"...might once and for all put his previous band to bed"

‘My Way’? Has Mr. Brown done things any other way in the past twenty-five years of his idiosyncratic music career?

In a move that perhaps signifies a new found peace with his past (if not estranged guitarist John Squire), Brown recently joined original producer John Leckie to re-master The Stone Roses’ classic debut album for its twentieth anniversary release. So, what frame of mind do we find him in for sixth solo album ‘My Way’?

Written at Battery Studios, the site of those debut Roses album sessions, this was created with long-time collaborator Dave McCracken, and boasts a return to a more classic form of songwriting, acoustic guitar and all. That’s significant in that it’s the first time Brown has written in that manner since his one-time symbiotic relationship with Squire soured.

This new album from the forty-six-year-old former Stone Rose finds him looking inward and dealing with more personal matters - it’s even touted as an alternative to an autobiography. It’s a stark contrast to ‘The World Is Yours’ and the social commentary of that album’s anti-war lead single ‘Illegal Attacks’, featuring Sinead O’Connor, another artist tagged with the ‘difficult’ label.

‘Stellify’, the lead single, kicks off proceedings here. Deriving, apparently, from Latin and translating as ‘to change or be changed into a star’, it’s an immediate, concise dose of latter day Ian Brown. It’s everbuilding, pounding keyboard stabs soundtrack a young man’s message of love, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Usually busy throwing out intriguing riddles and slogans, ‘Stellify’ is a refreshingly open narrative (even if the song’s title is a bit of a makey-upper).

The more familiar Ian Brown as champion of the downtrodden reappears on ‘Crowning Of The Poor’ amid dramatic clanging bells and slicing synth lines. Rousing strings stir ‘Always Remember Me’ into action; a pseudo U2 ballad with confirmation that this is definitely about Squire (see Ian Brown’s interview in this issue for more revelations). What’s not clear is if he’s asking Squire to remember him fondly or if it’s a ‘look what I’ve achieved’ fuck you. With lyrics such as “You walked yourself into the wilderness” and “Those were the days when we had it all / And these are the times I’ve got so much more”, I’d lean towards the latter. It’s perhaps the most open dialogue between the two, and hammers the final nail into the much rumoured reformation.

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Ian Brown – ‘Stellify’

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A track that will divide listeners is the cover of ’60s one hit wonders Zager & Evans’ ‘In The Year 2525’. A song that - trivia buffs take note - has the muso value of going up a half key with each section; a neat trick that isn’t needed given the bizarre nature of the song, especially in this setting. Concerning speculation on the future of mankind, it contains such lines as “Your legs got nothing to do / Some machine doing that for you”. It’s no serious academic treatise for sure, and while it’s not clear where it fits in with the rest of the album’s autobiographical nature, it’s a welcome distraction - mariachi horns adding a unique spin established by Brown’s thick Mancunian delivery.

‘For The Glory’ returns to the Roses’ years with a number of allusions inserted, not least the couplet: “When the bombs began to fall / I didn’t do it for the Roses / As I was striding ten-feet-tall / Well, that’s another story”. Might that be a small admission of regret in there? Brown has said it’s a shout-out to his long-standing fans, as in he’s doing it for them and not ‘For The Glory’.

Contrary to his recent man-of-peace self-image, ‘Laugh Now’ sees a chink in his cool façade, taunting detractors with his success and longevity, further explored on the self-explanatory ‘Marathon Man’. The album closes with the gospel-tinged ‘So High’. Its optimistic musical setting is tempered by lyrics: “Bye bye, all you mercenaries / Bye bye, you got no soul”. That bee in his bonnet is still alive and well.

Undoubtedly a bona fide voice of a generation, and now a father figure of the British music scene alongside equally long-standing and well-respected musicians like Paul Weller, Morrissey and even Mark E. Smith, Ian Brown is now in the enviable position of no longer existing solely as a guy who makes music. 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? While he insists that he’s constantly working outside his comfort zone, the majority of ‘My Way’ would suggest differently. Some of the tracks here wouldn’t sound out of place on 2001’s ‘Music Of The Spheres’.

Aside from the recycled nature of the sample set, the pristine, ‘dead’ nature of ‘My Way’’s studio birth can become tiring on the ears, leaving this reviewer hoping for the buzz or crackle of live instruments. Recording with a full live band would be a tantalising prospect and would certainly kick some of the more sedate numbers here into gear. Still, roll on the live shows I guess.

Alongside a scheduled appearance at this year’s Reading Festival, the site of the Roses’ very messy demise in 1996, ‘My Way’ might once and for all put his previous band to bed. 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.


Words by Nick Annan


Read a track by track guide to the album by the man himself HERE

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