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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Brand X: Is There Anything About?


1) Ipanaemia; 2) A Longer April; 3) Modern, Noisy And Effective; 4) Swan Song; 5) Is There Anything About?; 6) Tmiu-Atga.

Yes indeed, the title is a not-so-subtle reference to the process of «scraping the barrel». Despite the 1982 date (by which time Brand X no longer even existed as a functioning outfit), most of these tracks were recorded in 1979, hailing from the same sessions that already yielded the pre­vious two albums — all but the title track, which dates from an even earlier period. As if that weren't enough, ʽA Longer Aprilʼ is indeed a much extended version of ʽAprilʼ from Product, and ʽModern, Noisy And Effectiveʼ is based on the backing track from the pop song ʽSohoʼ, also from Product. That should give you some ideas.

To be fair, seeing as how the band had effectively run its course, and how that particular brand of fusion had pretty much worn itself out by the end of the Seventies, it may be a good thing that they did not stick around to reinvent themselves as an electrofunk party or a synth-pop outfit. At the very least, Is There Anything About? does not irritate — nothing on it is really seductive or mind-blowing or of much use to anybody, but it has the same predictable Brand X style as any­thing else the band did, and you do get to hear more Collins percussion (he is credited for all the drumwork, since the outtakes here do not seem to include any of the Clark/Pert sessions).

The title track may have originally been rejected because it does not have a particularly distinct theme, but it does remind one of the jerky suspense of Unorthodox Behaviour, before the band settled on an overall smoother style — Goodsall's sizzling-bubbling wah-wah lines and Jones' «nervous-breakdown-style» bass rip at each other like crazy, and Phil wacks them both on the back relentlessly to keep things permanently hot. The difference between this track and some­thing like ʽIpanaemiaʼ is clearly visible — the latter is a smooth, easy-going, soft-funk mood piece with soothing Spanish guitar passages and ambient synthesizer background, high quality elevator muzak with little artistic pretense. But that's okay. If more elevators played muzak like this, humanity would only benefit.

On the down side, ʽModern, Noisy And Effectiveʼ sounds much more silly than ʽSohoʼ, now that the vocals have been wiped out and replaced by simplistic «happy» keyboards of the «your local TV sitcom» variety, where you are expected to jump up and down in a fit of artificially induced happiness as the credits roll on. Unless the effect here is intended to be parodic, this is really stu­pid, but, unfortunately, there are no straightforward hints at irony or sarcasm. And some of the titles continue to be misleading — ʽSwan Songʼ neither literally nor figuratively sounds like a swan song, unless Lumley's squeaky synth parts are supposed to remind you of swans, which they do not (more like pigs than swans, if you ask me). Some nice harmonies, though.

Still, as a bunch of outtakes to wrap up the original story of Brand X, this could have been much worse. The band's biggest mistake, I believe, was when they began to hunt for «beauty» in their music rather than «mystery» — even if this does not qualify by itself as a sell-out, it sold short their actual talents and blended them in the already hard-to-tell-apart mass of instrumental pedd­lers of the late Seventies. Had they pursued a somewhat more, let's say, «aggressive» path of action, history would have been kinder to them. But even so, for four years they did not make one single move that would definitively place them into the «easy listening» category, and that's gotta count for something — especially if your band has Phil Collins in it.

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