England - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 17 - 03/13/98
Unfinished Monkey Business
In August 1996, The Stone Roses played what was to become their last ever
concert at England's Reading Festival. It has become part of rock history for
all the wrong reasons. The press focused on one man - the singer, Ian Brown.
A man who had enjoyed fawning praise at the turn of the decade had come full
circle. For many at that gig, it wasn't the Roses on the stage, it was more
of a tribute band featuring Brown and the bassist Mani. I was actually right
down the front at that gig, and enjoyed every minute, singing along with the
crowd. But I've heard the bootlegs and Brown's vocals were appalling. The press
crucified him, and a few weeks later, Mani joined Primal Scream and Brown
announced the end of The Stone Roses.
Almost everyone pinned their hopes on John Squire, the Roses guitarist who
had left the band before Reading. He had written most of the music on their last
album, and was perceived as the talent of the band. He was the only Roses member
retained by Geffen Records and there were high hopes for his new band, The Seahorses.
Until the records came out. There was almost universal disappointment when Squire's
new music was heard. Formulaic, often dull and unambitious. An unqualified commercial
success, but a critical non-starter. It has it's moments, but isn't an album I play
regularly if at all.
All of which makes Ian Brown's return this year all the more triumphant. Against
all the odds, Brown's debut album is superior to Squire in just about every possible
way. Unfinished Monkey Business (what a great title) is one of those records
which explains why I am so obsessed with music. A fantastic surprise.
It's not an album that is going to sell millions, mainly because it is so incredibly
ambitious. Before last year, Brown couldn't play an instrument. On this album, he produced
all of the tracks, and plays guitar, bass, keyboards and harmonica. At times, it shows and
on the first few listens I couldn't help but wish the album had been recorded more
professionally, but now I realise that's not the point. This is a massive statement from
Ian Brown to those who have questioned his talent. There are many others on the record,
including the session musicians who were with him at Reading, but they really are bit
players. This is Brown's album, make no mistake. He's been telling the world to wake up
since day one of the Stone Roses. This is his way, he's made an album by himself. Ironically,
the Seahorses album is called Do It Yourself. He's done that.
It's easy to be critical. The title track is an awful instrumental that finishes the album.
The "duet" with Denise Johnson, Lions is frankly irritating, and as I've hinted earlier,
it occasionally sounds very amateur. But to be over-critical is to take away from the beauty,
the art, and the astonishing ambition, that runs through the record. Listening to tracks like
the single My Star (a song which gets better with each listen), Can't See Me, and
forthcoming release Corpses In Their Mouths (a Situationist lyric, which is one of the
album's themes), makes me deliriously happy that Ian Brown is still around. He makes a return
to the live arena with festival appearances this summer. The gigs could be a triumph or disaster.
It will be exciting to find out. Good luck Ian.
Copyright © 1998 Craig Scrogie