Minute-by-minute review of 'All For One' by The Stone Roses
Era-defining quartet return with first new material since 1994's The Second Coming
If this much-anticipated return of generational icons The Stone Roses turns into a rumoured new album before the summer’s out, they’ll have more or less equalled the 22-year wait My Bloody Valentine enjoyed between Loveless and mbv. So well-delivered was the resonant, earthy poetry of the Madchester-era quartet’s eponymous 1989 debut that the five years until 1994’s underrated The Second Coming bred a level of expectation that was impossible to fully meet. Amplified by 2012’s live comeback and more dates this summer, the expectation’s still there; and while the sudden announcement and unveiling of ‘All For One’ doesn’t feel quite as seismic as it once may have, this first new track since ‘Ten Storey Love Song’s B-sides ‘Ride On’ and ‘Moses’ in 1995 will be one of the year’s most pored-over songs. So allow us to join in.
The first noise we hear is a kind of intake of sonic breath and a snippet of Ian Brown’s voice; it sounds like the reversed audio of ‘Don’t Stop’, one of this band’s most out-there adventures, a song entirely built on ‘Waterfall’ in backmasked form. And then …
… familiar territory. John Squire’s guitar rings out, dextrous and clear. For the few seconds it’s the song’s defining feature, we get to soak up the resonances of it – most of them personal. It sounds wonderful, but that’s certainly nostalgia doing a lot of the talking; Squire’s playing is distinctive in its ability to stamp his personality upon a song, and any Stone Roses fan will feel at home in these notes. There are two caveats here, though. The first, in an era when most of the truly zeitgeist-defining music of its time bears some form of electronic element, there’s no escaping the tradness of this style. And second, there’s no question Squire’s playing here is aligned most closely not with the dreamlike atmospherics of the Roses’ first album or the brooding Led Zep imitation of The Second Coming, but with the breezily on-the-nose indie-pop style of his lukewarmly-received post-Roses project The Seahorses. That ‘All For One’ reminds of their first and best single ‘Love is the Law’ throughout is unmistakeable.
Ian Brown arrives, with the cheerful although perhaps not hugely inspired line ‘all for one / one for all / if we all join hands we’ll make a wall.’ At this point, Roses aficionados will give an involuntary smile at the sound of Squire’s guitar and Brown’s voice back together again in the same recorded place. They might even forgive the cliché in the title (compare it with the first singles from the previous albums – Brown’s towering lyrical tour de force ‘Made of Stone’ and the bluesy tale of a gender-switched messiah ‘Love Spreads’ ), in favour of that most Roses-like sense of solidarity in the lyric.
Mani (bass) and Reni (drums) arrive, the latter playing a tight, shuffling beat which brings new momentum. Over almost the next minute, Squire loops the signature he started out with and Brown repeats those opening lines – actually the chorus – twice more. This is one definite positive of the song, its undoubted catchiness, so much that you find yourself humming it as soon as it’s faded out at the end. This will be key, we suspect, to elevating the song from overdue crowd-pleaser for the fans to genuine hit for the masses.
New lyrics! ‘Inside of me / finality / in harmony / all designed to be,’ hollers Brown, bounding with optimism. On first listen these lyrics sound, in all fairness, rotten, and that’s entirely because it’s possible to imagine Noel Gallagher having written them on a slow day. Can this Brown, who’s taking to matching his words based on how firmly the final syllable can be emphasised (‘chemi-STREE / all one fami-LEE’), be the same guy who gave us ‘sometimes I / fantasise / when the streets are cold and lonely / and the cars they burn below me / don’t these times / fill your eyes’?
The same vein is largely continued in, until Squire breaks in with a bit of ragged, Jimmy Page-aping solo work. It doesn’t outstay its welcome; just 15 seconds of roadhouse racket that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-70s Eagles record. It’s another positive that this song is so light and apparently secure in its desire to be a breezy, unifying summer anthem, that it negates feelings of embarrassment about admitting to enjoying a guitar solo in 2016.
The ten-second slow fade-out begins, with Brown repeating the line about making a wall once more for luck. For a second it sounds like a pause for breath ahead of another of those endless instrumental codas (see also: ‘I Am the Resurrection’, ‘Love is the Law’), but that’s it. Don’t try to deny you were humming it seconds after it finished.
One intended-to-disparage comment I read online compared ‘All For One’ to The Fratellis, which on the face of it isn’t a great advert for The Greatest Band of Their Generation ©. But did they mean The Fratellis’ less-than-underwhelming later career, or did they just mean ‘Chelsea Dagger’, a simple, populist festival anthem which has stood the test of over a decade now? While writing all of the above I’ve listened to ‘All For One’ 20 or 30 times, and I’ve remembered the particular alchemy of hearing a Stone Roses track for the first time, a sensation shared by this song – while many of their contemporaries’ music paled pretty quickly after the first few listens, so that 20 years on you can’t imagine why you ever enjoyed it, The Stone Roses’ music never grew tired, which made it easier to take with you. ‘All For One’ is unpretentious and simple almost to the point of derision, but it’s an effective pop song which has managed not to sully their legacy; if they’ve constructed an album which manages to build on and support it with thoughtful variety, it may yet make the leap from curio to classic.
'All For One' by The Stone Roses is out now on EMI.