BRAND X: DO THEY HURT? (1980)
1) Noddy Goes To Sweden; 2) Voidarama; 3) Act Of Will; 4) Fragile; 5) Cambodia; 6) Triumphant Limp; 7) D.M.Z.
I think it is technically enough just to state that all the tracks here are outtakes from the Product sessions, and that if the band did not think them good enough for Product, then we are completely free from any respectable obligations. Arguably the best thing about the record is its cover, and even that one is fairly tacky in a New Wave-era fashion. The second best thing are probably the liner notes, just because they were written by Michael Palin (and the album title itself is an elusive reference to witches from The Holy Grail).
The third best thing would have to be at least one stand-out track, but everything that stands out here is actually not good: most notably, ʽAct Of Willʼ, which sounds like a hookless Alan Parsons Project-style adult pop song, with meaningless verses sung by Goodsall through a vocoder for «mystical» effect. I suppose the guys had a lot of fun with this in the studio, but Brand X as an adult pop band is a suicidal proposition by definition. Goodsall's other attempt to write a «dark and serious» composition is ʽCambodiaʼ, slow, dense, arpeggiated, gradually layering on heavy riffs and shrill solos, but never truly realizing its potential — somehow, it seems to promise an apocalyptic crescendo, yet all it eventually squeezes out of itself is a simple ceremonial blues theme that is neither too threatening nor too awe-inspiring.
Most of the rest consists of Jones-dominated numbers that just give us more fusion clichés and no truly memorable themes. Fans of Percy's fretboard-walking will certainly enjoy them, but ʽNoddy Goes To Swedenʼ, ʽFragileʼ, ʽD. M. Z.ʼ — they all sound like technically flawless, spiritually pedestrian fusion jamming to me. Robinson's piano work on ʽD. M. Z.ʼ is funny in places, as if he is trying to deconstruct some pre-war pop melody with his odd tempos and dissonances, but that is just the main theme, and the rest is guitar and bass noodling, mainly, and this time, it really begins to look as if the alleged «freedom of self-expression» has become an invisible cage for these guys. ʽTriumphant Limpʼ, the title of a half-hearted and ultimately forgettable attempt to bring a more hard-rocking sound into their lives, would have been a much more telling title for the entire album — «triumphant», because you have to admire both their tenacity (clinging to the tried-and-true in spite of changing musical fashions) and their nimbness, agility, and professionalism, but «limp» because, well, this music has long since ceased to be «progressive» in any reasonable meaning of this word. Thumbs down.