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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Brand X: Product

BRAND X: PRODUCT (1979)

1) Don't Make Waves; 2) Dance Of The Illegal Aliens; 3) Soho; 4) Not Good Enough/See Me!; 5) Algon (Where An Ordinary Cup Of Drinking Chocolate Costs L8,000,000,000); 6) Rhesus Perplexus; 7) Wal To Wal; 8) ...And So To F...; 9) April.

A good title indeed. Not «commercial product», or «soulless product», but just «product» — this and the following album were the results of a bizarre rotating line-up where Goodsall would essentially play with two different bands. One included Percy Jones on bass, Morris Pert on per­cussion, and newcomers Mike Clark on drums and Peter Robinson on keyboards; the other had John Giblin on bass and, surprisingly, Robin Lumley on keyboards and our old pal Phil Collins, back on drums and, yes, on vocals.

So put together the fact that we actually have «Brand X» and «Brand Y» here, and also the fact that we have two Collins-sung pop songs on the record, and you can see why it is a «product», in the sense that there is hardly any pretense at spontaneity and getting carried away on the wings of inspiration. Not that the two playing ensembles sound all that different from each other, or any different from what they used to sound — in fact, if anything, this fresh-blood-mix approach shook everybody up a little bit and made Product an overall more interesting LP, I think, than Masques before it. But the approach is not without its problems.

First, many fusion fans went berserk at the idea of including ʽDon't Make Wavesʼ and ʽSohoʼ, both of which really sounded more like contemporary Genesis than genuine Brand X; all the more curious that the first song was actually written by Goodsall, and the second co-written by him with Collins. It is true that both are no great shakes — overproduced pop-rock without any particularly interesting hooks or enthralling messages — and neither of the two agrees themati­cally with the band's general fusion sound. But it's not as if their presence here is particularly annoying, and it's certainly not as if their inclusion blocked the way of any instrumental master­pieces, judging by the quality of what else we got. At the very least this presence comes across as a surprise — are Brand X gearing up to become a daughter project of Genesis? Is Phil Collins capable of turning fusion into adult contemporary pop as expertly as he does with prog?

Well, for the moment it just looks like a timid experiment, because the rest is quite traditional. Amusingly, the first of the two long jams is called ʽDance Of The Illegal Aliensʼ, presaging the title of a well-known Genesis pop hit several years later — hardly a coincidence, even though the track was written by Jones, does not feature Phil at all, and has nothing to do with illegal aliens outside of the title (but a lot to do with Jones' magnificent «rubber bass» patterns, though apart from of that, I cannot applaud or remember much of anything else). Likewise, the second of these jams, ʽNot Good Enoughʼ, is almost completely about Percy and his bass — occasional synth and guitar solos surrounding it are simply keeping it company.

Of the last four tracks, three are unremarkable, but ʽ...And So To F...ʼ is a bit of a standout: al­though an instrumental, it is credited to Collins, and it's got serious art-pop overtones that remind one of Genesis' style on Trick Of The Tail (particularly ʽLos Endosʼ). Thus, ironically, Product turns out to be the only non-Genesis album on which you can get a taster of circa-1976 Genesis and circa-1982 Genesis at the same time, even as they peep in and out of a generally fusionistic environment. This is weird, and if at least half of these tunes were as catchy or emotionally cap­tivating as classic Genesis, and the other half were worthy of Brand X's early days, I would have certainly awarded the album a thumbs up. But on the other hand, it's «product», and the careful manufacturing does not seem to leave a lot of space for genuine inspiration, so I guess I'll pass.

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