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Brand X: Nuclear Burn

Phil Collins’ 1970s side project shines bright.

It’s worth remembering that when Brand X arrived on the scene, there existed a vibrant domestic jazz-rock community in the UK.

Pacific Eardrum, Suntreader, Isotope, Turning Point, John Stevens’ Away, Back Door and many others worked the college circuit, gaining wider audiences supporting touring rock acts.

This was a time when gig-going punters were generally broad-minded about boundaries, and ‘instrumental technique’ was not yet a term of abuse. This four-disc remastered collection of the six albums Brand X released between 1975 and 1980 reminds us that instrumental technique was something this outfit had in abundance.

Unlike the other jazz rocketeers, Brand X enjoyed extra media visibility thanks to Phil Collins’ presence amid the fluctuating personnel. On their remarkable debut, Unorthodox Behaviour, Collins turns in some of his most musical drumming. Is it too fanciful to suggest that this side project ended up rubbing off on Collins’ day job?

If you had to describe Brand X in one word, it would be ‘joy’. Accessible, affable and with bags of personality, these albums barely corral the boundless enthusiasm emanating players who clearly relish hurtling along breakneck tempos with the giddy zeal of adrenaline junkies. Guitarist John Goodsall executes rapid hit-and-run raids without ever losing his melodic sense of direction. The other dominant force is Percy Jones who, alongside Jaco Pastorius, is one of the most distinctive and expressive bassists of his generation. Within tunes that build and hold mounting anticipation and sinuously collective interplay, Jones’s lines writhe with eel-like elasticity.

The first couple of albums set the bar pretty high and quality is held fairly consistently until 1979’s slightly formulaic Product. Soho and Don’t Make Waves, with Collins adding lead vocals, were released as singles. Hopeless clunkers, they’re textbook examples of botched commercialism that highlights aberrant rather than unorthodox behaviour. Sadly, the 1980 track Act Of Will repeats the misguided exercise, with Goodsall’s Vocoder-processed vocals serving only to make matters worse.

Despite a couple of BBC radio session tracks as extras, with frankly disappointing packaging and only marginal sonic improvements, no upgrade is required if you already own the 1980s-issued Virgin Compact Price editions. Anyone unfamiliar but intrigued to sample the rich pickings which this back catalogue contains should grab this reissue immediately and without reservation.

Sid Smith
Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.