There tends to be a certain stigma against the early work of the more prominent progressive rock acts, a kind of condescending disdain for their embryonic stages before they embraced musical complexity and loftier ambitions. Often even a group's most devoted followers exhibit contempt for their idols' pre-prog material, dismissing this content as the childish efforts of a rock outfit that has yet to develop their own identity and fulfill their latent potential.
While this alone would suffice to account for the venomous hatred that most Genesis fans harbor for the band's debut, the regard that From Genesis To Revelation is held in was further exacerbated by the influence of the group's manager who effectively sabotaged a product that would already have been anathema for followers of the progressive rock movement.
First of all, the group was instructed to pen a song cycle devoted to, as the title suggests, a narration of early biblical passages; this alone inherently makes the album rather pretentious, and not even pretentious in the way that most prog rock groups tend to be. Progressive rock fans tend to be rather lenient in terms of condemning their favorite groups as unforgivably pretentious, excusing musical complexity and bloated lyrics, but their tolerance for such facets innately connected with prog rock doesn't necessarily extend to biblical allusions filtered through the medium of catchy pop.
The pretentiousness of the album is further compounded by their producer's regrettable choice to embellish the music with orchestral arrangements, a plan implemented about as deftly as it was for the Moody Blues on Days Of Future Past. The orchestral backing simply dilutes the potency of the melodies, obstructing the music without ever enhancing it.
Thus it appeared as if there was a conspiracy against the band from the start, a sinister scheme designed to reduce the album to the status of a bad joke in the annals of progressive rock history. While the group would eventually achieve commercial success for their more mainstream pop fare, it's clear that few fans will praise Gabriel era material that doesn't adhere to the progressive rock formula, ergo the lightweight pop of From Genesis To Revelation would have branded the album as the black sheep in the Genesis discography even without such handicaps as its bloated subject matter and bombastic orchestral arrangements.
Yet another impediment is the quality of the instrumentation. The band's most skilled musicians and borderline virtuosos, Phil Collins on drums and Steve Hackett on guitar, had yet to join the group, resulting in, at times, somewhat amateurish performances when compared to the total precision that progressive rock requires. On a pop album like this that's hardly a huge liability, but nevertheless it's a concern that somewhat detracts from the overall experience.
Thus the derision that most Genesis fans direct at From Genesis To Revelation can easily be attributed to these factors, making a justifiable argument for the record's inadequacies. It doesn't change the fact, however, that Genesis' debut is an excellent album, and one of the most criminally underrated LPs in the history of rock.
First of all, while the instrumentation is hardly as tight as the band's future technically immaculate performances, this is compensated for by Peter Gabriel's stellar vocals, which were always one of the group's greatest assets during his time as the band's frontman. Emotive, nuanced and powerful with a tremendous range, Gabriel's vocals have justly earned him the title of one of the greatest singers not only in the realm of prog but within all of rock, and thus his performance, even on the band's debut, contributes immeasurably to the quality of the album.
Most important of all, however, is that the band's songwriting is already superb, uniformly adhering to the high standard that one would subsequently come to expect from the group's Gabriel era material. The songs are universally extremely catchy, with myriad hooks and memorable melodies, truly pop music of the highest order. From the vocal melodies on the likes of That's Me and Am I Very Wrong? to the riffs on tracks like The Serpent to the rousing refrains on songs like In The Wilderness and Fireside Song to the creative psychedelia featured on numbers like In The Beginning the album truly excels in the songwriting department with nary a letdown to be found.
Why so many fans have trouble appreciating the stellar quality of the songwriting on the album mystifies me; music needn't be hyper complex and instrumentally flawless to be worthwhile, and melodic creativity and catchiness should be recognized as elements that are just as important to rock music as intricate arrangements and epic, multi-part structures.
Ultimately From Genesis To Revelation is an extremely auspicious debut, presenting a band of accomplished songwriters demonstrating their innate facility for conjuring catchy melodies and memorable hooks. While some perceive the group's tender age and relative lack of maturity as a liability, I find that this infuses a kind of youthful energy into the proceedings that makes the album all the more compelling.
