Macrocosm - Introducing... Brand X CD
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Virgin have released Brand X compilations before (I reckon this must be the third at least), so presumably they think there's a public out there waiting to be seduced by the prospect of quirky British prog fusion. They've even packaged it with a sleeve design so datedly sexist you may be tempted to wrap it in a brown paper bag when you take it home. What were they thinking?
Though they were popularly perceived as one of Phil Collins' side projects, Brand X were much more than that, on their first few albums at least. Combining tricksy fusion riffing with spacey improvising and 6th form Monty Python-esque humour, they came across as a distinctly British answer to the twee pyrotechnics of Return to Forever and the like. Collins and bassist Percy Jones had worked extensively with Brian Eno, and tracks like"...Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All" and the sumptuously atmospheric "Isis Mourning" suggest an influence from the domed one.
It's easy to forget what a great drummer Collins was/is - on the early tracks here he's inventive and powerful (despite the occasional Billy Cobham impression). Together with Jones, whose fantastically aquatic, rubbery fretless bass imagined Bootsy Collins and Charles Mingus meeting in a zero gravity environment, they created a slippery, intricate and sometimes desperately funky pulse. Check the opening 'Hate Zone" for proof and remind yourself that the drummer is the same man who gave us "Against All Odds'.
Guitarist John Goodsall and keyboardist Robin Lumley (cousin of Joanna, fact fans) were left to do the widdly widdly solo bits with bendy moogs and distorted axe heroics. Though both were technically up to the job, it's on the spacier material that they move beyond the usual fusion cliches and start to create something a bit different. They weren't allowed to do that for too long, though...
By album number five, Charisma were getting a little itchy at Brand X's lack of commercial success. The resulting, bitterly titled Product saw the band split into two, with one arm (featuring Collins) going for snappier vocal material, the other (featuring Jones) refining the complexities of an increasingly technically dazzling but unforgiving fusion. Macrocosm contains some fine music (and some utter crap), but the lazy sleevenotes and consistent mis-spelling of album titles and personnel suggests a quick raid on the back catalogue rather than a thoughtful compilation. Product, anyone? --Peter Marsh
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