Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Early Years (EG box set)
The Later Years (EG box set)
Melody Maker, 1990

by Simon Reynolds

Roxy Music
For Your Pleasure
Country Life

director's cut, Uncut, 1999

by Simon Reynolds

In 1969's Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, Nik Cohn simultaneously celebrated and
mourned the mythic era of "Superpop, the noise machine, and the image, hype, and
beautiful flash of rock'n'roll music." Provoked by the post-Sgt. Pepper's boom of self-consciously mature, album-oriented artistry, Cohn's eve-of-the-1970s nostalgia for the recent past was queerly prescient, anticipating glam rock's retro-futurist resurrection of the three minute single, visual dazzle, the whole teen-scream-dream.

What makes Roxy's music on these ultra-vivid sounding remastered reissues so endlessly listenable and so different from the rest of the glitter gang is that they had a foot in both the art rock and Pop Art camps. If the band's pop sensibility was informed by Warhol, Fifties rock'n'roll, and classic Hollywood ("2 H.B" payed tribute to Bogart's poise), Roxy's vision of rock was large enough to encompass Velvet Underground, Steve Reich,Ornette Coleman, Brecht-Weil, and Pierre Henry. The result of such incongruous inputs and clashing sensibilities was, as ex-member Brian Eno noted later, "a terrific tension in the music," which came from "juxtaposing things that didn't naturally sit together". But then success placed Roxy in a position where that "element of clumsiness and grotesqueness" had to go, in favour of an ever more sleek and well-proportioned pop classicism.

Roxy's first album buzzes with the "insanity" and "idiot energy" that Eno valorized
and Bryan Ferry gradually eliminated. Kickstarting the debut, "Re-Make/Re-Model" is a pub rock brawl that's a notch above Wizzard's crude rock'n'roll revivalism thanks only to the alien qualities of Ferry's Devo-esque whinny, Eno's synth-bleats and Andy Mackay's freeform sax squall. A Number Four smash in late '72, "Virginia Plain" is a glorious Velvets-meets-Neu! surge, with ugly blurts of synth that'd warm the valves of Add N To (X)'s mechanical heart, and that fabulous bit where the song halts then revs up again for its final stampede.

Both songs show how glam's back-to-basics manoeuvre anticipated punk's. Other tracks on the debut, though, are basically progressive rock, closer to King Crimson-style maximalism than Velvets/Krautrock minimalism. The multi-segmented "If There Is Something" starts weirdly like The Band in faux-Southern boogie mode (e.g. "Up On Cripple Creek''), before morphing into Euro neuromanticism (Ferry's pledges of amorous fealty climax with the bizarre promise to "grow potatoes by the score"!). After a third section (a keening, ruminative sax soliloquy over weary piano chords), the song glides into a plastic soul coda, complete with Ferry's most bloodcurdling vocal theatrics ever--stricken histrionics wrenched from deep within, at once harrowingly visceral yet somehow utterly un-human. Like some monstrously unwholesome caricature of the love song, "If There Is Something" makes no sense structurally or emotionally, yet it's shatteringly moving. On a similarly non-coherent tip, "The Bob Medley" is approximately six songs in one: Sabbath-meets-Crimson bombast; a Spinal Tap/"Stonehenge" interlude of dancing-dwarf pan-pipes; a musique concrete simulated battlefield; a West Coast hippy-rock sing-a-long; an oboe-accompanied poem, etc.

You could write a book on the tangled themes of aristocracy, decadence, artifice, irony,fetishism, and male desire that make up For Your Pleasure, Roxy's peerless peak. Space permits only a selective/subjective inventory of the album's most intense pleasures."Do The Strand": Ferry's wickedly witty lyrics and archly mannered diction, the "European Son"-style harmelodics. "Beauty Queen": the deadly shimmer of keyboards at the start, the tremulous quaver of Ferry's voice when he sings "you make my starry eyes shiver", the absurd grandeur of the final verse's image of "soul-ships" that pass in the night "plying very strange cargo". "In Every Dream Home A Heartache": Manzanera's gaseous solo and Paul Thompson's phased, stereopanning drums. "The Bogus Man": the wheezing, dub-chambered, Sly-circa-Riot/Can-circa-Tago-Mago groove. "Grey Lagoons": just the mind's
eye tickling title.

"For Your Pleasure" the song warrants its own paragraph, though--I can think of
nothing in rock like it, before or after, except perhaps Nico's The Marble Index and Joy Division's "Atmosphere". Like the latter, "F.Y.P" is rock purged of Americana and re-rooted in Bergman's The Seventh Seal, Lotte Lenya, and Last Year in Marienbad. Ferry's hieroglyph words and stilted, stately phrasing (a frieze of emotion), the reverb-hazed piano, the stop-start rhythm, all conjure a Gothic tableau of macabre elegance: a Bavarian mansion's frozen lawns, animals strike curious poses, heraldic and eldritch. Halting for the impossible gravitas of Ferry's adieu ("Old man/Through e-ver-y step I change/You watch me walk away/Ta-ra"), the song then mutates into a mindblowing extended coda, with multilayered piano (Terry Riley/Steve Reich-style one-note riffs and
upper octave trills) pointillistically painting a Milky Way skyscape mad with stars. Finally the song expires like a galaxy swirling down a black hole's funnel. Steeped in Eno's studio-as-instrument sorcery but charged with a cryptic passion he's never mustered solo, "For Your Pleasure" is one of the most psychedelic records ever, easily rivalling Barrett-era Floyd, Hendrix, and Tim Buckley.

The song was simultaneously pinnacle and death-knell for the Eno-era Roxy. On
1973's Stranded, Roxy's jutting angularity and experimental excresences have largely been bevelled away. Still, the album is intermittedly exhilirating: the carillion-guitared swagger of "Street Life", the gloss-funk sashay of "Amazona" (cracked apart by an astounding liquid-lightning solo from Manzanera), and "Mother of Pearl", Roxy's last blast in full-on Velvets-mode. The song uses imagery of the gem trade to describe the romantic arc of idolisation and disillusionment; Ferry's character shifts from courtly lover worshipping a "lustrous lady" to jaded misogynist who's discovered that his blue-blooded belle dame is really just a "so-so semi-precious" social climber with a rough-cut past, just like himself.

