It can't be easy being Ian Brown. The man who seemingly could have
had it all during Britain's late '80s "Madchester" era managed to
blow it with the Stone Roses, a once-promising band that ended with
the most simpering of whimpers, then had to watch an inferior band
they'd influenced Oasis attain the U.S. success they
themselves never achieved.
As a solo artist, Brown has yet to find himself. His third solo
album, Music of the Spheres, is an improvement over his lo-fi
solo debut and his over-produced second disc, but it misses as often
as it hits.
Electronic sounds (perhaps inspired by his brief collaboration with
UNKLE on the "Be Here" single a few years back) predominate on
Spheres, which exhibits some of the quality-control issues
that have plagued every album on which Brown has appeared since the
Roses' flawless debut. Things start out strongly with the symphonic
strings of first single "F.E.A.R.," an initialism that the singer
proceeds to spell out over the course of this melodic track (e.g.,
"For each a rule/ For every man a religion"), with the delicate
plucking of a guitar alternating with the heavy beatbox rhythm and
machine bass growls. "Stardust" is a homage to his former group,
opening with a Roses-sounding guitar squall, and including Roses
references such as "I'm made from stardust."
Things get dicier with "The Gravy Train," with its plodding chorus
and clichéd references to cocaine and vampires as emblems of
materialism, and from there the album meanders. Highlights include
the beautiful, ambient "Northern Lights," the jaunty "Bubbles," and
the concluding, acoustic strum-fueled "Shadow of a Saint." But there
are too many low points, in particular the minimalistic, nearly
spoken-word "Hear No See No" (evil, of course) and the silly "El
Mundo Pequeño" Spanish for "the small world"
which is just as trite a love song in English as in the Spanish form
featured on this disc. (Though Brown's mastery of the subjunctive
verb form, slayer of many students of the Spanish language, is
Three albums into his solo career, Brown continues to show ambition,
which is a plus. Still he reminds me of that guy from high school
maybe you know him, or one of his doppelgängers
who isn't that smart but wants to be known as an intellectual, and
isn't afraid to grow his hair out, wear a baja or poncho, and promote
"world" culture whilst not really knowing a thing about it. He's
daft, but still good for a few tunes per disc that make one miss the
early Stone Roses all the more.