When The Stone Roses split, the general consensus was that it would be John Squire who’d be the most successful solo act. He co-wrote the songs, played guitar like a genius and even designed the sleeves. That monkey bloke who sang off-tune half the time? Nah, he’ll never amount to much…
How things change. In 2007, Squire’s post-Roses output consists of The Seahorses and two underwhelming solo albums, while Ian Brown is onto his fifth album, released a Greatest Hits collection last year and can attract the likes of Andy Rourke (ex-The Smiths), and former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones to play on The World Is Yours.
Brown’s fifth album saw him give up cannabis while recording, and it’s as if the dope smoke has cleared from his vision and he’s realised what a terrible place the world is. For this is Brown’s ‘state of the nation’ album, where he addresses topics such as war, famine, the demonisation of young people and alleged corruption of the Catholic Church. With varying degrees of success, it has to be said.
Musically however, Brown sounds in fine fettle. There’s a sweeping, cinematic feel to the tracks here, with most songs benefiting from a lushly orchestrated string section. It works so well that you can imagine someone tapping Brown up for the next James Bond theme. There’s also some bleeping electronica on The Feeding Of The 5000, hints of hip-hop on Eternal Flame, and fierce guitars and beats aplenty.
Brown is never going to be described as the world’s greatest singer, and he does sound as flat as ever here, especially on Some Folk Are Hollow or On Track. Yet the stirring string arrangements lifts the spirits, and the title track, Eternal Flame and Goodbye To The Broken all sound particularly good, like The Verve from their Urban Hymns era.
However, there’s a big problem with The World Is Yours, and that’s the lyrics. Although Brown is to be commended for braving topics that other songwriters would fear to tread, he has a habit of expressing his sentiments in the most laughably simplistic terms.
Illegal Attacks, the much heralded single, is the biggest culprit here – although musically it’s one of the highlights, we have to listen to Brown and guest vocalist Sinead O’Connor tell us that war is very bad, we’re only in Iraq because of the oil (blimey Ian, a surprising allegation that one…), with clumsy couplets like “I’m talking concrete facts, so bring the soldiers back” or “Does not a day go by without the Israeli Air Force fail to drop its bombs from the sky?”.
It’s not the only such low-point – Street Children puts forward the rather simplistic idea that people with big houses should open their doors to homeless children and let them live there, while Save Us criticises “those whose eyes are closed to the plight of the African child” – laudable sentiments to be sure, but ones which leave Brown with an even bigger messiah than the likes of Bono.
It’s a shame, as in parts The World Is Yours is Brown at his very best. Yet lyrics that strive to sound important, worthy and taboo-busting just come across as banal. Worth buying if you’re a Brown fan, but expect to suppress a cringe or two at times.