Very few bands make near perfect records. Fewer still do it on their first time out. One of the few that I know of is the Stone Roses. Their self-titled debut album was a shining beacon out of Manchester that signaled a new sound for a new age. They may not have created the Madchester scene, but they certainly defined it with brilliant songs such as “I Wanna Be Adored” and “Fools Gold”. Unfortunately, the band fell apart, making only one follow-up record five years later. The record company milked hits and B-sides to create two more albums in the meantime and the lads went their separate ways. Guitarist John Squire formed the band Seahorses, Mani joined Primal Scream, and singer Ian Brown ventured on a solo career. But could any of them ever get the magic that their initial band found back?
True, Mani’s bass was the backbone of Primal Scream’s great album XTRMNTR, but it is singer Ian Brown who will stand firmly atop the mountain as the returning conquering hero with his fourth solo album, Solarized. It’s been three years since his last solo effort, Music of the Spheres, successful, as the first two, pretty much only in England. Solarized could change all that, putting out the `bat-signal’ to all of those who enjoyed the Manchester scene in the late eighties and early nineties.
Had I reviewed this album after the first time I heard it, I would probably have dismissed it as a fairly decent but otherwise unaffecting record. Luckily, I gave it a good three more spins. I was discussing with a friend the other day the merits of reserving judgment until an album is given a fair chance. Those albums that we love on the very first listen sometimes end up on the CD rack gathering dust because we generally never listen to it again. But those albums that we work at, that we make a conscious effort to embed its songs under our skin, are the albums that will end up rewarding us again and again. I won’t make a list here, though I am tempted to, but look at some of the CD’s that you listen to over and over again, and try to remember whether you liked it instantly, or whether it had to grow on you. You might be surprised. That being said, Ian Brown’s Solarized is one of those records that just keeps on giving.
It’s a mixture of a handful of different styles, from straightforward Britpop, to Middle Eastern influence, from sixties era Los Angeles, to English trance. The one unifying theme throughout is Brown’s textured, distinctive, and underrated voice. While some may think that it might be okay for Stone Roses output and simply not trained enough for varied genres, think again. Brown’s voice not only pulls it off, but if excels, lodging itself, as good albums do, under your skin, resurfacing in the brain again and again, and it’s quite welcome.
Opener “Longsight M13” is the closest thing to a Stone Roses song on the album, but it also has flavors of Oasis and Primal Scream. Like the former’s songs, it could easily end up being a rave favorite. “Time is My Everything” begins with horns that resemble songs from Love’s classic, Forever Changes. The rest of the song itself stands muster with songs from that same album. “Upside Down” is one of the most distinctive songs on the album, and one you’re sure to remember. It’s one of the first heavily political songs on the album, a theme that will resurface in other songs. With lyrics 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,” sung only backed by a slow bassline and a trumpet, Brown makes sure his message is heard. The title track is one of the best songs I’ve heard, resembling at times Massive Attack circa Mezzanine, and at times Echo & the Bunnymen, specifically “Thorn of Crowns.”
“Keep What Ya Got” is a collaboration with Noel Gallagher that is sure to be a big radio hit, at least in England. Noel wrote the music while Ian wrote the lyrics. Both members of formerly huge bands show that they still have it and are going to use it. The song makes me wonder if Oasis would still be big, or would have even been bigger had Ian Brown been the singer rather than Liam Gallagher. I know Oasis fans are thinking me sacrilegious right now, and even though I like Liam’s voice, I prefer Noel’s, and his is closer to the tone and timbre of Ian’s. Either way, it’s a brilliant pop song and a great meeting of two great pop song crafters.
I can’t cover every song on the album, but let me just say this, it’s hard for me to find a skippable song. Solarized is an extremely strong album for Ian Brown and the one which deserves to vault him back into the spotlight. Although we might be nearly sixteen years (has it been that long?) gone from the Stone Roses’ debut, Ian Brown has made me remember how good he was and how good he is. So remember, listen to at least four times, and then try and tell me you don’t love this record, I dare you.
Massive Attack- Mezzanine
Ian McCulloch- Candleland
The Stone Roses- Second Coming