In their heyday, Ian Brown and Tim Booth ruled their respective musical worlds. Brown was the lead singer and clown prince of The Stone Roses, the groundbreaking early '90s band whose raved-up, dance-friendly rock anthems freed British youth from years of punk worship and Elton John. Booth and his group, James, inhabited similar musical terrain as the Roses, but sold more records, and 1993's Laid became a massive alt-rock hit in the States.
When the two bands eventually disbanded, the singers continued to record, Brown releasing practically an album a year and Booth recording a duet with film composer Angelo Badalamenti. Both share a hippy-dippy, tripped-out mind-set that can be maddening and enchanting. But where Brown's formerly spaced-out worldview has been realigned in epic tracks driven by global concerns, Booth seems content with the intimate gesture. Solarized proclaims global consciousness and otherworldly angles to a world gone mad; Bone is as touching as a sit-down supper in front of a roaring pub fire. Simply put, Brown wants the world; Booth wants your girlfriend.
Always a bit of a nutter, Brown's global awareness and psychic insights have only expanded since his 1998 debut, Unfinished Monkey Business. Solarized's songs float on ethereal samples but they can also rock hard and shoot for the stars. Like dancing on the cosmos, Brown's animalistic presence and lazy, nocturnal voice are sheer extravagance. The tracks roll one into the next, each with a radiant glow. "The Sweet Fantastic" bubbles on dance-music gurgles and sleepy horn samples; "One Way Ticket to Paradise" drives its themes of heaven and destiny over burning guitars and Middle Eastern strings; "Kiss Ya Lips" flies over a shagadelic beat while Brown free-associates about airline hijackers and illegal immigrants.
No matter how hard he tries to rock out on Bone, Booth just sounds silly, like a young man perpetually spinning love sonnets. Though he may worship at the altar of Bono and Bowie, his grand gestures are more of the Tiny Tim school. But once you understand Booth's vision, his music becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. Bone is grand and ambitious, Booth crooning through silly love songs and "Space Oddity"-like acoustic Day-Glo epics. The excitable student to Brown's lethargic sage, Booth can barely contain his joy of living. "Wave Hello" kicks off with a rocking guitar, but it's only a weak-kneed ruse. The higher-wisdom-seeking "Bone" simmers over Indian percussion and druggy dance beats; "Discover" goes for the grand gesture but comes off like a midnight mass with a Bowie impersonator; "Down to the Sea" employs samples of an annoying Euro-opera diva as Booth sings about "washing away my fears."
In the '90s everything was possible for these British pop stars; the world awaited their every proclamation. Now, with the realities of the global record business dogging every wannabe, Brown and Booth are simply unique voices satisfying their devoted audiences, who still remember when.