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Main Category: Jazz Rock
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties



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Year Of Release: 1976
Overall rating =

Hey, Phil! Come out and show your face! (On second thought, don't. We all know what happened once he started).


Track listing: 1) Nuclear Burn; 2) Euthanasia Waltz; 3) Born Ugly; 4) Smacks Of Euphoric Hysteria; 5) Unorthodox Behaviour; 6) Running Of Three; 7) Touch Wood.

One thing is for certain: Phil Collins sure had been waiting a long time for this moment. Whatever he might have been earlier (even sitting in that theater where they were filming the Beatles for A Hard Day's Night), or whatever he might have turned into later (even doing crappy Disney soundtracks), you can't deny that his playing on this album is any less than spectacular. But, in fact, when one comes to think of it, he had really been pretty much held back in Genesis: one thing the band never really had, due to lack of training and/or interest on the part of the others, was a jazzy/funky approach, and so Phil had to streamline his ambitions - it's only when you get to hear the first seconds of 'Nuclear Burn' that opens this record that you really understand the secret of some of Phil's trickiest drumming on songs like 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight' and 'Firth Of Fifth' - which was actually jazz-inspired: the "paranoid" swingin' cymbal-tipping style that he so rarely displayed on Banks/Gabriel compositions is totally and unequivocally unleashed here.

It's no mean feat, actually, that Brand X's debut turns out to be so good I have considered giving it a 12 - and still haven't re-considered. The jazz-rock/fusion market had already pretty much been formed, with McLaughlin and Al Di Meola and Colosseum and numerous other guys of the jazzy stature, and it had already been explored by both rock newcomers like Jeff Beck and former avantgard-y weirdos like The Soft Machine. And in the midst of that come Brand X, a band with no well-known virtuosos at all, and pretend to establish their own instrumental style. How do they get by? How is it still possible to tread the uncharted and reap the unsown in 1976?

The All-Music Guide tends to emphasize the strengths of the compositions themselves, saying that the band mainly gets by on the quality of the melodies or something like that. This, to a certain extent, is true - but only to a certain extent. Many of the pieces have main themes that are quite memorable and obviously took some time to compose; the album is not fully improvised, and parts of it can be transplanted on sheetnotes without getting too much of a headache. But then, this is rather typical of fusion, isn't it? You always get your basics and then stretch out on 'em, much more so than in straightahead jazz. Whatever may be, Unorthodox Behaviour ain't the kind of record you'd take one listen to and be all like 'wow, these melodies kick butt! I'm SO gonna encode all of them on my cell phone right now, so that I can win friends and influence people!'. In the end, it still boils down to groove, skill, sound, and improv. Not really the kind of music I'd gladly be a-reviewin' every day and throw out inflated ratings to (I'll let Mark Prindle do the kinky thing to Miles Davis)...

...but you know what? These guys do actually try to effectuate a "fusion" of sorts, but it's not really a fusion of "rock" and jazz, rather a fusion of prog-rock and jazz. In other words, Unorthodox Behaviour is really unorthodox inasmuch as it takes the basic "jazz jam" and tries to actually make it atmospheric and evocative (okay, so I won't usually apply the word "evocative" to Miles Davis - maybe you would, but that's the kind of thing that's been happening ever since Adam had his first big fuck-up, you know). The means are simple - diverse, often unpredictable instrumentation; clever, moody production; and several kinds of melodic patterns that lie somewhere outside the funk'n'jazz area - in classical, ambient, even straightahead "pop-slop". The band members don't go for long, overextended, over-indulgent solos, mainly because they couldn't really master them in the first place (okay, so they could, but it would be worth nothing - who needs John Goodsall playing a many-miles solo when you can hear John McLaughlin doing the same much, much better?). Instead, they take short turns alternating brief "visionary" passages that occasionally do seem to be conveying a message; and they really use their members' skills well, giving the spotlight to the bass guitar for one minute, then switching to keyboards, then switching back to guitar and so on... there are no drum solos involved, fortunately, but Phil is the only member who's never in the shade, so that's only just. And hey, no saxes! Me, I like the idea of no saxes present on a jazz-tinged record. You?

