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Anthony Phillips Recording Compendium
The Last Domino? Tour
Brand X Special: An Urorthodox History
Brand X Is There Anything About?

Brand X - Is There Anything About?


Preface

Sadly, another former musician of the band has died. It is Frank Katz, who accompanied the band as drummer from 1992 to 1997 and helped to keep the flag flying *1. This review is dedicated to him.


Background:

40 years ago, Brand X's last studio album with Phil Collins, Is There Anything About? was released. Its release marked the definitive end of the band's first and most fruitful phase. *2 It should not be forgotten, however, that the band no longer existed at the time of the album's creation. Percy Jones and John Goodsall had moved to the USA, Phil Collins was busy with his incredibly successful solo career (he was already working on his second solo album) and the remaining band members were working as session musicians. The European record label Charisma had dropped the band. Only Passport Records in the USA still had contractual obligations. Brand X "owed" the label an album. Robin Lumley was to attempt to produce this album - without an active band! He went to Trident Studios with producer Steven Short *3 and saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft (who doesn't know his solo on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street?) *4. Together with them, he sifted through existing outtakes and leftover material, mainly from the sessions for the two previous albums. Thus, Is There Anything About? is not really a new album, but rather a collection of remixes and reworked outtakes.


Title and cover design

CoverA white-gloved man dressed in a tailcoat waves to the viewer with his top hat drawn. He can only be seen in a blur because he is behind a wall of special glass. Anyone who thinks they are looking at another bizarre hipgnosis cover is mistaken. It is the not entirely unknown Bill Smith *5 who is responsible. Is it supposed to ironically symbolise the band's farewell?

In the liner notes, Tony Smith, among others, is acknowledged as the founder of the band. The title of the album could refer to the end of the band. Is there anything about...? Not unlikely, as the band's (members') wry sense of humour should be well known. Proof of this is also the last PS in the liner notes: Some of the so-called humorous material was nicked from the best-selling book "HOW TO SPELL" by HM The Quoon (sic!).


Songs


Ipanaemia (Goodsall) - 4:12

The album's opener, like the majority of the tracks, is played by Goodsall, Collins, Giblin and Lumley. A weird guitar melody opens the piece and leads through the song. It is accompanied by a bass line and soulful drumming. From about a minute in, an acoustic guitar takes over and duels with the electric over time. Small breaks are built in, a synth solo can be heard and again and again the bass bubbles. A nice, light, typical jazz rock piece from the time around Product, characterised by Goodsall.


A Longer April (Giblin) - 7:14

The track April *6 is already available on Product, but it is only about two minutes long and consists mainly of a bass line and soft keyboard carpets. The longer outtake of the track was reworked. Ravenscroft is the first time in the band's history that a saxophone has been added. Sounds of a peaceful country idyll are accompanied by a fretless bass. It is played very sensitively by Giblin. Slowly Phil caresses his brass, a keyboard makes harmonic waves, the drums get louder, a guitar tries to compete with the bass, but only the saxophone succeeds. A beautiful, calm, flowing almost New Age-like piece of music that invites you to dream and ends with sound effects, guitar arpeggios and a saxophone scream. Mhm, new age - jazz rock? A highlight, not only of the album!


Tmiu-Atga (Giblin, Robinson, Lumley) - 4:43

The track moves to this position on the CD. It replaces Modern, Noisy And Effective, which is on the vinyl version. The latter gets its place as a finale at the end of the CD. The title is not a mysterious text in some Far Eastern language. It means: "They're Making It Up As They Go Along." Motto: The three composers improvised the piece in passing. Again it begins quietly with a keyboard solo and gentle bass stabs. Reminiscent of Anthony Phillips' K2 with jazz touches, or Lyle May's solo album of the same name. On the CD, it follows the equally quiet A Longer April in a dramaturgically clever way.


Swan Song (Giblin, Lumley, Collins, Short) - 5:26

The band's swan song? Well, it gets loud, a slap bass *7 by Giblin sets the theme, fanfare-like keyboards lead into a great guitar solo. The drums, staying true to themselves, play the rhythm without excitement. After two minutes, things speed up a bit and we hear the ahs and ohs of a choral song.

So the track meanders towards its end in the basic theme. Short must have spiced up the outtake a bit in terms of production. Not much use. The swan song remains unimpressive.


Is There Anything About? (Jones, Goodsall, Lumley, Collins) - 7:47

The highlight of the album! Is it because of the almost free-jazz bass figures of Jones, who plays here the only time on the album? The drums are flared up and cheekily pushed into the background by the bass. The keyboard adds siren vocals. Goodsall's glorious guitar plays up, only to be replaced by Lumley's keyboard. Now Collins drums himself into a frenzy too. It's reminiscent of Weather Report. By the way, the piece comes from the sessions for Moroccan Roll and was originally called Moammar!

Is there anything about? Yes, Brand X in fantastic form. It bubbles, booms, crashes, hisses, it's a real joy. Improvised music that never overshoots the mark. That is the playful sound of this unique band.


Modern, Noisy And Effective (Goodsall, Lumley, Short) - 3:55

Fanfare-like keyboard sounds characterise the cheerful, relaxed conclusion. Again, one is reminded of Lyle Mays. It sounds as if Robinson, who is a one-time player here, and Lumley are eager to show what a noise canon can be produced by two keyboardists. A nice stadium rock anthem a la Brand X. Very catchy, rocking. Yes, a short number that even got a pinch of pop. The basis for this piece is the backing track for Soho from the album Product.


All in all

Is There Anything About? is indeed the band's swan song. Long since scattered to the winds, dropped by the record company, the album seems a little glued together and strained. It doesn't seem organic, from a single mould. There was also an attempt to create a better flow on the CD version by swapping two tracks. Two tracks are outstanding and worth buying the album, which is unfortunately also very short: the hypnotic, beautiful, dreamy A Longer April and the wonderfully jazz-rocking title song. The lively Ipanaemia should also be mentioned. So a bad taste remains, because after all, this album was supposed to be the last of the band's great era. Even the predecessor was not one hundred percent convincing. The air was finally out. Nevertheless, the purchase is worthwhile as a casual, short introduction to the Brand X universe. It is positive to note that the released pieces have not gathered dust in the archives.

A few more samplers were to be released over the next few years, before a new start with a changed line-up was achieved much later.


Author: Thomas Jesse



References:
*1. See Facebook
*2. As always: Many thanks to Steffen Gerlach for his excellent band hisstory!
*3. Steven Short, who died in 2015, was a sound engineer and producer. He worked mainly at Trident Studios and is no stranger to the Genesis camp, see Wikipedia and Discogs.
*4. He, too, is no longer alive. see this link
*5. Not much needs to be said about Bill Smith here. Check out this book if you are interested.
*6. See here
*7. Details about the Slap technique:


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