Wednesday, March 24, 2004
A Brief Analysis Of Some Stone Roses Lyrics
Hopefully part of a continuing series (written for Karim, who asked me to do this about three years ago).
“Bye Bye Badman”
“These stones I throw / Oh these French kisses”
“Badman” may be one of the weaker tracks on The Stone Roses’ eponymous debut, the start of the mid-album dip, but its lyrics are amongst the best and most intriguing on the record. There was lots of talk in interviews at the time from the band about how the album wasn’t necessarily one-on-one love songs, and “Badman” reveals itself to be about the Paris student riots of May 1968. “Choke me / Smoke the air / In this citrus-sucking sunshine / I don’t care”; choking and smoking referring to the police’s use of tear gas against the students, while citrus-sucking is what the students did to counteract the effects, lemon juice being, supposedly, an antidote of sorts to tear gas. But it’s the “French kisses” metaphor I like best, the idea of romance’s most passionate expression being subverted in the name of Situationist youth uprising, the romance of the justified riot, of youth, of France, of the 60s, of sex and death and insurrection.
“This Is The One”
“ I'd like to leave the country / For a month of Sundays / Burn the town where I was born”
No one did wanderlust like Ian Brown. To me this says who cares about the past, who cares about where you’re from, don’t let it hold you back, be who you can be and go where you wish to go. It’s empowerment and freedom. And, like so many Roses songs, it illustrates the band’s strange approach to women, which swings from romanticist to misogynist; the subject of the song is a “girl consumed by fire”, and it is her struggle to escape that is documented.
“She Bangs The Drums”
“Passion fruit and holy bread / Fill my guts and ease my head”
Just a very simple and lyrical expression of what it might feel like to be in love; for many years I thought it was “fills my guts, my knees, my head”, which I interpreted as a reference to being so in love that you feel sick, weak at the knees and light headed all at once, but the idea of a lover soothing your troubled mind and satisfying your belly appeals much more as I get older.
“I could park a juggernaut in your mouth / And I can feel a hurricane when you shout / I should be safe forever in your arms”
The flipside of the Roses’ approach to women, and the flipside of the song it comes from. “Standing Here” deals with unrequited love that borders on the obsessive, but again it’s a disarmingly sweet tune. This is the kiss-off line from the fadeout, Ian turning the song in on itself and finding fault with the object of desire because she cannot live up to the pedestal he’s placed her upon. He should be safe with her, he should be happy, but he isn’t.
“Where Angels Play”
“OK let's fly she says this carpet's made for two / This ugly little box no place for me and you / Our carpet falls on a dew-fresh dappled plain / Take a look around there's something happening / All the colours fade / I don't want you now / Bang bang bang gone”
Possibly their most beatific tune, this b-side starts out describing a picnic for two escapist lovers, and ends with the woman being killed by her suitor, a synaesthetic psychopath misogynist with a gun. Whaddaya mean you don’t get it? It’s there! It’s explicit! They go for a picnic and he shoots her!
“The wind it just whips her away / And fills up her brigantine sails”
Like “This Is The One”, “Waterfall” is about a girl fleeing from something, and the imagery is incredible. I single out this line simply because it’s the only time I’ve come across the word ‘brigantine’ used in a pop song, and that’s a wonderful word to use.
“It doesn't pay to disorientate me / It doesn't cost to be someone / I am the vine / And you are the branches”
What this means I don’t know, but I love it nonetheless. “Something’s Burning” is the Roses’ most compellingly mystical tune; a slow, liquid groove played for subtlety and veiled threat. Supposedly this lyric is taken from The Bible, but never having read it I wouldn’t know. For a time I thought it was “I am divine / And you are wretched”, which would be the most mystifyingly arrogant line of a song ever. As it is, I’m not sure that “I am the vine / And you are the branches” is much better.
“These boots were made for walking / The Marquis de Sadé don't wear no boots like these”
“Fools Gold” could be read as being anti-materialism, the protagonist observing prospectors being sucked into quicksand because they’re too busy admiring their nuggets to notice, while he travels onwards, ever the picaresque wanderer. If this is so you have to wonder how the Marquis de Sadé gets in there; on top of the “pack on my back is aching / The strap seams cut me like a knife” line it could read as a sadomasochistic impulse on behalf of Ian Brown, who knows? Whatever, it’s a hell of a name check.
“Penny's place her crummy room / Her dansette crackles to Jimi's tune / I don't care I taste Ambre Solaire / Her neck her thighs her lips her hair”
A paean to the joys of oral sex in council flats disguised as a pretty little love song, if Jarvis Cocker had pretensions towards Keats then he’d be proud of this vignette. With a dansette being a radio, Jimi being Hendrix, and Ambre Solaire being cheap suntan lotion, presumably applied around the girl in question’s bathing suit area, the picture is painted for us in explicit detail if only we can listen past the first impression, which is so often misleading with Roses lyrics. Ian out-boasts various Wu-Tang members with talk of his sexual prowess as he elicits “all thoughts of sleep desert me / There is no time / Thirty minutes brings me round to her number nine”, which one can only read as being about his ability to orally induce multiple orgasms in his partner (and also hold his breath / circular breathe). But things aren’t as happy as they seem, Ian twisting barbed compliments and references to Squire’s artwork into the tale, as he claims “Yeah she looks like a painting / Jackson Pollock's Number Five”, which is, of course, one of the legendary artist’s most splattered and chaotic works of monochromatic indignity, making the inversion of the “she’s as pretty as a picture” meme a fantastically backhanded compliment. To finish, Ian undoes his sexual boasts, and adds a dimension to the Roses that goes against talk of selling souls and being resurrected, by stating simply “to look down on the clouds / You don't need to fly / I've never flown in a plane / I'll live until I die”. Modesty becomes them.
“I pop pop pop blow blow bubble gum / You taste of Cherryade”
I don’t need to explain this; it’s just wonderful.
3/24/2004 10:38:00 am