Invisible Men - The latest in the Anthony Phillips reissues series reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Disparagingly referred to by Ant as “the mortgage album”, Invisible Men shows a side of Ant all to rarely seen both then and since; that of a song writer with a fine ear for a good tune as well as someone prepared to write about subjects which may not appeal to everyone.
In collaboration with his friends Richard Scott and Joji Hirota the “Anthony Phillips Band” project was born out of an attempt to get a stab at commercial success. The resulting album shows an altogether different Anthony Phillips than that which we had come to expect. With songs such as Golden Bodies, Love In A Hot Air Balloon and Going For Broke, and the possibilities for promotional videos that these songs generate, there was scope for Ant to finally get the recognition he deserved.
Not that this album was a commercial sell-out, far from it with songs about alien abduction (My Time Has Come) and anti a war songs such as the haunting Exocet and the superb The Women Were Watching, which even now remains the best indictment of the follow of war that I have ever heard, this was no lightweight pop pap, but adult orientated pop in the truest sense of the word. Ant’s voice came into its own on this album and despite his own doubts about his vocal abilities, I have no such reservations. And of course, there is the familiar Phillips humour running through the album as well. A sure fire hit eh? Well, sadly that was not to be the case although god alone knows why as this album not only stands up well to its peers and has indeed not dated as badly as most of them but I am confident that if these songs were released now, they would gain a much wider audience.
For those among you reading this who are not already familiar with the album, then I think you are in for a very pleasant surprise. And for those of us who are familiar with it, the surprise will be just as pleasant as once again, Esoteric have done a superb job on the remastering of the album. It is amazing how once again, something you are supposedly familiar with takes on an extra dimension as “new” details are heard all of which make the listening experience just that little bit more enjoyable.
However, as we know by now with these reissues, the album itself is only half the story. Once again, Ant’s archivist Jon Dann has done a superlative job in tracking down an entire extras disc of unheard material and I mean this is stuff that even I have not heard before!
The second disc gets under way with Gimme Love, a typical Eighties rocker ballad with vocals by Richard Scott. Once again, this is a track that wouldn’t do too shabbily if it were released now, that is how good the quality of the song writing is. Part of the fascination of projects such as these is when you get to hear alternative versions of songs you think you are familiar with and here we have a quartet of such things with the demo of Golden Bodies being particularly interesting.
For existing fans the rest of this selection is of special interest as it represents completely unheard material. Mysterious Constitution Of Comets, She’s Gone, Graciella, Over And Over Again, Tonight and Alien are very much unfinished ideas which although holding some promise never quite reach the same level as the tracks which eventually made the album cut although the piano driven Over And Over Again does have echoes of My Time Has Come in its refrain, perhaps that is why it was never finished? I had heard the finished version of Holding You Again which was eventually used in the short-lived Alice musical but here we have an early instrumental version of it. Still a lovely song even though the fadeout spoils it slightly. And the rest of the tracks here bring the story of the album right up to date.
Speaking of stories, once again, the discs are accompanied by an informative booklet with an excellent essay on the album and its development by Ant’s archivist, Jonathan Dan who once again has done his homework. The end result is yet another extremely enjoyable offering. I sincerely hope that maybe now (albeit a bit late) this underrated album may get the acknowledgement it deserves and that Invisible Men project becomes a tad more visible as it certainly deserves to be!
Anthony Phillips: Invisible Men. Esoteric Records ECLEC 22603.