The individual tracks, however, are pretty hard to discuss on here, because they all get kinda muddled together - and they have frequent tempo and tonality changes, which makes borders and boundaries useless and fictitional. Only the last one, 'Touch Wood', in the good tradition of relaxing album closers, is essentially dedicated to quiet acoustic strumming and bluesy piano runs, while Phil abuses his tom-toms somewhere very deep in the background (and there's a snug little sax there, too - hey, I don't know how it found its way there! Somebody help keep it out! Ah well, okay, a few seconds I can actually tolerate. I'll pretend it's an oddly-tuned harmonica).

The rest of the compositions are solid drum-based jams, some in the more traditional vein, some more influenced by avantgarde with totally whacked-out time changes, like in 'Smacks Of Euphoric Hysteria' which is more or less what it bills itself as. The reason I singled it out as best song, however, is more simple - it just happens to have a fantastically great guitar riff as the main theme, even if it only crops up like a couple times over four minutes. So juicy, poppy, vaguely threatening, and anthemic, I can easily overlook the fact that for the rest of the song they just keep dicking around. I mean, once you got yourself that kind of anchor, hack away - there is always a certain thrill in having to sit through two minutes of "nothing-particular" just so that you can eventually get the really cool stuff jumping out at ya from around the corner. Sure this isn't exactly the musical equivalent of Hitchcock, but you get the idea nevertheless.

My other favourites are the ones where the, let's say, "open emotional content" prevails, as in 'Nuclear Burn', where Phil's paranoid drumming, Goodsall's jerky guitar and Lumley's subdued, minimalistic electric piano immediately set a haunting - but powerful - scene, only to burst out a couple minutes later in explosive keyboard and guitar soloing that set a weird autumnal mood, not unlike the one you'd expect on a, say, Camel record, only in Camel you'd never have a rhythm section that good; it's mostly very static and, well, limpy, and here you have the same thing but with energy in the background. On 'Born Ugly' the band is trying to get the funk out, but, of course, they're not really pretending to be doing a funk jam or I'd have to kill them. These ridiculous four-note keyboard runs interfering with the rhythm section immediately set the dial to "joke" mood - it's a very lightweight composition, despite running for eight minutes, and the funk displayes is also "lite"; the thin, 'wimpy' guitar solos somehow predict early Prince, I'd say! Then, three and a half minutes into the song, they radically shift gear and switch onto something equally professional, but more boring.

Overall, I'd say this is the kind of record that's almost directly oriented towards people of my mindset - "fusion purists", if I might coin such a term, will probably find the stuff too "poppy" or too "amateurish" or they might just run away from the mere mention of Phil Collins, despite his desperate attempts to fit in. But I think it's interesting and involving, and a pretty successful try at, if not exactly "breathing life into something as dead as fusion" - that'd be my statement a few years ago, but I've learned since then that whenever you call something "dead" there's a fair chance of it suddenly springing up to its feet and whacking you in the nose - then at least "making the whole fusion genre come across as not too worthless". Sure it doesn't stand a chance against the best that Genesis had to offer, but then, you know, all genres are equal, but some are more equal than others. :)



Year Of Release: 1977
Overall rating =

About as "Moroccan" as Sgt. Pepper, but still a decent jazz-fusion offering, despite the misleading title.


Track listing: 1) Sun In The Night; 2) Why Should I Lend You Mine; 3) Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All; 4) Hate Zone; 5) Collapsar; 6) Disco Suicide; 7) Orbits; 8) Malaga Vixen; 9) Macrocosm.

Now you certainly wouldn't expect artistic growth from these guys, unless you're a grimy battered fusion fan who sees more difference between the Soft Machine's Six and Seven than between Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson Sings The Carpenters, but for some mysterious reason, they decided to go ahead and offer us some all the same. Maybe it was the punk revolution that sent them into this off-the-rocker mode. Anyway, the record starts with a composition you'd least expect on a generic fusion album: 'Sun In The Night', which goes as far as to actually feature some vocals (I don't have any documental proof for it being Phil the Collins, but does sound like it, and if he was good enough for taking over Genesis, he certainly could be good enough for taking over Brand X). On top of that, it adds a loosely swinging rhythm section with different Eastern overtones - including multiple overdubbed sitars. The album title certainly suggests an Arabic influence; but to my subjective ears it sounds more like a delirious mish-mash of everything, with Chinese and Indian themes bumping into each other as well. Still later on, Goodsall goes Nutsall on the sitar and starts treating it the way Sri McLaughlin would treat a regular electric guitar; I've honestly never heard anyone torture that delicate instrument in such a rough way. Hey, maybe Brand X could have made a bigger name for themselves if they accidentally started smashing sitars during gigs. Just imagine the consequences.

