When The Police reformed in 2007, Sting wryly noted he was "monetising the asset for one last time". Of all the bands rushing to monetise their assets over the last decade, none have done so on a greater wave of goodwill than the Stone Roses.
This was the reunion everyone was willing to happen. In the years since their acrimonious split, their popularity had grown exponentially, elevating them to near mythical status. If anyone deserved to cash in on their popularity, it was them.
Now, with the extended victory lap finally drawing to a close and that promised third album still yet to materialise, they can all return to their day jobs. John Squire can get back to creating art about the Stone Roses never reforming. And King Monkey himself can return to releasing interesting, leftfield albums...
But from the opening bars of 'First World Problems', we’re transported back to the Hacienda sometime in the late ‘80s. With its loose drums, plonky clavinet riff and bouncy bassline, it couldn’t get any baggier.
Despite a solo back catalogue of its own merits, first impression leaves you wondering if this will be the album he wanted the Roses to make after all. Soon, however, we’re taken in other directions. 'Breathe And Breathe Easy' could be an off cut from 'As You Were' – Liam doing his best Brown-meets-Lennon impression – vocals caked in reverb, and finishing on a piano chord straight out of 'A Day In The Life'.
Meanwhile, 'The Dream And The Dreamer' is carried along with its lively, funky bass, recalling 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' – the point where Motown started to get more experimental. Still Brown continues to reference the Roses elsewhere, on his dirgey cover of Barrington Levy’s 'Black Roses', and again in 'From Chaos To Harmony' with the line: "dried up roses all turn to stone, too much poison to ramble on..."
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While the album explores different moods, there’s very little variation within each individual track. It’s very much a groove based record, with the bass a big presence throughout, and very little movement from verse to chorus.
'First World Problems', for instance, charges on relentlessly on that same four-chord progression for six minutes without let up, highlighting the tendency to settle upon a repetitive chord progression, then hammer it home. It’s as if the band don’t quite know how or when to finish each song, so just keep going and going.
At times, it can hard to pinpoint exactly what Brown’s pitching for with this latest artistic move. And, to be fair, he has always been a man to do things by design. Brown and his sons play many of the instruments and the album’s PR makes much of Brown’s artistic control – a man thinking for himself with his ‘OWN BRAIN’.
There’s lots of space and it feels like a live band playing together in a room. Often it’s just bass, drums and one guitar or clavinet, an intentionally limited palette. Vocals are very much front and centre, albeit caked in slapback reverb throughout. Sonically, it can be a jarring mix of contradictions. The playing is both accomplished and extremely rudimentary; the production is raw yet heavily processed.
There are some real highlights. 'Blue Sky Day' finds Brown at his most melodic, showcasing his often maligned vocal chops. In fact, vocally, he’s on top form throughout. 'From Chaos To Harmony' is the Beatles in their psychedelic phase, and the Fab Four clearly loom heavily over the record as a whole.
'Ripples' often has a light, whimsical feel to it, notably on the dubby closer, 'Break Down The Walls'. Occasional glimpses of greatness shine through, if rarely reaching the heady heights of peak era solo gems like 'F.E.A.R'.
A deeply mixed return, then, and perhaps not advisable as your first entry point to his solo work. We all know that Ian Brown can make waves; today he has chosen to make 'Ripples'.
Words: Felix Rowe
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