From Genesis To Revelation hardly represents the band at their peak, but, nevertheless, it displays an essential stage in the band's development. While some would dismiss the album as an anomaly or a childish mistake and view the already decidedly more complex Trespass as the group's true 'genesis,' From Genesis To Revelation is just as important a chapter in the band's history as its more progressive successor, demonstrating the group's development as songwriters. Genesis are not only renowned for their complex song structures or technically immaculate jams but for their great melodies and plentiful hooks as well, and their debut certainly offers those in spades, already showing an important side of the band.
Thus From Genesis To Revelation is an excellent album, overflowing with creativity and brilliant melodies. Gabriel's singing is already exceptional, while the group is never less than competent. Keyboardist Tony Banks abstains from the masturbatory instrumental excesses he'd subsequently engage in on a regular basis, instead focusing on conveying the melodies, and is thus an indisputable asset for the band, something he'd always be as long as he exercised at least a modicum of self-restraint.
Ultimately the album is the most woefully underrated entry in the band's catalogue; its reputation as a childish debacle is a true travesty, as the album deserves the adoration shown exclusively to subsequent Genesis outings. The band's songwriting talents were already in full force, rendering the album a slighted classic that's long overdue for a popular reassessment.
Given the less than stellar reception that their debut received, the notion of Genesis proceeding onwards in a similar direction was unthinkable. Their predicament necessitated a radical change in style, hence the group opted to reinvent themselves as a progressive rock outfit, a relatively new fad that had been dominating the industry at the time.
This stylistic paradigm shift was problematic on some levels, however; prog rock demands tight instrumentation and virtuoso performances, something that, at that particular point, the group was incapable of offering. Collins and Hackett had yet to arrive, leaving Banks as the most instrumentally gifted musician of the lot, a sorry state of affairs that would be rectified on the subsequent album.
Despite these instrumental handicaps, the group persevered, entering into the realm of prog rock, a new direction that would sustain the band's efforts for quite some time.
And, fortunately enough, the group managed to produce an eminently solid prog rock album. The performances are a very pronounced liability, given that a large part of the album is devoted to prog jamming. At a mere six tracks, each song is considerably lengthened, and this padding manifests itself in the form of prolonged instrumental sections, an ill advised course for a group so lacking in terms of interpersonal chemistry and musicianship.
This defect is largely compensated for by the caliber of the songwriting, however; each song is well written, with strong melodies and an enchanting wintry feel that pervades much of the album. The instrumental sections may drag, as they tend to veer off in different, often incongruous directions; it's the vocal parts that truly emphasize the melodies, with Gabriel in top form as a singer.
And it's not as if all of the instrumental portions drag. There are some numbers, in particular Stagnation and The Knife, that are quite involving all the way through, never leaving the listener susceptible to boredom or indifference, while the other tracks boast at least a modicum of clever, entertaining instrumental passages.
While the album is somewhat consistent, the pinnacle of the record is easily The Knife, a brilliant revolutionary anthem with sadistic lyrics, multiple sections (each with a great melody) and the best instrumentation on the album (including some of the band's best pre-Hackett guitar solos). It's impossible to resist the over the top violent lyrics, the track's awesome rocking power and the clever tempo shifts, from the sweeping refrain to the late segment which features a gradual buildup of tension only to erupt into an explosive crescendo.
Stagnation, while far lesser than that Machiavellian epic, is still a great highlight, with pretty music and well constructed instrumental passages. Elsewhere Dusk is beautiful and effectively evokes the feel suggested by its title, Looking For Someone is a compelling opener, White Mountain, while not very involving during its instrumental breaks, still sports a solid melody during the verses, and Visions Of Angels is quite gorgeous in its own right.
Ultimately Trespass is a strong affair, boasting quality songwriting and lofty ambitions that often come to fruition. The instrumental breaks are both too long and too frequent, a bad idea from a group so instrumentally limited, but the band makes the best of what they have to work with, sometimes even pulling off masterworks like The Knife which never betrays the inadequacies of the musicians.
