Album Reviews

Ian Brown – The Greatest

(Polydor) UK release date: 19 September 2005

Confidence can get you a long way. Sometime it can get you all the way. Indeed, some cruel wags might say it’s what’s got Ian Brown this far – bluster, bravado and not much else. But hey, if it’s good enough for Liam Gallagher and Tom Kasabian to steal wholesale, there must be something in it? Right? Right?

Well, yes, there’s something in it, but not everything. Brown is far more than just the sum of his swagger, he’s a risk taker and a genuinely unique songwriter – something which The Greatest illustrates admirably. While the tendency is to be a bit sniffy about retrospective collections, and no doubt there can be that faint whiff of creative bankruptcy about them, a final attempt to milk the last drops from the cash-cow of fame before it’s carted off to the abattoir of obscurity, it’s not the pervasive smell here.

Nope, this isn’t a wake, it’s a party, a party which serves two purposes: firstly, a celebration of a career that’s doing very well thank you, and secondly, and this is important now, as a notice to Stop. Asking. About. Reuniting. The. Fucking. Stone. Roses. Please.

Because one thing you can say about Brown is he seems unwilling to retread ground already covered. Unfinished Monkey Business begat Golden Gaze begat Music Of The Spheres begat Solarized, and on each occasion the evolution produced something that was better than what had preceded it. But that’s not to belittle any of them, The Greatest’s even(ish) spread from all four solo albums demonstrates all had undeniable high points, it’s just Brown’s restless musical experimentation, one of the things which helps to make him of such interest, occasionally produced results which weren’t as appealing.

Here we just get the moments when it all clicks into place: My Star’s fleeting glimpse of a world where a third Roses album of lo-fi, spaced-out, swirling psychedelia exists; F.E.A.R’s string beds and ceaseless chanted mantra, a hymn from the funkiest religion in the world, and the collaborations with UNKLE showing that what you really need to enliven your bleak, apocalyptic trip-hop is muttered whispers from an Adidas clad shamen.

And we’ve not even mentioned the mariachi trumpet parps (Time Is My Everything), densely dubby driving melodies (Golden Gaze) and commentary on modern evolutionary theory (Dolphins Were Monkeys). That, people, is what we call range; it’s difficult to think of another quite like Ian Brown, with such a desire to try new things; happier to experiment and push the boundaries than take the easy way out.

He wanted to be adored and once more, he is. It’s taken a while, mind you, but his re-ascendence to idol status couldn’t have been timed better. He’s been a very naughty boy, and now he’s back to being the messiah. And my, doesn’t it suit.

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More on Ian Brown
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Ian Brown – The World Is Yours
Ian Brown + Scratch Perverts @ Islington Academy, London