The Stone Roses, Fools Gold (1989)

StoneRosesFoolsGold

Artist: The Stone Roses
Title: Fools Good
Description: single
Label: Silvertone
Release date: 1989
First heard: 1989

I don’t need you to tell me what’s going down

You don’t choose when you are born. Entering my teens in 1978 I was historically too late for the healing fires of punk, and, though in time for New Wave and 2-Tone, I was still too young to get to gigs, and my burgeoning attachment was necessarily passive. It was this accident of birth that put me in the right place at the right time to pledge my troth to the post-punk bands of the early 80s, and even venture out into the world to see some of them play live: U2, The Cure, the Bunnymen, New Order and assorted Goth tub-thumpers. Once resettled and on the payroll in London, my professional life at the music press similarly coincided with Grebo, post-C86 t-shirt indie and Madchester. Thus it is with eternal cosmic gratitude that I am able to state that the stars aligned for me in February 1989.

The already guru-like Steve Lamacq, filling in for Helen Mead on the NME live desk, asked me if I’d like to travel to Manchester and review this new guitar band everyone was talking about at the most famous nightclub in Britain. I was still a relative novice at that time, having only stepped through the paper’s doors the previous summer, picked up a couple of days’ work a week in the layout room, and just over the threshold into my nascent reviewing career. The closest I’d been to Manchester was a family trip to Thornton-Cleveleys, just outside of Blackpool, when I was 14.

The Stone Roses played several high-profile gigs in support of their debut album (due out in May but circulating the music press on advance cassette), including one on February 27 at what was regarded as the centre of the associated Madchester and baggy scenes, Manchester’s Haçienda nightclub. I know all of this to be the case, as it’s lifted from the band’s Wikipedia entry, as is this:

Andrew Collins wrote in NME: “Bollocks to Morrissey at Wolverhampton, to The Sundays at The Falcon, to PWEI at Brixton – I’m already drafting a letter to my grandchildren telling them that I saw The Stone Roses at the Haçienda.”

Some context. These other landmark gigs were pertinent to the era: Wolverhampton Civic Hall had been Morrissey’s first solo gig, with free entry to anyone in a Moz/Smiths t-shirt, in December 1988; pub venue The Falcon, in Camden, had given the world future indie darlings the Sundays in August 1988, debuting that night (and with kingmaker Lamacq in attendance); and Brixton Academy in London was where Pop Will Eat Itself almost joined the hip-hop orthodoxy when they supported Public Enemy and Run DMC, and been coined offstage, in October 1988. I was at that. And, dear grandchildren, I was at the Hacienda.

I have no grandchildren, but apart from that, if I may say so, I was bang on about the Stone Roses, which is why I still bang on about it. Geography met Art and Culture, and made History. My ardent, in-print response to a gig by four young men in a venue in a city needs no seasonal adjustment. It was the dawn of something, a compass reset, and those heady years, from 1988 (earlier if you were already baggy and caught Sally Cinnamon first time round) to 1990 (when the Roses entered a four-year legal tangle with Silvertone) were impeccable, and beyond the accepted criteria of technical virtuosity, cultural chance or audio perfection. The Roses’ eponymous debut – whose opener I Wanna be Adored also opened the gigs in earth-moving grandeur – is a modern classic, but it did not contain their finest hour. That came with their first Top 10 hit, in November 1989. Of the release’s two A-sides, What the World is Waiting For turned out not to be the one the world was waiting for.

I know the truth, and I know what you’re thinking

Fools Gold, missing apostrophe forgiven, and at just under ten minutes long less a single, more a way of life, cannot be withered by time. Fads that do not destroy it make it stronger. It starts not with an earthquake but a distant paradiddle that sounds like it’s been slapped on a thigh, and with a no-arguments kick-drum THUMP we’re in business. Most ten-minute mixes or extensions on a theme outstay their welcome, go over old ground or allow your mind to wander. Not this one. Produced by first-album talisman John Leckie, it is so luxuriously tooled and yet ultimately so unshowy; it locks down that beat (produced by a human man, Alan Wren, and based upon, but not sampled from, James Brown’s set text The Funky Drummer), lays in the bass (also humanoid: Gary Mounfield), lets John Squire’s guitar sort of wonder out loud, and the tape run. He’s soon into effects mode and Ian Brown joins in, his voice sufficiently treated to make it at the same time otherworldly and part of the woodwork.

The gold road’s sure a long road
Winds on through the hills for fifteen days
The pack on my back is aching
The straps seem to cut me like a knife

The four of them do not so much build up a head of steam, as lay out a body of work in heavenly precis. There’s nothing that made the Stone Roses legendary that isn’t in Fools Gold: the insouciance, the confidence, the ESP, the funk, the space, the glory. Brown’s lyric, which directly and indirectly references John Huston, the Marquis de Sade and Nancy Sinatra, is no singalong, but it doesn’t need to be; we’re singing along to the guitar, the bassline, even the drums. (It’s worth calling up the lyric, actually – Brown’s imagery is already knowing, poetic and political: “You’re weighing the gold/I’m watching you sinking.”)

