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Ian Brown – Rules Review

From singing about trees keeping him stuck in the house during a pandemic to using a mix track to back his live shows, the perspiring, desperate reinvention of Ian Brown continues. At least he tries. Like a cat trying to unfurl some tinfoil, on he goes, the former Stone Roses frontman toying with whatever he can find next. Latest track Rules does not, as its title suggests, rule. Those bells which toll at the start are not for thee, although the darker fusion appearing on Rules is of real interest. Brown is actively attempting something, trying and winding a way through saxophones and chilling utilisations of brass which complement his downtempo style. Rules goes a long way in showing Brown still has it. 

Navigating through the relatively tame and structured lyrics of rich getting richer and poor getting poorer, Rules is far more interesting for its instrumentals than anything else. Perhaps it is the shock to the system Brown and listeners needed after his two-chord terrors on Little Seed, Big Tree. All who try their hand at a lockdown track were worse off for it, but Brown has shaken off the embarrassment and hit back with a nail-biting, whining guitar which would settle well on a B-Side from The Specials. Another ripple in the waves of a big ocean, Rules uses its horn-heavy focus as a lifting point for Brown, who still appears to be moving himself away from an image he drew up for himself over the last few years of lockdown.  

This is not a reaction to that or to his time in isolation but a completely independent piece. Rules does not feel tied to anything, nor anybody, as Brown makes clear through lyrics of denial and being abused by those we love. The emotional bait and switch carried forth by a singer whose work here far exceeds his recent efforts. A shift in momentum is what every artist finds themselves searching for at a time of self-confusion, and where Brown succeeds is in taking Rules away from any perception of poor public opinion. Instead, he hones himself to the denial of structure, he pours himself over a real detailed experience which still maintains a detachment from the world around him. It makes for an interesting listen, of course, the shimmering horns and the darker pockets of Rules are an interesting addendum to Brown’s later works. 

Maybe it is naïve to extract Rules from the controversy of Brown’s previous track, but developing a song for or against government-mandated lockdowns is never easy. Van Morrison and Billy Bragg both found themselves at odds through that and the only artist to make it through with a successful approach to the last few years of living is Frank Turner, just one song. Still, extract Brown from this place of previous controversy and take Rules at face value, a nice enough experience. It is hard to see how it ties in with another reference to an event which took place three years ago. Either it is rent-free in Brown’s mind or he is now finding himself exploring political topics already flogged to death by angrier, presently aware artists. Don’t let that steal from the horns though, they’re nice.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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