Oops, I just missed International Phil Collins Day for this one.
Brand X was more than just Phil Collins, of course, but since he’s by far the best-known member of the group, discussions of the band tend to center around him. And this discussion is no different. These records were actually my first-ever exposure to Brand X entirely because I’d read that Collins had recorded with a jazz band while I was tracking down all of Genesis’ albums; in the days before easy access to the Internet, such info was hard to come by. So, too, were Brand X albums — it would be years before I saw a single CD by the group in person. These old, used LPs were what I could find, so I went with them. They weren’t quite what I expected….
But, to be fair, Product (the first of the two Brand X records I bought) doesn’t really offer a true representation of the group’s output. Brand X began recording in 1976 and put out several albums in rapid succession, all with Collins — who recently had taken Genesis vocal duties from Peter Gabriel — on drums. From what I understand, Product was the point at which Passport Records sent a thick meaty dude in to the studio to ominously rumble something to the effect of, “Well, lads, the label’s been bankrolling your albums for a while, and we haven’t a single chart hit to show for it. We was thinkin’ it might be nice if you could do something about that, see?”
So, Product is a patchwork of two different versions of the band performing — Collins leading the group for some furtive and honestly not all that serious attempts at pop hits, and a different lineup mixing in a few more artsy and improvisational jazz tracks. It’s not a bad album, but it lacks the consistency of sound that characterized the band’s first few records. I’m pretty sure the album’s name reflects a certain weary cynicism within the band regarding the nature of the sessions and release.
Is There Anything About? consists of music culled from the Product sessions. It even includes a few variant versions of tracks from Product — “Modern, Noisy, and Effective” is built around the backing track to Product’s track “Soho,” which sounded like a sort of disco-esque chart-topper until you actually listen to the incredibly grim lyrics (which concern London’s Soho district, not NYC’s; Soho at the time was rather a lot like the contemporary version of New York’s Times Square). Despite comprising a lot of remnants from a decidedly fragmentary album, it feels more consistent than Product. It lacks any semblance of a hope for radio play and really just consists of fusion-jazz instrumentals, which lack the expansiveness of Brand X’s earliest material but work nevertheless.
Anyway, I didn’t particularly care for these albums 20-odd years ago; I probably expected something more along the lines of ’70s Genesis. But now that I’m older, have broader tastes, and have become familiar with the rest of Brand X’s oeuvre, I kind of dig them. Product isn’t amazing, and it would probably work better if they’d split the two lineups’ material evenly across both sides of the record, but it’s pretty decent regardless. Certainly more enjoyable than what Collins had been doing in Genesis with the dreary …And Then There Were Three… around the same time. It also contains his first experiments with drum machines, which would become the underpinning of his early ’80s solo and Genesis material, beginning with “In The Air Tonight” and “Mama.” As for Is There Anything About?, it lacks the excellence of Masques or Unorthodox Behaviour, but it works as a midpoint between those early Brand X efforts and the later work as a trio in the ’90s, e.g. X-Communication.
And, you know, it’s jazz. So it sounds wonderful and clean on vinyl. I wouldn’t give these the highest possible recommendation, but they’re totally listenable.
RATING: 3 skinny bearded ’70s era Phil Collinses out of 5