Passport 1983 / Esoteric 2017
Disappearing into a different persona, prog proponent produces a potent pop proposition.
Ever since Anthony Phillips had emerged as a solo artist, listeners expected exquisite grandeur from him that, built in impressionistic strokes, would culminate in the rock orchestration of "Slow Dance" – yet not a pop album, even though this was the element present in his every work, so obvious in "Wise After The Event" and further down the line. Still, “Invisible Men” – originally credited to Ant’s non-existent band – remains a surprising entry in Phillips’ catalogue. A tribute to its period, more prosaic, practical reasons underlaid the musician’s decision to deliver an LP which veered away from his usual scheme of things: a new house required a source of steady income to pay off mortgage. As a result, the composer explained in our interview, “there was a big pressure upon me to come up with something more commercial. But I felt that some of it was a bit more fun to start with, entertaining and interesting” – and rather alluring it is, indeed.
Strong vocal-wise yet anchored by drum machine simplicity, Anthony devised the record with Richard Scott, the second man on the cover, who contributed a lot of sonic ideas, including the record’s rhythmic programming, albeit it’s Phillips’ own perspective that is the album’s driving force. “I always need a little bit more distraction,” Ant is singing here as if to make his motives clear, which is why, perhaps, the refrain of “My Time Has Come” breaks out of its gentle ripple and leads towards a street shuffle. Down to earth seemed the way to go, and not for nothing the calypso-tinctured opener “Golden Bodies” has a relaxed, and at the same time tight, sunny groove to it, whereas the ivories-directed “Guru” would go down the MOR route without ever disrupting the artist’s integrity.
Of course, the delicate twang of “Falling For Love” can run too close to “Moonlight Shadow” for a serene, sax-smeared wonder, but the cinematic plenitude of layers in “Traces” is pure Phillips – his guitar carefully picking notes to paint ethereal pictures – only now Anthony’s typical vignette is caramelized, while “I Want Your Heart” flows as stately as his more imposing compositions do, although rather effusively for a baroque track. Less predictably, there’s a folk march woven into “The Women Were Watching” where a strum recreates the tension around The Falklands War, yet the album finds an easy way to relay the era’s elated mood – possibly inspired by new wave artists, as the playful “Sally” or the dry romp of “Going For Broke” suggest – so the fanfare in “Love In A Hot Air Balloon” doesn’t take away from the piece’s satirically simple joie de vivre. A fusion riff and dynamic waves underneath it make “It’s Not Easy” the only number letting Ant bare his experimental edge amid sweet harmonies of the chorus, and it’s impossible not to feel the truth of the song’s title – despite the great cache of tunes Phillips created during the record’s creation.
Expanding the album at a later date with, among other tracks, “Trail Of Tears” to revert “Invisible Men” to its original concept, the veteran gave his “weird” work a solemn, dignified finale which is even more impressive now that the spectral “Alex” progressed from a rough cut to a newly found, fully formed mix. But this time, on the ultimate reissue, there’s a second disc comprised of alternative and instrumental takes and a plethora of previously unreleased cuts from the same sessions, some of those – the beautifully ambient “Graciella” or the light, Harrison-esque “Gimme Love” – potentially surpassing a few tracks which made the cut, if not fitting into the context. With a raw beat removed, the hopeful, translucent “Alien” could shine on the released record, as could a show tune “Darling” and a song version of “Something Blue”… yet something had to become invisible for the rest of it to come into view. As it is, such a charming creation only adds to the stunning spectrum of Anthony Phillips’ talents.