He used to be the resurrection, but these days Ian Brown is content to play down to his latest public persona, King Monkey (a title bestowed on him by Dodgys drummer during the sessions for the second Stone Roses album). And lo and behold, theres definitely something simian about his photo on the front cover of this, his first solo album, an observation not made any easier to avoid by comparing it with the picture of a monkey statue that adorns the back cover. Hmmm.
Browse through the credits and youll notice that all the members of the final incarnation of the Stone Roses that was ingloriously laid to rest in a Berkshire field two summers ago appear at some point (Aziz Ibrahim, the ex-Simply Red guitarist, Mani, now bassist in the Scream team, keyboard player Nigel Ippinson and drummer Robbie Maddix, who gets a writing credit). So, although its about as ingenious as suggesting that "Ringo" was the follow-up to "Let It Be", it wouldnt be totally illogical to suggest that "Unfinished Monkey Business" might be what a third Stone Roses album couldve sounded like.
Which is...well, to these ears a kind of blancmange of diseased electronica and cod psychedelia. If youve heard the single "My Star" and not thought immediately of The Orb demoing "Dear Prudence" then youre a better man than I. Constructed in part in Browns own Warrington flat, theres definitely a feeling of rambling self-indulgence at times (which, to be fair, the Roses werent exactly strangers to near the end), made even less palatable by Browns propensity for attempting to play everything himself. Anybody whos heard the "Second Coming" tour gig broadcast on Radio 1 will appreciate that hes not in the Three Tenors stakes when it comes to holding a tune - and singing is his proper job! As a musician...well, the woozy, stumbling acoustic guitar line in "Sunshine" comes across as a charmless Syd Barrett parodying Donovan. Then theres the total waste of sometime Primal Scream/The Joy singer Denise Johnson on "Lions" (sample lyric - in fact pretty much the entire lyric: "There are no lions in England"), seven minutes of creaking drum machines and distorted synths that collapses halfway through. Calling parts of "Unfinished Monkey Business" shambolic would be a compliment.
Equally unpalatable are the moments that pillage the Stone Roses back catalogue wholesale: "Cant See Me", for example, is a club footed approximation of what was surely his old bands finest ten minutes, the sublime "Fools Gold". And the lyrics...Mr Brown is clearly not happy with his former guitarist, the sometimes deity-like John Squire - in fact they make Lennons open letter to McCartney, "How Do You Sleep", look mildly chafing. I wont bother quoting them here, but suffice to say theyre not dissimilar to the personality disorder/cocaine spiel that Browns been parading in interviews recently when asked about his ex-musical partner.
Let it not be said that "Unfinished Monkey Business" is entirely bereft of good bits: "Corpses In Their Mouths" should be the next single, darker and more reflective than anything the Stone Roses ever attempted. And, nasty lyrics aside, the two parts of "What Happened To Ya" do eventually lock into a "Resurrection"-style groove, which is rather enjoyable. But whats tragic about this album, and the Seahorses increasingly stale-smelling debut, is that Squire and Brown obviously need each other, musically at least. Put the two together and you might recover some of the spark and allure that made the Stone Roses one Britains greatest bands. Apart, they just dont make ice cream.
IAN BROWN Golden Greats (Polydor)
King Monkey's first post-chokey output is, thankfully, a far more coherent work than his rambling, self-indulgent home-made debut long player, "Unfinished Monkey Business". The modestly titled "Golden Greats" bears the mark of a man who, perhaps for the first time in his musical career, is working within his limits, rather than trying to outmanoeuvre them in the company of like-minded individuals (e.g. the quicksilver chemistry he enjoyed with a certain guitarist, which will ensure the recorded legacy of a certain Mancunian beat combo a place in the hearts of discerning music lovers everywhere decades from now) or ploughing blindly through them in the vain hope that nobody will notice ("Unfinished Monkey Business", again).
As a result the melodies displayed here seem tailored so as to not exert too much effort on the Brown larynx, which, as anyone who's heard tapes of some of the later Stone Roses live performances will readily confirm, is a Good Thing. The instrumental backdrop to Ian's foghorn blare is full of interesting retro-baggy drum loops and acid squiggles and squelches, and quite fun in a nostalgic, Madchester fashion: familiar names in the credits include sometime Fall drummer Simon Wolstencroft and Aziz Ibrahim, the guitarist at the Roses' Reading last stand. It's all very pleasant, if a little samey, even if the limited wellspring of inspiration seems to have been exhausted by about eight tracks into the ten on offer. And even though it never comes close to justifying its overreaching title in the manner that parts of "Second Coming" almost did, "Golden Greats" is probably the most interesting post-break-up product to emerge from the Squire/Brown axis. Nevertheless, it never quite eclipses the wonder of what sort of racket they could kick up if they were still on speaking terms.
