THE STONE ROSES, "Second Coming"; Geffen (***)
Back in the pre-"Nevermind" '80s when everyone still looked to England for direction in rock, the Stone Roses' debut album suggested a band so talented and sure of itself that it might shake things up the way Nirvana eventually did.
Bristling with ambition and energy, the Manchester quartet brought a fresh sensibility to classic pop-rock elements--from the jangly folk-rock of the Byrds to traces of Curtis Mayfield's silky funk. In the songs, the Roses expressed youthful independence and innocence in ways that suggested a new generation awakening. Because of legal and other tie-ups, however, the band didn't tour the United States or release a second album--until now.
After six l-o-n-g years, the Roses have resurfaced with music that seems on first listening so rooted in '60s and '70s influences that it is disappointingly conservative.
But keep listening.
If the journey through the past initially comes across as a musical retreat, the Roses assert enough vision in the album's key moments to keep from falling into the hopelessly retrogressive trap of the Black Crowes or, heaven help us, Lenny Kravitz.
Once you step past the shower of psychedelic haze, you'll find moments that recall the group's early brilliance and even more. While old influences remain ("Ten Storey Love Song" is vintage Byrds, and "Daybreak" is a funk-driven salute to soul music), new ones have been added. The cornerstone of the album is John Squire's inspired guitar work, which recalls the blues electricity of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman.
Like the music of Cream and the Allman Brothers Band, the songs range from compact exercises to marathon jams, from wistful interludes to dark, unsettling excursions. While the album's impact is undercut by some tunes that seem little more than fragments, the standouts offer a soulful earnestness as they speak of the search for salvation and comfort amid the tension and uncertainty of contemporary life.
If the Roses--also including singer Ian Brown, bassist Mani and drummer Reni--build on the momentum this time, they still could be the ones to reawaken U.S. interest in British rock.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).