A couple more spots on the album might host a few other Eastern motives for you, but I have a hard time investigating those corners: even if there is something trickily Oriental hiding in the guise of yer average fusion lifestyle, I don't hear it, no matter how forcefully the album title or the All-Music Guide knowledge base would have me believe. What I do acknowledge is a slight reversal of the accents. No longer do Phil's drums feel like they're universally taking centerplace. Oh, he certainly cares - the Eighties aren't upon us yet - but he also looks like he's also willing to let the other guys share the main bulk of the fun while being a bit detached himself. Who knows, maybe the increasing Genesis duties were taking their toll.

This could also explain the fact that there are more straightahead "solos" on Moroccan Roll than on its elder brother. This time, both Goodsall and Lumley take their chance to really stretch out on the most lengthy tunes, and they actually reveal some dazzling chops they'd kept so cleverly concealed before. On 'Macrocosm', for instance, Goodsall plays some of the speediest, most refined lines you'll ever find this side of Alan Holdsworth's stint in the Soft Machine (of course, I'm talking the rockier side of fusion here, not McLaughlin or anything), and when Lumley occasionally plays in unison with him, the effect is stunning. (You should, of course, keep in mind that you're hearing all this from somebody whose real idea of "stunning" is a power chord on Pete Townshend's guitar, so please understand that I won't be losing sleep over 'Macrocosm' - but you just might!).

Yet with Mr Collins growing an extra inch of beard and taking away an extra inch of interest, the rhythm section ends up not being as ear-prickingly jerky and sharp as it used to be. A couple tracks - short ones, fortunately - don't have any drumming at all, serving more like mood pieces ('Sun In The Night' is formally also a mood piece, but Phil is still all over that one, to great effect) or launchpads for indivudal spotlights (Percy Jones' 'Orbits' which is just a minute and a half of fretless bass soloing). And although 'Disco Suicide' has little to do with disco apart for the title and the apprehension on the listener's part, Phil's drumming is about as interesting on that track as if he were really sticking to a generic disco beat, which he is not. (For that matter, it is possible to do great drumming even while sticking to the disco beat - just listen to all the crazy stuff Clem Burke does on 'Heart Of Glass'!). His two big breaks come on 'Collapsar' (beginning with a short actual drum solo) and particularly on 'Malaga Vixen', which, in a way, are the last great showcases for Phil the Intelligent Drummer you'll ever hear. But who can blame him? Programming drum machines is sooo much more exciting, and besides, you don't get blisters on your fingers like Ringo did.

On the other hand, Phil is credited for writing the basis for another lengthy jam, 'Why Should I Lend You Mine' (with the atmospheric soothing coda 'Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All' - don't you just love how much blood, sweat & tears do jazz-fusioners waste while coming up with impressive names for their wordless epics? And sometimes the names end up being the best thing about them!), which, frankly speaking, is nothing to write home about, except that unlike your typical jam, it's actually multi-part and goes through a soft swingy section, a soft moody rhythmless section, and a couple other sections as well that my English level currently prevents me from naming explicitly. (Then again, I wouldn't even dare to start thinking about how to name them in Russian!).

In terms of melodies, 'Sun In The Night' beats 'em all, but I swear to God some of the tunes start out as riff-based, or at least "theme-based" like all them well-behaved, obedient instrumental jazz tunes shoulda (but not all of them woulda). 'Hate Zone' has this gruff, unpleasant descending riff which isn't exactly "hateful", though; in fact, the whole funky approach of the tune calls for the 'tough' designation, but hardly for the 'horrifying' one, so down with the title, up with the atmosphere. 'Disco Suicide' has a main theme based on keyboards, no, even chimes - and a very anthemic, spiritual theme it is, it just doesn't have anything to do with the jam part of the composition which is boring as hell. And the backbone of 'Malaga Vixen' is a weird-sounding post-psychedelic guitar riff that I would personally love to see developed into something bigger - instead, they decide for some reason that this is the place for the bass player to practice his obligatory runs.

