Apparently One Direction work to a meticulous contract. This may not come as a surprise to many but the detail is an exercise in soul hollowing marketing. In a year of two, expect seducer of his best friend’s mums Harry Styles to go solo. In three or four years, expect a drop off in interest once Harry decides to have a Grade 2. In 7 years time, expect a reunion. Expect it. Put it in your diary because it is written.
Such a clause is the responsibility of Her Majesty the Queen’s song writing teddy bear, Gary Barlow. The Take That Comeback of the mid-Naughties exceeded their original mid-Nineties burst and as a result we now have the Take That Tick as a business plan template for your set piece boy/girl band. In honour of this now dubious tradition, Pop Lifer has, with a £6 watered down Fosters in hand, decided to give an award to where this neat trick has been pulled off with the least amount of dignity lost.
The Take That Tick Award for Least Damaging Comeback goes to…..
The Stone Roses: Heaton Park
Here at Pop Lifer we have begged The Smiths NOT to reform and like to think that at a crucial moment – when rumours were circling that they would indeed be re-uniting for Glastonbury – that it was our voices that finally persuaded them to abandon the treacherous enterprise. And yet, just a few months before The Stone Roses had reformed as June and July collided over three nights in Manchester, we were there and we thought it was bloody magnificent. Which got us wondering why it worked for The Stone Roses and why it would be dangerous for The Smiths.
The Stone Roses and The Smiths are both held with a ferocious grip by their fan base. And with good reason. They represent more than a back catalogue. In The Stone Roses case they represent a turning point, a moment when dance, guitars and the four-minute limit to indie pop were swept aside. For The Smiths, they represented a whole aesthetic, a whole lifestyle, which (as we explained exhaustively) in previous blogs, came with footnotes to films and books, and its own lexicon.
But although both of the band’s ends were initially messy and premature, there has come to seem a grace and a sense of closure to The Smiths’ exit which the Roses lacked.
Famously, The Stone Roses fucked it up. Like, MacMurphy at the end of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, they cranked open the window to the world but Brown et al, like Nicholson, got off their faces, forgot to go through it and woke up with a full frontal lobotomy. Or in the case of John Squires became a member of The Seahorses, which pretty much amounts to the same thing.
The Smiths – or Johnny Marr to be precise – walked away compos mentus with their work done. Yes, their sales might have increased, yes America was finally succumbing, but the songs, so many songs, pointed to a vision realised. The Stone Roses’ creativity had ended mid-sentence.
The Stone Roses were missed because their happy fusion of art school and Manc laddish swagger had been unique and set in place a new template for hetroindieboypop . It was an absence more keenly felt as this template became bastardised over the 90s. For a perfect example, you need only look as far as Oasis.
The Stone Roses eponymous album is, whether you like it or not iconic (and one half of Pop Lifer does not – we most certainly do not agree on everything). A staple of the older sibling pass-me-down like “Revolver”, “Hunky Dory” or “Screamadelica”, a true rite of passage, it is an album that maybe influenced more than it sold but certainly endures. And when they announced earlier this year – to the joy of executives at TicketMaster – that they were reforming, two new possibilities opened up. First, to reclaim their catalogue as more than one album with a lemon slices on its cover and, second, to give us the happy ending that Brown and Squires’ petulance had denied us.
They succeeded mostly. Pop Lifer did not make it to the first night of their three homecoming gigs at Heaton Park in Manchester but we were there on the third, the Sunday (which by lucky co-incidence had Plan B as support – another 2012 hero for another window in our advent calendar).
Their classic album got a full hearing, each song’s every word echoed by the crowd. The Second Coming was under represented – “Ten Storey Love Song” and “Love Spreads” the only songs to make the setlist from the gruesomely delayed and grimly received follow-up. The smattering of A and B sides that partially comprise the miscellany “Turns into Stone” were given more time – “Sally Cinnamon” and “Mersey Paradise” particularly frenetic and raucously enjoyed.
Pop Lifer would disagree that a euphorically acclaimed 12 minute “Fools Gold” (which we took as a piss break) breathed new life into their bafflingly big hit (how “She Bangs the Drum” was not a bigger hit is a mystery). However on a wave of good will, the back catalogue was played out, played tight and with a refreshing aggression , energy and bite. Even Ian Brown’s notoriously dubious vocal skills held up (we think).
The second goal was realised, too. Inevitably “I am the Resurrection” concluded the encore free set and as it swirled and reverbed into a drawn out goodbye the ferocious concentration of Mani broke into a smile, Reni took to the front of the stage, and hugs and embraces were exchanged in relief as much as joy. Eventually John and Ian slapped an arm around each other, the crowd cheered and we had the reconciliation we were after. A muddy Heaton Park was awash with plastic glasses and mid 30’s boys and girls in bucket hats and a moment had been re-lived.
The Stone Roses were given their happy ending but there is a risk they will refuse to leave it at that. Their reformation now threatens to become an annual event and inevitably the euphoria will be diluted. This final act may tip the balance and pollute the affection. Promised new material, if it is any good of course, offers salvation from future ignominy.
Which takes us back to The Smiths. For The Smiths to reform would not be limited to reliving a moment bur tinkering with an aesthetic and almost certainly sullying it in the process. The Smiths playing the O2 to a £150 a head audience would be as far removed from the kitchen sink poetry of Morrissey as it possible to imagine. It should never be risked.