Ex-Stone Roses Singer Not Just Monkeying Around On New LP

Ian Brown returns with solo debut and collaborates with original Roses bassist and drummer.

A 23-year-old electrical engineering student who runs the Stone Roses-centric "Garage Full of Flowers" website, Michael J. Quinn may not know much yet about Ian Brown's solo debut that's due out next week, but the one song he's heard has already whet his appetite for the charismatic singer's sound.

Lamenting that "as an American living in the Midwest, I have heard absolutely nothing about the release," Quinn said he was quite anxious to get his hands on a copy of Unfinished Monkey Business. "I did get 'My Star' in MP3 format," he said, referring to the Internet capability for downloading songs from the Web for listening. "And though it is not a great recording, I can tell that it is an incredible song."

While the world has already heard from the other ex-leader of the Stone Roses, guitarist John Squire (and his Seahorses), Roses fans are now preparing for the solo debut of the singer for the band that helped put Manchester, England, on the rock 'n' roll map during the '80s.

The title of Brown's 12-track album, scheduled for release in England on Feb. 2 but not currently slated for a U.S. release, is a reference, it seems, to his "King Monkey" nickname, which derives from his simian-like stage presence. Most of the tracks were written in collaboration with Aziz Ibrahim, the ex-Simply Red guitarist who was brought in to replace Squire at the Stone Roses' ill-received set at the 1996 Reading Festival in England, their last-ever live show.

The Stone Roses were among the leaders of the druggy, dance-rock Manchester scene of the mid- to late '80s, their heavy, psychedelic club-rock sound propelled by Squire's massive, Jimi Hendrix-style guitars and Brown's slack-jawed vocals. They released one classic album, 1989's The Stone Roses, which contained the instant hits "Fool's Gold" and "I Wanna Be Adored." However, after more than five years of recording and legal hassles in producing their second, disheveled album, Second Coming, the group called it quits in 1996, following the departure of drummer Alan "Reni" Wren and, more disastrously, Squire.

In the latest issue of British men's lifestyle magazine Loaded, Brown blamed the group's dissolution on Squire's drug use. When asked what caused the inter-band squabbles that lead to the breakup, Brown told the magazine, "money and coke. When Squire got into coke, it wrecked the Stone Roses."

Brown's album, however, is a reunion of sorts for the group, barring, of course, Squire. The song "Can't See Me" is based on a drum and bass part that was put down by ex-Roses bassist Gary "Mani" Mountfield -- also the song's co-author -- and ex-Roses drummer Wren. To add an even more familial feel, the song "What Happened to Ya Pt. 1" was penned by Brown and Ibrahim with ex-Roses keyboard player Nigel Ippinson and late-period Roses drummer Robbie Maddux. The same four also co-wrote the reprise of that song, "What Happened to Ya Pt. 2." Ippinson is given sole writing-credit on the song "Nah, Nah."

"It's not a classic," said Richard Gelder, who runs the "John Squire Homepage" and has already heard Brown's album. But before you accuse Gelder of being biased in the fractious Squire-vs.-Brown debate, he added, "but then neither was the Seahorses' [1997 debut] Do It Yourself. There just seems to be something missing in Brown and Squire's solo efforts. And the irony is that it's each other."

Gelder said that as far as he was concerned, the album's first single, "My Star" -- which entered the British charts at #5 last week -- was perhaps not the best first-foray into the solo world for Brown. " 'My Star' stands out as the track that got the most 'attention' with some quite tidy production put into it," Gelder said. "It's a bit slow to dance to and its pretty much immediate slump in the current U.K. top 40 reflects it." More grabbing, according to Gelder, is "Can't See Me," which he added, "shows just how classy the Roses really were ... and how exciting the post-'Fool's Gold' Roses could have been if they had chosen to go in that direction."

Brown seemed to add credence to this comment in the Loaded piece, where, in response to a question about whether his solo debut is the Roses album that never was, he said, "It could have been. 'Fool's Gold,' that time, that's what the LP would have been if John hadn't turned into a rocker."

The album, which was produced and mixed by Brown, also features the songs "Ice Cold Cube," "Sunshine," "Lions," "Corpses in Their Mouths" and "Pipe Dreams." [Sat., Jan. 31, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]