This review was first
published on CLUAS in 1999
Other albums reviewed in 1999
Brian - 'Bring Trouble'
Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first: the name of the band is Brian, but it really only consists of one guy called Ken Sweeney and, although the music may sound like the Lightening Seeds, he has never owned any of their albums. I met Ken in Dublin's International Bar and, once past the obvious initial stumbling blocks, he chats away like a man who has spent a lot of time at this publicity thing - as indeed he has in the few months since the release of his second album, Bring Trouble.
Ken Sweeney made his debut in 1992 with an album called Understand which became an object of much critical attention. But, just as he should have been consolidating that attention into something more tangible, he hit a monumental case of writer's block. Today Ken attributes a lot of this to staying in the same place and not changing his circumstances. When Brian released their first single he moved to London and soon started working in the BBC film archives where a lot of his time was spent dreaming himself out of the place, something which you can hear in the first single from the album, We Close 1-2. The song is about trying to 'tell the outside world to just go away while you try your best to forget about what you do on a day to day basis.' Despite this, it's a catchy pop tune that you've probably heard on 2FM and, indeed, it does sound like the Lightening Seeds which is no bad thing. In the right hands, like those of Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout, Neil Finn of Crowded House and, yes, Ian Broudie of the Lightening Seeds, pop is a lot more than just pretty and disposable. There is a darker side to the new album though, particularly in songs like Getting Meaner and Right Through Tuesday. Ken says 'what I found out lately is when I'm sad I make a particular type of music, and when I'm happy there's a danger I'm going to sound like the Lightening Seeds! So there's probably a good reason there to keep me miserable in future.'
He wanted to bring Brian to an audience that maybe hadn't heard the band before, while 'retaining what the band is about and the kind of things I write about and the things I'm interested in'. This doesn't mean that the new album isn't for the fans of Understand too. Ken says, 'I think people when they hear the first one or two tracks get thrown a bit but, once they play it and listen to it, I think they hear the old band as well.' He describes Bring Trouble as 'all the lessons and everything I've learnt from those bands in the eighties that were really good', including The Blue Nile, The Go-Betweens and The Stars of Heaven.
So where did the name 'Brian' come from? Well, Ken Sweeney is Brian and that is essentially it - or it would be if journalists didn't keep asking him about it to the extent that he has started making up answers. So now you can take your pick: it's an abbreviation of 'Buzzcocks records in a nunnery'; a tribute to one Brian Eno; or the influence of the drummer from The Blades. Maybe sometimes you're better off not knowing. But in many ways it's useful for someone unassuming like Ken Sweeney to have a non-specific name to hide behind when there are so many singer/songwriters out there with their names and pictures on the covers of their albums. Ken deliberately kept away from that, choosing instead some beautiful black and white photos for the album cover.
Then there's the name of the album - Bring Trouble. This came from an odd remark directed at Ken on a night out in Dublin from a well-known band manager who said 'you're Ken Sweeney, you bring trouble wherever you go'. Understandably enough this stuck in Ken's mind but, less understandably, he chose to use the phrase as the name of the album, a decision that his parents weren't very happy with. 'They were worried that putting a word like 'trouble' into an album title might have a bad luck effect but who's to say whether it did or not?' Ken hasn't heard back from that particular manager since then, although 'knowing how shrewd this guy is I'm sure he's looking for his cut!'
Although the follow up to Understand took seven long
years, Ken is already at work on a new album which may see a move towards a more
reflective Brian, 'something a lot more stripped down and a lot weirder'. Having
proved that he can write a pop tune Ken Sweeney doesn't actually have to do it
any more, and maybe next time around he will avoid all those Lightening Seeds
Bring Trouble is available on Setanta Records.