'A reminder of why it’s great to have King Monkey around'
Unfathomable as it is to most of us, some people get bored with music. The ears shut down, the tank runs empty. In the case of former Stone Rose John Squire, the urge to take up painting takes over.
For Squire’s one-time bandmate Ian Brown, losing interest in music would be like losing interest in keeping your heart beating. Five albums into his solo career and at 44, Brown still has an unquenchable addiction to sound matched only by Amy Winehouse’s thirst for afternoon pints. This obsession has served him well over the course of his solo career, and continues to do so here.
Recognising his limitations, he’s once again surrounded himself with the talent and youth required to keep his music as fresh as a just-snipped umbilical cord. In doing so he remains chasms away from the efforts of other musicians of his generation.
His approach is simple. He likes hip-hop, so he roped in New York hip-hop producer Emile to handle the beats. He wanted a pronounced, moody bass sound, so he requested Paul McCartney. He didn’t get him but plumped for former Sex Pistol Steve Jones instead, with another ex-Pistol Paul Cook on drums. An ethereal female voice was needed for ‘Illegal Attacks’, so he landed Sinéad O’Connor in the studio. The ensemble – completed by ex-Smith Andy Rourke, ex-Happy Monday Paul Ryder and a 30-piece orchestra – would make for the most bizarre get-together since Courtney Love got it on with Alan Partridge, but with Brown at the helm, it’s still his show.
Laying down his hip-hop nous in lush layers, producer Emile has wrapped ‘The World Is Yours’ in a swagger that suits Brown like a fine monkey costume – ‘Eternal Flame’ is a panther’s whisker away from being the Dr Dre-produced ‘Family Affair’ by Mary J Blige, and ‘On Track’ boasts beats slicker than a greased eel. It’s winning stuff, but while ‘Sister Rose’ has a deftly sinister ear-hook, there’s nothing close to a ‘FEAR’-like chorus here. As such, with the orchestral backdrop intertwining songs like ivy, the album sounds like one continual piece of music. Which is an achievement, but half-way through you do think it’d be rather fun if a ‘Golden Gaze’-like guitar stab would scythe through it all, just for three minutes.
Lyrically, Brown is raising a boxing glove to inequality with a Bono-like earnestness. “Wish I had a home with ten million rooms/I’d open up the doors and let the street children through”, he patters on ‘Street Children’. In isolation it sounds as cheesy as something that’s been fermenting in a cow’s udder for six months. But plug it in after five pints and you’ll feel a lump in your throat. Similarly, it’s clear that ‘Illegal Attacks’ isn’t about cheating at Risk. An anti-war tirade with O’Connor gripping the chorus, it’s about as subtle as a George Bush rubber mask. But hey, if you want to break down a wall, a sledgehammer isn’t a bad starting point.
‘The World Is Yours’ is a reminder of why it’s great to have Ian Brown around. He’s a rare star, encapsulating unflinching individualism, fearless issue-tackling and an obsession with musical youth that never feels like your uncle dancing to ‘Brianstorm’. He hasn’t always got the tunes, but this effort shows off more than enough ideas to keep King Monkey swinging for a good while yet.