You are an American, probably male, approximately 30 years of age, and your affinity, when it comes to music, for everything British has waned considerably over the last decade. It’s pretty much dead. You won’t even listen to the new Oasis record on a Virgin Megastore listening station when it comes out. So you must be chipper to hear that there is a new Ian Brown solo record in the racks. It’s called Solarized, it’s $27.99 on import, and it’s filed right behind The Stone Roses “Best-Of” at your favorite indie record store. A decade ago you had no problem plunking down $10 for an import single, but those heady days are long gone. Besides, you’re saving your pennies for that Lee Mavers solo record, the one he’s currently re-recording in his neighbor’s tool shed in Liverpool.
In case you haven’t been keeping track (and you know you haven’t), Solarized is Brown’s fourth solo record since the sad demise of The Stone Roses. Brown was the vocalist who sang the words “I Wanna Be Adored”, “I Am the Resurrection”, and quite prophetically, “Fools Gold”. He also helped to give us the word “baggy”. The story of The Stone Roses has been well documented. You can find it in a million other places.
Since the mid-‘90s, Brown has traded in the catchy pop confections of The Stone Roses for a worldlier aesthetic and droning bass grooves, but that doesn’t mean his music should not be sought out, because his solo work remains something of a lost treasure, or at the very least a curiosity. To these ears “Corpses in Their Mouths”, from 1997’s Unfinished Monkey Business, remains an all-time favorite and that album, in spots, showed what a latter-day Roses record should have sounded like. That said, 2001’s Music of the Spheres is complete and utter shit and should be avoided at all costs. Ultimately, it is the level of appreciation for a song like “Corpses in Their Mouths” that will determine your appreciation for Ian Brown the solo artist.
Luckily, Solarized finds Brown regaining the melodic sense that eluded him on most of MOTS, his voice bringing an effortless cool to tracks like “Upside Down”, which pares descending bass lines with a hypnotic chorus, and the guitar-driven “Destiny Or Circumstance”. “Time Is My Everything” throws a little Mariachi style brass into the mix with another strong melody, and “One Way Ticket To Paradise” sizzles thanks to longtime collaborator Aziz Abraham, whose massive Middle Eastern guitar crunch here approximates Jimmy Page but comes dangerously close to Whitesnake-era Steve Vai.
First single “Keep What Ya Got” is a nifty collaboration with Oasis’ Noel Gallagher, a straightforward guitar track made all the better by Brown’s sneering vocal inflections and limited use of a few piano keys. By no means a technically sound vocalist (he stays very much in the mid-range), Brown shows once again that style and swagger can certainly go a long way.
“Longsight M13” (the title referencing a part of Manchester where “Free Ian Brown” graffiti exists, stemming from Brown’s incarceration for air rage after he threatened to chop off the hands of a stewardess aboard a British Airways flight from Paris in 1998) incorporates some backwards guitar with some daft lyrical rave flair (“Let the stars shine on / To the break of dawn”), “Kiss Ya Lips (No ID)” graphs a light house beat and harmonica to some anti-authority ramblings about proposed use of ID tags to combat terrorism (“Mister number maker / ID tags don’t stop no high jacked jet”) and the album ends with a driving instrumental track. Ultimately, these are the type of songs that sound even better over a shared bottle of red wine. So much so that someone nearby may just ask aloud, “Is this The Stone Roses?”