This album has assumed a legendary status of sorts, spawning legions of imitators and entrancing scores of listeners and critics alike. If the album was the catalyst for a rock revolution, then it's a revolution that's based upon a rather simple premise: marrying a pop sensibility to the dance/house scene that was in vogue at the time. Such a fusion would seem rather predictable, but the Stone Roses acted as the most prominent pioneers in that endeavor, thus influencing a veritable armada of groups who desperately tried to follow in their wake.
But this revolution would not have been successful, however, were it not for the absolute brilliance of this album. Each song is a meticulously crafted gem; the album is filled with songs of breathtaking beauty and limitless catchiness. Masterful vocal melodies and gorgeous instrumentation abound, enhanced by the unique sound they've created.
One possible complaint is that the sound is too uniform, and it's certainly a valid complaint at that; having fashioned this novel blend of dance/house and pop the band sustains that vibe throughout the entire album with only a modicum of deviation. Still, that makes the album all the more immersive, engulfing the listener in its soundscape of hypnotic beauty. The album never becomes tedious and the sound never becomes grating; it's a uniformity that lends power to the music rather than detracting from it.
Every song is strong, barring the short joke Elizabeth My Dear which is simply an amusing breather. The highlights include the despairingly beautiful I Wanna Be Adored and the album's masterpiece Made Of Stone which features the most powerful chorus on the record.
A hybrid of dance/house and pop would only work if the two genres were employed to complement one another; otherwise the result would merely be a disjointed clash of styles. Furthermore, the project would only work were both genres handled with tremendous care, preserving their individual merits and utilizing them to their maximum efficacy. On their debut, the Stone Roses succeed completely in their experiment. This success is derived from their exceptional pop songwriting which is used as the foundation of the album, upon which dance/house elements are used to embellish it and lend it its unique sound. Without this stellar pop songwriting the album would be an utter failure; the reason it works so well is that it would be a great album even without the fashionable trappings of the dance/house scene. Those stylizations merely augment an already incredible album, an album of amazing, hypnotic beauty and endless memorability.
After a five year sabbatical the Stone Roses return, having reinvented themselves as, of all things, a generic hard rock group. A decent generic hard rock group, but a generic hard rock group nonetheless.
Furthermore, they've sacrificed their strong songwriting skills in favor of endless, monotonous jamming. While the level of technique involved in the guitar heroics that dominate the album is certainly impressive, without strong melodies to base them around they become rather tedious.
Worse, the group have somehow managed to inherit the weaknesses of the new genre they chose to inhabit; now, like most generic hard rock group, they're incapable of penning good ballads. The ballads on the album are generally bland and derivative, with a surfeit of hooks and a dearth of personality.
The musicianship on the album can't be faulted; the playing is tight and fierce. Unfortunately, there're a plethora of hard rock acts with equal or superior chops, and the Stones Roses do little to differentiate themselves from them. There're too few clever riffs, too few catchy vocal melodies and simply too few hooks in general to maintain the listener's interest.
The primary influence seems to be Led Zeppelin, and the group simply can't compare with those behemoths. The quality of their playing may have made the transition to hard rock intact, but their exceptional songwriting, which made their debut a timeless classic, has not. They simply can't figure out how to make their hard rock interesting, and all the professionalism in the world can't salvage an album devoid of clever or engaging ideas.
Unlike most I have no objection to the Stones Roses playing hard rock. I don't consider it a betrayal or a sellout, and it doesn't seem to be the consummate heresy it's depicted as. But if they're going to do hard rock than they need to do a better job of it in the songwriting department. They've proven that they're up to the task instrumentally; now they need to prove that they can back it up musically as well.
It's a pity the group disbanded after this, as it would have been interesting to see where they would have gone from here. If the vitriolic invective fans and critics directed at the album deterred them from this direction and they reverted to their original style then it likely would have led to more disappointment, as I doubt the group could ever have recaptured the magic of their debut. If, however, they continued onward in this vein, it would have been interesting to see if they could have corrected some of the mistakes made here.