Unorthodox Behavior

Brand X

Charisma, 1976

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Jazz-rock fusion is a genre that often tests my patience. I like melody. I like hooks. I like the feeling that a song is taking me somewhere and that it, at some point, arrives at that destination. Fusion typically considers all of these features strictly optional. It is about spontaneity, jamming, and discovery. Sometimes the discoveries are awesome and sometimes they are merely head-scratching. (“Well… that didn’t really go anywhere, did it?”)

I’m fully aware that I’m supposed to love this, Brand X’s debut, inasmuch as it’s revered by all the coolest cognoscenti, with the added attraction of featuring Phil Collins on drums back before he went all AM radio. The problem is, I don’t. And so the challenge becomes to figure out why, and to identify what I do like about it, as well as the parts that don’t quite work for me.

Unorthodox Behavior is comprised of seven tracks, all instrumental, ranging from three to eight and a half minutes in length. All are group compositions by the founding lineup of John Goodsall (guitar), Percy Jones (bass), Robin Lumley (keyboards), and Collins (drums), with production by the group and Dennis Mackay. And all have very much the feel of studio jams sculpted into manageable tracks, some with more musical coherence and direction than others.

Opener “Nuclear Burn” features some tremendous playing, especially from Jones and Goodsall, but in its extreme fiddly-ness, sometimes feels more like an athletic exercise than a song. Then around 4:55 it transforms into a fresh segment that accelerates until it’s downright ferocious, gaining such speed that it gets rather thready, with individual notes lost to pure speed until they knock off around 6:20. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The jazzy “Euthanasia Waltz” initially puts the spotlight on Lumley’s keys, alternating moderately paced bits with aggressive sprints. All four players get weird at various points along the way and it’s clear Collins is having a blast cutting loose. Then “Born Ugly” emphasizes the “fun” in funk, a lively soul-jazz-funk-rock jam with definite entertainment value and distinct hooks. The seventh and eighth minutes are especially sharp with silvery guitar, skittery drums, ethereal keys, and a strong groove.

“Smacks Of Euphoric Hysteria”—another track whose title feels like a word jumble on a refrigerator door—opens with a similarly tight groove before it goes sideways. It has almost a Jeff Beck-Jan Hammer feel in places, at least until the synth solo goes nearly atonal; it’s out there… and then it just ends. (Shoulder shrug emoji.)

The eight and half minute title track is a tough nut to crack, a super wonky and mostly meandering number, spotlighting drums and bass at first, with keys and guitar joining in. It honestly feels like a studio jam that the producer hit record on just in case.

“Running Of Three” starts off with a complex multi-part theme principally involving keys and drums, with bass and guitar supporting, then goes into a hyperactive, circular riff. In the “chorus” section Collins and Jones provide the drive while Goodsall and Lumley explore the sky above. It develops even more velocity in the third minute and ends up as one of the more enjoyable tracks here—dynamic, vigorous and relatively focused at 4:38.

Closer “Touch Wood” offers a sharp contrast, a quieter, steadily morphing track mostly featuring acoustic guitar, acoustic piano, bass and guest Jack Lancaster on sax. It eventually builds into something in the third minute before finishing up at a brief 3:04; it’s subtler and less noisy than a lot of the previous tracks, which isn’t a bad thing.

This album would kick off several years of off-and-on work for Brand X, with Collins stepping in and out of the lineup as Genesis and eventually also his solo career pulled him away. The group continued to reform off and on over the years, mostly around Jones and Goodsall, with a variety of other players lending their talents to its free-form improvisational vibe.

In the end, Brand X’s debut Orthodox Behavior feels like something of a lark, a loose, jammy ’70s precursor to more structured modern fusion groups like Snarky Puppy. If improvisational fusion is your jam, the freedom heard in these grooves may feel exhilarating. If so, my advice is to go with that feeling, and enjoy. For this particular listener, this album is a case of “there’s some pretty cool shit in there, but I’m not sure I ever need to hear that again.”

Rating: B-

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