While it's not as consistently entertaining as From Genesis To Revelation, featuring fewer catchy melodies and a far less compact structure for the tracks, Trespass is still a very solid listen, and a promising first step into the realm of progressive rock. Each track has something worthwhile to offer, even if it's buried beneath layers of drab instrumentals, while the group was already capable of penning classics like The Knife and Stagnation. Even the undeniably egregiously flawed instrumental breaks are unfairly underrated, as there are indeed some engrossing instrumental breaks to be found scattered across the album, albeit markedly outnumbered by drab sonic noodling.
Thus Trespass is an effective transitional album, taking the strengths of the group's debut and translating them into a progressive context. While Genesis as a prog group wouldn't fully arrive until the subsequent album and the addition of Collins and Hackett, for now they've proved their ability within the confines of the genre, fully prepared to emerge as one of the great progressive rock groups of all time.
In many respects Nursery Cryme is the prototypical album of Genesis' first generation. Whereas on From Genesis To Revelation the band bore little resemblance to the progressive rock outfit they would subsequently become and Trespass was a somewhat conservative first effort in the genre, treading water in preparation of their imminent metamorphosis, Nursery Cryme features all the staples of classic Genesis, from hyper complex prog jams to amazing epics to Gabriel honing his craft as a storyteller to the emergence of Hackett and Collins as invaluable members of the group.
On Nursery Cryme the band is finally able to realize their more ambitious artistic visions that they were incapable of pulling off with their previously limited instrumental prowess. Collins distinguishes himself as one of the top drummers in rock while Hackett truly steals the show, offering a virtuoso performance that easily eclipses all of the guitarwork on the band's prior albums. While on future outings Hackett's role would be diminished as Banks apparently resented having his instrumental domination of the band threatened, on Nursery Cryme the debuting guitarist was fully unleashed, performing stellar solos and conjuring creative guitar tones.
Furthermore Gabriel has improved immeasurably from a lyrical perspective. From weaving a fascinating, macabre tale in The Musical Box to penning the satirical black comedy of the suicide related Harold The Barrel to parodying old fashioned sci/fi flicks on The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Gabriel's lyrics have evolved from the semi-precocious biblical allusions on From Genesis To Revelation and the largely pretentious and nondescript (save The Knife, of course) attempts at lyrical complexity on Trespass into one of the chief assets of the band, transfiguring seemingly banal subject matter into clever, idiosyncratic and eminently entertaining storytelling.
However good the lyrics are, the music is still the main attraction, and the band has grown in leaps and bounds in this regard, and not only due to the introduction of two highly capable new musicians. The group have learned how to make their lengthy epics far more absorbing and enjoyable, simultaneously making the music both complex and accessible. The instrumental breaks are vastly superior to the bland instrumental noodling depicted on Trespass, with more creative and exciting jams and the immensely beneficial presence of Collins and, especially, Hackett.
The album's three epics certainly steal the show, but the shorter, less ambitious tracks merit attention as well. For Absent Friends is a pretty song that offers Collins a vocal spotlight, the first Genesis song wherein he'd assume the function of chief singer; the track is a tad on the bland side, and its limitations in this regard would have been exposed were it not for the track's short length, which enables the listener to appreciate the song's prettiness without its lack of substance becoming an issue.
Seven Stones is also beautiful in its own right, while acting as a far more developed number as well. It's often derided amongst Genesis fans who find it to be a tedious affair with a lack of a strong melody and a paucity of hooks, but I vehemently disagree; the song isn't a classic, but it can be quite moving from a musical perspective, while the, 'and the changes of no consequence will pick up the reins from nowhere,' passage offers a creative, unique and charming vocal hook.
Harlequin is a pretty acoustic track, a short and soothing respite from the album's behemoths, while the aforementioned Harold The Barrel is classic Gabriel, dark humor of the catchiest variety. It's also one of the first showcases for Gabriel's vocal range, as he plays myriad parts throughout, brilliantly adjusting his vocal styles for each, an ability that would subsequently culminate in his role playing on tracks like The Battle Of Epping Forest.
