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REVIEW: Ian Brown – ‘Ripples’ (Virgin EMI / Polydor)


In a sentence:

Despite a handful of compelling moments, Ian Brown’s first solo album in a decade ‘Ripples’ sounds unfinished and under-produced.

Ian Brown’s solo career resumes after a full decade, a period which has seen the glorious and unlikely second coming of his former band The Stone Roses for a couple of spectacular reunion tours. Unlike his rambunctious and spirited first forays by himself – 1998’s Unfinished Monkey Business and 1999’s Golden Greats – that followed the messy pile-up of The Stone Roses’ first disintegration, Brown’s seventh album Ripples follows a much more peaceful parting of ways than last time around, something which seems to have bled into the material.

Brown’s performance and vocal style has always been one of a kind of mystical street prophet, offering up positive vibes, vague anti-establishment sentiments and home-spun northern wisdom framed as unique philosophical insights into the soul. His latter-day output, barring the odd belter like ‘Stellify’ from his last album My Way ten years ago, tended to lapse into a formulaic mix of shuffling post-Madchester beats and the odd bit of spiritual and political hectoring. Nowhere near as hackneyed as anything for which the solo Richard Ashcroft has been responsible, but Brown had done it pretty much to death by 2009.

Pretty much the only resoundingly positive aspect of Ripples is that at it least threatens to change things up, even if it’s not particularly successfully at doing so. Much more so than any of Brown’s previous solo outings, has the feeling of a series of intimate and impromptu jam sessions, built around grooves and his well-known love of dub and reggae. Much of the material was co-written and performed with his sons, making it very much a family affair, and that bleeds through into its most compelling moments. Recent single ‘Black Roses’, a cover of the Barrington Levy original with its maximal production and rumbling riff, is the best of these, and the light-fingered funk of ‘The Dream And The Dreamer’ and the upbeat ‘Soul Satisfaction’ run it pretty close.

Lyric video for ‘Black Roses’

But quite a lot of the time, the live-in-the-studio vibes leave many moments on the album feeling a bit unfinished or under-produced. The preposterously titled ‘Breathe And Breathe Easy (The Everness Of Now)’ leaves Brown’s voice horribly over-exposed with its bare acoustic guitar backing. His vocals are often unfairly derided, but it’s never been able to do too much of the heavy lifting, as can be heard here.

Elsewhere, the problem on Ripples seems to be a lack of quantity control, as well as that truly stand-out quality that made previous hits like ‘Golden Gaze’ and ‘F.E.A.R.’ so brilliant. Lead single and album opener ‘First World Problems’, for instance, simply repeats its one riff and verse of lyrics for a completely unnecessary six minutes with absolutely no variation. If cut in half and given a little more post-production attention, it would be decent, but it’s simply infuriating. The same is true of the closing cover of Mikey Dread’s ‘Break Down The Walls’, complete with ill-advised Jamaican patois inflections, and the grinding trundle of ‘From Chaos To Harmony’ that never gets out of first gear.

Music video for ‘First World Problems’

This lack of variety within the tracks themselves, coupled with Brown’s band’s apparent tendency to not know when to stop, makes Ripples a real trudge, despite the presence of a handful of compelling moments that showcase the singer’s former glories, and possibilities for where he could go in the future. While Ian Brown has his sizeable fanbase who’ll be glad to hear from their hero once more, Ripples represents absolutely nothing more than business as usual, and offers very little reason for the rest of us to care, particularly now that that much-anticipated Stone Roses reunion album seems to have been permanently shelved. (4/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to Ripples by Ian Brown here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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