Americans, bless 'em, think Roxy only got great with Country Life and the universally five-star Siren. Wrong! While Ferry's songcraft and personae twists still offer compelling drama on top tunes like "Love Is The Drug", "Both Sides Burning" and "Just Another High", the actual fabric of Roxy's sound gets steadily more conventional and tame. Sonically, Country Life's saving graces are the thrilling blaze of "All I Want Is You" and the Weimar-flavored "Bitter Sweet"; Siren's are excitingly shrill, proto-New Wave tunes like "Whirlwind" (reminiscent of early Psychedelic Furs) and "Both Sides Burning" (Japan). But mostly Ferry is honing his metamorphosis from glamdroid with the Dalek-like metallic vibrato to sad-eyed, fop-fringed crooner. To be sure, it's still a long way from the blandly attractive art-disco and bruised romantic ennui of the late Seventies Manifesto-era Roxy. But it's remoter still from the hair-raising strangeness of For Your Pleasure.


From the music's clashing colours to the outlandish clothes, Roxy was a revolt into style. Was glam rock a reaction against the drab rump of hippiedom in the early Seventies, all the folk-rockers, blues bores and boogie bands?

"Well, we weren't really anti-hippie--I had loved the psychedelic bands, and so did
the others. It was more a reaction to what came after hippy, this grey doldrum period with bands all wearing denim and making no effort to entertain the audience."

Talking of psychedelia, I was surprised by how tripped-out some of the early Roxy stuff was.

"Psychedelia--especially early Soft Machine and Pink Floyd--was a big influence
on me and Eno. If you use echo units, you start to head off into dreamland, and that's what's happening on "For Your Pleasure". We did a lot of stuff using echo, early synths,Revox, treatments, effects. Messing around with sound in a sort of Heath Robinson, mad inventor way!"

Bryan Ferry has said sniffy things about Eno, stressing the fact that he's "not really a musician". What was Eno's role, and what changed when he left?

"Brian's role was conceptual--he was involved as a non-musician, on purpose. He wouldn't be insulted by that description, he'd love it! He was just an extra colour in the Roxy palette. The chemistry of any unit depends on the individuals involved, and obviously it sounded different after he left. But Roxy had to change anyway, we couldn't have repeated 'F.Y.P'".

Alongside the psychedelic edge, it's startling how punky and noisy much of the first two albums were.

"Well, the first album was bashed out in just three weeks, and it was basically
how we sounded when we played live . FYP and Stranded were produced by Chris Thomas, who'd worked with the Beatles from the White Album onwards, so they had a better mixture of styles."

Is Roxy's legacy audible anywhere in the Nineties soundscape?

"Pulp used Chris Thomas as producer on their last two albums, and they have
songs that sound a bit like, say, "Do The Strand". But Jarvis Cocker is a unique talent and such a strong personality that ultimately Pulp has a totally different flavour to Roxy."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

ULU, London
Melody Maker, May 12th 1990

by Simon Reynolds

typo alert: "deep-body of heart-in-mouth euphoria" should be "deep-body drone of heart-in-mouth euphoria"

“Doing it For The Kids” Creation Records Alldayer, Town and Country, London August 7th 1988
Melody Maker, August 1988

by Simon Reynolds

As rock grows long in the tooth, as the possibility of it exceeding itself seems to dwindle further each day, so the temptation is to look back wistfully to the high points. For some the definitive Lost Moment is (still) punk’s Pyrhric rage and convulsive passage through the mass media. Others can’t see their way past the immaculate personal/political anguish of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. And the truly perverse can currently be heard “cheekily” espousing the likes of Wendy (James) and Patsy (Kensit), in homage to that Lost Moment when Paul Morley got Kim Wilde onto the cover of the NME (as if there were still “hippies” to be baited, as if we hadn’t all been through New Pop). In every case, though, the past pinnacles are venerated so utterly, the result can only be a neurotic endeavour to recapture the lost glory of those moments and extend it into eternity.

For Creation and its constituency--the sea of floppy fringes, black leather, suede and paisley gathered here today--rock is over, something that’s been and gone. Creation isn’t fixated on a particular Lost Moment, or a golden age with clearly defined boundaries, but it does have a canon of visionary outsiders, honoured tonight on the tapes played between acts. Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew”, Alex Chilton, The Seeds, Gram Parsons’ “Grievous Angel”, the Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby”, Lee Hazelwood, all pretty incontestable, really, and close to my own ideas about the past, not least in the implicit rejection of punk’s long-term effects (New Wave and New Pop). It’s a canon that should be remembered, privileged even. The trouble is that the sense of upholding a legacy through the dark ages of plastic pop has bred a servile and lily-livered deference to the sources. Rewriting is unavoidable at this late hour, sure, but what’s needed is an approach that can inflame these traces rather than preserve them in aspic. Otherwise you become a living, breathing archive of rock gesture. A mere footnote. The fate that’s befallen too many of the bands at this event.

HEIDI BERRY is an admirably eccentric gesture for Creation. She harks back to the islet of troubled AOR occupied in the early Seventies by Sandy Denny and John Martyn, and indeed looks gloriously unfashionable in this context--her thigh-length suede boots, puce velvet jacket and boob tube jarring conspicuously with the (admittedly ravishing) ideals of female indie-style visible all around…

The reputedly “quite good” JASMINE MINKS get people jigging from one foot to the other with their moderately radiant guitar interplay, but the singer sounds like he’s gargling a sock, and ultimately theirs is a thin-lipped and ill-fitting appropriation of “the Sixties”. I never saw a band leave the stage so lackadaisical and unemphatic a manner.

Then the gaunt, scarecrow figure of NIKKI SUDDEN shuffles on for a couple of rather scrappy blues numbers. “Death is Hanging Over Me” would be affecting in its abjection if not for the camp effect of Sudden’s weak R’s. “Crossroads” is introduced as a song about Robert Johnson: “And he’s ultimately the reason why we’re all here today… even though you probably don’t know his name.” Well, yeah, no doubt that’s true, in the strict archeological sense: but a hell of lot has happened in the interim. For a lot of the kids here, the Mary Chain’s riot gig is almost prehistory.

