“Well, I read The Bible, me … I read The Koran as well. I’m a believer. They’re powerful. I’ve been to the Coliseum and I went to the place where the Roman emperors sat and you get a feeling off all that. And I went to the Sistine Chapel and I got a feeling off that. And the steps that the Catholics stole. The Holy Steps. They took them during The Crusades. I’m interested in all that and when you write lyrics, it’s going to permeate through” – Ian Brown, speaking to Q Magazine, 1995).
Befitting for a band that inspired a whole new generation and led to the second coming of British rock music, The Stone Roses’ debut album The Stone Roses (1989) could be said to be based around the life of Jesus Christ. Notably, the album begins with I Wanna Be Adored, which could be seen to reflect the birth of Jesus and the closing track, I Am The Resurrection could be seen to be about Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Elsewhere on the debut album, as well as its heavy references to the Paris Student Riots of 1968 with its references to the way in which the students carried lemons to counteract the effects of the tear gas used by the police (“Choke me, smoke the air, in the citrus-sucking sunshine, I don’t care”), Bye Bye Badman could be seen to be likening the Parisian students to Jesus, who, like the students, denounced the authorities of the time. Like I Am The Resurrection, Bye Bye Badman depicts Christ’s crucifixion and because Jesus dying for the sins of mankind is central to the Christian faith, the song is positioned in the centre of the album.
This is the One is about a girl who is consumed by fire and her struggle to escape. The title of This is the One refers to John The Baptist’s proclamation that Jesus is the promised Messiah: Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me” (John 1: 29 – 30). The idea of the girl being on fire could be derived from The King of Tyre being consumed by fire in Ezekiel 28: 17 and 18: “You profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; It has consumed you, And I have turned you to ashes on the earth In the eyes of all who see you”. It could also be said that Waterfall has religious leanings with the lyrics “Chimes sing Sunday morn” and that She Bangs The Drums, with the lyrics “Passion fruit and holy bread” could be about The Last Supper”.
If we are to look at the lyrics of The Stone Roses in a Biblical sense then the line “Pack on my back is aching, The strap seams cut me like a knife” in the non-album single Fools Gold (1989) could refer to Matthew 5:41: “And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles”. It is also possible that “the pack” in question may be the cross that Jesus carried, thus making the song partly about Jesus travelling to his crucifixion. In hindsight, the lyrics of Fools Gold were the first sign that all might not be well in the Stone Roses camp. Fools Gold is about greed and inspired in part by the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In Q Magazine in 2009, Ian Brown said:
“In the film the friends go up a mountain looking for gold. But as they go on, they start turning on one another. That’s how it felt once the Roses started getting successful. Suddenly everyone was after their piece of gold.”
What the World Is Waiting For, which was twinned with Fools Gold as a double A-side single, finds Jesus on the cross shortly before his death, reflecting on his life. What the World Is Waiting For juxtaposes images from Jesus’s birth, life and his current predicament with lines such as “Here comes the wise man and there goes the fool”, referring to the wise men travelling to see his birth, the way in which Jesus was seen by his followers during his lifetime and how he is seen as a ‘fool’ by many following his arrest and as he is dying on the cross. The lines “Here comes the donkey, Chained to a ten ton plough, He’ll never make that hill in a million years, Whip crack beating down” refer partly to Mary’s arrival in Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus riding a donkey and if we were to take the word ‘donkey’ in the slang sense of the word, meaning ‘a stupid person’, this also fits in with the term ‘fool’ in the previous verse, referring to many peoples’ view of Jesus at his death. The image of the donkey chained to a “ten ton plough” could also refer to the cross which he forced to carry and the line “He’ll never make that hill in a million years” could refer to people jeering Jesus as he carried the cross up Calvary Hill. The image of the donkey and plough in this verse may also refer to Luke 9:62 in which Jesus says, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God”. This verse, therefore, is a depiction of Jesus upon the cross, reflecting on his life and absolving himself of sin in order to reach the kingdom of his father. The lines “He loves his brother but he’d sell him for a fist full of gold” refers to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, taking money to frame him. Judas had been one of the 12 disciples, one of Jesus’s ‘brothers’. This line also fits nicely with the theme of greed expressed in Fools Gold and if we were to see What the World Is Waiting For / Fools Gold as a complete package, perhaps the band are likening their own experiences with the effects of greed to Jesus’s experiences. The title of What the World Is Waiting For itself refers to how the world is waiting for Jesus to die on the cross in order that mankind can be saved. The coda of “Stop the world, I’m getting off” could be seen as Jesus’s last moments upon the cross. If we were to look at the work of The Stone Roses at this point in time as being based around the life of Jesus, then What the World Is Waiting For is Jesus’s swansong, The Stone Roses’ equivalent of My Way.
