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Phillips, Anthony: Invisible Men (expanded remaster)
It's not often that a musician is honest enough to admit that they recorded an album almost purely for commercial reasons, so kudos is due to Anthony Phillips as he opens the liner notes to the expanded, remastered 2CD edition of his 1983 album, Invisible Men, with exactly that admission. He goes on to further reveal that many of the aspects at this stab at broadening his audience (and paying his bills at the same time) made him uncomfortable, and in truth, it feels like little has changed. Known for progressive, almost pastoral albums in the vein of the renowned The Geese And The Ghost, or synth based compositions such as 1984, Phillips wasn't totally new to a more pop and song based approach, his underrated Sides album a successful attempt at something more 'straightforward'. Invisible Men however took things far deeper into that territory, a collaboration with programmer and vocalist Richard Scott resulting in a sound that while undoubtedly 'fashionable' in the early 80s, was never going to find favour with many of Phillips' long term supporters.
And so it proved, the collection of pop-prog that more often than not drops the prog, hopefully aimed at the sort of territory that Phillips' old band Genesis were about to occupy the top of the charts with. Instead, the smooth washes of "Guru" were more akin to the pop-lite that The Moody Blues would toy with, while "Falling For Love" feels like it was auditioning, and being turned down for, a Simply Red album.
Not everything floundered to quite the same extent, "Golden Bodies" fun in that sort of calypso-pop manner the 80s could be, while "Exocet" brings a jagged uncomfortableness that might have fitted onto a Tony Banks solo venture. However, even with its remarkably twee drum box intro (there's a second where it might just turn into Tiffany's version of "I Think We're Alone Now"…), "The Women Were Watching" somehow hits the perfect balance between prog and pop that you guess was the intention all along. A synthesised tin whistle offering stabs of melancholic melody, as the banked vocals finally find the quiet threat needed to turn what could have been bland tweeness into a hard hitting snarl. The lyrical bite of this song benefitting here too.
Actually getting the album released proved a trial for Phillips and Scott (who shared lead vocals across the album, although the guitarist did handle the majority), Passport records in America rejecting the first two versions they heard, while finding interest from a UK label proved even more difficult. In the end a remastered version hit US shelves in October 1983, while niche label Street Tunes put the album out in April 1984 in the UK - albeit with "Exocet" dropped in favour of the less effective "It's Not Easy" in hope of showing some difference between the two versions of the album now available. Both tracks are restored to their rightful place in the running order here.
First released on CD by Virgin records in 1991, a further three bonus tracks were added and "Trail Of Tears", "The Ballad Of Penlee" (a tribute to those lost in the Penlee lifeboat disaster) and "Alex (Atmosphere Studios Version)" now complete disc one. Disc two however brings together a mixture of unreleased tracks from the album session and other recordings between Phillips and Scott - including a track, "Holding You Again", taken from their Alice In Wonderland musical, Alice. Some of these have been reworked for releases from Phillips that came later, but none in this original guise, with "Finale (Atmosphere Studio version)", "Gimme Love" and ""Mysterious Constitution Of Comets" proving amongst the most effective.
There's no disguising that Invisible Men is one of Anthony Phillips' weaker moments, nor that it hasn't aged as well as most of his catalogue (not something that's all that unusual for any 80s album, to be fair). However, there are still a few knockout moments and as an attempt to do something genuinely different, this 1983 album is an interesting, if ultimately flawed effort.
1. GOLDEN BODIES
2. THE WOMEN WERE WATCHING
5. LOVE IN A HOT AIR BALLOON
6. GOING FOR BROKE
7. FALLING FOR LOVE
9. I WANT YOUR HEART
11. IT'S NOT EASY
12. MY TIME HAS COME
13. TRAIL OF TEARS
14. THE BALLAD OF PENLEE
15. ALEX (ATMOSPHERE STUDIOS VERSION)
DISC TWO - INVISIBLE MEN: OUT-TAKES & DEMOS (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED)
1. GIMME LOVE
2. FALLING FOR LOVE (ALTERNATE VERSION)
3. MY TIME HAS COME (INSTRUMENTAL MIX)
4. GOLDEN BODIES (DEMO)
5. MYSTERIOUS CONSTITUTION OF COMETS
6. SHE'S GONE
8. OVER AND OVER AGAIN
11. REFUGEE FROM LOVE
12. SOMETHING BLUE
13. HOLDING YOU AGAIN
15. SHADOW IN THE DESERT
16. FINALE (ATMOSPHERE STUDIOS VERSION)
Added: October 1st 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Invisible Men at Cherry Red
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