Esoteric [Release date 13.10.17]
The former Genesis guitarist’s solo career has been enjoying a boom courtesy of Esoteric Recordings and their expansive reissue programme of his back catalogue. We’ve had the 70s – acoustic, analogue, much meditative melancholy resonating nicely with his old band’s early output – but now there’s an elephant in the room. -Invisible Men’ is an 80s record.
Came the new decade, came change, in terms of recording studio tech, best summed up as -bye-bye strum and hum’ and ‘hallo plink, plonk, thump’. The word ‘Programming’ crept into performer credits. Drummers ran aground as machines took on the task of banging out the beats (as if punk, by now in its last gasps, wasn’t bad enough).
So where did this leave the likes of Ant? Outwardly unflustered it seems. ‘Invisible Men’ came out in 1983 and there are Arps and Rolands ago-go in the credits. Song-based for a change, it was a collaboration with one Richard Scott in part woven around contemporary social issues like the Falklands War, yet cited as reflecting the ‘lighter side’ of its composer’s oeuvre.
Yet, while there are Anthony moments – occasional chord structuring, playful languorous stylings and melody lines echoing ‘The Geese & The Ghost’ and ‘Wise After The Event’ – the album is just too much of a scene change from its forebears, not least as these were so much born of pure creative impulse while this is by way of commercial necessity (Anthony had bought a house – it needs to be paid).
Phillips gamely admits as much in the booklet notes as he also reflects that with hindsight aforesaid recording new studio tech was perhaps not the appropriate context in which to couch his creations. Esoteric have applied just as much attention to this album as they have other Anthony Phillips releases and there is much to read, see and listen to (a bonus CD bags up alt takes and the unreleased) ultimately rendering ‘Invisible Men’, as revisited here, a perfectly satisfactory essay in 80′s pop music. You just need to nudge that elephant aside to get in. ***
Review by Peter Muir
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