THE JAZZ BUTCHER gains a point for sounding comparatively robust, but loses several for his Jennings-and-Darbyshire/Robyn Hitchcock Englishness, and for his session-standard saxophonist. Unclassifiable, clever-clever indie-bop, somewhere between Monochrome Set, The Woodentops and Jimmy the Hooever. Packed, bustling and void.

PRIMAL SCREAM’s moment has long passed. The talk of feyness and innocence has evidently riled them into aping the Stones. They’ve abandoned the gossamer fragility of “Crystal Crescent” and “Gentle Tuesday” for a blues that sags but never approaches the ponderousness and tumescent turgidity attained by various visionary white bastardizations of R&B. Bobby Gillespie and the drummer are the main culprits, the dragging vestigial limbs. Gillespie’s voice just doesn’t have the grain for raunch, can only sing ba-ba-ba Bay City Rollers tunes. “Fire of Love” is rendered impossibly lukewarm and lackluster. Gillespie crouches low, wigs out in that boneless, rag-doll manner of his, a flailing cod-dementia, willing it to be as good as the old days.

I’ll venerate FELT until the end of time for “Primitive Painters” alone. Like Durutti Column’s “Missing Boy”, it’s a classic defeatist anthem, a shamefaced confession of an inability to cope with life’s most rudimentary demands (like eating vegetables). Live, even without the stratospheric powerhouse of Liz Frazer’s vocal, it’s an irresistible, cascading surge, a contradiction of the vocal and its morose words. Laurence’s listless whisp must be the ultimate voice of deficiency and unrealized selfhood: a one note range, and even then he doesn’t sound in full command of that note. And there’s plenty more of Felt’s halcyon dappled sunlight and gilded ripple tonight, a sound perfectly complemented by the trippy back projections, including one that looks like rays of light convering on a retina and its burnt-out pupil.

What else to say about THE HOUSE OF LOVE? Nobody has a bad word for them. In the nicest possible way they are the Consensus Band of 1988, unimpeachably wondrous. Tonight, an incredible piece, like a whale song reverberating through the recesses of the galaxy, turns out to be Terry Bickers messing about while the others tune up. There’s the godlike glow and gazelle grace of “Destroy the Heart”, the vast cathedral resonance of “Christine”, the luminous aftermath of a personal apocalypse that is “Man to Child”. “Shine On” is all baleful gravitas and cold smouldering ascent, while “Nothing To Me” is one of these great Guy Chadwick lyrical inversions, like “Blind”: the title’s a monstrous fib as the sound tells you the singer’s minds eye is ablaze with the memory of her. Burgeoning axe hero Terry introduces sounds and effects that just don’t belong in this kind of pop. “Real Animal” leads into “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from the first Stooges album, which--impossibly--manages to be both bestial and celestial. Drowned, I tell you.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE are about to release a fabulous and quite extraordinary five-track EP [You Made Me Realise]. But live, the delicate melodies and the fine-tuning of chaos get crushed in the melee. “Cigarette In your Bed”, a most peculiar, unplaceable song on record (a Sonic Youth lullaby?) is a shambles live, Belinda Jayne Butcher’s bloodless vocal almost completely lost. The stop-start paroxysms of “Drive It All Over Me” and “You Made Me Realise” thrive better under the thrash approach, churning up foaming noise in the Husker Du/Dinosaur style. But they disappoint me by not playing “Slow”, the sex song of the year (along with “Gigantic” by the Pixies). With its colossal “Sidewalking” bass, disorientating drones, and langorous, enervated vocals, it conjures up a honeyed, horny lassitude of desire to rival AR Kane. This raven-haired thrash-pop has a sight more edges and secrets to it than any of its “rivals.”

The event peters out with a bit of malarkey involving a cut-out Alan McGee and Joe Foster attempting to lead a singalong of “We Are the World”. The “no encore” rule (to ensure each act doesn’t over-run) is observed even at the end, leaving the crowd restive and frustrated. Overall impression: a sense of “now” being eclipsed, drained vampirically by the past and its stature; the loss of the present moment through being made to seem impoverished next to the history it was umbilically bound to. Only The House of Love and My Bloody Valentine know that you have to torch the whole heap of pop signs and totems, rather than shuffle them about a bit. Only those two bands brought back the sudden quickening of “NOW” that eluded us most of the time today.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

albums round-up / genre overview
Details, January 1992

by Simon Reynolds

Melody Maker, 1991

by Simon Reynolds

Alternative Press, 1996

by Simon Reynolds

Melody Maker, 1992

by Simon Reynolds

Melody Maker, September 11th 1993

by Simon Reynolds

Melody Maker, May 28th 1994

by Simon Reynolds

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

THE STONE ROSES, interview
Melody Maker, June 3rd 1989

by Simon Reynolds

scan courtesy of Charles at

Leeds Polytechnic
Melody Maker, July 15th 1989

by Simon Reynolds

director's cut, Spin, May 1995

by Simon Reynolds

I guess you had to be there--probably Manchester, definitely England--to
understand how The Stone Roses came to matter so much in 1989.

Half-way through a coast-to-coast traipse across the US to promote their
long-awaited sophomore effort Second Coming, the Stone Roses appear to have brought some of that infamous Mancunian weather with them--outside, it's pissing down, as LA enjoys its heaviest daily rainfall for a century.

Manchester's grey and gloomy image--partly based on the damp North of England climate, partly on the angst-rock legacy of Joy Division and The
Smiths--was revolutionised in 1989. Thanks to pioneering house music clubs like The Hacienda, the Stone Roses' hometown became the mecca for 24 Hour Party People
and smiley-faced hedonist ravers from across Britain; Manchester became 'Madchester'.