The best 'melody' bit is to be found in 'Macrocosm'; it's hardly jaw-dropping quality, but it is quite a visionary-sounding piece, and if it were a little less funkified, I would have no trouble accepting it on a Yes or, well, Genesis album somewhere on the fringes of one of those twenty-minute suites about life, death, and foxes dressed in red. The title itself is telling: you don't call a song 'Macrocosm' unless you think of something important, and there's obviously been a lot of writing, arranging, and maybe even musical philosophy involved in these last seven minutes. Unfortunately, it's still somewhat inadequate, especially the coda where they seem to be wanting to go out with a real bang (BIG bang?), but don't really have the ability, no matter how tight Goodsall winds up his finger-flashing mechanism. The overdubbed applause at the end are quite a silly gimmick as well. Still, on some level it works.

Overall, everything is a huge disappointment after the major surprising power of 'Sun In The Night'. Once the pain has subsided, though, you start discovering all those little riffs and [sub-]melodies that are much more normal and predictable, but still decent, and then also come back to appreciating the players' skills which certainly haven't diminished since last year. All of which make me treat Moroccan Roll as a respectable, if not tremendously exciting, fusion album. It lacks the fresh punch of Unorthodox Behaviour, when the mere idea that he was going, for the first time in his life, to record a drum-oriented album all to his liking, was enough to inflame Mr Phil; but it's still way, way better than whatever followed in its steps with Phil, having satisfied his ambition, jumping ship for good.



Year Of Release: 1977

This is a live album, or at least it seems like a live album, but according to what I've read, it's really a mess. Some newly-recorded studio tracks are interspersed with some newly-recorded live tracks that date from different venues featuring different drummers, and to make matters even more complicated, the newly recorded tracks in fact date to pre-Moroccan Roll times, and the album cover is unusually sexy for a fusion record too.

Apart from the Mess factor, though, Livestock isn't terribly entertaining. To say that the formula of Brand X had wearied thin would be an insult to all the fusion fans in the world, because if it weren't Brand X but, say, AC/DC, I'd find myself thoroughly embarrassed saying that. I can't really suggest, though, that this is live playing of the highest order - the band seems to willingly put itself in a trance most of the time, with the vibe being laid back and vaguely lazily swaying through the dusky horizon, if you pardon my gibberish; only on the closing 'Malaga Virgen' do they actually pick up the old steam, with Collins' temporary replacement Kenward Denneth pushing and propelling the solo players forward to give 'em their best shot.

Phil is featured only on one two-track long suite, 'Isis Mourning', which is a bore; maybe in a live setting it was stunning, but here it's just a slow meandering jam with lots of avantgarde dissonance throughout (you know, one of those numbers that's so painful to hear with an ear untrained to masochism because it seems like the band is cracking at the seams and is going to just crash to the ground the very next second) that sounds the same through all of its nine minutes; lightning strike me if I know what the hell really separates 'Part One' and 'Part Two'. I have to admit, though, that Phil's percussion work is very interesting here and is pretty unusual even for his stature in Brand X; he's mixing jazz percussion with what I'd describe as "slight tribal beats", and I never heard him doing something like that anywhere else. But that's not as much of an inspired compliment as just a statement of fact.

Again, as usual, there's at least one truly inspired composition that gets my applause for combining an interesting melody with gorgeous atmospherics, and that's the album opener, 'Nightmare Patrol', which doesn't sound half that evil as the title suggests. It's just a mid-tempo soft-jazz shuffle, but with a very warm and inviting synth tone and a cute little friendly synth riff that keeps popping up at all the right places. Some more finger-flashing guitar solos and a good spotlight for the bass player and you're all set. But then it segues directly into '-Ish', and all the friendly evening atmosphere dissipates in favour of pretty generic "fusioneering", with predictable bass lines, predictable drumming, and predictable diddly-diddly synth wanking. It's pretty stupid how, out of two consequent fusion compositions by the same band, one can delight me so much and the other doesn't leave even a tiny impression, but you know, that's just the way it is. I guess it's all because of that nice nice synth riff in 'Patrol' - the link to tie everything together. Like 'Nightmare Patrol' is a solid tree trunk with numerous branches covered with green leaves attached (that's when the members run off in all directions), and '-Ish' is just a heap of disconnected branches. So there. That's my banal allegory of the day, hope you like it and now I can go on.

