Phil Collins has taken his knocks (ahem!) for yanking Genesis up by its prog-rock roots and replanting it on the Billboard pop charts. Still, anyone who questions Collins as a drummer need only explore his tandem, tantalizingly brief late-1970s career in Brand X.
A trio of rare and previously unheard recordings, seeing welcome reissue via Gonzo Multimedia, serves as a powerful reminder of the retired/maybe unretired Collins’ prodigious chops, even as it underscores the contributions made by the other guys in Brand X who didn’t later unleash the unholy earworm “Sussudio” upon the MTV generation.
Start with Missing Period, which collects this often-forgotten fusion group’s earliest recordings, dating to 1975 — just before the release of the initial Brand X album, 1976′s Unorthodox Behaviour. Family members of guitarist John Goodsall — who with bassist Percy Jones, owns the rights to the Brand X name — gave him a box of old band memorabilia that, unbeknownst to anyone, included these never-before-released reel-to-reel recordings. Together with keyboardist Robin Lumley and Collins, the group swings impressively from lyrical flights of fancy into layered, Collins-powered rhythmic turbulence — setting a course they’d more fully explore in their terrific studio debut.
After skipping 1978′s Masques, Collins reunited with Brand X for a 1979 album and tour, the latter of which is excerpted on Live at the Roxy LA by Gonzo. Peter Robinson joins as a second keyboardist for this stage performance, but otherwise the evening found the classic quartet offering a scorching prog-inflected set highlighted by Jones’ teeth-splinting grooves.
This reel arrived, actually, by a similar moment of happenstance as did Missing Period. Brand X recorded its rehearsals and its live shows for review purposes, but would typically use the same tape over and over — once any needed tweaks to the setlist or musical approach had been made. Somehow, the 1979 Roxy date survived. As such, there is a flatness to the recording, which hasn’t been remixed. But, as documents of a moment in time go, it’s startling: Lumley’s “Disco Suicide” and Jones’ “Malaga Virgen” (both from 1977′s Moroccan Roll) absolutely crackle with life.
Brand X also dashes through a trio of tracks from their then-new release Product (highlighted by a boiling version on Collins’ “And So to F”), before closing with an absolutely titanic update of the band-written “Nuclear Burn” from the Brand X debut. Collins, throughout, is a blur of intrigue.
Finally, there’s Is There Anything About?, a reissued collection of odds and ends that Brand X issued after its initial breakup in 1980 to finish a label obligation. That really undersells what the album represents, however, as Collins wouldn’t rejoin Brand X again — replaced by Mike Clark initially and then others when Goodsall and Jones returned in 1992.
Is There Anything About?, then, works as a sort of final testament to Collins’ typically overlooked capacity toward more complex fusion. (Put another way: This collection arrived in 1982, while Genesis was in the studio working on a self-titled release that would include the godawful “Illegal Alien.”) All but one of the cuts features Collins, including the now sadly prophetic “Swan Song” — a funky little outer-space exploration that would have fit perfectly on any Return to Forever album from that era.