What exactly are you hoping for when a band who hasn’t released new music in more than two decades, and whose only ties to recent pop culture are an Azealia Banks feud and a disappointing Coachella showing, puts out a new song? Mostly just that they don’t embarrass themselves (and by extension, the rest of us), right? If it’s somehow pretty good, awesome; if it seems the band actually still likes and enjoys making music with each other, even better; if it feels like something that actually could’ve been released by a hot new band… well, now we’re in total fantasyland. But basically, all that matters is that being a fan of them isn’t suddenly a less-rewarding experience than it was before their return. A very low bar for the Stone Roses to still walk right into like a cheap sight gag.
In one sense, the comeback of the Manchester indie royals was well-timed. News of their return was little-hyped — particularly by British-rock-media standards — and essentially dropped in our laps about eight hours before delivery. No time for hot takes or waves of anticipation and anti-anticipation, only enough to consider, “Hm, new Stone Roses? Cool, that band had some good songs,” and set your Google alert for that day’s appointment listening. No rumors, no expectations: exactly one new song and nothing more or less. For a band that pretty much no one who lives more than a couple of miles outside of Spike Island or the grave site of the Hacienda really needs to think about, it was just about the perfect way to reintroduce themselves in 2016.
And even with all that going in its favor, “All for One” is still revolting. Starting with a massive riff and launching right into its stadium-ready chorus, “Paradise City”-style, “All For One” underwhelms instantly with its confoundingly bland call-to-arms hook: “All for one / One for all / If we all join hands, we’ll make a wall.” It goes for second-wave hippie utopianism and ends up as a bizarre mishmash of Stan Van Gundy, Bryan Adams-as-D’Artagnan, and Donald Trump. The riff is acceptable — guitarist John Squire has always shed jangle-pop corkers like he needs a special shampoo for ’em — but Mani’s bass is woefully submerged in the mix, Remi’s cymbal bashing makes him sound like he’s doing a tripped-out Meg White impression, and, after 30 years, frontman Ian Brown just ain’t up to the task of selling this piddling nonsense.
Moreover, it runs out of ideas even faster than “Paradise City”: Just 45 seconds into the thing, it’s clear that it’s all the Stone Roses have got. That was their best punch. They repeat the chorus a couple of more times from there, like the tape had continued rolling and they’re stuck looking at each other and silently asking did you write the next part I didn’t write the next part wasn’t there supposed to be a next part? Eventually, you kinda hope that part is the whole song, since there’d at least be something admirably anarchic and head-f**king about that, like ending their final album with a six-minute instrumental of pianos and violins scraping against each other that climaxes with someone hocking a loogie. But no, the song saunters into some equally muddled B-section before centering back on Squire’s “Paperback Writer” hand-me-down and Ian Brown getting “I Swear” stuck in his own head.
What’s the most generous way to view “All for One”? It could’ve been a B-side in the late-’80s, if the Stone Roses were the kind of band that didn’t really care about B-sides. (They weren’t.) It could be a decent nostalgia rush for survivors of the Second Summer of Love, and at the very least it’s a mercifully short one — 3:35, barely a third of “Fools’ Gold.” And unlike one-time peers Happy Mondays’ first attempt at a comeback, they don’t sound like they might actually die at any moment, and they get to keep all the proceeds for themselves without handing any of it over to the Phil Lynott estate. Good for them.
But you do have to wonder, like, why. Nothing about this song suggests that the Stone Roses were burning to get back in the studio with one another, or that their creative juices are really anything but tapped. It’s hard to imagine this new song will make more than a marginal dent in markets increasingly unkind to guitar-based rock on both sides of the Atlantic, and the Post-Fab Four could tour forever on the strength of their still-dynamite self-titled album and early singles, regardless of new music. (They’re playing Madison Square Garden this June, believe it or not.) Maybe the Stone Roses hoped to wash disappointing memories of sophomore-slump Second Coming out of fans’ minds, but they won’t appreciate the feeling this leaves them with instead. (And you know what? Second Coming is dope as s**t anyway. It just had the misfortune of being the Roses’ King of Limbs when what the world was waiting for was their Morning Glory.)
Whatever. In five years, no one, least of all the Stone Roses themselves, will recall this song’s existence. It’ll be notable as nothing but the bottom entry on their Wikipedia Singles Discography page. Perhaps the band will eventually feign at a follow-up, but given the precedent, and given how exhausted they sound just from trying to put this one over, I’m taking the under for the Stone Roses. They were the Resurrection. Now they’re hitting snooze on their Easter alarms and going back to bed.