"The black kids had always had something going," remembers singer Ian
Brown. "1989 was the year white kids woke up." "Whitey could dance, with
a pill in 'im," adds bassist Manny. Ecstasy catalysed an invincible feeling of change-is-gonna-come positivity, seemingly substantiated by events across the world. Along with luv'd up good vibes, E incites free-floating fervor and belief. Surfing these energy-currents of idealism and anticipation, the Roses gave the new mood a focus. "In early '89, when we did gigs, you could just feel the people willing you to go for it," remembers Brown.

Why did the Stones Roses become the Chosen Ones? None of the other Manc
bands--Happy Mondays, with their gutternsnipe funkadelia and drug-damaged
doggerel, or spindly garage-psych revivalists Inspiral Carpets--really fitted the bill. But the Stone Roses had the classic four-man Brit-pop formation--sexy, simian frontman Ian Brown, introverted guitar-visionary John Squire, scallywag bassist Manny, shit-hot drummer/motormouth Reni. Collectively they exuded a charisma
midway between Beatles and Sex Pistols. They had the tunes, too, the sort of soaring '60s melodies that will always make young hearts run free. And beneath the neo-psychedelia, they had a rare sense of groove, testifying to their immersion in '80s house and '70s funk.

Most crucially, they had the right attitude, alternately lippy and laidback. "We hate
tense people," John Squire told me back in '89, referring to the people "who are only
interested in making money and who ruin things for everybody else". 'Madchester' replaced the workaholic materialism of the '80s with a new spirit, encoded in the slang buzzword "baggy": loose-fitting clothes (like the infamous flares the band wore), loose-limbed dance rhythms, a loose-minded, take-it-as-it-comes optimism.

But if there was one factor above all that sealed the Roses' bond with their following, it was the band's cockiness, emblazoned in anthems like "I Wanna Be Adored" and "I Am The Resurrection", in choruses like "kiss me where the sun don't shine/the past is yours/the future's mine": a self-belief that reflected the audience's own E-fuelled sense of confidence.

Rave reviews and music papers covers followed, rather than created, the Roses
phenomenon; Manchester became big news worldwide, and such was the band's unstoppable momentum that they sold 300,000 copies of their self-titled debut LP in America without playing a note there. Everything came to a head in November '89, when Happy Mondays' "Hallelujah" and Stone Roses hypno-funk epic "Fool's Gold" both made the UK Top Ten.

After this triumph, 1990 saw the Roses struggling to articulate the perilously vague creed of "positivity" that Manchester represented. But the 28,000-strong outdoor Spike Island party they threw in May 1990 was botched by bad organization, and the next single "One Love" was an insipid retread of "Fool's Gold". Then things really went awry. Frustrated by an invidious contract with their label Silvertone, the Roses went to court, and found themselves in legal limbo, unable to record or release a note. The case dragged on until May '91, when the Roses were freed and immediately signed to Geffen. Then Silvertone appealed the verdict, paralysing the band for another year.

While the Roses were tangled in litigation, Manchester's living dream turned to nightmare. Once upon a time, remembers Brown, there was "a feeling of community
strength... coming out of a club at the end of the night feeling like you were going to change the world. Then guns come in, and heroin starts being put in Ecstasy. It took a lot of the love vibe out."

Drugs meant money; money meant gang warfare for market control. The Roses actually saw one Mancunian gang-leader get shot at a reggae concert in mid-1990. But it was a series of violent incidents at The Hacienda that most publically announced the souring of the 'Madchester' party. "Before the Hacienda got gun-detectors on the door, you'd see 16 year old kids standing at the bar with a gun in a holster, right on view," grimaces Brown.

Bad memories of this dark period inspired "Begging You", the most thrilling track on
the Roses new album. A hyperkinetic fusion of metal and techno, ballistic blues-rock
riffs and looped beats, "Begging", says Brown, evokes "sitting in a club, everything's beautiful, you're E'd up, and then some baby-gangster comes up and starts talking in your ear about how they can get you a gun or an ounce of this-or-that."

In any drug-based pop scene, there comes a point when the collective trip turns bad,
when the rush gives way to the CRASH. Trying to reach a higher high, "too many people take one too many", says Brown. Drugs get adulterated as dealers maximise profit margins. The clientele turns to more reliable, soul-corroding poisons (speed, crystal meth). Heroin enters the scene (often initially as a way of cushioning the comedown after nights of excess). And where once they were full of open minds and hearts, all of a sudden the clubs are populated by zombies and paranoiacs. It happened in Haight Ashbury in 1968, it happened in the London and Los Angeles rave scenes in the early '90s, but it was especially disillusioning when it happened to Manchester in 1990.

The Stones Roses severed itself from club culture. Manny, for so long "the rogue
Rose", even relocated to a small village in South Wales. Fourteen people he knew had died from heroin in one year: "Kids I'd known since I was seven. I've seen people I've never ever thought would take the drug, fucked. Me, I'll turn my back on them people, however much it hurts me. That's why I moved out of Manchester, I don't wanna be near it."


Their momentum fatally derailed by the court case, cut adrift from the scene that had
energized them, the Stone Roses found it hard to get going again. They spent much of
1992-93 travelling in Europe and otherwise enjoying the first fruits of their Geffen deal, worth $20 million over five albums. After a few false starts, they finally commenced concerted work on their second album in the summer of '93, only to get knocked off course by a series of deaths among people close to them, including their new manager. "It's been the whole spectrum--birth, death," Manny grins wryly.

For the Roses were also distracted by fatherhood: Reni had two sons (he also has a nine year old daughter he met for the first time only two years ago), Squire had a daughter and Ian a son. Even Manny's now set to be a dad in a few months time.

Problems with producers also delayed them: the first choice, John Leckie (who'd done
the debut) bailed out, unable to cope with the Roses' lackadaisical, jam-crazy attitude to studio-time (one six week, $60 thousand dollar session produced a single three minute ditty!). Even after settling down with engineer Simon Dawson at Rockfield Studios in Wales, the pace was steady but agonisingly slow: 347 ten-hour days in the studio to produce 78 minutes of music! "Maybe 50 of them days would just be us getting stoned listening to our favourite records through the studio system", says Ian, quite unabashed by the extravagance.

