Is Brown A Golden Great?
The cool glow of the Sun gets slightly warmer as it moves from highly objective Aquarius to deeply subjective Pisces. Today is day one of the season of the fish and 2/20 is marked by some pretty famous birthdays including the flannel-clad-punk Christ of Gen-X, Kurt Kobain and the re-knowned mound of rebound, Sir Charles Barkely, but I have to spend some time giving a shout out to one of my favorite artists of all time, Ian Brown. Jim Morrison was “The Lizard King” but Brown is “King Monkey.” The feisty Mancunian sports some decidedly simian features and in the tradition of Hanuman, the trickster he has been known to goad, taunt and provoke, sometimes with rather stern outcomes to his antics. In 1998, he threatened a stewardess with a plastic knife and wound up in Strangeways for four months, where he converted to Islam, because the food was better (Halal diet). He’s also attacked talk show hosts and incited riots on stage. But for all of his bluster and bravado, I cannot think of any other artist who is more relevant to our times than Brown.
He first burst onto the scene during the Mancunian Renaissance of 1989-92 at the height of The Hacienda, where his band, The Stone Roses, along with The Happy Mondays and Inspiral Carpets were fixtures, christening a new brand British music that encompassed the “Shoe Gazer” sound and scene, to the Oasis fueled (another Manchester band) Brit-pop sound. The Stones Roses powered by Browns haunting vocals staked their claim to fame with two killer singles, “I Want To Be Adored” and “Fools Gold.” The former was a hypnotic and hook driven paean to pure idolatry, while the latter was a funk driven workout, propelled by dance beats that were quickly becoming part of the Manchester scene with the rise of DJ culture, ecstascy etc. Hailed as the future of British Rock, The Roses wilted under the pressure and expectations. In-fighting took place between Brown and bandmatet, John Squire and the drummer was busted for theft. Meanwhile, they scrapped with their record company and took far-too-long to release their second album, which by the time that they did, were nearly irrelevant in the rapidly changing music scene.
With the eventual demise of the band, Brown set out on a solo career that has yielded some real gems.
Brown put out Unfinished Monkey Business in 1998 and Golden Greats in 1999, but for me, his trajectory as a solo artist reaches lift-off velocity on Music Of The Spheres in 2001. It’s an incredibly smart and deeply spiritual record powered by glitchy beats, soaring melodies, exotic guitar work and luscious production. I’ve listened to a A LOT of music in my time and I rarely, if ever tire of re-visiting this record. It kicks of with Brown’s own favorite track, an anthemic masterpiece titled, “F.E.A.R.”. In the song he plays with the letters of fear as acronyms for any number of states and possibilities like, “Find Earth And Reap” or “Forget Everything And Remember” or “For Everything A Reason” or “Fantastic Expectations Amazing Revelations” and “Free Expression As Revolution.” It’s brilliant. He turns fear inside out, on it’s head and redeems it. While the hooks and acronyms are still buzzing in your head, Brown then hits you with “Stardust” where he breaks out the glitchy and twitchy tweaky beats and then begins to ruminate on his celestial origins, seeing into the cosmic origins of his DNA “same as stardust.” It’s simply brilliant. Before I jump to the equally impressive follow-up to Music Of The Spheres, Solarized, there’s one other track on “MOTS” that I have to give some love to; “Shadow Of Saint.” It starts off as a mystic vision of encounter with an angel on hillside and then you begin to realize that Brown is talking about his earthly love as well as his spiritual paramour. It’s a deeply affirmative track trumpets grace in this world and others.
He followed up his success of “MOTS” with Solarized released in 2004. It’s just as good as it’s predescor. He continues to meld dance grooves and guitars and kicks it all off with “Longsight M13” which adds a slightly middle-eastern-vibe with a tasty backwards guitar riff, ala Brian Jones. I could go on and on get deeply into each track, but the sake of brevity and having to mention one other Brown release, his most recent, I just want to mention two tracks that really kick some serious ass. The first is “Kiss Ya Lips (No ID” which has s slight, smokey, Morrocan, Gnawa vibe fused with a killer dance groove and Brown sings about identity, personal freedoms, bio-metrics and micro-chip implants, “I ain’t no number.” Who else is singing about this stuff? The other stellar track is “Keep What You Got” where he teams up with Noel Gallagher on guitar. It’s got the feel of someone who has lived a lot and not just in this lifetime. It has the perspective of the ephemeral and eternal in a way that only someone that has access to a vast perspective can communicate. In my estimation, these two records are on a par with a classic like Van Morrison’sAstral Weeks .
On his latest release, Brown went in a different musical direction fusing funk and soul grooves with strings and takes a decidedly more political perspective on The World Is Yours. Again, we find him singing about material that other artists just won’t touch. He teams up with Sinead O’Conner on“Illegal Attacks” which might be the best anti-war song of the Iraqi occupation. What makes it so chilling is how Brown flips the tables in this video and sees the war as being much closer to home than others think. It’s another milestone in his brilliant career.
Astrologically he’s got that same 0 degree Pisces Sun that Cobain had, but Cobain’s ascendant was straddled by Uranus and Pluto, making him an almost trans-personal figurehead. Unfortunately, I cannot find a copy of Brown’s birth chart, but the ephemeris can offer some insight into his process and psyche.
Whenever a sign shows up at zero degrees, it’s at it’s most potent expression, so here we find Brown as a font of creativity and mysticism, channeling that Piscean yearning to return to the source. And, like any good Pisces, he even did some jail time. With his Moon and Venus in Capricorn, there’s an emotionally stubborn quality to him, the aspects of a survivor. No matter what his circumstances are, Brown will not go away anytime soon and in fact, will actually find deeper emotional satisfaction as he gets older and both planets are touched by Pluto, transforming the foundation of relating (Moon) and relationships (Venus). His Mercury in Aquarius provides him with is rebellious streak and quick mind. It allows him to embrace any number of genres and styles to sing from. His Mars is in proud Leo, and opposes that Aquarian Mercury. Can you say “authority issues?” “hot temper?” Hello Strangeways! But all kidding aside, Mars in Leo is very, very creative and fuels him with an abundance of passion. His Jupiter in Pisces, trines his Venus in Capricorn. This is a terrific aspect as it softens the craggy, Capricornian heart and actually encourages Brown to give the often amorphous energy of Jupiter in Pisces, form. It also suggests partnerships that last for a very long time like his relationship with guitarist Aziz Ibrahim who plays on all of Brown’s records. The same Jupiter trines his natal Neptune in Scorpio which manifests in a quest for beauty and truth, evident on nearly every Brown release, but the Scorpionic influence gives that quest a considerable edge to it, which is amplified by an opposition of Pluto in Virgo with Jupiter. He’s a risk taker and an often overshoot his mark, especially if he becomes too convinced of his own powers and abilities. If there is one thing that Brown is not, it’s timid. He is always more than willing to let people know how talented he is (Mars in Leo?).
At the end of the day, if you haven’t found his music, seek and go find. While Kurt Cobain, also born on this day was destined to explode like an incandescent super-nova across the horizon of pop-culture, Brown’s star is still shining bright.