Also from this era, Something’s Burning, the B-side of the One Love single (1990) features the line “I am the vine and you are the branches” is a direct lift from John 15: 5. Something’s Burning is a song about loyalty and morality, possibly in a relationship. By saying that he is “the vine”, Ian Brown places himself in the position of the Messiah figure. Similarly, the companion song to Something’s Burning, One Love saw The Stone Roses singing “You feel my flow and you flood my brain”, also referring to John’s Gospel. In John 7: 37-38, Jesus proclaims, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, streams of living water will flow within him”. This was a band who knew they were a force to be reckoned with, a band who had you in the palm of their hand: The Stone Roses were messianic and you were the disciples. They were “your vision, your wild apparition”, this was a band who could get inside of you and “sink to the depths of your soul”. They were saying, they were your “one love” and you “don’t need another one”. One Love was the band drawing together their disciples in collective worship: “One love, one heart and one soul, We can have it all, Easy peasy”.
But, just as stated in One Love, “What goes up, must come down, Turns into dust or turns into stone”. It is telling that on the band’s second album, released some five years after their highly influential debut, aptly entitled Second Coming, the first song, Breaking Into Heaven, is a song about your one and only chance of making it into heaven being during your time on Earth and the controlling forces that might try to barricade your passage. These barricades are thought to refer to the series of legal disputes with record companies and management which had stopped the band from putting out any new material for five years. Following Breaking Into Heaven, Driving South tells of an encounter with the devil at a crossroads: “I stopped for an old man hitcher at a lonely crossroads, He said, “I’m going nowhere, I’m only here to see if I can steal your soul””. The devil is likely to be a metaphor for either their record company, who had put an injunction on the band to stop them recording and releasing any new material or, perhaps, and more likely, their former manager Gareth Evans, whom the band had sacked, feeling that he was dishonest and untrustworthy. For example, at one point, the band were awarded a Christmas cash bonus of £10,000 each by their record company, which Evans kept for himself to pay the legal costs for their court cases. Additionally, after finding out about the cash bonus and sacking Evans, he sued them for a large percentage of their earnings and won.
Most surprising though, in terms of analysing the theme of faith in the Stone Roses’ catalogue, is the first single from Second Coming, Love Spreads. Imagery of the crucifixion abounds, with lines such as “Love spreads her arms, Waits there for the nails” and “Too much to take, Some cross to bear”. However, Love Spreads is curious in the way in which it attacks the traditional image of Christ by portraying the crucifixion of Christ with a black woman on the cross: “Let me put you in the picture, Let me show you what I mean, The messiah is my sister, Ain’t no king, man, she’s my queen”.
In an interview with Melody Maker, May 13, 1995, John Squire said of the song, “The idea of the song is, ‘Why couldn’t Jesus have been a black woman?’ It’s just an attack on the white guy with a beard sitting on a cross, because that reinforces the patriarchal society”. Adding to the conversation, then drummer Robbie Maddix added, “Do you know what The Bible calls the church? ‘She’. It’s like what The Bible calls the Earth, ‘Mother Earth’.
After taking the position of the Christ figure on their debut album, Love Spreads offsets the idea of the band being Christ-like by placing the song’s subject matter, a black woman, as the Messiah instead. As well as sparking a little controversy by presenting Christ as both black and female, this is telling of how after influencing a whole new generation of rock bands, directly leading to what would become known as Britpop, the band were now somewhat adrift in the music scene, having spent five years away. Most notably, The Stone Roses were particularly in adoration of Oasis, whom, in their absence, had stolen their crown. Oasis’s Rock and Roll Star, from their all conquering debut alum Definitely Maybe (1994), echoed the sentiments of Stone Roses’ songs such as One Love, with lines such as “Look at you now, You’re all in my hands tonight” and Liam, Noel and company were soon to become the new messiahs of British rock. Whereas once, The Stone Roses lay stringent and rightful claim to their position as Messianic figures in music, this was now a band at odds with what they had created, a band who had been all but crucified by the record industry but were now content to take their position as the founding fathers of the church of Britpop.