Even though they seemed to have jilted their fans, the Roses continued to figure
prominently in the 'Most Sorely Missed' category of the UK music papers' readership polls, next to that year's famous stiffs. In the abscence of solid information, bizarre rumours flourished: that the band were "junkie golf-maniacs", that they'd bought an entire fleet of Ford Fiestas which they drove through the Welsh country lanes with the lights off. (The truth is that there was one Ford Fiesta, in which Squire had three minor accidents: colliding with a cow, running over a pheasant and crashing into a car driven by veteran hippy guitarist Steve Hillage).

Finally, the LP was released in December last year, titled--with characteristic
immodesty--Second Coming. There are precious few precedents for a five-and-a-half year gap between debut and sequel. A year is a long, long time in UK pop; since Madchester, the trends and Next Big Things have come and gone--rave/rock crossover (Primal Scream, EMF etc), shoegaze, grunge, Suede's neo-glam rock, and most recently, the so-called Britpop Revival (Blur, Oasis, etc). Despite, or perhaps because of this, Second Coming was greeted with huge curiosity--not just concerning its reputedly Led-Zeppy contents, but whether it could could possibly matter like its predecessor. Could the Roses slip back into the swing of things after half a decade?

The band themselves seem pretty nonchalant. "Our momentum was definitely stopped," says Brown. "But I don't think anybody's took it off us. Suede or Blur aren't anywhere near where we were in 1990. I thought that after house music, things would leap forward. But they went back to the '70s--Bowie impersonators, drama students."

Ironically, the Roses themselves have gone backwards in order to go forwards.
Apart from "Begging You", the new album doesn't bridge the gap between rock and dance by forging a futuristic hybrid, but by harking back to a time when rock and dance weren't so separated, when guitar bands grooved. Before punk removed the swing and syncopation from rock, black funksters like The Meters and white raunch'n'rollers like ZZ Top or Aerosmith were coming from the same R&B source. As Reni puts it, "Led Zeppelin could have backed James Brown..."

The Roses have always been steeped deep in black music. Ian Brown's been listening
to a lot of Chess blues, to hip hop and contemporary Jamaican artists like Bounty Killer and Cutty Ranks; Mani digs "the stepper tunes of '70s reggae", bands like Culture and Burning Spear, singers like Big Youth and I Roy. "I've got 500 CD's, ten are by white artists," says Brown. "I'm not interested in what [whites] have got to say, they can't tell me nothing." He says he was "double 'umbled" when Run DMC sampled 'Fool's Gold' on their track "What's It All About"; entering the sampler's gene-pool of breakbeats and licks, alongside JB, was the ultimate accolade.


Five years on, the Roses seem barely to have aged. Apart from a pronounced diminishment in the width of their flares, they could almost have stepped out of a time capsule. They're still into dressing sharp (Brown, for instance, sports a natty deerstalker, originally acquired to shield his skull when he shaved his hair off after a disastrous stab at self-coiffure), and they're as sharp-witted as ever, too. In stark contrast to their public image (vacant, party-minded working class lads), the Roses aren't just smart, they're positively learned--discoursing at length on topics like the latest theories of the origins of mankind, crimes committed by the British empire, the way runaway slaves in the American South often joined Indian tribes, and so on. If they weren't so colloquial and salt-of-the-earthy, I'd almost dub them 'politically correct'.

Take their reverential attitude to women, as exemplified by the single "Love Spreads", a paean to matriarchy whose chorus goes 'the messiah is my sister/ain't no king, man, she's my queen'. According to Squire, the song's premise is "why should God be a white man with a beard?". Elsewhere on the album, "Daybreak" is an anti-Eurocentric homage to Africa as the Origin of human civilization. The band's comfy financial situation hasn't blunted the edge of its class-war politics, either (the debut album featured songs like the anti-royalist "Elizabeth My Dear" and "Bye Bye Badman", a diatribe directed at a May 1968 riot policeman). Reni probably speaks for the band when he says that his vision of utopia is "the weak people everywhere running government". And "Second Coming"'s catchiest tune is "How Do You Sleep?", a jaunty vial of vitriol targetted, says Squire, at "the people who make decisions that are guaranteed to cost lives, like sending troops into battle."


If Second Coming is anybody's record, it's John Squire's. Where the debut was a Squire/Brown affair, this time he wrote all but three of the songs; his pyrotechnic solos and swaggering riffs dominate. Squire describes the album as an exercise in "neo-classical homo-erotic eclecticism", an exploration of rock's most masculinist aspects--speed and noise, machinery and explosions.

"I wanted the first album to be harder, we sound kind of neutered. But can't you hear the second album trying to get out of the first one? The second half of 'Resurrection', that's the aggression coming out." Live, Squire used that song as a chance to freak-out, a la Hendrix circa "Third Stone From The Sun". Jimi remains a touchstone; he fondly remembers the "religious experience" of hearing Electric Ladyland for the first time, one "acid Christmas" in 1988.

Despite the late '60s influences in which his playing's steeped, Squire is, at 32,
one of the last of the original generation inspired to pick up an instrument by punk.
Hearing the Pistols' "God Save The Queen" was a revelation: "It became my mission in life to try to create something with that power, just the noise of that guitar." Before that, it'd had been the Beach Boys' "20 Golden Greats" and "me mum's Beatles LP's". This Pistols/Beatles blend is redolent of Kurt Cobain. Like Kurt, Squire is your classic female-identified man ("I prefer female company, and I enjoy seeing women in positions of power") who nonetheless has a 'warrior male' inside struggling to get out. One minute he's explaining how "Love Spreads" was inspired by Rosalind Miles' The Women's History of the World, an elegy for the lost utopia that existed before patriarchy; the next he'll talk about watching Apocalypse Now for the 15th time", then realising "that's like looking at hardcore porn and masturbating".

When I ask Squire which trait he most admires and envies in women, the answer is
revealing: their superior ability "to release tension" and the fact that they enjoy,
through their periods, "a monthly venting of spleen". Incredibly soft-spoken, impassive, restrained in his movements, Squire is your classic chronic introvert. His intensity seems to be vented entirely through the phallic panache of his playing, through his "violent dreams" and his painting. Originally influenced by Jackson Pollock ("a real rock'n'roll painter"), now into collage, Squire's canvases decorate all of the Roses record sleeves.

