Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Stone Roses - Britain's last punk band?

The Stone Roses: War and Peace by Simon Spence is a good rock history (as opposed to criticism) meticulously researched, fair minded, narrative-driven. And even someone like me - not the biggest admirer of the Roses bar Fools Gold  and Waterfall - can see that he's got compelling subject matter.

Spence's book did make realize just how much punk was a formative experience for the Roses. They idolized the Sex Pistols, followed The Clash on tour, roadied for The Angelic Upstarts. They formed their own musical imitations. And reading War and Peace, it's all-too possible to imagine an alternate history where the Roses were a footnote in third-wave early 80's punk rather than the slow-burning spearhead of the Second Summer of Love.

Viewing the Roses as essentially late-blossoming Jubilee flowers rather than a return to classic rock, the perceived 'flaws' in what they became - Ian Brown's vocals, the overly self-mythologizing lyrics, the occasionally jarring melange of beats and guitars - all start to make a lot more sense. A punk reading doesn't just flatter the band - it places them in the right context.

This punk heritage was not just musical - but ideological too. The Roses' populism and finely tuned sense of spectacle, their anti-monarchism, their deliberate, contemptuous naivete towards the music industry, their readiness for confrontation - all hark back to '77. And John Squire's flag-adapting cover art stands as much in the tradition of Sex Pistols' collager-in-chief Jamie Reid as it does Jackson Pollock.

The Roses even had their own Malcolm McClaren in the shape of Gareth Evans, arguably both the best and the worst thing to happen to their career. Like McClaren and the Pistols, their partnership too dissolved in an acrimonious court case and disputes about money. Spence is particularly good on this tragic, scarcely believable relationship.

But what about the 60's influences? The chiming guitars?  Well, yes. But punk inherited more from the unrealized radical impulses of the previous decade that it cared to admit when it was busy hating on Pink Floyd. And the lemons on the cover of The Stone Roses harked back to the hippies' most punk rock moment, serving as home-made protection from tear-gas in the demonstrations of Paris 1968.

We're used to looking at the Roses as 'Madchester' incarnate or as John the Baptists for the Gallagher brothers. Maybe we should be thinking of them as Britain's last punk band instead?

No comments:

Post a Comment