Ah, Saturday! A good day for the Stone Roses. Radio is drooling over ”Love Spreads” — the band’s churning, gospel-tinged single has just vaulted to No. 2 on the modern rock chart — and the winsome Brits are luxuriating in a Manhattan hotel suite with a stocked fridge and a clear view of the frozen tundra of Central Park.
Here to celebrate, right?
”We’re here to meet our record company for the first time,” quips drummer Alan ”Reni” Wren, 30. ”To show them that we exist.”
He’s not kidding. Sometime during the last 5 1/2 years the four Stone Roses became the Amelia Earharts of rock & roll — flying high one minute, erased from the face of the earth the next. Now, after a half decade of possibly the strangest marketing strategy in rock history — no shows, no new records, no interviews — the band has touched down in the exotic land of hot properties.
Again. Yes, it has happened before. Back in 1989, when hardly anyone outside the shadow of Seattle’s Space Needle had ever heard of Nirvana, the Stone Roses were alternative rock’s sovereign Next Big Thing. They bloomed among the smokestacks of Manchester, an industrial English city whose crazed music scene — a romp heavily nourished by dusk-to-dawn doses of acid, speed, and Ecstasy — earned the nocturnal nickname ”Madchester.” Their debut, a gooey, groovy masterpiece called The Stone Roses, grabbed the British public the same way Nirvana’s Nevermind would throttle the colonies two years later. Hysteria ensued.
Then silence. Just as the Roses prepped to deflower the United States, the group tried to shed its contract with Silvertone Records, a British indie. The label asked a court to slap the Roses with an injunction; for months, the benighted rescuers of British rock & roll were forbidden to sign with another label. ”They had us handcuffed,” moans bassist Gary ”Mani” Mounfield, 32. Trapped, the band couldn’t record — and couldn’t quit. ”Quit to do what?” asks Mani. ”I ain’t equipped to do anything else. I ain’t got no trade. Rob banks?”
Luckily, it never came to that: After a long tussle with a slow British judicial system, the Stone Roses eventually won the case and landed with powerhouse Geffen Records. But thanks to another nemesis — call it a fickle muse or plain old laziness — the band took 347 days of studio time to cough up a follow-up. ”When you feel like you’ve got it,” Mani says of the band’s supremely laid-back recording style, ”you go in and do it.”
Geffen president Ed Rosenblatt admits that such Zen riddles were cause for concern — ”You always have those middle-of-the-night fears” — but he tried not to put on the squeeze. ”If you believe in people,” he says, ”what’s the difference whether you get the record this year or next year? It’s not like making Chevrolets, where four guys in an assembly line are not putting the hubcaps on properly, so you’ve got to get rid of them. It’s the creative process, which doesn’t always work according to a businessman’s timetable.”
Ironically, that timetable wound up being a businessman’s daydream. While the Stone Roses were sleeping, grunge blasted open the American airwaves for new sounds, ultimately paving the way for the current MTV-driven boomlet of English bands like Oasis, Portishead, and Bush. With a comeback disc cheekily dubbed Second Coming, the Roses, like Rip van Winkle, have risen from slumber to find that everything worked out okay. Forgotten? Forget it. There are already rumors of a slot on this summer’s Lollapalooza tour, and anticipation for Second Coming was strong enough to hoist the album to No. 47 on Billboard‘s pop charts its first week (and to sales of 76,000, to date, according to SoundScan) — a feat that stunned even Rosenblatt: ”I would’ve been ecstatic with sales of about half that.”
Even so, a lot has changed since 1989, especially the Roses’ music. Over the course of their sabbatical, the band left behind the fey, twinkly vibe of its debut, replacing it with white blues, long, jazzy jams, and fatty slabs of Led Zeppelin-style guitar butchery, courtesy of ax wielder John Squire, 32. But after five years of great expectations, some critics see Second Coming as a long-awaited letdown; true to form, the Roses don’t care. ”Our personal taste is a hundred percent of the law,” says Mani. ”You can’t try to fit into a certain trend, like a lot of bands in England do. That’s bollocks, man. Then you’re just a fashion accessory, aren’t you? We do it for ourselves.”
Music isn’t the only shift. Two of the Roses have since fled Manchester for cottages in the Welsh countryside and all have weaned themselves from the mother’s milk of ”Madchester” style: drugs. ”I don’t like the myth that drugs are cool,” says singer Ian Brown, 31, crowned in a plaid Sherlock Holmes cap. ”I don’t like the myth that being wrecked is cool. I don’t like the myth that Jim Morrison was cool.”
”Kurt Cobain’s pretty cool now, isn’t he?” says Mani sardonically.
For that matter, when it comes to rock & roll myths, you can have ’em. ”Destroy all myths,” Brown proclaims as the sun sinks on Central Park. Understandable. His band almost became one.