Squire's erstwhile creative partner Brown is a bit of a dreamer; his idea of utopia
is "living outside with Nature, getting down to the Great Spirit, full community, like the Red Indians". It's Squire's cynical streak ("I get the feeling that wherever we're going it, it's gonna be an empty surprise", he says at one point) that gives the Roses their edge. "On the first album, if ever a lyric was getting too slushy I'd give it a sick twist. I didn't have to try for this one." He cites the devotional ballad "Your Star Will Shine", an idyllic reverie about watching his daughter sleep, whose last lines catch you off guard: "your distant sun/will shine like the gun/that's trained right between your Daddy's eyes." The jolting image comes from guilt-pangs inspired by the premonition that he wasn't going to be the perfect dad, that rock'n'roll was gonna drag him away from his family.

That predicament isn't likely to improve: the Roses' recent choice of Doug
Goldstein (who handles Guns N' Roses) as their new manager, plus talk of the band doing Lollapalooza, reveal a serious intention to finally crack America this time.


Back in Britain, Second Coming got a mixed reception--seemingly less to do with the record (which most reviewers conceded was excellent, bar the odd misguided stab at pure blues) and more with an obscure resentment that the Roses, divorced from the cultural moment that gave them meaning, were now "just another band". Wryly noting the "schoolmasterly" tone of the reviews--"you've been very very naughty, you've been away too long and this isn't good enough to buy back our affections"--Squire puts his finger on it when he complains: "it's like we'd signed some kind of unoffical agreement!"

But that's exactly how it works with the bands that COUNT (as opposed to those who
merely put out good records). By some mysterious process, a contract between band and audience is sealed, often without the band's consent. Sometimes it's hard to say
precisely what's at stake. But with the Stone Roses, everything about them--the songs, the look, the 'tude--seem to have crystallized a sense of possibility. The Roses represented the brief return--just after the Smiths' miserabilism, just before grunge's gloom--of a long-lost and near-unthinkable '60s notion: that being young could be fun, a real cool time. "We were s'posed to be the hedonistic playboys of that era," muses Squire. "That was easier then, there was more money around in the late '80s. Maybe that's all we were, a reflection of that."

Now all the spaces of possibility are closed off. In Britain, the 'dole culture'
that originally allowed childhood chums Ian and John to avoid deciding what to do with their lives for several years, has been extinguished. The idea that a way of life beyond 9-to-5 drudgery is possible is fading fast. Now the only flight-paths are individualistic, the traditional escape routes (soccer, pop stardom) for glory-hungry working class jack-the-lads. Take Oasis, the band who ripped off the Roses'
nothing-can-stop-us arrogance and ambition shtick wholesale. The difference between Oasis and the Roses is that the latter always represented a shared sense of 'going somewhere', a collective hope. There was something generous and noble about their narcissism. Now hope (like everything else in Britain) has been privatized. And the Stone Roses are "just another band".

Manhattan Centre, New York
Melody Maker, May 1995

by Simon Reynolds

Then and now, there's a curious blankness at the heart of the Stone Roses phenomenon. Neither diehard devotees nor the band themselves seem able to articulate exactly why the Roses mattered so much. Because of this, the fervour that greeted The Stone Roses in 1989 and the bitterly disappointed response to Second Coming in '94, both seem--from a detached, non-partisan standpoint--equally out of proportion.

Perhaps, first time around, it was just a question of right place, right time. There's a theory that people fall in love when they're ripe, and project their latent amorousness onto the least unsuitable candidate to come along. In
Manchester, E seems to have facilitated the bonding process, as freefloating fervour and will-to-belief found a focus in the band; this spread to the rest of the country by plugging into Brit-rock's latent hunger for a Big Band, a four-man trad-guitar combo (the Smiths, the Jam; Suede, Oasis).

But why the Roses, and not, say The House Of Love? If there was a kernel of magic to the Roses (discounting their obvious assets i.e. good-to-great songs, Squire's
flair, the band's flares, the looselimbed rhythm section, the cryptic class-war lyrics), it's got to be that oft-cited, seldom elucidated intangible, 'attitude'. Really, it was just a self-confidence that fit the turn-of-decade positivity like
a glove, and briefly resurrected a heretical notion: that being young could be fun. The Roses' melodies had a soaring unfettered spirit that echoed the optimism that coursed through everything the Beatles did, even their sad songs.

That idea--adolescence as endless possibility as opposed to endless torment--seems illusory and irrecoverable, post Kurt and Richie, despite the insouciant efforts of jack-the-lad combos like Oasis, Supergrass etc. The difference between the Roses in '89 and Oasis in '95 is that the latter are all ME ME ME, a purely individualistic escape route from dead-end drudgery into self-willed rockstardom. With the Roses, it was more a case of WE, "we can all it make it out of this place": their narcissism was somehow on behalf of a community.

Anyway, right now the Roses are in the unenviable position (although the money probably eases the pain) of being just another band (now that everyone's copped their attitude and Sixties recycling is this nation's seventh most profitable industry). Divorced from the context that lent them the lustre of meaning, the Stone Roses must bear the brunt of everyone's disappointment (as if any band could
singlehandedly turn back the clock to the happy daze of '89/'90). They have to get by on good singin', good playin', on the trad virtues of their deeply traditionalist thang. In America, where the resonances of 'Madchester' were always impossibly remote, the Roses must above all make it as a ROCK BAND. And that's how they project themselves tonight.

After a mood-establishing prequel of Hendrix' "1983, A Merman I Should Turn To Be" (Electric Ladyland being a life-changing aural revelation for John Squire), the Roses EXPLODE onstage in a glare and blare of searchlights and overdriven guitar. They start, like they useta, with "I Wanna Be Adored", only now it's much heavier than before, a monolithic shock-wave of sound that almost obliterates Ian
Brown's wind-tunnel vocals. Next is "She Bangs The Drum"; all the lithe and lissom bouncincess of the original is exchanged for Steve Jones-like aggression ("God Save The Queen" being another formative moment for Squire). Apparently this is how the band wanted the debut LP to sound, until John Leckie got his emasculating hands on it.