Well, actually, there's nowhere left to go on, the only track I haven't discussed yet is an alternate version of 'Euthanasia Waltz', but I'd be a complete dork if I started dedicating web space to alternate versions of 'Euthanasia Waltz', so instead I'll play a Mark Prindle and say, to hell with 'Euthanasia Waltz', let's talk about euthanasia instead. Are you for or against euthanasia? Me, I'm basically pro, because when you come to think of it, abortion is a bigger crime than euthanasia (hey, you don't actually ask permission from that ovum!), and abortion still lives on. Then again, I guess if euthanasia were permitted, I'd just take the easy way out because I just saw a Britney Spears special on TV and that's way harder on me than lung cancer could ever be.

Seriously, though, 'Malaga Virgen' isn't half bad in this live setting. It actually rocks, which is more than I can say for Frank Sinatra.



Year Of Release: 1978

A very long (well, not too long), very professional (well, not too professional), very dull (well, not too dull) fusion album. This time Phil is out for good, and the band completely and utterly sacrifices the few snatches of its identity so as to join the ranks of every mediocre fusion band for miles around. At least, for the life of me I couldn't tell the crucial difference that separates Masques from, for instance, any post-Robert Wyatt Soft Machine record. Clearly, it's guys who like what they're doing, but they actually like working within a well well well established formula, so much that it hurts, and I can't even blame Phil Collins for preferring to concentrate on And Then There Were Three instead, much as that album sucks.

I'll give you this, though; for generic fusion, this is a hell of a competent album. New drummer Chuck Burgi isn't as versatile as Collins, but then again Collins didn't care too much on the last two records either, so you don't really notice the difference. Robin Lumley is now credited simply as producer, leaving the keyboard work to Morris Pert, and both Pert and Goodsall shine on their respective instruments just as you'd expect from somebody playing music that's so boring you can't help but shine (or else it will be a NIGHTMARE!).

So for me, this works perfectly fine as pure non-mood background music (some of the tunes on here come close to rockin', but any attempts to set up a certain 'atmosphere' just fall flat because technique and proficiency take over). For those whose inner egos are accustomed to this muz... er, free unlimited expression of an artist's independent nature, Masques can be a strict four-to-five star record. So I'll try to play the innocent and appraise this record from a serious fusion lover's perspective (don't blame me if my acting sucks).

The record wisely alternates softer and quieter moments with fast pulsating jazz-rock numbers so that nothing ever gets stale. Thus, the album opens with 'The Poke', a five-minute mid-tempo-to-fast number that gives enough room for Pert to overdub a whole bunch of synthesizer sequences, from slower and moodier to faster and flashier; this is his show, with Goodsall mainly staying in the background apart from a short "muffled" solo passage in the middle, and it's structured like a minor emotional thunderstorm. But from there, it proceeds directly into the title track, which is perhaps the band's most bravely dissonant chef-d'oeuvre so far, with isolated basslines alternating with tinkling chinkling percussion and occasional piano rolls far away in the background... the word of the day is relax, sit back, and enjoy the image-triggerin' musical background.

'Black Moon' is more compact, rolling along on a joyful mid-tempo with chimes and xylophones dominating the basic soundscape as you're invited to join the band on a gentle voyage upon the night breeze... don't those luverly heavenly synthesizers in the background just remind you of little shiny stars? With an occasional one moodily swirling past behind you to crash down somewhere you can't see. Ooh, the peace and the joy, only to be disrupted and disturbed (wonderful mood change!) by 'Deadly Nightshade' - and, mind you, not at once, because it begins with equally becalming chimes and light breathes of percussion, and only later does it slowly begin to develop towards a fascinating series of climaxes. This time it's Goodsall who finally takes the lead, with his guitar passages alternating from short and atmospheric to those wonderful lightning-speed arpeggios that make him the equal of Alan Holdsworth. Notice the constantly increasing tempo! Notice the joy and passion in the keyboard segues! Notice the fury and anger in the guitar solos!

'Earth Dance', true to its name, is pretty danceable, with Goodsall playing funky guitar throughout, although the guys hold off from adding any monotonous disco lines or anything. It's certainly lightweight and too commercial-sounding for us fusion freaks, but then again, we're the ones opting for a "Just Say No [If Somebody Says Yes]!" policy, so we should know better. But 'Access To Data' offers us more of those wall-rattling Goodsall solos, at least, and then there's the eternal masterpiece 'The Ghost Of Mayfield Lodge', which is dark and ominous and paints pictures of ghosts lodging in may fields, all of 'em named "Curtis" for some bizarre reason. Classic!