IAN BROWN Music Of The Spheres (Polydor)
Ian Brown's third solo album might be his most satisfying yet. The ghost of baggy that haunted his last outing, "Golden Greats", has receded, and in its stead "Music Of The Spheres" offers elaborate string arrangements, a vague Eastern influence and a kind of chilly, dubbed-up electronic feel that suggests the morning after, had the night before been dominated by the kind of unreconstructed hedonism rush Black Grape used to describe so well. The first single, "F.E.A.R.", ties with his Unkle collaboration "Be There" as the best thing he's done since the Stone Roses wilted, "El Mundo Pequeño" positively twinkles and "Shadow Of A Saint" is tinged with an optimism that contrasts starkly with the bunker mentality and accusatory tone adopted elsewhere. Of course, it's not fit to buff the vinyl of either of his former band's long players, but with John Squire still missing in action following the demise of his uninspiring Noelrock one-trick pony The Seahorses it's vaguely encouraging and comforting that at least somebody is attempting to keep the flame alive.
IAN BROWN / THE DIFFERENCE Guildhall, Preston 13 October 2007
The Difference are a teenage power trio from Chorlton; my first reaction on seeing them amble self-consciously across the Guildhalls vast tract of stage was Aw, bless!. After a first song that seemed strongly reminiscent of the controlled chaos of the school-age Pulps first Peel session, they stretched out confidently towards less easily pigeonholed territory. A little bit grunge, kinda punk and perceptive lyrics such as What can you expect when youre four foot two?, they earned and deserved the support of a Guildhall that was surprisingly full for such an early hour. All credit, too, to Mr Brown for granting them such an opportunity.
Id previously only seen Ian Brown in a support capacity on the Manic Street Preachers Forever Delayed tour: playing to a hostile crowd he seemed to feed on all the negative energy the audience threw at him. There was no need for all that Charles Atlas posing tonight, the sold out crowd, more hooligan than hairslide it has to be said, on his side from the first. Of course, it did help that his opening gambit was a tremor-inducing thunder through his vintage mission statement, I Wanna Be Adored. What followed couldve been mistaken for a greatest hits set, mostly ignoring on his freshly released and rather good The World Is Yours album in favour of popular hits such as Golden Gaze, Dolphins Were Monkeys, My Star, Corpses In Their Mouths and Keep What Ya Got. Im not hugely enthusiastic about his solo material its quasi-mystical Madchester frug is a bit too George Harrison-meets-Happy Mondays for my liking but from my vertically-challenged perch at the back of the standing area it seemed like he was giving value for money.
No such faint praise for his choice of encore, though. From the first drumbeat I Am The Resurrection was an astonishing experience. Admittedly any band attempting to cover it is pretty much tied into the fragmented, scattershot solo patterns laid down by the Roses nearly two decades ago, but now that John Squire has exchanged plectrum for paintbrush Browns is surely the most authentic rendition currently available, and he does a darn fine job. Its perhaps unfortunate that the nights two Stone Roses songs pretty much obliterated the memory of everything that happened in between them, but this celebration of his past seems to everyones benefit.
How on earth could he follow that? Well, there aint but the one way, and to even greater surprise the baggy funk of Fools Gold clattered around the hall. Except except the delight was slightly deflated when it became clear that he was substituting the originals lyrics for those of his latest albums title track. Ah well, it was a neat twist on the mash-up culture and a rebuke to those whod preserve the Stone Roses legacy in Pollock-splattered aspic, but I know what Idve preferred.
A pretty good night, then, with some staggering highs and no real lows, but the lairy crowd antics pretty much sealed my decision not to go and experience it all again in Manchester in December.
IAN BROWN The World Is Yours (Fiction)
Ian Browns fifth solo album begins tantalisingly, all curling wisps of Lets Get It On guitar and a swelling string section, which is all rather ruined when the man himself arrives, trampling all over it dispensing lyrical clichés like theyre previously unheard outtakes from the Sermon on the Mount. Similarly, Goodbye To The Broken initially suggests a lost track from Becks breakup mopefest Sea Change, before disappointingly proving otherwise.
He cant be faulted for his commitment to channelling his righteous irie, but Browns take on current affairs is as black and white as the sleeve artwork, and his Baggy Messiah pose makes for more entertaining interview copy than music, unless of course you really can listen to him singing I heard it from on high, as he does during Some Folks Are Hollow, without sniggering inwardly. Yes, theres passion to burn on the likes of Illegal Attacks, but it misses the nuanced eloquence a Billy Bragg (or even the Billy Bragg) couldve brought to the discussion; Brown just ends up sounding like a drunken barroom conspiracy theorist with a sub-film soundtrack string arrangement.
Browns standing amongst his peers is evident from the guest list, with two Sex Pistols, a Smith, a Happy Monday and Sinead OConnor making the credits. (A bass-playing Beatle was apparently too busy to lend a requested hand.) So much talent pressed into the service of what is effectively just another generic Ian Brown album: some barely memorable baggy beats, the occasional biblical pronouncement, an all-pervading sense of disappointment that nothing here is fit to clean the dust off the first (or even the second) Stone Roses album. Hes not the resurrection well, not just now, anyway.
Manic Street Preachers/Ian Brown - Cardiff Arena 15 December 2002
Unkle Featuring Ian Brown