Ian Brown

My Way

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After the Stone Roses' shambolic demise, few would have predicted that frontman Ian Brown would go on to achieve both a prolific solo career that would far outlast the band's, and sustain a loyal following that worships him as though he was the personification of the Roses' difficult sophomore album, Second Coming. But 12 years after his debut, the man who's influenced pretty much every lad-rock band of the '90s and 2000sis back with his sixth studio album, My Way. Produced by longtime collaborator Dave McCracken, it may be named after Sid Vicious' anarchic cover of the Sinatra standard, but it's the only trace of Brown's early punk leanings on an album which is perhaps his most punchy, hook-laden, and immediate to date. Indeed, eschewing the politically charged dub-reggae/hip-hop of its predecessor, The World Is Yours, Brown has gone straight for the jugular on 12 tracks which are said to have been inspired by Michael Jackson's seminal opus Thriller. A rather tenuous link with monkeys aside (Brown's first album was titled Unfinished Monkey Business, a play on his "King Monkey" nickname), at first glance, there appears to be very little in common between the King of Pop and the King of Madchester. And while it's ludicrous to suggest that there's anything on My Way that sounds even remotely similar to Jackson's groundbreaking epic, it does appear to have at least attempted to adhere to its "all killer, no filler" policy. Opening track "Stellify" doesn't quite stand up to his claim that it was originally intended for Rihanna, but its jaunty piano stabs, pounding military beats, and triumphant horn section provide his most infectious single since 2001's "F.E.A.R." His newfound chart-bound stance continues by teaming up with esteemed songwriter-for-hire Amanda Ghost (James Blunt, Beyoncé) on "For the Glory," a vitriolic attack on former Roses' guitarist John Squire and the doom-laden electronica of "Vanity Kills." But My Way is much more interesting when Brown is left to his own devices. "Crowning of the Poor" is a working-class call to arms set against a backdrop of menacing synth stabs and the kind of underground grime beats you'd find on the first Dizzee Rascal album; "Always Remember Me" is a blissed-out shoegazing ballad full of rousing strings and My Bloody Valentine-esque distorted guitars; while the anagram-titled "Own Brain," is a groove-laden blend of Timbaland-style R&B and '80s synth pop which sees Brown "get down with the kids" without any "embarrassing dad" connotations. My Way's adventurous nature is sometimes hampered by the limitations of Brown's monotonous and so-laid-back-he's-horizontal vocal tones, particularly on the Southern soul pastiche "So High" and his spaced-out interpretation of Zager & Evans' 1969 chart-topper "In the Year 2525," while his talents as a lyricist are always going to be called into question with couplets like "Your actions more than sisterly/The future is a mystery," and the rather misplaced, self-aggrandizing themes of "Laugh Now." But while his baggy contemporaries continue to sully their own legacies with half-hearted cash-in reunions, Brown should be applauded for continuing to look to the future rather than resting on his laurels. My Way may not live up to Brown's rather bombastic praise, but it's an inventive and consistently strong collection of songs which sounds more like a debut from someone in the prime of their youth than a middle-aged Mancunian 20 years into his career.

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