All you Stone Roses fans who think Ian Brown’s a God? Just stand over there a minute, will you? We just want to talk to everyone else a moment. Don’t worry. We won’t forget you. (How could we?) The rest of you: Ian Brown. Either you think he’s a big ‘so what’ or you might find, almost in spite of yourself, that he’s had more than a fair few stellar moments. Tell Me. Sally Cinnamon. The 12” of Elephant Stone. I Wanna be Adored. Fool’s Gold. Love Spreads. Begging You. My Star. Corpses in their Mouths. F.E.A.R. Be There. Keep What Ya Got. Wherever you figure on the Ian Brown spectrum, more than likely there’s been a time or two you’ve thought he’s got something particularly his own. And that particular something often incorporates a spectacular inability to sing live without alienating even one of his fans.
Ripples is his first solo album in a decade, the first album he’s released in his 50s (and sorry but, fuck me, Ian Brown is in his 50s – can we all stop and feel sorry for ourselves a moment at the inexorable passage of time?), the first album since all of the Roses reunions and the curiously unsatisfying Shane Meadows’ movie and the mystery fall-outs and big pay-offs and the as yet unrequited hints of a new album and the underwhelming singles and all of the what have you’s. So how is it?
The short answer is: it’s like an Ian Brown album. If you read that and feel the first stirrings of disappointment, there you go. Keep that warm. He could have come back with a career-defining statement of intent, something that roared out of the gate, something that shook you up, something that said, “What the fuck do you need a new Stone Roses album for? I’m here and I’m all the ‘Rose you need.” Needless to say, it doesn’t do that.
It kicks off with a mellow keyboard/jazzy bass vibe, Brown singing about ‘First World Problems’, “the way you’re living is easy.” His voice sounds good, rich with all of the earthy Ian Brown charm we’ve come to expect. No mid-career falsetto side-step a la Tim Burgess for Brown. It’s mildly hooky, pleasant enough, sounds like a B-side. If B-sides existed any more. But at nearly six minutes about four minutes too long.
‘Black Roses’ is up next, a song that harks back to the Roses’ gothy roots without quite ever cutting loose (and you can’t help but think about ‘Tell Me’ and urge Brown to push it, a bit). By ‘Breathe and Breathe Easy (The Neverness of Now)’ – imagine Brown having a go at writing ‘Norwegian Wood’ on a badly out of tune guitar – your willingness to accede to his genius is starting to wear thin. ‘The Dream and the Dreamer’ kicks off with a groovy bassline but that’s all it has and Brown’s cod self help book lyrics are starting to irritate the shit out of us. (I’m reminded of Will Self saying Inception was a smart film for stupid people. Ian Brown’s lyrical style is philosophy for dummies.)
By the time you hit the half way point – ‘From Chaos to Harmony’, ‘It’s Raining Diamonds’ – a bigger problem reveals itself. The songs don’t grow or go anywhere. They start in a place, they stay in that place, Brown extemporises over a lazy groove, minutes of your life pass by and then one song ends and another starts to be repeated ad infinitum (or at least ad infinitum is how it feels). “Ian. Mate,” you want to say. “Where are the tunes? Is this what you’ve spent the last decade cooking up? Seriously?”
There are glimpses of what might have been in the title track (which at least gets up off its arse and spends three and a half minutes trying to get you up dancing) but for the most part this is one for the fans, one for those people who still thinks he’s the Monkey King, those people who never saw anything wrong with The Second Coming, those who don’t need John Squires’ lyrical wit (or, for that matter, his way with a Strat). Time and again – ‘Blue Sky Day’, ‘Soul Satisfaction’ – things kick off with the hint of a wink, that sense of “here we go!”, this’ll be the one that roars… but there’s no roaring. And by the time you hit the album’s closer, ‘Break Down the Walls (Warm Up Jam)’, well, the less said about Ian Brown’s cod reggae attempt at patois the better. To say Ripples ends on a low is a polite understatement.
If he takes another decade to release another album, we might be okay with that.
Words by Pete Wild.