The Stone Roses - A 'classic' that is nothing but fool's gold

The Stone Roses may have been the most overrated band ever, claims Fiona Sturges. So why are people getting excited about the re-release of their self-titled debut album?

Friday 14 August 2009 00:00 BST

Twenty years ago a cocky young band from Manchester released an album that would change the course of popular music. They took Sixties psychedelia and re-invented it for the acid house generation, to monumental acclaim. Next month a special edition of that same album will be released (including the track "Fool's Gold"), reminding us quite what a hugely iconic and influential... Oh, who am I trying to kid? The Stone Roses? I think they're bloody awful.

To my mind they are second only to The Doors as the most overrated band in pop history. In 2006 their debut LP was voted the best British album of all time by NME writers. Really? Better than Revolver? Or Exile on Main Street? Or London Calling? Or The Queen Is Dead?

The Stone Roses were the first band to meld the sounds of indie pop and the burgeoning rave culture, which until then had existed pretty much in opposition. Upon the release of their eponymous debut, they were credited with resuscitating a music scene that had been mired in the sounds of poodle rock and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Laudable, certainly, but hardly an achievement. One imagines that if The Fratellis had burst into the charts at that time, they would probably have been received with similar fervour.

I'm not suggesting that their debut album doesn't have its moments. Reni's urgent drumming on "I Am The Resurrection" demands that you sit up and pay attention. The atmospheric opening of "I Wanna Be Adored", propelled by John Squire's guitars, made your heart race. But then along came Ian Brown and ruined it all with a muffled, tuneless moan that made him sound like he had been locked in the janitor's cupboard during recording and submitted his vocals through the crack under the door.

Brown's inability to hold a tune is legendary, of course. Once likened to "an old guy grabbing the karaoke mike at chucking-out time", no one expected a virtuoso performance. So what exactly did he have going for him? In declaring himself "the resurrection", this self-styled deity with the Neanderthal skull certainly had an inflated sense of his own importance. If nothing else, he was living proof that a monstrous ego can get you a long way in pop.

If diehard fans now concede that Brown's singing wasn't up to much, there is no such clarity with regard to the band's lyrics. They were seen as inspirational, spiritual even. For evidence of their talents let me refer you to "I Wanna Be Adored" where Brown repeats the song title no less than ten times. He uses the same trick in "She's The One," the endless repetition ramming the point home with all the subtlety of an articulated lorry. Their most frequently quoted line, from "She Bangs the Drums" – "Kiss me where the sun don't shine/ The past was yours but the future's mine" – is seen as prophetic, a brilliant statement of intent. To me it just seems like foolish chutzpah. They may have triumphed with their first album, but they were buried by their second.

Now we are left with their legacy. The Stone Roses' success gave voice to a generation of baggy bands, including Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and the Charlatans. They also gave us Oasis, a band that single-handedly set the progress of popular music back 30 years. And now we have Kasabian. Thanks guys.

The rumours of a reunion continue to gather speed, presumably galvanised by the 20th anniversary, though it beats me why anyone would want a repeat performance of, say, Spike Island in May 1990, a show that took place next to a chemical plant and was hampered by appalling sound, or of 1996's Reading Festival, a performance so awful that fans wept openly. On the other hand, a reunion might be just what we need. It could finally offer some real perspective on the legend that is the Stone Roses.

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