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Breaking into America: Why do the Stone Roses keep failing?

 

When THE STONE ROSES announced their reunion in October 2011, the press conference was treated as breaking news on European television stations, interrupting scheduled programming for a live broadcast. Two hometown shows in Manchester subsequently sold out in 14 minutes -– crashing Ticketmaster on the way to becoming the fastest selling gigs in UK history. An additional show sold out in 38 minutes, bringing the total tally to a staggering 220,000 tickets.

Here in the States though, there was nary a mention of the reconvening in major media outlets. It got progressively worse this past January when the band was named opening night headliner of Coachella and clueless attendees took massive umbrage to Twitter, decrying the positioning with befuddlement, inspiring a Tumblr account featuring some of the more perplexed tweets. It didn’t help when the California festival rolled around last month amidst reports that the Roses played to a rapidly thinning crowd, as many accounts had Passion Pit, on a much smaller stage, drawing a much larger audience.

The following weekend, with Coachella set to repeat its entire lineup over three days, organizers flipped the night-one bill so that Blur headlined instead of the Stone Roses. Many took it as a sign that promoters were wiping egg off their collective face, acknowledging the prior week’s failure, but that was hardly the case. Having rolled the dice with two high profile British acts from the outset, they had them intended to switch all along. Unfortunately, the fact that Blur absolutely killed it both weekends, a feat displayed on the first weekend to the masses not even in attendance via Coachella’s popular livestream, made things look much more austere than the reality.

 
 

Bottom line: there have been legions of UK bands in the past few decades that exploded in Europe but never made it past the Eastern seaboard here. Pulp. Suede. The Verve. Joy Division. The Libertines. Portishead. The Smiths. The talent pool has been outrageous, and for whatever reason America never caught on.

The Stone Roses, however, were supposed to be different.

Dropping in the spring of 1989, the outfit’s eponymous debut exists as one of those records that can be deemed “flawless” without a hint of irony or adjustable hindsight. Melding the trippy haze of the ‘60s drug culture with a pop sheen and an undercurrent of ecstasy fueled dance, it’s an irresistible display of panache led by the cocky fronting of singer Ian Brown and quiet, yet confident swagger of guitarist John Squire.

 
 

From the menacing opener “I Wanna Be Adored” to the ridiculously catchy “Made of Stone,” with Squire’s phaser burrowing deep into the sing-songy chorus, through the boastful delve into Haight-Ashbury trippiness of the closer “I Am The Resurrection,” it’s no surprise that 20 years on, the record has been name-checked multiple times as the greatest album of all-time, most iconic, etc. –- but all by the British press. It’s pretty much a footnote here.

One year after releasing its debut, the Stone Roses performed what sits in the cloud of reminiscence as one of the most legendary shows in history: Spike Island in Cheshire. Renowned for wind-blown sound issues, the nearly 40,000 strong could give a shit; it was mega.

“I’d never seen so many kids smoking so much dope and taking so many drugs,” says noted music writer Jon Savage in the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Britpop.

“It was a shit gig,” adds Oasis’ Noel Gallagher in the doc. “From a technical point of view the wind was blowing the sound all over the fucking place; I don’t think I got to hear one of the songs properly. But that wasn’t the point; the point was there was all of them people there. Spike Island was the blueprint for my group; we were then going to become the biggest band in the world. The Stone Roses, their impact stretches so far beyond the gig itself and the music… the Stone Roses need never to have played a note at that gig, the job was already done when the people arrived.”

 
 

Oasis is arguably the most well-known Britpop export in the U.S. Therefore, it’s saying something when the co-founding brother basically says that seeing the Stone Roses was the impetus for his own band.

Next month, The Stone Roses: War and Peace will be released for the first time Stateside. The book’s author, Simon Spence, remains just as puzzled about the failure of the group to break the States.

“I really don’t know,” he says when asked for a reason. “It’s a very, very, very British phenomena, tied in with acid house and the Berlin Wall coming down. Lawlessness. The band talked about revolution, Ian talked about shooting Prince Charles and suffocating the Queen Mother. It was all very British.”

At one point, during the initial rise of the Stone Roses, Brown famously said, “America doesn’t deserve us yet.” Initially, the band stipulated that they would tour the States -– only if they played Shea Stadium first. “Their manager said they wouldn’t come to America until they could sell out Shea Stadium – they wanted to be like the Beatles,” Spence says.

 
 

There were zero shows for the first album in the States, and even when the long delayed, and perhaps too optimistically titled sophomore release, Second Coming was released after a five year gap on Geffen, no one here really gave a damn.

“America just never got them, literally; they never came to America,” Spence says. “With the Stone Roses in America, it’s like they haven’t got past first base. When Second Coming came out, it had been five years; they went to L.A. and did promotion and it went badly. They liked to be loved in America but it was, ‘Fuck you if you don’t like us.’”

Still, with so many inspired in their wake, one would surmise that the Stone Roses deserve a better place on the mantle of musical nomenclature than fellow ex-pats One Direction.

Spence agrees: “Maybe they should’ve held out and just done Shea Stadium and everyone would’ve come.”