Brown’s finest since 1998’s solo bow, Unfinished Monkey Business.
Chris Parkin 2009
Without the knob-twiddling magic worked by production wiz John Leckie, The Stone Roses’ debut – 20 years old this year – would have been fronted by a voice more likely to attract whales than lead the UK’s youth in baggy delirium. But the punk fan that dwells in Ian Brown, the one that told him to pay titular tribute to Sid Vicious’ reimagining of Sinatra’s classic on his latest album, persevered and he’s had a career more fruitful than his wailing on those early Roses demos forecasted.
The secret is distilled perfectly on Brown’s sixth solo outing. Understanding the limits of his larynx, each of his albums has shuffled along in the same deep timbre, with just little shimmies keeping him from sounding monotonous. In fact, managing with so little, Brown’s is a voice that’s sweetly empathetic and triumphant, the thing that inspired Gallagher, Ashcroft and other daydreaming prole kids.
Of course, it’s Brown’s self-belief that makes this work. It’s what took him from skinning cow tongues in a factory at 16 to making grown men go all gooey, and it’s what paints his every song: the conviction that he’s here for his People. Whether he’s boasting about himself, like on album closer So High, or imparting his unique brand of wisdom, it’s a cold heart that doesn’t root for the man.
As an urban mystic who sees “tangerine suns” in our cities’ skies, Brown’s present stock-in-trade is marrying a hard-knock life with cosmic conspiracies. True, some of this is naff, like his obsession with bombs falling in the East (we get it, Ian) and Own Brain, which sees him constructing a song around “an anagram of my own name”.
But overall My Way is Brown’s finest since 1998’s solo bow, Unfinished Monkey Business. From the minimal, rising scales of Stellify to the pumping baggy disco of Just Like You, blissed-out anthem Always Remember Me and the mariachi activism of In the Year 2525, this is Brown at his uplifting, groovesome best. And when he sings there are “miles and miles still left to come” on Marathon Man, it’s actually quite reassuring.