When the Stone Roses finally announced their split in 1996, it was a widely held notion that Ian Brown, who was generally considered the least talented individual of the group, would quite obviously go on to have the least success in future musical endeavours. History went on to prove, however (with an honourable mention to Mani and his excellent work with Primal Scream), the opposite to be true. Through sheer hard graft and yes, genuine musicianship, Brown has forged for himself a plethora of esteemed solo works that no one deemed him capable of.
A consistent world touring artist and creator of positively acclaimed releases for just over a decade (1998-2009) – Brown has been dubbed on more than one occasion as the Michael Jackson of alternative music. Not bad for a guy that apparently can’t sing. This entry, while beginning a two part rank list of the Mancunian’s solo albums, will attempt to give an in depth account of what it is about Brown’s music that makes him endure with unrivalled longevity, in an industry that never gave him a chance.
#6. Music of the Spheres (2001)
The fact that the minimalist beast that is Music of the Spheres ranks last on this list says more about the strength of Brown’s solo output than anything else. Indeed, the album opens up with what many consider to be his greatest achievement as a solo artist, lead single, F.E.A.R – which was an instant classic and won the 2002 Muso Award for best single after a vote cast by his peers in the music industry. The track begins a career of Brown’s penchant for etymology, with every verse being an acronym of the title, for instance: “For Each A Road, For Everyman A Religion”. Other highlights include philosophical number Stardust, the second single, Whispers and the gorgeously enchanting Shadow of a Saint.
#5. Unfinished Monkey Business (1998)
Brown’s debút solo LP entails predominately work generated from a moment of inspiration following a period of accepting that he’d be a gardener for the rest of his life, while selling Stone Roses bootlegs to get by. Only the eager words of pleading kids he passed on the street to make a go of it musically as Ian Brown, brought the idea to his attention. Following the Roses’ demise, the beloved star was in a financial rut. And that’s why Unfinished Monkey Business demands respect. With the help of close friend and Roses footnote Aziz Ibrahim, Brown wrote, created and produced the album from scratch with his own money – the definition of a true solo work. Just as impressively, the low-fi, homemade release contains a string of stylish, laidback tracks reeking of originality – something that quite obviously escaped the Britpop craze of the time.
Highlights include the space exploring, New World Order exposing My Star which marked a return to Brown’s melodic form, a debút single truly deserving of its high peak on the UK singles chart (#5). Corpses in Their Mouths is a menacing attack, the track is weighted in lyrical gunpwowder, scornfully unleashed in abundance from the opening verse:
You tell lies where the truth will do. You’re a social chameleon, what on earth we gonna do with you?
More of the same is brought to the table in Ice Cold Cube, which many consider to be the embodiment of Brown’s frustrations with John Squire. Can’t See Me blissfully revisits the trademark Stone Roses groove, featuring some unused and loned Mani bass work. Although a joy to hear, the track is not representative of the important thing Brown achieved on UMB. The small budget success features Brown playing most of the instruments heard on the album, which at its best is extremely satisfying – as evident in the instrumental harmonica outro on Corpses and the quirky, authentic closing effort that shares its title with the album.
Unfinished Monkey Business is not a masterpiece, it is a self sufficient statement of intent. The LP helped create the foundations for Brown to achieve his own unique sound as an artist, a claim not many musicians can boast.
#4. Solarized (2004)
Just edging UMB, Brown’s fourth studio album, Solarized takes the number four spot as it encapsulates his unique, trademark sound in full flow. It confirms, yet again, Brown’s rapid evolution as a creator, sounding less and less like his work as a Stone Rose. Co-produced with Dave McCracken – who went on to work with some of the biggest pop stars on the planet – the LP flows sensibly through each track, depicting a moody, atmospheric world. At times, the record sounds like a movie score, at others, a vital extraction of newly unearthed wisdom.
Right off the bat, Longsight M13 and Time Is My Everything (which extends the premise of F.E.A.R, in title only) assert themselves as two of Brown’s most popular songs. The latter, along with The Sweet Fantastic include memorably triumphant trumpet melodies to rival Love’s Forever Changes (1969). Crucially, the record features a profusion of great lyrics, with top 20 hit Keep What Ya Got providing the goods throughout:
Yesterday when heavens gates, I’d contemplate, they’d seem so far / today they ain’t so for away and almost seem ajar
Notably, a common lyrical theme of political frustration rears its head on occasion, something which would later feature more heavily in future Brown solo work. This is brought perfectly to the table in unorthodox numbers, Upside Down and Kiss Ya Lips (No I.D.) Brown doesn’t preach to the listener about right and wrong, as is often the mistake with “political” songwriting – he lays his personal exasperation with war-mongering, privacy invading governments out in the open, with little subtlety:
Seven per cent own eighty-four per cent of all the wealth on earth. Oil is the spice to make a man forget mans worth.