As entertaining as these numbers are, however, they pale in comparison to the album's epics. The opener, The Musical Box, not only provides a compelling story but likewise features excellent music, offering a multi-part structure wherein each passage is unique and catchy in its own way. The track, while over ten minutes in length, is involving all the way through, evoking disparate moods as it progresses, alternately acting as, amongst many other things, a soothing lullaby and an unsettling ballad, with the whole track building to its cathartic crescendo of lust and despair. The 'romantic' section is consummately haunting, unnerving and perturbing in its beauty, while the jams are chaotic yet perfectly precise and never discordant.
The second epic, The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, is simply extremely entertaining, with complex yet catchy music, great riffs and phenomenal vocal melodies. Banks contributes one of his better performances, but the real stars are Hackett, who's perfectly in his element on this furious, sci/fi tinged rocker, and, as always, Gabriel, whose vocals always expertly match whichever track the group performs. The lyrics are suitably absurd and amusing, a fond, almost nostalgic parody of the excesses of the B movies of yesteryear.
The final epic, The Fountain Of Salmacis, is weaker than its predecessors, but still quite strong in its own right. Michael Rutherford penned the lyrics for this one, and it shows; while competent, his words lack the creativity, intelligence and offbeat sensibility that Gabriel injects into his own lyrics, and the song suffers accordingly. The music is still quite solid, but the instrumental breaks aren't amongst the band's best, never tedious but somewhat underwhelming nonetheless. Despite this, the music can be quite powerful and moving, perfectly matching the lofty subject matter born of Greek mythology, orating the tale of the origin of hermaphrodites.
Ultimately Nursery Cryme is a true classic, displaying the immeasurable growth the band had made since they were a cadre of quixotic youths who'd sing charmingly disarming pop songs about the Garden of Eden. The group were immensely talented even from the beginning, but until now they had yet to fashion a unique identity for themselves. As entertaining as their debut was, it was, ultimately, traditional (save for the lyrical matter) pop, bereft of anything to truly distinguish the band from other talented pop groups. Trespass came off as uncomfortably close to trend hopping, latching onto the progressive rock bandwagon in an attempt to dispel the shame of their terminally unsuccessful first outing. But on Nursery Cryme, everything comes together, from Gabriel's one of a kind, highly distinctive lyrics to the band's unique sound. Genesis had found their identity, resulting in a prog masterpiece that was easily their best work to this point in their careers.
Having established their classic Gabriel era sound on Nursery Cryme, the group were free to pursue their ambitions even further. On Foxtrot this boundless ambition manifests itself in the form of the side long epic Supper's Ready, a return to biblical matters (in this case the apocalypse) that, needless to say, handles its subject far more deftly than the band was capable of on From Genesis To Revelation.
The band's growth isn't confined to the massive pretensions of this behemoth, however; Genesis have progressed even further in both the songwriting and instrumental departments, thus surpassing the already excellent Nursery Cryme on nearly every level. On Foxtrot the hooks are more plentiful, the lyrics sharper and the instrumental breaks more compelling than on its predecessor, resulting in a product that's near the zenith of the band's efforts.
The band demonstrate their flair for the epic on the opening notes of the album with the sweeping prog anthem Watcher Of The Skies. The lyrics are borderline inane, pretentious without any guiding intelligence or creativity (as tends to be the case when Tony Banks assumes lyrical responsibilities), but this is compensated for by the sheer majesty of the song's sound, from its rousing buildup to its powerful climaxes. The track adeptly displays the group's newfound mastery over visceral thrills, transcending the sonic grandeur of any of the group's prior output. Furthermore the track's vocal and instrumental melodies are uniformly brilliant, never compromised or diluted by their extremely complex nature.
The subsequent track, Time Table, may seem slight when compared to the epic scope of its predecessor, but from a melodic perspective the song very well may surpass Watcher Of The Skies with its absolutely terrific vocal melodies in both the verses and the refrain. Both extraordinarily catchy and memorable, the song may lack the drive and power of the opener but compensates for this deficit with its irresistible hooks and meticulous craftsmanship.
The third track, Get 'Em Out By Friday, depicts Gabriel at his finest, both in the storytelling department and in terms of his stellar vocal performance; this is another instance in which the versatile frontman plays myriad parts throughout the number, fluidly adjusting his vocal delivery for each. From a lyrical perspective the track is more black comedy from the ever sardonic Gabriel, delineating a future in which individuals are genetically engineered to be around four feet tall in an effort to cram more people into small housing developments and thus turn an even greater profit.
