ne can argue ‘til the cows come home about who made the best records, who played the meanest guitar or who had the best voice. Critics and fans alike frequently do. But surely no individual with less musical talent than Ian Brown has sustained such a successful, and indeed highly influential, career in music for such a long time. It’s now fifteen years since the first Stone Roses album was released (although it made the top ten for the first time this year) and King Monkey keeps shuffling on. Solarized is his fourth solo effort, and though it is unlikely to ever reach that classic status as that 1989 release has, it is a respectable album; eclectic, erratic, but impressive in places. Stylistically the record serves up another dose of Brown’s trip-hoppy rock, with plenty of eastern, reggae and hip-hop influences thrown in for good measure.
As ever Brown has collaborators aplenty. Chief among them is Aziz Ibrahim, who co-writes four of the eleven tracks including the excellent opener “Longsight M13”, and further cements his reputation as one of the finest guitarists of his generation. More notable however is Noel Gallagher, who co-wrote and guests on the single “Keep What Ya Got”. It’s not tremendous praise to say that this is probably the best song that Gallagher has written for several years. But while it doesn’t reach the standard of “Live Forever” or “Fools Gold”, it is still a fine, swaggering track that builds an irresistible momentum through its extended outro.
Anyone new to the world of Ian Brown would be forgiven for thinking, upon hearing “Longsight M13”’s “let the stars shine on” chorus, that he graduated from the same school of rhyming dictionary songwriting as Mr. Gallagher. Actually his lyrics, though frequently clumsy, over-ambitious and / or simply unworkable, set his music apart from his peers, and are very rarely dull. I certainly can’t think of any of the numerous Brit-rock bands inspired by the Roses penning a couplet like “Seven percent own eighty four percent of all the wealth on earth / Oil is the spice to make a man forget man’s worth”. Similarly, at a time when Travis and the Stereophonics stand as two of the current heavyweights of guitar pop, one can but marvel at Brown’s restless eclecticism—even if the Jesus & Mary Chain influenced “Destiny and Circumstance” is almost painfully bad.
The horns and trumpets of “Time Is My Everything” and “The Sweet Fantastic” are a lovely touch; both tunes are stand out tracks and possible singles. Elsewhere “Kiss Ya Lips” is a funky, melodica-led dancefloor number marred slightly by its clumsy political lyric (“I ain’t no number, I don’t need no ID round my neck”), and the closing instrumental “Happy Ever After” features tabla and some beautiful guitar lines, courtesy of Ibrahim, but never quite takes off. Solarized is unlikely to win or lose Brown many fans, but the world of music would certainly be a duller place without him. Keep what you’ve got indeed.
Reviewed by: James McKean
Reviewed on: 2004-10-14
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