Gold’.
A quarter of a century on, ‘All For One’ magnified that sense of disappointment many times over.
A vapid murmur over a meandering shuffle, it sounded like the work of a band who had wilfully ignored the last 25 years of pop music. The will-this-do lemon-aided sleeve was almost an apologetic admission that this was little more than a regressive retro retread.
Follow up ‘Beautiful Thing’ was significantly better, but it was still too little, much too late.
What was so disappointing is that – collectively and individually – the band had in the past already proved themselves more than willing to evolve.
For all the poor reviews and disappointment at the time, their belated Second Coming was a real shift from what came before.
Despite conventional wisdom you can usually judge a record by its cover, and the drastically different artwork showed that this wasn’t going to be The Stone Roses 2.0.
Released as the Britpop scene the band had so inspired was exploding, it sounded both unlike everything around it and markedly different from the band’s own past
And with ‘Breaking Into Heaven’, ‘Daybreak’, ‘Love Spreads’, and especially ‘Tightrope’ and ‘Begging You’, they came up with a clutch of songs every bit the equal of The Stone Roses.
More than that, after the split each member of the band moved on in very different directions in the following two decades.
First out of the traps was Mani, who revitalised a stuttering Primal Scream and within four years was a vital part of two of their three best ever albums.
After John Squire popped up to frazzle all over Oasis’s Knebworth encores, he had a false-if-temporarily-successful restart with The Seahorses, whose cookie cutter Britpop at least felt of the time (though not a second beyond it).
A second album was promised but never came. Bootlegs of the sessions show a painfully straightforward and essentially tuneless Britrock. It wasn’t much worse than a lot of the stuff being released around the time, but it wasn’t much better either.
Squire went on to (self-)release the underappreciated Time Changes Everything (with olive branch ‘I Miss You’ and self-mythologising ‘15 Days’ among the standouts). Edward Hopper tribute Marshall’s House followed.
If you can get past or even enjoy Squire’s strangled Dylan drawl they’re both lovely, shy, understated records. He then called it a day, giving up pop for painting and sculpture until the reunion.
Remember when we were heroes?John Squire – ‘I Miss You’
When we are gold?
Said I miss you
And I know deep down that you
Miss me too
Despite being the first to leave the band, Reni all-but disappeared from view, surfacing only briefly for a few gigs as frontman of The Rub.
But Ian Brown was the real suprise. His first solo album still doesn’t get the love it deserves, but it did at least launch him as a successful standalone artist. That’s something few thought likely after the Roses’ Squire-less (and Reni-less) Reading ’96 disaster.
Unfinished Monkey Business was the most Roses-dominated post-split release from anyone in the band. ‘Ice Cold Cube’ was salvaged from Reading and ‘Can’t See Me’ was based on a Mani Roses demo.
Late era Roses Aziz Ibrahim, Nigel Ippinson and Robbie Maddix pitched in. The album was sparked by Ippinson’s gift of ‘What Happened To Ya?’ (another Squire sideswipe).
It remans the most personal, singular and interesting record any of the band has ever released. It’s certainly the most fun.
What happened to ya?Ian Brown – ‘What Happened To Ya?’
Did you change your mind?
What happened to ya?
We were one of a kind
An unfortunate jail stint meant Brown never properly toured Unfinished Monkey Business, and while follow-up Golden Greats cemented his solo status and pushed up the electronics, it didn’t quite have the same quirky spirit as its predecessor.
Brown’s next four albums before the Roses reunion saw him continue to stomp his own path and were bouyed by some real highlights (‘F.E.A.R.’, ‘Keep What Ya Got’). But it felt like he had lost his momentum by the time the band finally reformed in 2012.
The sense of suspicion around the comeback was dented by a joyously irreverent press conference and obliterated with a burst of energy at the first batch of comeback gigs. But there was still something missing.
When Reni stomped offstage before an encore that never came in Amsterdam it was clear the imagination necessary to make a pop group really matter just wasn’t there anymore.
Reni’s dodgy ear monitors and hissy fit could be easily shrugged off, but rather than yelp his apologies and call it a night as he did, nothing was stopping Ian grabbing John and kicking into an acoustic ‘Tightrope’ and ‘… Resurrection’ to send the crowd home happy instead.
Nothing perhaps, except a lack of vision and desire that rock ‘n’ roll needs for a truly live resurrection.
But it wasn’t to be. The gig ended in acrimony and the two comeback singles offered only an apologetic rehashing of past glories a quarter of a century past their sell-by date.
So what happened next?
When he rejoined the Roses, Mani was replaced in Primal Scream by Simone Marie Butler. I guess he’s kind of unemployed now.
Reni has disappeared again, and John is back at the canvas. And so it falls to Ian once again to carry the musical torch.
His first move was ‘First World Problems’, an ambiguous swipe at his now-ex bandmates.
It was followed by ‘From Chaos To Harmony’ – maybe the closest thing we’re likely to get to a formal dissolution notice.
Dried up roses all turn to stoneIan Brown – ‘From Chaos To Harmony’
Too much poison to ramble on
Thinkin’ for myself with my own brain
So far, so bitter, but it also might also be his best song since ‘F.E.A.R.’. It packs the sort of sort of wry, genuine emotion the Roses’ studio comeback lacked.
The rest of the album didn’t have all that much going for it. And so not for the first time with The Stone Roses, we’re left wondering what might have been.
But a great album (and a half), a smattering of singles, and a triumphant live return is more than most bands can ever hope to look back on.
And like Ian said at the band’s last gig in Glasgow: don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy it happened.