What's weird about Second Coming, and about the Stone Roses tonight, is the way the band replay the entire 1965-72 era at once--from mid-Sixties beat through psychedelia to heavy rock-- but jumbled and anachronistic. So "10 Story
Love Song" has a Merseybeat melody but a Santana/Hendrix solo, while "Good Times" fast-forwards Brown's 1966 Manc mod whine to sit uneasily amidst blues-boogie bombastics circa 1970; the Crosby Stills & Nash acoustic balladry of "Tightrope" contrasts with the ZZ Top-isms of "Love Spreads". After Brown's done with his cod-bluesman jivetalk, "Daybreak" provides Squire with pretext and launching pad for an
extended fretboard freak-out, the kind of polychromatic ejaculation-fiesta last heard with Beck, Bogart & Appice's "Jizz Whizz". It sounds great, actually: along with J. Mascis, Squire's one of the very few contemporary guitarists
who can sustain a solo. If nothing else, this kind of phallocratic pyrotechnicism will get the band on the cover of all the muso guitar mags.

As you might have twigged, the guitarist dominates proceedings so extensively that it can only be a matter of time before the band is renamed the John Squire Blues
Explosion. Poor old Ian Brown (whose own 'instrument' is by comparison expressively rather limited) is utterly eclipsed by his schoolchum's onanistic exhibitionism. In truth, these days the Stone Roses' balls-out rockist furore really requires a singer as histrionic as Robert Plant; Brown emanates from an aesthetic universe whose cut-off point is 1967.

A band as good as the Roses can get by with one weak link, but not two. It's early days yet, but it looks like new sticksman Robbie Maddix is no replacement for Reni (one of the few great drummers this country's produced in the last decade). A rock band is a complex rhythmic engine, and you can't just replace a crucial component like Reni and expect things to swing along as groovily as before. The resultant
stiffness doesn't really mar the heavy-rock that most of the set comprises, but "Fool's Gold" is a farce: what was once exquisitely poised and in-the-pocket becomes clod-hopping, closer to funk-metal than baggy-beat.

Now that the Roses are hard rockin' muthas rather than dance-pop, "Begging You" works better as a rave/rock hybrid than "Fools". A weird crush-collision of blues rock and technorave dynamics, Yardbirds and Joey Beltram, "Begging" is
the set's highlight, just as it's the pinnacle of Second Coming. The song is apparently an evocation of that period in 1990/91 when the Madchester party soured: E'd up euphoria turned to edgy paranoia as punters necked one pill too many,
while the drug gangs' bloody struggle to control a lucrative market killed the luv vibe good'n'proper. 16 year old "baby-gangsters", as Brown puts it, stalked the Hacienda openly sporting guns and selling dodgy powders. With its churning
cylindrical groove and almighty turbine-roar guitar, the song sounds exactly like the panic rush of an E'd up raver wondering how and why the rave-dream's dying all around him.

"Begging" sort of begs the question: now the Manchester moment's long gone, what are the Stone Roses "about"? What are they good for? (More good-to-great songs? Yet another axe hero?). I don't think the Roses really know, and in some sense the blitzing bombast of their performance tonight masks that abscence; the volume is almost like a barrier between audience and band. You can barely see the players through the swirling dazzle of the lights; likewise, there's no banter from Brown to the crowd. Beneath the glare and the blare, that curious blankness remains.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Do It Yourself
(Stiff, 1979; Demon CD reissue, 1990?)
Melody Maker, 1990?

by Simon Reynolds

Uncut, June 2000

by Simon Reynolds

Ten More Turnips From the Tip
Uncut, April 2002

by Simon Reynolds

Skep, New York
Melody Maker, May 22nd 1993

by Simon Reynolds

Spin, spring 1995

by Simon Reynolds

With its jungle rhythms and uncouth passion, rock'n'roll used to be the
enemy of civilisation and refinement. So I'm amused that it's rock fans who are now the reactionaries, erecting barricades to defend 'songcraft' and 'poetic depth'
from techno's barbaric assault. I'd always figured Luke Haines, prissy wordsmith of The Auteurs, to be one of those fogies who recoil from rave music 'cos it's all rhythm and no 'soul'. This is the fellow, after all, who models himself on Ray Davies' "wryness and dryness". So I'm impressed that he's submitted his songbook to the unforgiving maw of tekno whizzkid Michael Paradinas. a.k.a µ-ziq.

Like his pal Aphex Twin (via whose RePhlex label µ-ziq product is
released in Britain), Paradinas' idea of remixology is obliterative. So the po-mo
ramifications of this mini-LP are pretty piquant: rock's notion of the
singer-songwriter, the auteur, pulverised by the technology-driven pressures of the fin de siecle mediascape. Sometimes the effect is as thrillingly sacrilegious as
building a pyre of the Western Canon. "Lenny Valentino 3", for instance,
leaves only shards of Haines vocal to bob amidst the red-zone distorto-bass and sombre synth-refrains. Other treatments are more reciprocal, like "Daughter Of A
Child", which loops billowing "Astral Weeks" strings into a
locked-groove of poignancy, incongruously framed in factory-gone-mad clamour.

All in all, nuff respect to Haines for taking the punishment,
and to Paradinas for dealing it.

Totentanz and other electronic works 1958-1973
(Melon Expander)
director's cut, The Wire, September 2008

by Simon Reynolds

Music obsession is a bottomless pit: the deeper you climb in, the more you lose perspective. The genre might be Sixties garage punk or Seventies Afro-pop, peak-era dub & roots or cassette only second-wave industrial, but the syndrome is the same: a mania for completism takes over. Like the prisoner in solitary confinement entranced by the differing grain of bricks in the cell wall, you start to perceive and cherish minute differences between iterations that seem utterly generic to the non-enthusiast's ear. All this is a preamble to an admission: I don't honestly know how crucial Warner Jepson's work is in "the grand scheme of things". All I can say is that it rocks my world, a world bent out of shape by an ever-expanding passion for post-WW2 musique concrete/analog electronic , further slanted towards the maverick, marginal, and minor.

