In his heyday with the Stone Roses, Brown was often asked what he considered to be the greatest album of all time, and invariably he always answered that it was "What's Goin' On", the great social- political commentary opus by Marvin Gaye- an album that outlined the ills of the day- poverty, war, homelessness, the apathy towards the common man from the rulers governing the world. If this sounds familiar, it is because Ian Brown has made a very brave attempt to make "What's Goin' On" part 2- brave, firstly, because he could never be considered a great singer, but also because he has set himself up for ridicule.
Detractors will point out the apparent bluntness of the lyrics. "Save us from the imbeciles that rule the world", "These are illegal attacks so bring the soldiers back", "get your life on track", etc. etc. but the whole point of this album is not meant to be an excersice in arch witticism or baleful intellectual posturing. It's meant to be profound and sincere. If it makes you cringe, as some reviewers such as Dan Cairns from The Times have pointed out, then that is probably because you're too comfortable sipping your champagne and blowing your nose from cocaine abuse to care.
Musically, the album is Browns best yet, with inch perfect hip hop beats and gorgeous strings the order of the day. The stand out tracks, for me are "Some Folks Are Hollow", "On Track", "Eternal Flame (sounding uncannily like a Dr. Dre production), "Goodbye To The Broken", and of course, the recent Bush baiting single, "Illegal Attacks".
"What's Goin' On" is some album to live up to- and Brown, let's be honest, was never going to match it. We should salute him for caring enough to attempt it, however. It's a damn fine album, if not a great one.