Not Of This Earth: The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, HP, 1994

In late 1994, I was asked to review Second Coming by The Stone Roses. That felt like a moment of arrival in Hot Press at the end of my second year. This was BIG. Bill Graham had reviewed the first. I made sure I didn’t read any other reviews, though after I submitted my encomium I was relieved to see Melody Maker give it one of their big black stars. I lived in the record for as long as I could (often not long, given the time between getting a CD and a deadline). And I really loved it. Years later I remember Phil Udell from State and Phantom asking me about this review on his show and I laughed at my old self thinking: 11/12 for that yoke? Hardly. But reading through the review below I am, not unlike R.E.M., pretty persuaded. Inevitably, too, I threw an American Music Club lyric into a lead HP review without telling anyone that was what it was. Not even AMC’s most recent album, San Francisco: “Day to day life, something we all know too much about” is from ‘Ex-Girlfriend’ off Everclear. Anyway. I don’t listen to Second Coming any more and I gave out about Stone Roses nostalgia years ago. But I should pull it out: any record featuring moments that cause neither your spine nor your viscera to be your own is worth a spin.

THE STONE ROSES: “Second Coming” (Geffen)

THE SPIRIT of Second Coming, the first Stone Roses LP since the demise of the Berlin Wall, is best summed up by the chorus of track eight, ‘Tightrope’, a short, charming love song: “I’m on a tightrope, baby / Nine miles high / Striding through the clouds on my ribbon in the sky.”

Note, if you will, the irresistible swagger and otherworldiness of the line “Striding… sky”. Note the unwavering all-or-nothing-ness of the entire image: Give me love or give me death, it demands, toe-tappingly. But note especially the phrase “Nine miles high,” and cackle at the sheer audacity of these returned prodigal Mancunians. Jesus! Even The Byrds settled for eight, and the Stone Roses know that well. Not these boys, though. No chance.

Everything makes sense, when you hear Second Coming: the five year delay, the interview blackout, the all-round, media-defying cultivation of mystery. To make a record as fearlessly indulgent and Biblically ambitious as this you have to be, in a word, mythical. You, and your captive audience, must really believe that you’re not of this earth. Blur can’t cut it: we know them too well and, besides, day to day life, sometimes, is something we all know too much about (honourable exception The Divine Comedy). The Stone Roses, one of Pop’s few remaining enigmas, can, easily.

Second Coming is a huge record. ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ opens it and is, frankly, a trip. “I’ve been casing your joint for the best years of my life / Like the look of your stuff,” growls Ian Brown after a mazy five-minute intro. “Heaven’s gates won’t hold me / I’ll tear those suckers down… I’m gonna break right into Heaven,” he breathes, and it’s probably a metaphor for getting a shag but with a sound as celestial as this, it may not be metaphorical at all.

‘Driving South’ is a mammoth Faustian tale on which John Squire, fittingly, plays like a man possessed. ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ towers. “When your heart is black and broken / And you need a helping hand / When you’re so much in love you don’t know just how much you can stand… Take my hand, baby, I’m your man,” it goes, while Squire, the cuddly sap who wrote it, sweeps you off with joyous, surefooted guitar. It’s a buskable, naive eulogy, and if you let your guard down it’ll swamp you.

‘Daybreak’ is a bit of a blip.‘Your Star Will Shine’ is a quiet one, with a twist: “Your distant sun will shine like the gun that’s trained right between your Daddy’s eyes,” chirps Ian benevolently as it fades out, transforming a tender love song into something altogether more confusing. ‘Tightrope’ makes it quite clear that a man is in love. John Squire’s lover is asked “Can there be more in this life than the joy of just watching you sleep?” and the answer is yes: the intense joy of hearing Ian Brown singing about it.

‘Good Times’ is less transcendent, the only occasion that the concept of fast-forwarding enters your head. ‘Tears’ is introspective and luscious, while ‘How Do You Sleep’ is an anti-war (ooh, controversial) stomper, reminiscent of ‘Masters Of War’: lots of blood, guts and righteous venom. You do wonder, though, if space cadets this engagingly far out, man, really need to muddy their shining feet in the murky waters of grubby reality.

And ‘Love Spreads’ gets more astonishing every time you put it on. When the huge soaring chord comes in, halfway through the intro, the roof is raised, there’s a rush of cold air and neither your spine nor your viscera are your own. A rare phenomenon, which is probably just as well.

Second Coming is a great rock’n’roll record. It struts, thrills and even kisses the sky a couple of times. No bored rock stars whose sole motivation was to pay David Geffen what they owe him were involved in its making. Sadly, though, the Stone Roses will now, most likely, sod off from whence they came until, by my calculations, the next millennium. That’s if they return at all. But it’s not a major worry—this will last until then, and beyond. Second Coming is what the world is waiting for, still.

One response to “Not Of This Earth: The Stone Roses’ Second Coming, HP, 1994”

  1. Kevin O'Donohue Avatar
    Kevin O’Donohue

    I thought it was just me. I bought “Second Coming” about a year or two after it’s release (just on the strength of “Love Spreads”) and it has been in constant rotation in my CD player(s) over the years. I had not heard Stone Roses first record until a few years later. I could never understand why “Second Coming” was panned by nearly every critic. (I found it to be an amazingly complex album with no real weak spots.) I also wondered if I was the only one who saw a common thread running through it, beginning with the title. Many of the songs suggested to me that this was a concept album about the devil coming back to Earth to try once again to take control of us mere mortals. After being cast down, he had mustered us his strength and was ready to “break right into Heaven”. He tries to gain our sympathy and get us to understand that he’s just been misunderstood. Listen to “Ten Storey Love Song” (and most of the songs) from this POV and see if they don’t take on new meanings.
    After listening to this for years, when I finally did hear Stone Roses first album, I was very disappointed. It didn’t hold up well at all, imho. It’s basic 90s Brit Pop, and not all that spectacular. Perhaps that’s just because I was born in 61 and grew up listening to everything from early Elton John to jazz fusion, prog rock to punk, hair metal to New Wave. “Second Coming” ranks in my Top 20 (if not Top 10) favorite albums. So thank you for giving it the fair praise it deserves.

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