There is much to enjoy in Mr Brown's new album 'My Way'.
It is inevitable that this should be so. He is a national
treasure after all. Dependably English down to his socks.
There are few surprises in this new collection but a bit
of good old-fashioned rock-solid predictability goes a long
way in our current MySpace wannabe fly-by-night culture.
The 12 tracks in this collection are mostly more than worthy.
My attention was drawn, in particular, to the wonderful
anthemic and structurally unpredictable 'Always Remember Me',
one of the finest songs in his estimable career.
'For The Glory', too, is a powerful and atmospheric composition.
Mr Brown's wonderfully inflexible drawl sets the song ablaze.
'Marathon Man' is a curious confection, somewhat redolent of
Pet Shop Boys in the chorus (a quite disconcerting experience!)
There are a few weaker moments : 'Own Brain' is a tad
lackluster and the remodeled 'In The Year 2525' is a bit
of a stinker truth-be-told.
It would be churlish, however, not to raise a cheer for the bulk
of what is on offer here.
'By All Means Necessary' delivers a real powerhouse performance
and final track 'So High' is just plain charming.
Ian Brown - CHARMING ! Just hold that thought for a moment....
Ian Brown wouldn't stand a chance without The Stone Roses. Culture is built on shallow, forgettable, appearance, not substance, on youth, pliability, sellability, the market. Ian Brown is an artist, not a commodity to be sold like baked beans, and were it not for his past, he'd be unjustly ignored by a heathen music industry that can't see beyond its next balance sheet. His fans are invisible, but many, his sales crossing demographics, a musical Kayser Soze : and just as potent.
It's hard work reviewing Ian Brown. On paper, unheard, it sounds an unappealing prospect - former Stone Rose, a greying, scruffy, middle aged visionary that follows his own, suburban Kung Fu spirituality drawn from the age of liberation and Muhammed Ali, carving out his own destiny in a unique musical landscape, sounds like nothing so much as a haunted Madchester survivor, a natural successor to Julian Cope's wrecked throne. Once contemporaries : The Inspiral Carpets, The Happy Mondays, reformed and often their own tribute acts, degrade their past achievements by trading opportunity for drugs, money, and nostalgia.
Refusing the easy lure of reforming The Stone Roses for quick money is simple. It's a space that Ian Brown no longer occupies. "My Way" - Browns sixth solo album in eleven years - has barely any live instruments on it (drums seem to be metronomic, precise, unstoppable), and for a man best known for the guitar-frenzies of his previous band, there's not one recognisable guitar line on it : the whole album is made of soaring melodies, thick, synthesised string sweeps, and other-worldly, eastern-tuned rhythms. On top of this sits Brown's perhaps somewhat strange vocals, lyrics that seem cut from simple metre and rhyming structure, but also form an immaculate internal logic.
I could argue and win any debate that suggests that Brown has made any musical progression in the past decade - he hasn't. Like Iron Maiden, and Kraftwerk, at the end of the first decade, Brown had reached his limits of his prototype. Everything after that was mere refining of the image. Unlike some, who take their second and third decades as a case of blindly carrying on through habit, Brown is still exploring lyrically, still performing because he wants to and has to, not just because there's a mortgage to pay. In short, Brown has never made a rubbish record, because he hasn't had to. Parts of the One-Man-Alone-Against-The-World "Unfinished Monkey Business" were ropey as they were solo demo recordings. "My Way" is one of the rarest of albums, containing no filler, no dodgy mid-paced songs, no moments of a musician struggling to fill the space and tossing off quickly a stinker to pad out the record. It's a complete artistic statement with no one superfluous, useless note : in short, a complete achievement.
Opening with "Stellify", as strong a song as the awesome "F.E.A.R.", "My Way" is assured. If you think of the type of tosh McCartney was polluting our ears with when he was 46, then Ian Brown is better than The Beatles. "Just Like You" has a brilliant middle-eight, where an improbable collection of rising string motifs crest a wave of a military, tribal rhythm, and then, a sucker punch to the gut, Brown takes the music, and we life-off. It's the kind of stuff where words alone don't do this justice. Sure, you can describe the Mona Lisa, and a chorus is worth a thousand words.
"In The Year 2525" takes a song I last heard covered in a gonzo thrash-prog carcrash by the Fields Of The Nephilim, and turns into a marachi-style town square romp. As a modern day Sinatra-styled musical autobiography, "My Way" may not be the album of his life, but is framed in the way of an emotional autobiography, the album of his life. And you won't miss the water until the well rungs dry.
In an alternate universe, The Stone Roses never existed, and Ian Brown and Johnny Marr formed a band together and Morrissey remains an undiscovered, unknown no-one in a Manchester suburb. This universe, meanwhile, sees Ian Brown as the sole dogged survivor of The Stone Roses, whilst touted wonderkid John Squire pootles around his studio with a hammer bashing metal sculptures.
"My Way" follows the same template as most of Brown's solo career - a mixture of ambitious synthesised string arrangements atop pounding rhythms, : a world away from The Stone Roses, yet also, of the same cloth, the same palette. "My Way" is a great record, and proof that talent endures over time.
on 13 November 2011
Music Of The Spheres was my first introduction to Ian Brown, and for the most part, the album is one of those gems you forget about, only to come back to with a fond smile; not perfect, but perfectly listenable. My Way isn't perfectly listenable, but it may grown on me over time. In a strange way, the former (Music Of The Spheres) feels more contemporary than the latter (My Way), but that might just be me, or that the over all sound is too close to The Stone Roses, who I have zero time for. Either way, I'm not sure. What I am sure about is that My Way just isn't as polished (lyrically or musically) or as musically diverse, which is a shame.