It's tempting to file Jepson under "Outsider Electronics". But he wasn't a lone nutjob cobbling together edition-of-one sound-contraptions in an Iowa basement. For much of the period covered by this double-CD, Jepson was attached to various institutions, namely the San Francisco Tape Center (both before and after its move to Mills College, Oakland) and a short-lived American body called the National Center for Experiments in Television. Through these organizations, Jepson had almost unlimited access to formidable state-of-the-art synthesizers. Yet it's also true that, despite a prodigious work-rate, Jepson only ever got to release one record, Totentanz. And that was a private press run of approximately 300, mostly sold at performances of the ballet it was written to score. So Jepson falls somewhere between more established Mills peers with extensive discographies such as Pauline Oliveros and lone rangers like Tod Dockstader, never part of the academic music culture and only able to release music sporadically.

Like Dockstader, Jepson was as interested in the visual arts (specifically painting and photography, examples of which decorate the CD booklet) as music. Some of the pieces he made using the Tape Center's Buchla 100 series synth were commissioned for openings at the SF Art Institute and the city's Museum of Modern Art. All through the Sixties, Jepson was in demand to provide background sounds for parties and fashion shows, and to score environmental sculptures like David William's Tulium and experimental movies like James Broughton's The Bed. But his biggest "hit" was the score for Carlos Carvajal's dance piece Totentanz ('Dance of Death'), first performed by the San Francisco Ballet Company in 1967, subsequently taken on a national tour, and then revived in the early Seventies by Carvajal's new dance troupe Dance Spectrum, with performances at Frisco's Grace Cathedral. Drawing on musique concrete techniques as well as the Buchla's hair-raisingly alien timbres and capacity for "incredible syncopations," this 35 minute score is brilliant, if surprisingly non-kinesthetic (indeed, in his engaging sleevenotes Jepson notes that some patrons walked out of the premiere during the "not very rhythmic", sine-wave oriented third section). Totentanz starts with tubular sound-smears twining around each other like Pompidou Center pipework, passes through eldritch groves of mangled high-pitch voices and upper-treble tinglings, enters a phase where chirruping meander-melody alternates with low-end frequencies like the earth's crust fissuring, and climaxes with see-sawing hypno-patterns not far off Terry Riley. There's a fair few generic Sixties electronic noises (eruptions of computer-gone-mad gabble) of the kind that us hardcore fans can never get enough of, but plenty more that feel jamais rather than déjà entendu.

Totentanz was rereleased unofficially a few years ago by Creel Pone, a CD-R label that reissues out-of-print electronic music lovingly packaged with miniaturized versions of the original LP cover, inserts, etc. Permission is not exactly sought, but the item is withdrawn if the composer objects or an official reissue is announced, and this is exactly what happened with Totentanz. As Jepson's most well-known work, it remains the centerpiece of this anthology, but 1968's The Awakening, Jepson's second score for Carvajal , is even better. The original piece, as heard at performances, was quadraphonic, a Herculean undertaking on Jepson's part given that Tape Center only had two-tape decks; here it's been adapted for stereo. The initial impression is of a supremely inclement environment--a planet whose atmosphere blends methane and cyanide and 200 m.p.h. sandstorms whittle mountains into grotesquely deformed shapes. This audio-hell gives way to a quirky section that suggests a squaddy regiment who've been ordered to beat down a field of bracken armed only with egg whisks. Another near-comical sequence--the dawn chorus of cyborg tree frogs?--accumulates gradually into a propulsive mesh of harsh, angular riffs that, boosted by 80 beats-per-minute, would be freakily close to the more abstract kinds of gabber techno. Suddenly we've drifted to a different corner of the late Nineties, the dark minimal pulsations of Panasonic. The music then comes to a kind of frigid boil, a dense lattice of high, whinnying arpeggios that ascends to audible-only-by-dogs pitches, before dropping down to gnarly low end frequencies with what sounds like the gnashing and gnawing of close-miked termites. This hitherto unreleased 20 minute piece surpasses in invention and entertainment value quite a few late Sixties works by American composers that did get put out by labels like Nonesuch and, while doubtless more conceptually grounded than The Awakening, are frankly dreary listening experiences in comparison.

The anthology's third substantial piece comes from Jepson's early Seventies tenure as composer-in-residence at the National Center for Experiments In Television (that name alone ought to trigger a massive boner for everyone from hauntologists like Mordant Music and Ghost Box to avant-garde archivists UbuWeb). Jepson's job was to soundtrack strange little programmes like the murkily abstract "See Is Never All the Way Up" by the artist William Roarty. Here the composer spends 25 minutes in pursuit of "a sound that shimmered and barely moved," beginning with hissy crinkles like ice cracking on a frozen lake, then settling into a placid yet ominous thrum, like stoned and slightly paranoid bees whose hives are next door to a field of top-grade marijuana that the DEA has set fire to.

Of course, if you're a true nutter for post-WW2 mavericktronics,you prize the fragmentary as much as the fully-realised: the kind of shards, sketches and stumbles that made up last year's marvellous Oramics anthology, and that often have more of the electric thrill of discovery and the joy of messing about than the would-be Grand Opuses. This collection's goodly portion of jottings and jingles includes early stabs at concrete (1958's "Jail Gate Crazy" sounds like a typist, rolling down an endless flight of stairs while still pounding away at her machine) and short electronic studies like 1967's "Good Humor Man" (a losing-my-wits synth sequence underpinned by a creepy bass pulse that seeps and sag with every lurching forward step) and "Splace" (a threnody from the coldest, remotest region of interstellar space, solar wind whistling through the cosmic string, you know the score). Less impressive are "Rirlwa" and "The Dog", stumpy little items from 1970 made using prepared piano and a Farfisa borrowed from underground film-maker Bruce Conner.

This double-CD constitutes just a tiny fraction of the 100 hours of music Jepson laid down during his time with the Tape Center. Like the larger genre to which he made a small but significant contribution, Jepson's oeuvre is clearly a bottomless pit in its own right. If they keep on digging it up, I'll keep on digging it.