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Ian Brown
My Way Mick Middles , October 1st, 2009 07:07

Time to reflect, rather than to reform. Ian Brown's dignified distance — from notions of the Roses, from EVERYTHING, perhaps — is allowed to continue here, seven albums into a most unlikely solo career. However, as he notes within this thoughtful if occasionally clunky batch of lyrics, life has never seemed so good. Why, indeed, would he yearn for the myriad pressures of band life? Now he drifts in a lovely freedom, a freedom that adds freshness to this tumble of songs.

The trademarks are intact. Brown's time-honoured trick of balancing contemporary rhythm, which began on that much celebrated Roses debut album, with intelligent echoes of the past seems perfectly at ease here. Indeed, while wildly captivating moments of ground-breaking intensity are not to be found, there is still little to dislike.

The trick lies in the title. A blatant claim for individuality, for sure. Brown has earned the right to be treated seriously as a solo artist rather than a gormless drifter from the fleeting brilliance of his former band. So here, more than on any of his other albums, we find a celebration that trips through the decades with an ease that belies his general stance (of a baggily clad musical sponge, soaking up beats from around the globe). Honestly — the strand of influence twists far deeper here than anyone might imagine. You may have guessed this from the stirring psychedelic nu-folk that leads you into the pounding 'Stellify'. A love song with sex beat intensity . . . about whom? Well, I could hazard a guess but am not about to unleash it here. 'Stellify' could be a sound that drifts around the streets of Notting Hill Gate in 1973; a far cry from The Bronx, you might be forgiven for assuming. It's a trick of memory, perhaps, or a musing on the cyclical nature of time.

I'm not sure whether it's mere accident or sheer genius of timing, but the refreshed sound of the Fabs circa Rubber Soul surfaces in a number of unlikely places here, like cheeky nods to Brown's old bedroom Dansette. A clever choice, as it hones in on Beatles at their most evocative: in the whirl of London as the mid to late-60s took hold, the moment the music changed.

The inclusion of the Zager and Evans one-hit wonder 'In the year 2525' is a simple glimpse at a time when a number one record could literally hold the power to soundtrack an entire summer, no doubt carrying Brown back to a childhood mist, as his family prepared to move the six-year-old from Warrington to Wythenshawe, taking him through holidays and schooldays, and THAT record remaining in the air. A mystical flash of inspiration, as number one records often seemed to be back then. Obviously, it was a moment that lodged firmly in the Brown subconscious.

And this is the key. Prior to hearing this album, I had read a number of reviews, mostly reverential, that indicated a pleasant continuum. I disagree. There is a novelistic air to My Way that sees the solo artist in full control — much more so than on any previous outing. Back then, even way back, when the Roses were flying, Brown's personality lay, just like his voice, temptingly in the undertone. You could hardly blame him or producer John Leckie; Brown was the lightweight in a weighty mix of an exceptional musicianship that belied those open-mouthed stares. Not so now.

This is not a perfect album by any means: there's a weakening, disappointing drift to the final quarter. However, the overall impression is not of the jukebox sound of a man burdened with a gargantuan record collection — which has perhaps been the casual perception of Brown to date — but, curiously in sync with his good friend Johnny Marr, that things have started to change.

This is the sound of Ian Brown, solo artist of stature. An artist capable of editing his influences, who refuses to bow to the drifts of the contemporary. What's more, it's about time more people recognised this and stopped their incessant middle-aged bleating for some ruinous reunion. This is here, now and marvellously tuned-in. There are few modern artists so capable of flitting through time and genre. He is not only lovable (we all know he's that) he is also precious in the truest sense. About time too.