All in all, this isn’t an album to drive to on the motorway, nor is it one to work out to, as it demands some attention from the listener, but it does reward such attentive listening.
Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley, for those who might understandably require some clarification, were (and indeed still are!) a pair of musicians who had collaborated together on a couple of film soundtracks and an abortive band before, in 1975, assembling an all-star cast of musicians to record a contemporary reimagining of Prokofiev’s classical work Peter And The Wolf. After the success of this work, they joined forces with a number of invited guests once again in 1976 to record this conceptual instrumental album based on a trip to, and exploration of, Mars. The roll-call of guest musicians isn’t quite so lengthy this time out, but it does, significantly, include all of what would that same year become Brand X, the jazz-rock fusion band which Phil Collins played in during any down-time he had from Genesis – one of whom was, of course, Lumley himself. Indeed, given that this album was recorded at the same studio (Trident) as the first Brand X album Unorthodox Behaviour, and the two came out quite soon after each other, it has been rumoured that the two were recorded at the same sessions and therefore Marscape is, in fact, the first Brand X album under a different name. Lancaster, however, refutes this, explaining that not only were the sessions for the two albums done at different times, but that Brand X didn’t actually coalesce into a band themselves until after Marscape was recorded. Still, it’s a must-have for any fans of that band, nevertheless, as the connection cannot be understated. At the very least, the album can be looked at as the beginning of Brand X – or the Genesis of Brand X, to labour a rather obvious Collins-based pun…
Given these circumstances, it will not come as a surprise to anyone that the jazz-fusion influence on the album is very strong, and the DNA of Brand X doesn’t exactly need forensic testing to search for. However, that is far from the whole story, as anyone expecting a full album of the sort of tricky, complex fusion which filled the Unorthodox Behaviour album will likely be quite surprised, because there is a much wider breadth of styles in evidence here. It is true that such jazz-rock flights of muso bravura do raise their heads above the Martian surface on several of the tracks here – Olympus Mons, Phobos And Deimos (named for the planet’s twin moons) and Hopper (a vehicle for negotiating the terrain) being the clearest and most obvious examples. These three tracks are also highlights, with Olympus Mons having a good claim as outstanding track here.
Elsewhere, however, we have more reflective pieces (the piano and sax-based With A Great Feeling Parts One And Two being an obvious example), but also Sail On Solar Winds (chronicling the journey to Mars), Homelight (thinking of Earth) and the closing Release. There is quite an avant-garde feel to some of the material on here as well, such as Dust-Storm, and the track Blowholes (The Pipes Of Mars) uses Lancaster’s pan-pipes to superb effect to illustrate the great natural rock structures through which the wind whistles to produce sound. None of the thirteen tracks here (plus two bonus single edits) are particularly lengthy, but the longest is the penultimate Realisation which, at over six minutes, is also the piece which could best be described as traditional instrumental progressive rock.
All in all, this isn’t an album to drive to on the motorway, nor is it one to work out to, as it demands some attention from the listener, but it does reward such attentive listening. The tracklisting helpfully gives small descriptive snippets of the inspiration behind each track, which helps the mind’s eye enormously, as the record is most of all akin to a soundtrack for a Martian documentary film which has not – at least as yet – been made. Lancaster and Lumley went their separate ways after this one (as the former says in the accompanying booklet, without any thoughts of embarking on a series of albums about Venus, Saturn, Neptune etc!), but with this and the Peter And The Wolf recording, they leave behind them a couple of the most unlikely and distinctive albums of the mid-1970s as a legacy. Well, that and giving birth to Brand X of course – whose fans (along with Phil Collins completists) will welcome this release with open arms.