Saturday, March 13, 2010
"Fools Gold" by the Stone Roses (1989)
'Madchester', they called it. They also, equally stupidly, called it 'baggy'. What was 'it'? Well, a new genre of music emerging from the UK, land of the micro-genre, in the late eighties. What did it consist of? Well, as people would tell it, it was a synthesis of indie and dance, fused together with ecstasy. It was, I could add, terribly exciting to me as a fourteen-year-old. Too young to go to raves yet, but old enough to be excited by the concept of raves, the whole inclusive touchy-feely vibe that emanated from Manchester, or rather that emanated from press reports about Manchester, made me feel that music was finally getting exciting and fun, and finally convinced me to stop listening to depressing music. Just in time for puberty.
Now, there are plenty of people who would sooner give up their first-born sons than give up their aging, scratched vinyl copy of the Stone Roses' début album. It is one of those super-highly-praised albums that only comes along every few years or so – and among those albums, one of the few to have absolutely no backlash or vocal opponents. There are anti-Ian Brown types, anti-John Squire types, anti-the-second-album types (okay, that's the vast majority of the world)... but no one will ever diss that album. And neither will I: it's remarkable.
But what I don't really get, listening to it all these years later, is quite what it has to do with the coalescing scene I discuss. Quite what it has to do with 'dance', or with the Happy Mondays' more assured steps toward dancability or, especially, with 'Screamadelica' (not actually from Manchester but somehow the pinnacle of that city's movement), I don't know. It's a great album, but it's high on the indie and low on the dance. For that, you have to look to this: a concurrent single-only release, “Fool's Gold” is what got the airplay, here in Toronto at least.
What is it? Indeed... what is it, exactly? Well, to start with, it's ten minutes long: not the most commercial length for a single. It got hacked to bits for the benefit of antsy radio programmers, but it's the full ten-minute version that matters – even though it's just minutes and minutes of wah-wah that gets clipped off. The component bits here are: all kinds of percussion, an amazingly evocative 'lead bass', all kinds of wah-wah metallic guitar scraping noises all over the place, and somewhere in the back, vocals unobtrusively whispered and impossible to decipher. I have no idea who these four musicians are, but it's tough to believe they're the four who put together the album as well. At some point in the studio, they were possessed, I guess. By, er, the Gods of Funk or someone. I don't know. I do know that this incredibly sexy, intoxicating swagger of a song feels very little like anything else the Stone Roses did (not to disparage either, as both are wonderful) except for the consistency of Ian Brown's whispering non-vocals.
This is the sound of people who know next to nothing about dance music suddenly tapping into its purest essence and, somehow, delivering it perfectly. And put on a dancefloor populated by indie kids, it had the power twenty years ago and still has the power today to transfer that miraculous essence to the listeners. More people have danced badly to this song than any other. Yet who has ever cared? You can't dance self-consciously to this song, and you can't dance to it in a way to 'be seen'. This is a ten minute opportunity to merely connect with the song, and with the other confused people on the floor, and simply feel it. Regardless of how ridiculous you may look.
Once the song abruptly falls apart at the end and the DJ puts something else on, you can feel the blood rush to your face again as you recall who you are and who you're with and where you are... you can go back to being an 'I-can't-dance' wallflower... just as the four Stone Roses themselves went back to indie rock music. But for these ten minutes? It all connects. It all makes sense.