The track's merits go well beyond the caliber of the lyrics and vocals, however; the melody is extremely catchy, with a plethora of vocal and instrumental hooks, in addition to a more musically somber passage that manages to be moving despite the generally absurdist nature of the number. Once again the track's complexity never obstructs the potency of its melodies, resulting in an instant classic and a deserving fan favorite.
From there Can-Utility And The Coastliners seamlessly carries the listener through a series of excellent melodies, while the short, acoustic Horizon's is absolutely beautiful, an example of intelligent track sequencing as it gives the audience a breather before the main attraction.
And Supper's Ready is most assuredly the main attraction. Inspired by the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's side long epic Tarkus, Supper's Ready also occupies a whole side of the album, with a runtime of around twenty three minutes.
As tends to be the case with prog epics of this nature the track encompasses myriad disparate sections, each with its own unique melody. The melodies are uniformly brilliant, from the ominous Lover's Leap to the whimsical Willow Farm to the controlled chaos of the battle scene depicted in Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men to the rousing The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man.
There's a tremendous amount of diversity throughout the song, ensuring that it never grows monotonous, and while the track is predominantly serious in tone it's sure to inject notes of levity (like the hilarity of Willow Farm) into the proceedings to avert the potentially wearying effect of a humorless number of that length.
The lyrics rank amongst some of Gabriel's best to that point, providing a fascinating account of the apocalypse using a rather unorthodox interpretation of the scripture. Gabriel makes sure to structure the number in such a way as to maintain a perfect flow, and thus the surreality of Willow Farm perfectly balances the subtle menace of tracks like Lover's Leap while the rocking warfare of Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men is offset by the beauty of the climax of the song, with the, 'to take them to the new Jerusalem,' passage constituting instant catharsis.
Thus the song is one of Genesis' finest moments, an alternately beautiful, harrowing and charming aural experience that functions as both a riveting, entertaining listen as well as a brilliant work of art. The track embodies many of the goals of the progressive rock movement, from its complexity to its intelligence to its beauty to its amazing craftsmanship to its flawless vocal and instrumental delivery, and thus is at the very pinnacle of the genre.
Ultimately Foxtrot is a simply incredible album, bereft of filler and featuring many of the band's finest moments. Both the (comparatively) short songs and the side long epic fully deliver, offering one of the most consistently enjoyable and moving experiences in the band's catalogue. Despite its brilliance Supper's Ready never overshadows the other numbers, a testament to the level of effort and craftsmanship devoted to all of the material.
It's impossible to convey the Genesis live experience through a purely auditory medium; much of the entertainment that their concerts offered was spectacle based, be it Gabriel donning a disparate array of costumes or acting out parts of the songs, prancing around the stage clad in flamboyant garments in a whimsical masquerade or humping the set during the pivotal rape scene in Musical Box.
Another integral element of the band's concerts were Gabriel's storytelling sessions, breaks in the show when he would orate various chimerical tales he'd conjure for the audience's amusement. While these narrations certainly could have made it intact onto the band's first live album, they're sadly excised, thus offering little indication of what made the group's concerts unique.
Ergo Live is handicapped right from the start, incapable of accurately representing a Genesis concert. Bereft of both the visual component and Gabriel's fanciful monologues, the record can't capture the spirit of these live events, reducing idiosyncratic and imaginative affairs to a bare bones, conventional live album.
What the album can offer, however, are faithful recreations of extremely complex material, a difficult feat that the band deftly managed. Despite the challenge of translating such complex fare onto the stage with any degree of precision, the group pulls it off with nary a note out of place.
In many respects this is the album's greatest weakness, however; the performances religiously adhere to the template of their originals, providing the listener with little that could be called new or different. Thus if one already owns the studio albums that the material is derived from they'll encounter few surprises on Live, rendering it rather superfluous and redundant in the overall scheme of things.
