A caveat, here. I don’t get Ian Brown’s solo work. I am not a believer. So if it sounds like I’m taking the piss, I am.
That said, though, even I was convinced by James McMahon’s review which thrilled to Brownie’s overreaching arrogance and bolshy braggadocio.
Then I put the album on again. Still, that one ‘Own Brain’ is funny. It’s an anagram of his own name! He’s a card, innee?
Outside our own pages, though, not everyone was so enthused. A crushingly elegant dismissal from The Times’ caddishly arch Dan Cairns: “Any speculation as to whether Ian Brown had, with 2007’s ‘The World Is Yours’, finally stripped the shelves of lyrical cliché, Messiah-manqué vocal declamation and plodding, minor-key melody is ended by ‘My Way’: with a doggedness that will impress fans, while driving others to despair, Brown has located another well-stocked shelf.”
ZING! Now, Mr Cairns, where’s the fun? Where’s the love? Have a biscuit, dearie. Clearly what he’d heard coming through his headphones was a Cans Nadir.
In Uncut, former NME staffer Pat Long has no Nag Plot against Ian, but yet sounds less than whelmed by ‘My Way’ coming away with little more than “some insidious grooves and, on closer ‘So High’, a somewhat wayward stab at soul.”
The redoubtable Simon Price over at The Independent On Sunday didn’t quite offer an Icon Simper, but then didn’t exactly serve up the steaming shoe pie either, arguing that ‘My Way’ “follows the same trajectory as his recent releases: stentorian and dramatic-sounding synth chords, a tempo uniformly mid-paced, a lyrical mix of heart-in-the-right-place class politics, nebulous spiritualism, and hackneyed clichés plus some baffling kitsch in the form of a cover of Zager & Evans’ “In the Year 2525″. Better than you’d think.”
Talking of damning with faint praise, Alexis Petridis made us pebbledash our keyboard in Special K with this glorious dig at ‘Stellify’: “The melody ambles along, weirdly recalling the Grange Hill theme, before a vast horn section crashes into view as unexpectedly as a flying cartoon sausage on a fork.”
For those of you too young to remember, context in your face.
Petridis declared himself unable to penetrate the mystery of Brown’s lasting appeal, describing his voice as “less like something you’d actually pay money to listen to than something you’d deploy to stop ships crashing into Lizard Point in poor visibility.”
As he goes on, you can almost hear every cell in Petridis’ body screaming and creaking in protest as he drags out the most begrudging 3/5 ever written, before concluding “highlights and lowlights alike, you listen to it struggling to think of anyone else who would do this. And perhaps that’s the secret of the most mysterious continuing success story in rock.” If you listen, you can just about hear Sir Salted Pixie quietly twisting that double-edged knife.
Nick Annan over at Clash argues that “His fanbase ensures any release is given due attention beyond the vagaries of the day’s music trends. But is he making the most of the opportunity?”
That rhetorical question suggests that Nick thinks he IS NOT.
“While he insists that he’s constantly working outside his comfort zone, the majority of ‘My Way’ would suggest differently.”
Though not quite as deft with a backhanded compliment as Mr Petridis, Nick has a game thrust, noting “Ian Brown’s solo career now outstrips The Stone Roses in volume if not in importance, but he has certainly done it all his way.” His name, however, has no true anagrams and so he has spoiled our game. DAMN YOU, NICK ANNAN.
Over on the more receptive side of the fence, Paul Moody in Q hails ‘My Way’ as fighting talk in musical form, Brownie “shadow-boxing with his past” and “settling a few scores”. He’s perhaps a trifle generous, though, when he says “electro workout ‘Own Brain’ (an anagram of Ian Brown) provides a cryptic clue to his state of mind: ‘The ways and days are history/The future is a mystery’”.
‘Cryptic’ can often slyly mask itself in the deceptive cloak of ‘clunky’, you see.
Nonetheless, the album walks away head held high, declared “focused and fighting fit” (I love an extended metaphor too) with a shiny prize-fighter’s belt 4/5! Ding ding! Do You Palm? Then high-five!
Dom Gourlay of Drowned In Sound was revisited by terrible memories.
“Just over four weeks ago, while waiting for a friend at this year’s Leeds Festival, a caterwauling sound disorientated me and many others.”
Oh my gawd, was it the beast of Ilkley Moor?
“It was the sound of Ian Brown tunelessly ripping ‘Fools Gold’ and the memory of The Stone Roses in two like some drunken karaoke singer on a Sunday lunchtime.”
Aha! Do I sense an off-the-fence, no-holds-barred kicking?
“Or maybe it was just another aspect of a calculated dismissal of his past, because if My Way – his sixth album to date – is anything to go by, Brown still has so much more to offer.”
And the form of these offerings?
“’Marathon Man’ and ‘Stellify’ both exemplify a sense of self-affirmation and nocturnal wisdom that relegate those vocal faux pas to the amnesia bank.”
“So save the last dance/For me my love ’cos I/See you as an angel freshly fallen from the sky.”
Clearly nocturnal wisdom too, is wise enough to camouflage itself as tin-eared cliche-grasping.
Anyway, Ian’s deft diction earns him a surprisingly soft-hearted 7/10 from the normally catty DiS.
Kind words, too, from our habitually scathing friends over at The Quietus where Mick Middles also singles out ‘Stellify’for particular praise. “A love song with sex beat intensity . . . about whom? Well, I could hazard a guess but am not about to unleash it here,”
Oh, you tease! You can tell your Aunty Virginia. No?
Lois Wilson in Mojo, meanwhile, thinks there’s been some unusual studio techniques going on:
“You can imagine Ian Brown recording his rapturous single ‘Stellify’, doing that jogging on the spot thing he does, with his hands in the air, as he conjures dancehall-heavy bass lines, pounding piano build and bold brass arrangements around him.”
Ah Lois, if only Ian could figure out how to make those bloody broomsticks stop marching monotonously ever onwards… if only.