Bright lights, big pity

No flares, and no flair either: the Stone Roses are back in town - and they're awful. By Ryan Gilbey
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The Independent Online
It was announced recently that the Brixton Academy had been rescued from plans to convert it into a church. Not that you'd have known from the reverence on display there last Friday. There were the lame, the sick, the morally repugnant. And that was just the press. The fans were jigging up and down like a factory-floor syndicate who've matched six numbers and the bonus ball. They were all a bit older, and a bit tighter about the trouser-leg, than the last time they'd gathered to dance badly to these songs.

There was a long and winding intro to the Stone Roses' show, but they'd made us wait five years for an album, so what was another 10 minutes of bizarre sound-effects between friends? At least there was the lighting - whoever was in possession of the spotlights was also in possession of some choice Class A substances. At one dazzling point, eight bulbs swung above the stage, glowing as though a series of bright ideas had suddenly struck each band member (unlikely, I know). The bright ideas began and ended with those bulbs.

The new member, Robbie Maddox, played with violent passion. Give him a year, though, and he'll look as miserable as the rest of them. He banged the drums, but not loudly enough to drown out Ian Brown. Brown is the singer, though I use that word in its loosest sense. His voice suggested a child whingeing for a lolly, or a pop star who has blown his million- pound major-label advance. Still, I wouldn't sound too happy if I had to sing the words to "Love Spreads".

The thatch-haired guitarist John Squire is the brains of the band (though bear in mind that here are four men who would probably raise Timmy Mallett shoulder-high and proclaim him a god). Squire writes the songs, and at least he's consistent: both music and lyrics languish in a gutter of cliches. An experimental vocalist might have lifted those compositions closer to the stars. But what Brown did to the band's only showstopper, the majestic "Made of Stone", should see a restraining order slapped on him while the song undergoes extensive counselling.

Brown peddles care-in-the-community chic, from his Andy Pandy dance to that shrunken face (were they sunglasses, or hollowed eye-sockets?) and the mouth set in a mid-gobstopper-sucking pose. He's indispensable: without him, the band would only be moderately, not monumentally, rotten.

Nothing wrong with the rhythm section - Maddox and bassist Mani drove the songs ahead at great speed while their colleagues rattled and flailed behind them like tin-cans tied to a limousine bumper. Squire spent the entire set riffing on automatic pilot; at one point, a young girl tried to wrestle him to the ground. She had just realised to her horror that "Daybreak", which had already lasted until dawn, was seguing into the epic "Breaking Into Heaven".

The truth is that these hotshots-turned-cold have cast out their old flair along with their old flares. London has not witnessed such a shameless display of aural flatulence since Morris Cerullo was in town, making the same unsubstantiated claims to possess miraculous powers. (He's got nothing whatsoever to do with music either.)

In 10 years' time, when your children find The Second Coming in a box in the loft, they will ridicule you, much as you ridiculed your parents for Venus and Mars. Which is why I'm off to the Record & Tape Exchange to swap it for something less embarrassing. I hear they're doing an unbeatable deal on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.