There are at least a modicum of differences between these live cuts and the band's studio output, but they tend to be minor and inconsequential. In terms of actual improvements, the album's greatest strength lies with Steve Hackett, who assumes a much more significant role in a live environment, as the band finally allows his full potential to be fulfilled. From the alien scraping sounds on The Return Of The Giant Hogweed to his furious solos on Musical Box, Hackett is unleashed in all of his virtuoso glory, no longer playing second fiddle to Banks' ubiquitous synths.
Unsurprisingly Hackett's finest hour is on the live interpretation of The Knife; as he had yet to join the group when the original was released on Trespass, this track is the most radically altered cut on the album, modified to accommodate Hackett's musical superiority over his predecessor. Hackett dominates this rendition of the revolutionary war cry, decisively placing his stamp on the track to update it to the band's new instrumental standards, something he pulls off quite adroitly.
Nevertheless, most of the changes to the originals are ultimately superficial in nature, as the band rarely drifts too far from the old blueprints of the songs. Another prominent liability lies in the track selection. While each of the songs on the album are quite strong, there are a mere five tracks on the album, a rather small number for a prog rock group's live outing, especially in the context of the live fare of other major progressive rock outfits like Yes with their triple album Yessongs.
The decision to only include longer tracks is somewhat questionable, resulting in an exhausting listen with nary a respite from the onslaught of prolonged epics. Also, conspicuously absent are many major tracks that one would have anticipated would find a way onto Live, particularly numbers like Supper's Ready and Fountain Of Salmacis. Their exclusion is quite puzzling, and one would have assumed at the very least that they'd have been added onto the reissue.
It would also have been preferable if the band had waited another year to release the album, giving them access to the material from Selling England By The Pound. As it stands Genesis had a mere three albums to draw from (as, obviously, they would always abstain from performing content culled from From Genesis To Revelation), and thus a dearth of material to occupy a full live LP.
Ultimately, however, the number one problem is neither the lack of more songs nor the paucity of changes from the originals; it's simply that, in the long run, none of these tracks are superior to their studio counterparts. On the contrary, I universally prefer the originals to the live cuts, rendering the album woefully extraneous.
The album still receives a high grade, as it boasts entertaining versions of five great songs, not to mention the amazing feat of pulling off such complex material in a live context. The record is enjoyable to listen to, as is inevitable when a band chooses such stellar tracks for a live album with the talent to nearly flawlessly implement them. But this doesn't change the fact that the album has little reason to exist, an obstacle that can never be overcome no matter how great the track selection is nor how impressive the band's instrumental chops are.
While perhaps not radically removed from one another, each of Genesis' first four studio albums offered a rather clear and substantial artistic advancement for the group; From Genesis To Revelation established the band's considerable songwriting acumen, Trespass was their first foray into the realm of progressive rock, Nursery Cryme provided a template for their more ambitious fare and Foxtrot was in many respects the culmination of the band's epic tendencies as evidenced by the side long classic Supper's Ready.
When viewed from this perspective, Selling England By The Pound was the group's first album to betray little in the way of artistic progression. It largely adheres to the formula the band had, as of late, fashioned for themselves, with only a modicum of tangible evolution on Genesis' part.
It's difficult to perceive this as a liability, however, given the extremely high quality of the album; it may be formulaic, but it implements this formula so well that its familiar nature never becomes a problem. Genesis had immeasurably refined their approach by now, resulting in a near perfect listening experience that showcased all of the band's merits in full force.
Judging by first impressions alone the album is an indisputable classic, given that it opens with the incomparable epic Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. From its gorgeous a cappella intro to its brilliant main theme to its thrilling instrumental breaks to its beautiful coda the song is a nearly flawless listening experience, with nary a note out of place or moment of boredom across its eight minute length.
The song, and the rest of the album as a whole for that matter, is greatly ameliorated by Hackett's increased presence. Generally curtailed by Banks' domination of the band's arrangements, on Selling England By The Pound Hackett is finally unleashed in his full force, resulting in the group's most guitar intensive album. His jamming on Dancing With The Moonlit night is superb, as he concocts creative and viscerally gratifying techniques and innovative guitar tones to fully emphasize his virtuoso capabilities.
