BRAND X: MOROCCAN ROLL (1977)
1) Sun In The Night; 2) Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You've Broken Off Yours Already); 3) Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All; 4) Hate Zone; 5) Collapsar; 6) Disco Suicide; 7) Orbits; 8) Malaga Virgen; 9) Macrocosm.
The title of the album is a pun that is somewhat misleading, because, while this album certainly contains a dose of rock and roll and shows some definite Moroccan (or North African / Near Eastern in general) influences, neither the first nor the second components are all that essential to its essence and success. Instead, what Moroccan Roll is really about is team playing: like most of the good fusion albums, what matters is how the musicians gather around the groove, regardless of where the groove is coming from — jazz, blues, Malhun, Chaabi, or polka.
In fact, Eastern influences are mainly limited here to the first track, ʽSun In The Nightʼ, which is fairly atypical of the album as a whole — a slow, quasi-spiritual-meditative number with sitars, ethnic percussion (some or all of it contributed by new band member Morris Pert), and, most surprisingly, vocals from Phil Collins, singing in Sanskrit, no less. It's only a few lines, repeated several times, but still, somewhat of an achievement — too bad he didn't try that one again on No Jacket Required, it might have helped save his reputation with the progressively-minded. The results are amusing rather than enlightening — as, to tell you the truth, would seem to be the general case with jazz-blues-rock people straightforwardly appropriating Indian, Near, or Far Eastern motives for «deep-reaching spiritual purposes» — but the track does generate positive vibrations, and is almost guaranteed to make you smile.
Already on the second track, though, Moroccan Roll becomes More Unorthodox Behaviour: once more we enter the realm of funky beats, syncopated bass grooves, speedy guitar runs, and sci-fi era keyboards. The good news is that the band remains inspired and dedicated, and you can see that they are still having fun playing together. It does not always result in memorable music: the 11-minute long ʽWhy Should I Lend You Mineʼ gives the impression of being seriously improvised, with the first part of the jam played at a steady mid-tempo, but never really going anywhere in particular, and the second part slowing down to a crawl and attempting to generate a romantic, but maybe slightly dangerous nocturnal atmosphere. It is all too easy to dismiss it as a boring noodlefest — much less so if you approach it from a «free flight» angle, just watching all four (five?) players trying to stay coordinated with each other and yet take the groove in a slightly different direction every twenty seconds. Sure it's a typical thing with jazz/blues improvisation, but not everybody always sounds like a natural at this.
Amusingly, it is precisely this somewhat meandering jam that is credited in its entirety to Phil Collins — soon-to-become master of the concise (and much more annoying) pop hook. As we move on to tracks credited to Lumley, Goodsall, and Jones, we end up with tighter grooves and more distinctly expressed themes: ʽHate Zoneʼ has a lightly ominous descending riff whose final cadence leads us into a sort of «funky hell», punctuated by jerky bass and guitar figures; ʽDisco Suicideʼ has nothing whatsoever to do with disco (and, I would like to hope, with suicide), but is instead a moody, contemplative track for most of its duration, filled with romantic piano solos and even a brief chime-and-choral part at the end — celebrating the suicide of disco with bells and joyful da-da-da's? whatever. Finally, the mid-section of ʽMacrocosmʼ is the fastest bit on the entire album, with some amazing guitar/drum interplay, even if the track as a whole does not quite justify the ambitious title — these guys still have a long way to go if they want their music to reflect a Mahler-type vision or something like that.
Amusingly, I'd say that this is one Brand X album that probably has most in common with contemporary Genesis — its overall contemplative, but simultaneously fussy mood, mixed with an ounce of melancholy and gloom, a slightly autumnal atmosphere, would be quite compatible with Wind & Wuthering, and fairly representative of «the autumn of prog» in general. But then again, one shouldn't be reading too much into a rather light-hearted venture like this — just give it one more thumbs up and move on.
PS. And yes, apparently so it seems that the album was originally (mis)titled Morrocan Roll, but don't blame them record people too much for this. Everybody's entitled to a mispelleng every once in a while, and besides, it's sort of a relief to now that people were as bad with names of foreign countries in 1977 as they are now.