There are passages where the bass rumbles like an earth tremor. Occasional bongos. John’s guitar sometimes sharks in, then switches pedal, live. At one dub-assisted juncture, I hear Daniel Ash from Bauhaus (although that might be just me). Brown disappears for bridges at a time. Squire fills the sky. Reni never stops. It’s a finished symphony. At about a minute-and-a-half from the end, you start to fret about it ending.

I witnessed Fools Gold for the first time in Widnes, swallowed by the estuary breeze. It was an unforgettable occasion, but a problematic concert. In truth, Spike Island rode the gap between ambition and reach, which sometimes swallowed the band. But in the pure, recorded form of Fools Gold, it is its own stairway to heaven.

The trousers haven’t worn as well.

Burial, Archangel (2007)

BurialUntrue

Artist: Burial
Title: Archangel
Description: promo single; album track, Untrue
Label: Hyperdub
Release date: 2007
First heard: 2007

The seven ages of man – and I mean, specifically, man – ought to include the following two ages: the age of self-consciousness about being “cool”, and the age of suddenly realising you don’t give a fuck what other people think of you. In terms of what music you listen to, these two ages are key.

Sometime in the late noughties, I was depping for Gideon Coe in the ten-to-midnight slot on 6 Music. It was not my default “dep”, and way past my bedtime, but I enjoyed the Peel-like freedom from the daytime playlist it offered, and when you’re used to being on-air during office hours, it’s liberating to broadcast after everybody’s gone home. Anyway, I was paired with a young, hip, clued-up, hyperactive ex-Radio 1 producer (in fact, I believe he’d worked with Peel in his last years) whose puppydog energy was infectious. When the records were playing, we had some animated conversations about music. We didn’t know each other very well, so it was a bonding experience. Anyway, at one juncture, off-air, he asked me this:

“Do you like dubstep?”

As it happened, I did like dubstep. Before I’d read Rob Fitzpatrick’s eloquent page-long review of Burial’s eventually Mercury-nominated second album Untrue in Word magazine at the end of 2007, I’d never encountered the word and was a stranger to dance genres. But through Rob’s evangelistically vivid descriptions of this aromatic new music from the clubs of Croydon, and in particular from this anonymous new practitioner called Burial, my inquisitiveness drove me to Amazon and I invested. I had only the vaguest notion of what the music was all about, but I gathered it was a beautiful noise coming up from the streets and that I didn’t really need to go out after dark in Croydon to get into it. Untrue went immediately onto “repeat” and it saw me through an entire urban winter.

I still listen to it today in its gloriously grey entirety, and it screams London to me: spooky, cinematic, littered, threatening, soothing, exciting, dark, threatening, indistinct in places, a parallel world of snatched conversation and distorted voices, it speaks in sounds. As the untitled opening track – my first experience of Burial and my first experience of dubstep – is 46 seconds long and not really a “song”, second track Archangel represents my official door into a new world of possibilities. Its beat rattles like a crushed beer can caught in an eddy behind an industrial bin, or a clattering automated piece of factory hardware punching out some circuit board or other after dark. A voice, sampled, seems to sing something about “holding you” and “could it be alone,” but these bulletins from another dimension are not there to be understood. The voices in this music are not narrative.

The title recalls, for me, the code name used at the end of Apocalypse Now that calls in an airstrike, but you may take from it what you will. The song is all hints and vagaries. You fill in the blanks, and dubstep has many blanks. Strings seem to swell, as if from a movie soundtrack (many samples within are from scores), but it does not uplift, not while that caffeinated beat digs at your ribs. This is sublime music. I don’t care who Burial is. (He’s a bloke called William Bevan from South London.) I don’t care about anything but the music when it’s playing through my brain, almost exclusively on public transport, or on foot, and very rarely by day.

Archangel is night music. It’s not really to be extracted and ripped from the womb of the full album, and yet, it’s borne of the pick’n’mix iTunes age, and probably more usually heard mixed into the track before and into the track after on a pirate radio station. Actually – and I have a young relative who’s heavily into dubstep and a DJ – I know that a track from Untrue isn’t being played on a pirate radio anywhere, as it does not belong to the believers. It’s one for the Word readers, the middle-aged, the non-clubgoing, the coffee table, the dinner party. (Remember when drum’n’bass went dinner party in the early 90s? We used to play the backside out of Goldie and Metalheadz when people came round; mind you, we were all pretty wild in the mid-90s when we turned 30, and our parties did not revolve around dinner.)

I have long entered the age of man when I don’t give a fuck what people think about me, and certainly not what music I like, or listen to. I think I truly stopped caring when I arrived at Q magazine in 1994. What liberation!

I actually bought a couple of dubstep compilations after Untrue, and learned a lot. I enjoyed some of it, and some of it was unlistenable, and there was nothing by Skream or Benga that touched Burial for the cinematic. (I quite dug a track by Steve Gurley called Hotboys (Dub), if you’re interested.)

So, back at 6 Music, late-nite, off-air, late noughties: I have been asked by this young, buzzy producer with interesting facial hair if I like dubstep. Maybe it’s a test? “Yes,” I say. “I love that Burial album.” Remember, I don’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about my musical taste. But I feel a twinge when he replies, with a sneer, “That’s not dubstep!”