The second track is hardly a letdown; the closest Gabriel era Genesis came to a hit single, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) is a glorious pop song, a rarity for the progressive rock incarnation of the group. Needless to say, it's hardly a conventional pop song, with its idiosyncratic, eccentric lyrics depicting a lawnmower man who dabbles in recreational transvestitism and its highly complex melody, but it still offers everything one could want from a pop song, mainly plentiful hooks, memorable melodies and a tight, compact structure (another departure from the group's status quo).
Track three returns to the realm of the epic with the deserving fan favorite Firth Of Fifth. The lyrics are atrocious, once again ill advisedly penned by the notoriously pretentious Tony Banks, but he compensates for his inadequate lyrical capabilities with his absolutely incredible, majestic piano playing. The main melody is awe inspiring, the middle portion is phenomenal, the flute solo is gorgeous and Hackett's solo is truly incredible. The track is precisely what an epic is meant to be, never sounding forced, bloated or overlong, natural pitfalls that songs that transparently aspire to be epics all too often fall into, but rather a work of boundless grandeur, with stirring, rousing melodies and flawless instrumentation.
Unfortunately Firth Of Fifth is followed by the album's lone lapse in quality, and an egregious one at that; the Phil Collins composed and performed More Fool Me is bland and saccharine pop at its most grating, with a primitive and derivative melody accompanied by a poor vocal performance from a man who should stick to drumming. Thankfully the song is quite short, preventing it from marring the album in any meaningful way.
Selling England By The Pound gets back on track with another epic, the highly unique and entertaining The Battle Of Epping Forest. While the long (nearly twelve minutes) number features myriad clever instrumental hooks, the song's true star is Gabriel, who deftly, and often hilariously, performs the parts of a plethora of gangsters over the course of the track. Despite its length the song is gripping all the way through, thanks in large part to the interlude of sorts with its irresistible tale of a reverend shopping for furniture. The track is incredibly imaginative and overflowing with personality, as the band concocts innovative vocal and instrumental melodies throughout, augmented by typical Gabriel dark humor in the lyrical department.
To offer a bit of respite after that parade of epics the subsequent track is a gorgeous instrumental entitled After The Ordeal, preparing the listener for the next number which is, predictably enough, another epic. The Cinema Show, though unfortunately featuring lyrics from Banks and Rutherford, is an immensely well written track, with effective instrumental breaks, tender vocals and strong melodies. At eleven minutes it may be a tad overlong, as it doesn't provide the variety that made The Battle Of Epping Forest simply breeze by, but the song is of a sufficiently high quality that this is hardly a severe defect.
The album closes with a minute and a half track called Aisle Of Plenty, set to the main melody from Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. It's largely a joke, which in a way is rather apt as much of the success of the record can be attributed to the balance between seriousness and levity. To prevent it from seeming overly bombastic or bloated there's always humor to offset the straight faced nature of the album, as the band always conjures humorous interludes like I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) and The Battle Of Epping Forest to ensure that things never grow too emotionally taxing or somber.
Thus Selling England By The Pound is another prog masterpiece from the group, a brilliant aural experience with only a single lapse of taste to mar it (Collins' wretched More Fool Me). Alternating between moments of catharsis and hilarity, the album achieves a perfect balance that ensures that Selling England By The Pound remains an entertaining, compelling listen all the way through. Boasting brilliant songwriting, great performances (thanks in large part to the emergence of Hackett as an integral part of the arrangements) and complex yet accessible material the album is a true classic, and one of the finest efforts from the band.
On Selling England By The Pound, as incredible an album as it was, the band abstained from venturing into any vastly new territory, rather offering a refined, perfected variation of their usual artistic vision. The melodies were stupendous, the lyrics (at least those penned by Gabriel) clever and intelligent and the performances tight and technically immaculate, yet there wasn't really much on the album that could be construed as new or different in a meaningful way.
