In Britain's fickle pop music press, second albums by hot young bands are seldom hailed with the rapture that greeted their debuts, so it's understandable that such groups sometimes procrastinate in making a follow-up. None can match the Stone Roses, however, whose "Second Coming" (Geffen) arrives six years -- and at least that many court dates -- after their first album.
In that time, several new bands have stepped into the Roses' gap, much as the Roses' rise filled the void left by the breakup of the Smiths. Happy Mondays, Suede and, most recently, Oasis have been proclaimed the saviors of British rock. The sound, however, remains much the same. The slightly trippy, slightly funky, slightly folkie pop-rock of "Second Coming" closely resembles the music the Roses made in 1989 -- and Oasis made in 1994. The songs are less pithy and the timbres harder, but the layoff has not dramatically transformed the Roses.
The 12 songs on "Coming" were recorded in a remote Welsh studio over the last two years (347 days of recording time) with seven credited producers, engineers and mixers; after dismissing "Stone Roses" supervisor Ken Leckie, the band turned over producers faster than it has record companies. (The Roses have had four of the latter, which is one reason they've spent so much time in court.) All the band accomplished, however, was boosting the bass, hardening the guitar and stretching out the songs; including its burbling-creek intro, the opening "Breaking Into Heaven" is 11 minutes long, and even the direct, tuneful "Ten Story Love Song" opens with a bit of aimless noodling. As with many young British bands, the Roses' essential subject was their own ambition; "I Wanna Be Adored," declared a song on their debut album. Now that they're more funky and less cocky, principal songwriters John Squire and Ian Brown have little to say besides such recycled cliches as "keep on keepin' on" (which is what "Daybreak" counsels) or "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" (on "Good Times"). It seems that during their sabbatical, the Roses didn't give serious thought to anything but a few new riffs. That explains why "Coming" sounds more the conceptual equivalent of a remix album than a bold new start.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
The London Suede
The second album from the London Suede -- the band was known simply as Suede last time, but it, too, has had some dealings with attorneys since its debut -- has arrived much more quickly than the Roses', but there are some similarities, notably that both bands now play down the straightforward pop songs that established their reputations. But while the Roses have grown more interested in dance floor appeal, Suede lyricist Brett Anderson and melodist Bernard Butler (who quit the band before the disc was entirely finished) seem to have fashioned "Dog Man Star" (Nude/Columbia) for the rock-opera house.
Rather than move beyond the David Bowie homage of the quartet's early work, "Star" accentuates the similarity, while providing Anderson's histrionic falsetto and bombastic lyrics with musical settings more grandiose than even Bowie would dare attempt. "Chic thug stuttered through a stereo dream/ A fifty knuckle shuffle heavy metal machine/ The tears of suburbia drowned the land," Anderson trills -- and that's just the first song.
The album, whose title purposelessly invokes avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage's "Dog Star Man," sounds like a combination of Bowie's "Diamond Dogs," Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and the London Symphony Orchestra's "Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones." Many of the songs are swathed in strings, and such titles as "The Wild Ones" and "New Generation" strain to be anthemic: "We Are the Pigs" even ends with some kids singing the refrain, a la "The Wall."
The effect is ridiculous, but that's not the album's principal problem. Indeed, when Anderson's pretensions are matched to a catchy Butler melody, as they are in "New Generation," the result is oddly compelling. "Star" is principally bluster, though; its ostentatious arrangements merely disguise the lack of hooks that distinguished the band's earlier music. Anderson may think megalomania is more compelling than a memorable tune, but such "Dog Man Star" tracks as the nine-minute "The Asphalt World" prove otherwise. The London Suede performs at the Radio Music Hall Feb. 10.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
CAPTION: The Stone Roses' belated "Second Coming" is much like their first.