KIng Monkey refuses to live off past glories but still comes up smelling of, erm, roses
He might not be the smartest of his generation, but it’s time to cherish [a]Ian Brown[/a] for what he’s doing now. You wonder whether, as he played those Stone Roses standards at Claremont Landscape Garden recently, [a]Ian Brown[/a] didn’t wonder to himself if maybe he’d have been better off spending these last few years doing little else than living off the glories of the past. It would have been so easy, so crowd-pleasing, to have just turned up every so often and run through ‘Fools Gold’ and ‘Sally Cinnamon’ and a couple of tracks off a soundalike collection. Money in the bank, a bunch of adoring fans, the gentle reminding of people of his past: you see that Number One Album Of All Time? That was me, that was.
But, as ‘Solarized’ proves again: that’s not in [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s nature. A quick set in a National Trustvenue (a place which allows the nation to revisit its past) is one thing, but [a]Ian Brown[/a] has too much going on in the present to take the easy route. [a]Ian Brown[/a] is that increasingly rare beast: a songwriter who takes an interest in sound. Every track on ‘Solarized’ offers testament to the depth of his curiosity – “What if we try some brass here (‘Time Is My Everything’)?”, “What if we go for a spot of rummaging in [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s dressing-up box (‘The Sweet Fantastic’)?” When it works – like on ‘Destiny Or Circumstance’ – the reward is a sound which feels like those forts you’d build as kid: a sense of something secure, safe and perfect made from a couple of upended chairs and the blanket off your bed. You know there’s nothing gone into the construction that you’re not familiar with from daily life, but with an imaginative leap it takes you to a whole different world, entirely contained within itself.Of course, as with all experiments, there are times things don’t quite work well: ‘One Way Ticket To Paradise’ would have been better left to be cleared away by the cleaners. And – almost as if the Gallaghers have decided that since their album doesn’t work, they’re spitefully going to go round and ruin everybody else’s – Noel turns up to help knock out ‘Keep What Ya Got’, a song which seems to come with the horrifying threat, “There’s more where ‘The Hindu Times’ came from.”
While Noel doubtless thinks he’s lending some support to [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s career, it’s clear that he’s not even working in the same league. [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s lyrics, while sometimes sharing Gallagher’s limited range of expression, at least attempt to lasso something wider than the drugs/fame/love triangle in which most artists are happy to languish after the first rush of sales and a couple of MTV awards. It’s interesting that while, say, Damon Albarn is happy to get involved in anti-war marches and Chris Martin will scribble any slogan going on his hand, very few British rock bands actually write songs about their political beliefs – presumably because the chances of flogging a single to the Americans about John Prescott’s plans to pave over most of East Anglia are slim. While it’s important to have your political values, you can’t let them to harm your market value, it seems.
[a]Ian Brown[/a], however, isn’t afraid to put his pretty mouth where his heart is, railing here against injustice and ID cards. Fair enough, sometimes it makes for a songsheet that reads like a poster ripped from New Society ([I]”Seven per cent own 84 per cent /Of all the wealth on Earth”[/I]), a process that isn’t helped by [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s tendency to construct lines that are almost impossible to speak, never mind sing; in ‘Time Is My Everything’ he serves himself up with “I know you’re gonna see it in the fullness of time” which doesn’t seem too bad on paper but out loud just sounds clumsy, like a shop steward’s speech.
He made ‘The Stone Roses’ once, and other artists who’ve produced such landmark works are given the freedom to fail. It’s a freedom they usually abuse – [a]Ian Brown[/a] ratifying bleepy house remixes, John Lydon being indulged for taking part in a celebrity game show. [a]Ian Brown[/a]’s main crime seems to be a refusal to rest on his laurels and live off the past. But wouldn’t you rather have an occasionally flawed but constantly surprising journey to some place new than another stroll down memory lane?
Sign up for the newsletter
Simon Hayes Budgen