Jazz Fusion with a sense of humor ...
Jersey Joker | Laurel, MD | 06/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I got this album maybe 1 year after it was originally released on LP, back in '77 or '78. I think it was the very first Brand X album I got (either this one or their debut, "Unorthodox Behaviour"), and I got it because I was a huge fan of Phil Collin's drumming.
After all these years, I can consistently say this record is one of my top 5 favorites (of all genres) of all time. It's just phenomenal. It has ALL the instrumental elements that I crave: some of Collin's best, relentless drumming ever, Percy Jone's fantastic fretless work (whose abilities seem to have been overshadowed by Jaco's, since they both seemed to arrive on the scene around the same time -- of course, Jaco was a madman, but Percy rates right along with him!), Goodsall's fluid picking styles, and Robin Lumley's tremendous keyboard work on his arsenal of instruments contemporary for the time (Rhodes, Arp, Mini-Moog, Acoustic Piano, etc.) Morris Pert's expanded role as percussionist was certainly welcome, as well.
These guys can all play, but what stands out about Brand X above all their contemporary Fusion peers (Mahavishnu Orchestra, RTF, Ponty) is the sense of humor that seems to run through all their music. You can clearly pick up on the Monty Python influence when you read the liner notes (hell, Michael Palin actually WROTE the liner notes for "Do They Hurt"!), but it's actually there in the music, too -- check it out. (I ALMOST lumped Weather Report in with those other guys, but Zawinul definitely had a little bit of humor in his playing, as well.)
All 4 of the original guys contribute individually-written tunes (although something tells me that Collin's 2 segueing tracks were more of a band jam/collaboration, even though he got the sole credit). Every tune stands out on this album. Goodsall's "Sun In The Night" -- the first BRAND X track with vocals on it by Collins -- in Sanskrit, no less -- contains a great, mad Sitar solo. It, as good as it is, is actually the weakest track on the album. Collin's contribution, "Why Should I Lend You Mine (When You've Broken Yours Off Already)" into "Maybe I'll Lend You Mine After All" is the song with the longest title -- and also just happens to be the longest track (well, TWO tracks!) on the album -- it clocks in at a combined length of 13:26. It starts off with a bizarre bit of synth, and then everyone fades in and just cooks along -- until they all suddenly stop; and float into a very pensive, quiet section of the tune (Morris Pert's percussive work stands out here, and it IS sweet). A few sudden explosive attacks, and then it fades into Part 2, a very atmospheric piano part with Collin's wordless vocals, for 2 minutes, before the song fades away. It's beautifully hypnotic, and a standout moment to me on the album.
Goodall's "Hate Zone" kicks into gear with a solo by Collins, and then a hot, noisy groove by all, with more soloing by Lumley and Goodsall, and into a bizarre heavy rock-crescendo of an ending.
Lumley's brief 95-second keyboard interlude "Collapsar" concludes side one. Then you flip the record over (if it's a CD, just let it play!)
After all that just went on, it actually gets better. "Disco Suicide" opens up Side 2 of the vinyl record, with Collins tapping out an intro on the half-closed hi-hat -- it's great on CD; if you listen closely, you can hear him counting this one off, "onnnnnnne, twoooooooo, threeeeeeee, fouuuuuuurrrrr". Lumley's second track on the album, it's made up of several different sections that just somehow flow one into the other naturally ("how the hell do they do it?!") This tune is one that they played quite a bit live on the '79 tour, but it never sounded quite like it does in the studio, and I have to say I prefer the studio version, with the long, almost-majestic fade out (complete with MORE wordless vocals from Robin and John).
A brief Bass solo with Autoharp accompaniment (all by Jones), "Orbits" precedes the classic studio version of one of the more well-known BRAND X tunes, "Malaga Virgen" (or "Virgin", depending on the version you might have -- on the original album it's spelled with an "E", as well as on "Livestock" and "Trilogy", but on "Timeline" it's spelled with an "I" ... go figure.) This is another one of those classic magical moments, where everyone is JUST "ON" -- so much so, you might find yourself laughing at the synchronicity -- it's so good it's ridiculous. Then, when everyone is all hot and cooking, it comes to a crashing halt. At the 4:29 mark, Jones plays one of the coolest, slithery bass lines I've ever heard. Lumley's string synth comes in, and John does that really fast, acoustic, alternate picking thing he does -- this is just one of those moments, man, that has to be heard to be believed! Then at 7:03, you hear Goodsall's evil electric guitar line creep in -- the song starts to fade -- then they all come back in and, just to show off, they deliver one last really fast well-coordinated run -- just to show you they can. After 8 & 1/2 minutes of pure groove, the song ends.
And now for one of the coolest Rock/Jazz/Fusion tunes ever, Goodsall's "Macrocosm". John just fades in, playing one of the coolest arpeggio riffs ever -- check out the chords he's making on the intro to this tune, with the time alternating in 8/8 and 7/8, then Robin and Percy come in, playing the melody, and Collins holding it all together SO beautifully -- again, it's just ridiculous, and (of course!) they are all spot on! A bit of a transition, in 4/4 and an occasional measure of 5/4, and then they're off to the races, John & Robin trading off licks. Finally, back to the beginning again, until it all comes crashing down into one final, absolutely brilliant explosion! I believe at least one B1 Bomber was destroyed in the making of this record.
These guys don't screw around -- they mean business. This collection of recordings proves it. If you wanna check 'em out, THIS is one helluva place to start."