Ian Brown – Ripples
- David Pollock
- 8 February 2019
Seventh solo record from the Stone Roses singer is mellow and reflective
It seems a blindingly obvious thing to say about an album by any artist, but if you aren't a fan of Ian Brown then this record – his seventh, and first in a decade following 2009's My Way – is unlikely to convince you of his greatness. Yet there are extenuating circumstances here, and many of them are emphasised even for those who love the sometime Stone Roses singer's work by the rudimentary nature of his past recordings; the bullish swagger, one-track self-confidence and only passing familiarity with technical vocal proficiency of much of the Madchester scene was patented by Brown, and if you don't like it … well, he's the embodiment of it.
Which leaves those of us with a more developed appreciation of Brown's work – admittedly fuelled in part by the legacy of his old band and the enigmatic charisma which they managed to maintain on into their unexpected 2012 reunion – to try and sift through what we actually enjoy about it. It must be said that this album presents a whole new puzzle, however, because its arrival appears to suggest that the rumours were true, and the Roses' most recent show at Glasgow's Hampden Stadium in 2017 really was their last ('don't be sad it's over, be happy that it happened,' Brown said onstage that night). Their efforts at recording since coming back had yielded only two middling songs, and much of Brown's new material is touched by the Roses' style.
The first time the Roses called it a day back in 1996, having shed half their membership in acrimonious fashion, Brown's response was his first solo album, 1998's Unfinished Monkey Business, a bitter and pissed-off record whose DIY aesthetic yielded a couple of unexpectedly gorgeous pop singles amid some dumbfoundingly rudimentary instrumentation. As another Roses break-up record, Ripples flips that template on its head; despite largely being played by Brown and his children, the musicianship and singing is all perfectly pleasing, while the mood is mellow and reflective.
It's easy to find references to the group if you look for them, most clearly on Brown's moody, electric guitar-washed cover of dancehall singer Barrington Levy's 'Black Roses', a highlight here. 'The kingdom's all inside,' he sings on 'From Chaos to Harmony', referencing the Roses' own 'Breaking Into Heaven', before pointedly chipping in, 'I'm still here singing my song… dried up (R)oses all turned to (S)tone.' None of this seems particularly bitter, however, more resigned to the passing of a gang that's had its day and comfortable in his legacy as a songwriter, a father and an inspiration to many.
It isn't particularly hard to imagine much of this music being a part of the fruitless Roses recording sessions, nor to mentally plug the other players in the group into the musical positions where they might have fitted; Mani and Reni's loose bass and drum rhythms enhancing the vaguely 'Fool's Gold'-reminiscent title track, for example, while Brown proudly declares 'it's not for glory or for riches or for honours that I sing / but to sing a song of freedom, a song we all can sing'; or John Squire's guitars lending a Clash-aping grind to 'Black Roses', or a sparse and definitively Stone Roses funk to the airy 'The Dream and the Dreamer'. The album abounds with little lyrical and sonic throwbacks to both the Roses and to Brown's past, successful solo career, yet the mood is something new and unique amid his career, something we've only rarely heard before.
There are outraged vignettes here and there – 'it's all a fix, it's all pretend / government is not your friend,' he hisses on 'The Dream and the Dreamer', while 'Blue Sky Day' manages to take the chemtrail theory and make something unusually lovely out of it – while 'First World Problems' and the budget 'I Am the Resurrection' vibes of 'Soul Satisfaction' push themselves towards the realms of actual pop hits. Yet more than either feeling, Ripples is replete with a sense of mellow contentment, that as long as music and internal, quasi-religious faith exist, then all will be well. All of this plays upon, for those who haven't already written him off, some of the most subtly pleasing work Brown has made on his own.