ISOTOPE

Fusion • United Kingdom
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ISOTOPE Discography

ISOTOPE albums / top albums

ISOTOPE Illusion album cover 3.60 | 6 ratings
Illusion
Fusion 1974
ISOTOPE Isotope album cover 4.00 | 4 ratings
Isotope
Fusion 1974
ISOTOPE Deep End album cover 3.19 | 4 ratings
Deep End
Fusion 1976

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ISOTOPE Reviews

ISOTOPE Isotope

Album · 1974 · Fusion
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Sean Trane
Debut album of this JR/F quartet that recorded three albums in the mid-70’s and somewhat related to the Canterbury scene (via Hopper) but also to Brand X (via Pert) on the later albums. But this unit is first the union of guitarist Gary Boyle (ex-Auger’s Trinity), bassist Jeff Clyne (ex-Nucleus), drummer Nigel Morris and keyboardist and main songwriter Brian Miller (no relation to Canterbury scene’s Steve & Phil Miller >> they are brothers). Their debut album received a release on Gull records (label mates were Judas Priest) in early 74 and sported a very scientific artwork. And while I agree somewhat with Philo’s opening statement on the liner note of this album, Isotope is still a good band in the JR/F genre, even if they brought absolutely nothing new to it, and were never groundbreaking, but more like those that helped consolidate the genre.

Musically speaking, it appears that there is no real leader despite the songwriting credits and both Miller and Boyle share lead about equally and provide plenty of rhythmic support while the other soloes away. Right from the opening Then There Were Four, the tone is set, a wild instrumental JR/F living in the fast lane, cruising at speeds nearing the 100 MPH, where even a short drum solo appears. The very problem with this kind of quartet of single instrumentalist is that repetition will appear very quickly and the jams appear quickly, but this won’t do much for variety. If Miller had played something else than the electric piano (outside a few rarely noticeable synths), if Boyle had toyed with some acoustic guitar (he does, but in the most boring Waterfall track), if Clyne had put a bow to the contrabass and if Morris played congas, that might have changed the scope and spectrum of the music, although soon or later the problem would’ve surfaced anyway. Hiring a wind instrument player might have helped a great deal.

Anyway the tracks succeeds at a furious rate, with some (Little Fat Man, Bite on This, Upward Curve, Retracing My Steps) retaining much more attention than others (Do The Business, Sunshine Park), while the only non-Miller penned track Honkey Donkey shows more diversity and finally some synths. At times Boyle appears to take charge (Little Fat Man and the Honkey track), but it’s obvious he can’t do it ll of the time, Miller never really coming through (especially on the album-low and slow Windmills & Waterfalls), and the cause of this album is not helped by a fairly flat production, but nothing shameful as some of you would have you believe.

Despite the negative elements I just finished giving you, Isotope’s debut album gained some critical and artistic recognition in its homeland, along with some sales, but apparently this scared Brian Miller and Jeff Clyne, both returning to the straight jazz scene. Still a worthy album to hear, but I suggest you start with the much better Illusion album.

ISOTOPE Deep End

Album · 1976 · Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Sean Trane
I’m not sure how solid a line-up was the one that recorded Deep end, but it sounded like a group out for its last tragic effort, one for the glory, a sort of swansong. Indeed the group was in financial troubles that caused Hopper to leave and the situation was probably no better by the time of recording this album. I’m not even sure there was enough money to finish an entire album, as the group included Fonebone, a leftover from the Illusion sessions where both Scott and Hopper (he’s the author) were present. So with Boyle and Morris again rebuilding the group, in came Dan Brown on bass (not spectacular) and Zoe Kronberger on keys and voices , but apparently Frank Roberts too on the pianos; most likely the two shared the playing time instead of playing double keyboards. Produced by Brand X’s Lumley and released in mid 76, Deep End came with a variation of the diver hitting the water surface for artwork.

If you thought there was a huge difference between the debut and Illusion, just wait until you get your ears on this one. Many of Deep end’s tracks have a profound jazz-funk groove, and when not they’re closer to early Brand X, which is by no doubt courtesy of Lumley. Starting tediously on Picture with Zoe’s bad synth, then on the boring ultra-funky Crunch Cake (Isotope aren’t Head Hunters) and on the much slower Another Side (where Zoe tries some vocalizing, not strong enough in the mix, though), the album has us wait until Blacksand for a bit of excitement. The lengthy Pipe Dreams is another funky track that will make you think of the Head-Hunting Herbie Hancock (stuck in one groove and content staying in it), while Attila delivers many moods, but the production fails to be clearer in setting instruments apart. The album ends in better fashion than it started with Fonebone (mentioned from the previous album’s sessions) and the album-longest title track are easily the best two tracks of the album, the first for reminding us of Illusion, and the latter for being the most-inspired song on the present album.

Please note that the label Line Records has reissued in the early 90’s all three Isotope albums, and unlike some tenacious rumour, they’re fine in terms sound, but on this last album, the label returns to their detestable habit of announcing the tracks on the back cover un-sequentially or non-chronologically, habit which they’d abstained for the previous two albums, so why do it here!?! Outside of that remark, even if the weakest of the three, Deep End is still quite a good album, coming in fairly late in the genre’s history, and it was certainly bringing nothing new to it. So if you have the other two albums, I can’t picture you without this one.

ISOTOPE Illusion

Album · 1974 · Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Sean Trane
Isotope’s second album is a fairly different beast than its predecessor, since half the group is gone, including the main songwriter, keyboardist Brian Miller. In to replace Jeff Clyne is Hugh Hopper fresh from Soft Machine (Boyle and Hopper had met on Yamashta’s East Wind group), while the keys are taken by the relative unknown Lawrence Scott, while Boyle and Morris remain pat. Released still in 74 and again on Gull Record, with a stunning headphones artwork, hitting a bit pretentiously at how much of an earful the album is.

Needless to say that the line-up change totally changes the group’s sound, definitely tilting the balance in Boyle’s favour, newcoming Scott simply not able to fill Miller’s shoes right from the bat. Songwriting-wise, Boyle and Hopper take the lion’s share, while Scott gets two tracks in, and not exactly the weakest – there are none in this album.

What strikes with Illusion is the way the album is much more Mahavishnu-esque, most noticeable in Spanish Sun, but in the title track, or in short Boyle’s songs. Boyle is obviously enamoured with McL’s playing and tries to emulate it, and somehow manages it to his own credit and no ridicule, far from it. Hopper’s tracks don’t necessarily have the Soft machine edge you’d expect, but they do have that little rockier edge (as do Scott’s two tracks) over Boyle’s. Generally the album has its own red-hot sound, despite Boyle’s MO influence, and Hopper’s Sliding Dogs and Golden section are absolute corkers that deserves the album highlight. And just past Boyle’s acoustic Marin Country Girl, Hopper’s Lily Kong offers a last hurrah for Hugh, while Scott closes the album with the MO-influenced Temper Tantrum.

Family’s Poli Palmer’s is not exactly top notch though, thus stopping this album to get an even higher rating, but make no mistake, this is Isotope’s best album with some margin. After Illusion’s recording, the group would tour Western Europe, just as it had before it. Then an Ameruican tour came, some reinforcements (De Souza on percussion) brought in, Scott leaving just before financial problems forced Hopper to leave as well, leaving Morris and Boyle to rebuild once more

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