Switching to non-pretending mode, all of the above is - to some extent - true; the problem is I could paint a similar picture for, uhm, Soft Machine's Six, for instance. Or many other things. Only 'Black Moon' really works on an emotional level with me, but dammit, I've squeezed out a description as good as possible, I think, so go ahead and risk your health and social security benefits if I did manage to seduce you.



Year Of Release: 1979

At this point Brand X really becomes a mess, and it'd take a specialist to analyze this period of activity. Phil Collins and Robert Lumley return to the band as actual members, yet it's not like any of the others are out. Rather it's, uhm, a "collective" project, somewhat similar to Yes' Union (well, relax, that's not necessarily bad or anything). Let's see, we have Phil on drums and vocals, Lumley on keyboards, Percy Jones on bass, Goodsall on guitar, then there's the new regular drummer Mike Clarke and another bassist, John Giblin, and another keyboardist, and Morris Pert credited for percussion, and a whole bunch of producers, too.

And despite the chaos, it's still the best Brand X album in years. Sure, in a perfectly conscious tongue-in-cheek manner it was dubbed Product because it dared to actually include two pop songs with Collins on vocals - blasphemy! But if you ask me, I don't see how putting a couple lightweight poppy numbers on here makes this any more of a 'product' than the preceding Masques. Maybe Masques had less commercial potential, but it was all built on the same, absolutely stagnated, formula, whereas Product at least offers some diggings into new territory.

Not that the two pop songs are tremendously interesting. Goodsall's 'Don't Make Waves' is essentially a loud-sounding nothing, maybe something that pretends to be a jazz-influenced power-pop send-up, but it's hardly inspired at all. It does sound a bit similar to the way A Trick Of The Tail opened, a huge, bombastic tune with a tricky verse structure (and Collins sounds just as inexplainably pissed off as he did while singing 'you gotta start doing it right'), but it's just not memorable at all. Nor impressive, all you people who say I overrate memorability. There, I said it, a song can be impressive without being memorable, but this one is neither. Say, do you have the least idea why my Brand X reviews turn out to be so boring as I'm getting them out of my system? Me, I don't have the least idea. Such an exciting, thrilling band. 'Soho' is, like, one of the best songs ever written this side of Foreigner's 'Cold As Ice'!

Seriously now, 'Soho' is pretty good, totally in the vein of Collins' early Eighties Genesis, and with a well-expected bit of social critique as well (actually, 'Don't Make Waves' is supposed to be a protest song, too. It's just with such an obviously mainstream guy like Phil, you don't even notice how many violent anti-The Man and anti-The System songs he's ever written. Which is his safety belt - when put to trial for murder like 'Hold On My Heart', he can always get away by saying, 'hey, I did "Land Of Confusion" and "Jesus He Knows Me", too!'). These two songs, one mediocre and one sympathetic, don't really seem to fit with the rest of the tunes, traditionally instrumental, but they add a solid touch of diversity. Me happy.

As for the rest, I'd say it's still a slight improvement over the flawless boringness of Masques. Instead of turning every song into a vehicle for Goodsall's "look at me playing faster than John McLaughlin, it's getting better every day!" routine, they occasionally go for an atmospheric punch (again!), and try to alternate generic fusion with Genesis-like mid-tempo prog-rock, which in turn was already involving into Genesis-like mid-tempo pop-rock; I'd even say that Product is a must for any Genesis fan because it illustrates the direction of their transformation better than just about anything else. 'Dance Of The Illegal Aliens', for instance, which later provided a name for Phil's well-known 1983 hit, at times sounds like 'Los Endos' from 1976 and at other times like 'The Brazilian' from 1986... well, approximately so, but you get the idea. It's very light and dancey, but every once in a while you get something weird, like a dissonant bass solo.

Elsewhere there's still some of generic fusion ('Not Good Enough' is a typical offender which I can't really tolerate because I've had my fair share of that stuff on the preceding album). BUT: 'Algon' is something that rather comes close to instrumental adult contemporary, very slow (except when it speeds up for a few minutes in the middle), very moody, with very carefully and meticulously placed guitar chords without any hints at finger-flashing; 'Rhesus Perplexus' is more pure jazz than anything else, with Goodsall's Pat Metheny-like chops (okay, so I copped that reference from the All-Music Guide, but at least I have the guts to admit it) and a soothing lax climate overall; 'Wal To Wal' is a strange drum-machine based number with the bass guitar as the most prominent instrument - hey, doesn't that song give us the first example of "drum'n'bass"?; 'And So To F' is a b-i-g optimistic number representing spring, hope, love, Krishna and pepperoni pizza; and 'April' is more of an ambient mood-emphasizing closer than an actual tune, but it's a good closer.

