Image: Parasetya Atyanto
Part one, ranking IB’s LP’s from #6-4 can be found here
#3. Golden Greats (1999)
Released little more than a year after Brown was sentenced to four months inprisonment for using threatening language towards an air hostess, Golden Greats features a host of tracks that were written from his cell in Strangeways and is a testament to the work ethic of its creator.
The three albums discussed in part one chronicle the Mancunian conceiving and continuing his own distinctive sound, but Golden Greats marks the point in between, in which Brown’s authentic sound achieves full implementation. No Roses-inspired breakbeats to be heard, this, his follow up to Unfinished Monkey Business contains a string of some of his best songwriting, full stop. It is no doubt his most critically acclaimed record, boasting a 4.5 star rating from The Guardian as well as being hailed by the NME as a left-field masterpiece.
The LP is heavily experimental, approaches a dimension of its own and critically, encompasses an impressive list of some of IB’s most successful tracks. The bold title, which could see the album mistakenly believed to be a greatest hits compilation, is therefore worthy of the sum of its parts. Set My Baby Free refuses to leave your head for days, Dolphins Were Monkeys refuses to leave your head for weeks – and Golden Gaze is a moody, cultured delight.
Love Like a Fountain, one of Brown’s personal favourite solo songs, is much closer to dance music than rock. Soaked in TB-303 bass work, the track is perhaps a tip of the hat to the acid house movement that the Stone Roses were so closely related to a decade prior. Featuring a groove to rival anything from the Roses’ peak, the album’s lead single also draws inspiration musically, from Stevie Wonder’s funk output. This was often extended lyrically in live performances of the track, in which Brown would use an abundance of “-ation” and “-ection” words, in similar vein to Wonder’s Pastime Paradise:
#2. The World Is Yours (2007)
Drawing inspiration from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (1971), sitting at second place is the most overtly political release of Brown’s storied career. It confronts issues of political salience head on, from world hunger and poverty to the crimes of organised religion. An orchestral piece from start to finish, it is essentially a hip-hop album at times, but with an authentic twist that could only be served up by King Monkey himself.
Sex Pistols legends Steve Jones and Paul Cook feature on Me and You Forever. In addition, the release features bass contribution from Smiths and Happy Monday’s legends, Andy Rourke and Paul Ryder, respectively. Brown also acquired the services of Sinéad O’Connor for backing vocals on some tracks, rounding off an esteemed, ensemble cast of collaborators.
Following a period in which he released compilation album The Greatest, top 20 single All Ablaze and was recognised by the NME as a ‘Godlike Genius’ in contemporary music, The World Is Yours is Brown’s boldest, most conscious and thought provoking solo release. The title track opens up proceedings with a nod to reggae, it motivates, urging the listener to take control of their own world. On Track and Sister Rose provide easy-listening pleasure, before Save Us takes aim at the immorality of the decision makers of the western world:
Save us from imbeciles who think they rule the world
Save us from hypocrites whose twisted plans unfurl
Save us from war mongers who’d bring on Armageddon
Save us from all of those whose eyes are closed to the plight of the African child
Eternal Flame sees hip-hop producer Emile Haynie’s work at its fresh, rhythmic best, perfectly acting as a youthful equilibrium to the Mancunian’s words of wisdom. It’s something that has set Brown’s solo career apart from countless former members of successful bands’ – he knows how to get the best out of himself, while ushering in particular talented individuals to render his limitations irrelevant, ultimately creating great music. The Feeding of 5000 see’s Brown continue his long lasting obsession with biblical references, which is strikingly juxtaposed with Street Children and Some Folks Are Hollow:
Sweet dreams my little amigo, barefoot and homeless in Rio de Janeiro. Sleeping on the steps of the church, the doors are locked, livin’ in a cardboard box. Inside at the shrine the priest sips fine wine, dines on fine food and looks for a sign…
The church had to apologise – for crimes in times, all the profits, overseeing slave plantations. So, it comes as no surprise, the church has brutalised, after all the first slave ship they named it Jesus…
The album finishes with similarly controversial lead single Illegal Attacks, which deals with the legality of the Iraq war and other catastrophies such as the continuing Israeli occupation of Palestine. The track includes the haunting harmonies of Sinéad O’Connor and mixes lush strings with brooding bass:
Does not a day go by that the Israeli Air Force fails to drop its bombs from the sky? / how many mothers to cry? How many sons have to die? How many missions left to fly over Palestine?
#1. My Way (2009)
With close competition on any given day from most of his other solo works – My Way is on this day Brown’s best and hitherto, last solo album. Having been described as his version of an autobiography, the deeply introspective piece see the Mancunian deal with his critics, his psyche and some familiar old friends. In addition, the album is awash with catchy hooks and melodies throughout. In its wholly positive review, the NME likened Ian Brown’s presence in indie-pop music production as that of Timbaland’s to R&B. It’s a difficult comparison to contest, as each individual track on My Way confirm beyond doubt his capacity to innovate authentic soundscapes.
The opening number, Stellify, is a perfect example. The gloriously melodic love song was originally written for Rihanna who would no doubt have made it a worldwide hit, but Brown decided the track was too good and he wanted it for himself. It marks a continuation of him purposely putting words in his songs that he’d never heard sung before – such as ‘brigantine’, ‘solarized’ and also ‘inclement’, which features later on the album in Own Brain, which is, as Brown points out, an anagram of his own name.
Crowning of the Poor continues in the vital lyrical direction of The World Is Yours before Just Like You, the second single released from the album after Stellify, shines bright. Extending the premise of F.E.A.R for the verses, Brown pays subtle homage to Adidas, who have honoured him significantly over the years for faithfully endorsing their brand. Always Remember Me is no doubt the most moving track on the album and is seemingly a message to John Squire: “Paint on the walls, those were the days, friend, we had it all”.
Vanity Kills which was originally written for Kanye West, was kept in similar vein to Stellify – and you can see why. Brown has formulated an album’s worth of some of his strongest individual songs and it makes sense considering how, inspired by Thriller, he worked laboriously over each track to ensure that it was good enough for the cut. For the Glory is a beautiful tribute to those who bought into his career over the years, as Brown reflects on times gone by:
When the bombs began to fall I didn’t do it for the Roses. When I was striding ten feet tall, well, that’s another story, for the glory. The good that you do, will carry you through – I did it for you, I didn’t do it for the glory…
The punchy, electronic Marathon Man confirms exactly why Brown has come to be considered a living icon, ensuring the listener he still has mileage left in the tank. Two more highlights are served up in Laugh Now and So High. The former see’s Brown take aim at and soar above those who ruled him out all those years ago – he knows too well that his legacy far outweighs the disrespect that comes his way. The latter concludes the album in soul-inspired fashion its creator serves up some more of his characteristic brand of humble philosophy: “Money it don’t buy you love, redemption, hope or style / bye, bye all mercenaries / bye, bye you lost your soul.”
My Way is an album anyone would be proud of but one that only Ian Brown could actually conceive. His idiosyncrasies kept his solo career engaging, fresh and unlike many of his peers, genuinely innovative. His sixth solo installment is a testament to that: he always did it his way. With the reunification of the Stone Roses in 2011, the frontman commented that he had “parked his solo career in a lay-by” in order to shake up the world once again with Squire, Mani and Reni. While the Roses continue to ride on into 2017, don’t expect it to be too long before the solo bus is back on the road.