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Ian Brown - [Rock]

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My Way is a cool title… It pretty well sums up Ian Brown. Moulded by punk, he’s carved his own swaggering path. A uniquely English presence existing on his own terms, a northern folk hero and national icon. He has created a series of great records in an idiosyncratic and ground breaking solo career, one which has made it easy to avoid the temptation and constant requests for the reformation of his legendary, generation-changing former band the Stone Roses. My Way is autobiographical. The songs are informed by a turbulent few decades at the front line of British pop culture, and by one of the most controversial and wilful musical careers in history, swinging from the heights of inspiring a generation in 1989 to a thrilling solo comeback, equal parts controversy and jubilation. And Brown just keeps coming, powered by that innate self-belief that fuelled a city and fires up fans, turning every gig into a celebration. The live atmosphere is unlike any other gig you will see in the UK. The intense support for an icon who never seems to back down, a musical maverick who shadow boxes his songs like a youthful Ali, holding up his chin and taunting the enemy like the Louisville boxer did all those decades ago. My Way is a neat reference to one of Ian Brown’s favourite groups; Sid Vicious’ genius destruction of the classic song of the same name being one of the defining situationist punk rock moments. It’s that kind of maverick approach to music that Brown invokes. The full-on attitude and swagger that the Sex Pistols upheld for a brief period, Brown has maintained for years. My Way is a statement of intent. Brown has never compromised his vision, he has made pop on his own terms and never by the rules. His lack of muso knowledge is his strength. This is a pure, instinctive music that follows its own nose. Unconventional and yet accessible - it’s a cool trick to pull off. Brown’s career is the story of a generation - from the initial teenage thrill of punk, the mish-mash of mid-Eighties culture, mods, scooter boys, skins and punks, Creation Records, paisley shirt psychedelia. Drifting in and out of bands, cheap drugs, wild nights, pretty girls, great records, and then finally a band that everyone would soon call their own and band that still means so much to so many people. The Roses story is part of legend now, but when the band fell apart Ian dropped out of sight from the “filthy business” and tended his garden, getting all biblical by returning to the simple life. Left with just a small terraced house from one of the great stories of the period - from a band that could have been as big as the Beatles - most ‘experts’ reckoned that it was all over for the singer. But they were forgetting that for a big chunk of a generation he was an iconic brooding presence with the generational aura of a Strummer or a Lydon, whose natural charisma was already being tapped into by Liam Gallagher and a whole host of new generation who were copping the walk, the style and the attitude of the loose limbed frontman. When Aziz Ibrahim knocked on Ian's door and got him to record again he opened up a whole new chapter. 1998’s Unfinished Monkey Business was a hit, and it kick-started a series of solo albums which saw Brown strike out in his own direction. My Way is the latest instalment in the canon, with songs that musically and lyrically touch on key moments in Brown’s life. Again mostly written with key collaborator Dave McCracken, the tracks pull the strongest points of each of the preceding albums into one almighty whole - his strongest work yet. Opening track and first single Stellify bounces in on a piano motif, before Brown’s voice enters, strong with fallen angel innocence, and a great horn break punctuates the track. The mood switches with the melancholic, electronic pulses of The Crowning Of The Poor. Few British artists get as dark as this and make it work. In comparison, Just like You retains a pure melancholy but packs a pure crystalline pop chorus of the kind New Order knocked out at their prime. The breathless vocals trip over themselves in a rush to get the message home, it makes you think of the Hacienda at its peak, those big songs echoing around the E-drenched room. Good times. 24 hour party people moving on. Swerving away from death disco is a cover of Zager and Evans’ In The Year 2525, continuing Brown’s series of off-the-wall covers (there was that brace of Michael Jackson workouts) with the welcome return of the mariachi trumpet that has become such a part of the Brown sound. A wistfulness to the next track, Always Remember Me, shows a sense of regret not always immediately apparent in Brown’s iconic, upbeat presence, but a sensitivity that has been there from day one. It’s in the voice which packs attitude and humanity, sung over the deep, dark echo-drenched sound that hints at mid-Eighties feedback-drenched indie underground - those sun kissed Spectorish doleful ballads that sound so timeless. The backwards guitar loop is magical as the song oozes to its stormy climax. Is Vanity Kills a precautionary tale for pop scenesters, a cautionary tale in a world where we all have to get old? The song sounds like a film soundtrack, a brooding, atmospheric piece that looks at the dark underbelly of love or pop stardom. “Nothing to lose, I will do it all again,“ a defiant Brown decides, leaving the wreckage walking tall. For The Glory is another great vocal in another neo-soundtrack workout, full of biblical references and defiant swagger. The pace picks up for Marathon Man, with stripped down electronics and scorched earth rhythms building to a hooky chorus. This is a song about reasserting yourself, powered by the legendary Brown confidence and self belief that propelled the swagger of that vibed Generation E. Own Brain (an anagram of his own name) sees the author standing up for individuality in a world where there’s no space for mavericks and following the herd has become the norm. It’s the manifesto for his attitude. Laugh Now follows, intoning a moral tale over a chiming keyboard, a nursery rhyme oozing wisdom, whilst By All Means is savage, trying to find mercy for someone who has done Brown wrong. It’s the demonic preacher man rearing his head again, over a backing track that invokes Morricone on a digital keyboard with big 3D soundscapes. So High, a great last track, is almost a sing-along, with a whirling Hammond, neo-soul melting pot creating a fantastic atmosphere for Brown to clear the slate. A sardonic classic. Original, autobiographical and self reliant, My Way is Ian Brown’s aptly named masterpiece.

 

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