Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Stone Roses Return: Better Never Than So Late?

Which two and a half men were totally shaggable?
I guess I should be filled with a little more gratitude.

If I'm never going to get the ABBA or the Smiths reunions for which I've been praying for decades now, one of the next best things might be a Stones Roses redux. Although the quartet was never huge in the U.S., the band became Britpop legends in the early '90s after only two studio albums. Next year, the four key members -- Ian Brown, John Squire, Mani and Reni -- will reunite for a world tour and a third album, 18 years after the second one.

I remember the first time I saw the band, circa 1990. MTV VJ Dave Kendall played "I Wanna Be Adored" on 120 Minutes, and my Madchester phase immediately entered full swing. I went on to love fellow Madchester bands Happy Mondays and the Charlatans (who actually weren't from England's Manchester, the city that spawned both the musical movement and its name), but in the end, it was always about the Stone Roses. So what if Second Coming, the 1994 follow-up to the band's 1989 self-titled debut, didn't quite live up to the first arrival? (Read my People magazine review here.) I was looking forward to many years of ups and downs and in-betweens.

But by 1996, the Stone Roses had wilted. The guys didn't even say goodbye with one final album.

At least ABBA gave us a full decade of great songs -- many of which are so immortal that an entire music channel on the TV in my Bangkok suite is devoted to them -- and in the end, they thanked us for the music. The Smiths only had a three-year recording life span, but it produced three classic studio albums -- The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985) and The Queen Is Dead (1986) -- as well as assorted essential compilations of non-studio-album material.

As much as I've been dreaming of the unlikely reunions of both bands for years, I secretly kind of hope they never happen. I want to remember ABBA the way they were in the '70s, with blonde, beautiful Agnetha and fiery red-head Frida trading leads, and the Smiths as they were back when Morrissey was rock's hottest frontman -- the brainy, borderline-nerdy flipside to INXS's Michael Hutchence.

My slight fear of ABBA Part II revolves around the fact that I'm not sure if I want to see four sixtysomethings trying to recreate the perfect pop magic of "Dancing Queen" and "Take a Chance on Me." It didn't work for Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!, and I really don't want to go through that again. The Smiths haven't quite reached the AARP years yet, but a large part of the band's appeal when I was in college was the way Morrissey's anthems for doomed youth spoke to people like me who didn't really fit the normal youth mold.

"London" resonates with me today as clearly as it did in the '80s. But what would be the net visual effect of seeing a fiftysomething man flailing about the stage singing lines like "Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ"? That said, a song like "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" works at any age, maybe more when you're past 50.

Therein lies the problem with the Stone Roses, a band whose music was the quintessential sound of British youth in the early '90s but didn't really get around to wallowing in the world-weariness of middle age. The Stone Roses was what it felt to be young at the time. For me, the classic line up's youth and beauty was a large part of the group's appeal. I not only wanted to rock out to them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to sleep with them, too (at least two and a half of them).

When I was 20, hearing "I Wanna Be Adored" coming from a band whose members weren't that much older than I was made so much sense. I wanted the very same thing. But times change, and people do, too. We get older, and not all of us are equally successful at holding back the years. "I Wanna Be Adored" sounds just as good now as it did in 1990, but the song doesn't speak to me in the same way it did back then, nor will hearing it coming from a bunch of guys who are pushing 50 have the same powerful effect. As with ABBA, part of me wants to remember the Stone Roses the way they were, back when I wanted to sleep with two and a half of them.

Here's the tricky thing with rock reunions, especially of bands that were so representative of a particular youth movement: It's easier to swallow an aging vintage band putting on the hits from its early days when we've gotten to see and hear them grow older and wiser together. If Kurt Cobain were to come back from the dead as a 44 year old and hit the road with Nirvana, how creepy would it be to hear "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the set list? But George Michael could do comeback tours and probably get away with wiggling his hips and singing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" in concert until he's 70 because we've seen him grow from Wham! to "I Want Your Sex" to "Praying for Time" to "John and Elvis Are Dead." Of course, daring to sing "I Want Your Sex" as a septuagenarian would be so Tom Jones!

In the end, I'm glad to have the Stone Roses back in the rock & roll fold, and I'm cautiously optimistic that there will still be some magic left, maybe even in the recording studio. (Reunion tours are one thing, but do reunion albums ever work?) I'll be front and center when the Stone Roses come to whatever city I'm living in at the time, singing along to "I Wanna Be Adored," "She's a Waterfall" and (my personal favorite) "Fools Gold," wishing the band had some newer hits so they could look their age and, occasionally, sound it, too.
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