Why should we care about The Stone Roses?

More wide-eyed fan letter than serious documentary, a new movie fails to convince us the Roses were a great band.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater

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‘Who the fuck are The Stone Roses?’ – seven little words which, a few months ago, sent the collective blood-pressure levels of the greying, bucket hat-wearing Twittersphere right off the charts.

A gaggle of American teens and twentysomethings took to their laptops to ask this burning question – which quickly spawned its own hashtag and tumblr page – when it was announced that the newly reformed Madchester four-piece were to headline the Californian music festival, Coachella. ‘You kids don’t know what real music is…you’re just all full of that Rihanna junk…’, went the tired old diatribe as stalwart Roses fans set about castigating the ignorant yoof.

Aside from the absurd expectation that American adolescents should be familiar with a Mancunian band whose short career burnt out before they had a chance to crack the US (and while many of these young people were likely still potty training), WTFATST?-gate begged a more pertinent question: why should the younger generation care who the fuck The Stone Roses are?

Shane Meadows’ The Stone Roses: Made of Stone is a rock-doc love letter to the band so bursting with admiration it feels like a fanclub-commissioned response to the challenge. But it still can’t really tell us why we should care.

Following Ian Brown, John Squire, Reni and Mani from their raucous 2011 press conference that announced their reformation, through to their triumphant homecoming shows in Heaton Park, Manchester, Made of Stone saves diving too deep into the history. Old scraps of audio from interviews float over footage of the band tearing around on homemade mopeds, lolloping about on Top of the Pops, or sending the crowd into raptures at their legendary 1990 gig on Spike Island, flaunting the brusque northern swagger that has become the This Is England director’s stock-in-trade.

But, as Brown himself once put it, ‘It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’, and Meadows saves on the anthologising for a focus on the here and now, as the band blow out the cobwebs and get match-ready. The rehearsals are standout moments: the Roses look positively giddy as they play the likes of ‘Waterfall’, ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, and it’s hard for the audience not to feel the same. Indeed, it was two of these three songs (‘Fool’s Gold’) that made their self-titled 1989 debut: a mash of stoned, Sixties-influenced jangle rock with an E-laced acid-house thump. At the time, they were already made out to be the stuff of musical legend: ‘The best since The Beatles’, some said. But while these singles were flawless, timeless, era-defining even, the album wasn’t – not by a long Rizla.

As Meadows trots out these same tunes again and again, the modesty of The Roses’ contribution to the pantheon of pop becomes startlingly clear. Indeed, given that their long-awaited sophomore and final LP, 1994’s The Second Coming, proved little more than a lifeless eulogy to the band – who split up two years later in a mess of bad blood and dodgy contracts – their entire legacy is built solely on one album. An album which, in truth, was merely a patchy promise of greater things to come, a glint of potential they never realised.

The indie revival of the mid-2000s, and, of course, the band’s own recent reunion, plucked up much collective nostalgia, but The Roses were always false prophets.

All the same, Made of Stone is a film that couldn’t give two shits about what I think, nor any snivelling music hack poring over the The Roses’ slight back catalogue with a raised eyebrow. Dispensing with the conventional, platitude-spewing talking heads and refusing fully to pin down or dissect his subject, Meadows chooses to document solely from the position of a fan, looking up at the band on stage with unflinching devotion. This is palpable in the opening shot, as Brown greets the crowd at the Heaton Park gig: walking in slow motion along the barriers, his gaunt, stony face illuminated by floodlights, he looks regally across a sea of hands grasping for the king’s touch.

Indeed, if there’s one thing The Stone Roses ever got right, it was how to strike a pose. They were the dishevelled, flares-wearing antidote to the anodyne synth pop and pretentious, Smiths-aping mope rock of the late 1980s; the rough-neck kids who turned up at the party just to trash it, and then have their own. This was enough to secure their place in the hearts and minds of the love-starved music fans of their time.

Disinterested in their history – no doubt full of dramas, hurt feelings and bruised egos – Meadows would much rather leave us to our illusions and hero worship. At a gig in Amsterdam, halfway through their 2012 world tour, Reni, frustrated with a subpar sound system, storms off stage mid-set. Where any other doc-maker would roll sound, prep the handicam and charge after the drummer and his disgruntled band mates, Meadows turns his off and goes home – ‘the last thing they want is a camera in their face’, he says.

When they announce a free gig in a tiny theatre in the Cheshire village of Warrington, he spends as much time talking to the fans outside as he does filming the action itself. They share stories about how much the band means to them – as well as about the various occupational and familial responsibilities they’d flouted that day to come down and queue up for a ticket.

When asked why The Stone Roses were so great, one fortysomething fan simply replies ‘I can’t tell you… but they’re why I’ve never worn a tie’: a uniquely poignant moment in this loving paean to the most brilliant and overrated band of their generation, who proved you needn’t be prolific – or even that great – to become legendary. The kids may not get it, but perhaps that’s the point.

Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.

See the trailer for Made of Stone here:

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