But of course, it's not like I'm reveling in the splendour of all this, I don't actually find even a single great song on the album. Essentially, it's mood music like almost everything else this band recorded - the good thing is, it ain't annoying mood music. I could easily put this on without the risk of annoying anybody in the same room with me, because really, when Masques is playing and Goodsall plays his electric current arpeggios for the fiftieth time in a row, it's like, "man, this isn't even funny any more". And I concur.



Year Of Release: 1980

You're asking me? Yeah, they hurt! They hurt a lot! This album is the band at their absolute worst so far. It's as if nobody really cared any more - autopilot all the way from beginning to end. Two stars is a pretty big rating for this yawnfest, actually; count me generous because I really respect the band's tightness, and even at this point they could still get a workin' groove going pretty well once they were together. It's a different thing that nobody really knows or cares where this groove is supposed to be going. At best, this is just more generic fusion material for your ears; at worst, this is a professional, but still useless sonic mess. No interesting tunes or melodies in sight whatsoever. No Phil Collins apart from a couple meek participations. Even the vocals, which are present on two of the tracks, are rote - on 'Noddy Goes To Sweden', they seem to be transmitted backwards, and on 'Act Of Will', they're electronically encoded.

The only track worth mentioning in a teeny weeny positive key, I guess, is Goodsall's 'Cambodia'. And curiously enough, it is perhaps the closest Brand X have ever come to capturing some of the true "progressive" spirit, sort of a cross between the classic Genesis and the classic King Crimson sound. Mid-tempo, seriously loaded with overdubs, stuffed with slow moody guitar solos, and never forgetting to add a solid dose of distortion so as not to sound "sissy" or "Renaissance Fair like" or something like that, it's really good when at least set next to everything else. The basic riff could be said to have been influenced by 'Starship Trooper', too, i.e. what you have is a slowly rising crescendo with a keewl guitar solo at the end (well, actually, starting from the second minute onwards, if you wanna nitpick about Brand X of all things). It's a good number.

The rest just doesn't cut it. 'Act Of Will' pretends to be pop, but it's really way too meek and unmemorable to be good pop. A very basic four-four rhythm, and very similar to all the filler of Genesis around the time (not the good 'uns, nope). And the electronic encoding idea was kinda dumb, as much dumb as it is pointless, at least. Then there is 'Noddy Goes To Sweden', with its backwards vocals; I guess that funky style is supposed to be 'novel', or at least, quirky enough to affect your emotions, but I find nothing grappling about it anyway. And considering that it is immediately followed by the first piece of generic fusion, 'Voidarama', it gets forgotten quickly enough as you prepare to lapse into the usual trance, this time of a pretty unhealthy nature, though.

'Fragile' might be of use to avantgarde lovers, but to me, it only makes matters worse - remedying the lack of ideas by including five minutes of dissonance, prime atonality and scattered annoying drumbeats doesn't look like a good issue. Things kinda pick up again with 'Cambodia', but it is again followed by, this time, two really lengthy fusion-fests, and when they're over, so is the album. You blinked, and you winked, and you got one solid tune and a bunch of forgettable crap. A particularly bad thing is how goddamn quiet this all is. For some reason (maybe he was stoned, or just really didn't give a damn any more), Goodsall absolutely refuses to play his finger-flashing arpeggios and all, apart from maybe just a couple of times. The guitar, the synths, the bass, even the drums are quiet almost to the point of annoyance; maybe it's also partially fault of the production, because everything is so muffled, even when you turn the volume up to the max you still won't get your neighbours upset.

I guess this is actually what happens when your band is hardly a real band, but a loose aggregate of conflicting interests and partial dedications. You can never guarantee that everybody you're working with will be inspired or whatever. A lot actually seemed to depend on Collins, in particular, and he was clearly vacant for this setting. I seem to recall from somewhere that Percy Jones was mostly in command, and what can you expect from a friggin' bass player unless he's Phil Lynott or, well, Paul McCartney. In any case, this is neither good fusion nor a good prog-fusion mix, and even fusion fans are usually ready to admit that. So whatcha want from me? I've suffered enough!


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