The Stone Roses - Garage Flower
THIRTY-THOUSAND sunburnt people in a field, loose-fit 26in flares, 'And God Created Manchester' T-shirts, Keith Mullen... it all seems so distant, barely as if it happened at all. But a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, The Stone Roses were the greatest, coolest thing to have ever walked the planet, four psychedelic street casuals capable of saving us from, ooh, everything from Pop Will Eat Itself to world recession.
But now, after this most anti-climactic of years (and for the Roses, that's saying something), the urge to go back in time and persuade John and Ian to split the band the day Reni packed up his sticks and salvage our memories forever is almost unbearable.
It is quite clear, then, that the very last thing we need right now is a mind-numbingly awful collection of ancient pre-Silvertone-period demos called 'Garage Flower'. But, oh Lordy, look out, because here it is! Bootleg-gruesome, totally unofficial (it's being distributed by Pinnacle, without the band's permission) 'Garage...' reeks so badly of a cheap cash-in it's hard to play it without flinging open the windows to escape the stench. At this time of the year, too. Still, all in the line of duty... What we get is the band in fully-blown, crystal-goth mode. Just as the Roses always managed to sound uncannily like the aural equivalent of how they looked at the height of their powers (loose-limbed, floppy-fringed, in control), so they do for 'Garage Flower'. Except this time they sound exactly like that dreadful picture of them which surfaces irregularly featuring Ian in a grisly Paisley shirt and slicked-back hair, and John looking like he's just walked out of a Cult video shoot.
Some context then. The year is 1986 and the Roses are slowly edging themselves toward the effortless glacial cool which eventually shaped their debut album and changed Mark Morriss' life forever. Indeed, for long spells 'Garage...' sounds far more like The Bluetones than it does the Roses themselves, thanks to Ian's devastatingly up-in-the-mix vocals, which appear to have been recorded at several light years' distance from the remainder of the tracks (which is handy, because John Squire's guitar needed an industrial warehouse on its own). Occasionally, however, it just sounds horrible. An opening 'Getting Plenty' and 'Here It Comes' - later to live again on 'Sally Cinnamon' - are downright painful, full of squalling neo-goth guitars and peculiar Adam & The Ants drums, and the probability of future world domination seems remote at best.
So when the flash of genius comes, in that first rumble of 'I Wanna Be Adored' you're hardly even awake, let alone ready for it. There's still the ever-dire production to contend with, plus a malevolent Reni - this time he appears to be slamming a large door every four bars - but it still sounds magnificent, a sign that the band were learning, even then, to curb their sonic excesses in the quest for the epic tour de force which would, inevitably engulf them.
Elsewhere we get a still wet-behind-the-ears 'This Is The One', the beginnings of 'I Am The Resurrection' hidden away inside 'All I Want' and countless evidence of Ian Brown's way with both a megalomaniacal lyric (best example: when he bawls, "I love only me/I've got the answer to everything!" in 'Tell Me'), and his habit of falling woefully out of tune the longer he attempts to hold a note. Plus, in the ten seconds that is 'Haddock' - yup, you guessed it, a pointless backwards slice of guitar noodling - there's a hint of a future doing the same thing to entire songs and passing it off as art.
But really - to attribute any deeper significance whatsoever to 'Garage Flower' along the lines of it having an 'Anthology'-esque curio value would be to ignore the fact that, in the wake of the split, it's little, if anything, more than a cynical cash-in on the band's demise. And so cruelly timed too.
If you're still feeling a little fragile, you'd be best advised to avoid it altogether.