The Stone Roses, Second Coming (1994)

A long interview with Roses singer Ian Brown in the Guardian inspired me to pull this CD off the shelf and give it a spin for the first time in years, and brought home a sad truth that I once stubbornly resisted: Second Coming is one of the most disappointing albums ever released.

In 1989 the Stone Roses released an eponymous debut that became the musical blueprint for the early 1990s, the most fertile period in British rock music in thirty years. The Stone Roses was so staggeringly good that its imitators went on to fill stadiums the world over. But while those thousand flowers bloomed, the Roses squabbled with their record label and released nothing more than a handful of singles. Fans waited for them to return with a follow-up that would show the pretenders how it was done. Five years later—five years that saw glittering releases by Primal Scream, the Charlatans, Ride, James, Blur, Oasis, Spiritualized, Radiohead, Pulp, Suede and so many more—they came up with... this.

It starts well, oh yes. The first four minutes and thirty-seven seconds of 'Breaking into Heaven' suggest greatness, with their slow wordless build over jungle noises and squalling distant guitar licks; hints of the debut's epic closer 'I am the Resurrection'.

And then: it turns into bad boogie done by a seventies West Coast bar band. In one edit, one brief segue, one second, the Stone Roses throw it all away. The song, the album, and the band never recover.

Sure, there are moments. Specifically, 'Begging You', an insistent, fresh, dance-floor-friendly track that should have been the starting point for the album; an hour of music built on this would have mattered. But here it's an island in a sea of waste—and it doesn't turn up until track seven, when the damage is well and truly done.

The only other track that bears considering is 'Your Star Will Shine', which would have made acceptable filler on a better album. The first single, on the other hand, sounds impossibly dreary from this distance—'Love Spreads' should have been the coal-mine canary that warned us all of what was coming. As it is, it's now the closing track to the closing album by the band that could have been, should have been, as big as the Beatles.

Back in 1995 I wrote my one and only letter to Rolling Stone in ten years as a subscriber, defending this album from a two star review ("Okay, it's not perfect, but it's at least worth three"). I see now that I was clutching at straws—no, at a straw, called 'Begging You'. As a debut album from a pub rock band of which one expected nothing, this might have been a two-and-a-halfer; as the long-delayed follow-up to a landmark album by a landmark band, it barely deserves one.

All that, and it has the most irritating hidden track ever recorded.

First published at Records Ad Nauseam, 4 February 2002.


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