Such is not the case with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, easily the band's most ambitious project to date. A full-fledged rock opera in the grand tradition of Quadrophenia, The Wall and SF Sorrow, the album weaves a complex, elliptical and often allegorical tale of the protagonist Rael's trials, following him from his days as a young punk vandalizing an urban wasteland to his surreal, chthonic ordeals in a state somewhere between life and death to his ultimate redemption. Despite its convoluted, sometimes impenetrable nature the story is generally conveyed quite clearly, thus ensuring that the album remains engrossing throughout. Unsurprisingly this idiosyncratic epic is fully the product of Gabriel's eccentric imaginings, as he receives exclusive credit for the lyrics in the liner notes.
Another curiosity of the liner notes, and one that has some very pronounced repercussions, is the fact that Hackett receives no credit for any of the compositions; thus, unsurprisingly, his role on the album is rather limited when compared to his sonic dominance on the group's previous outing. He's certainly present, and makes some undeniably worthwhile contributions to the music, but he's still rather restrained, and his guitarwork is often drowned out by the synth-drenched arrangements that pervade the album.
Even without Hackett's aid in that department, however, the songwriting on the album is brilliant, as the group was still very much in top form after their last few classics. While many of the tracks lack the epic feel of the band's preceding efforts, they have tremendous immediate impact, more akin to straightforward rock songs than the group's usual progressive material.
This isn't to say that the music isn't complex; on the contrary, the progressive character of the band is translated, fully intact, into the rock opera genre. But the song lengths are far shorter than the band's usual gargantuan fare, resulting not only in a far longer track listing but also somewhat diluting the songs' epic natures.
Unfortunately there's a rather glaring disparity between the quality of the album's two discs. Disc one is uniformly brilliant, bereft of filler with a plethora of instantly captivating melodies and intriguing lyrics. Disc two, however, is rather lacking in the hook department; the material is still mostly strong, but far less memorable than the content on the first disc, inducing a profound qualitative imbalance between the two halves of the album.
There are no full songs that are actually weak, thus making it the proliferation of extraneous instrumentals that pollute disc two that constitute the nadir of the album. The Waiting Room is a dissonant, abrasive sound collage with little in the way of merit, while Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats and Ravine are bland and forgettable. This is in sharp contrast with disc one's Hairless Heart, an achingly beautiful instrumental that's all the more moving and gorgeous for the extensive studio trickery that went into developing its unique sonic palette.
There are certainly some high quality tracks on disc two, hence the pretty pop of Lilywhite Lilith, the tragic, hauntingly beautiful ballad The Lamia and the rocking closer it. These are strong tracks that help compensate for the erratic character of disc two, and are on par with some of the better material from the first disc.
Nevertheless, it's certainly disc one that demands the most attention. The opening title track is a glorious urban anthem with myriad creative hooks, Fly On A Windshield is an unsettling, menacing classic with harrowing music and clever namedropping lyrics, Cuckoo Cocoon is a charming, eccentric pop tune, In The Cage is an ominous number with sophisticated instrumentation and an arrangement that perfectly matches the lyrics, The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging is a hyper catchy sing-along that manages to be a macabre and terrifying set piece, Back In N.Y.C. is intentionally ugly from a sonic perspective yet still catchy and memorable, Counting Out Time is a brilliant pop number delineating Rael's first sexual encounter, Carpet Crawlers injects a note of catharsis into the proceedings with a beautiful, incredible vocal melody and The Chamber Of 32 Doors eloquently captures the despair of alienation and confusion.
Ultimately The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is another prog masterpiece from a group that was on a phenomenal quality streak. Boasting terrific melodies, a fascinating narrative and great performances the album is nearly on par with behemoths from the genre like Tommy and The Wall, a compliment of the highest order. While disc two fails to live up to the genius of disc one it's still a compelling listen, doing little to mar the overall effect of the full album.
Sadly Gabriel departed shortly after the release of the album, supposedly because he was concerned that the group was growing too popular for his taste (a notion that's difficult to reconcile with the release of the album So). While Gabriel would be sorely missed, and the band were never able to scale the same dizzying heights without him, this is a fine swansong for the classic Genesis lineup, as well as one of the peaks, along with Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound, in the annals of progressive rock.
As is common knowledge, Phil Collins was the successor to the departing Peter Gabriel's position as frontman of Genesis, but this wasn't a simple case of the erstwhile lead singer abdicating his role in the group to the once mere drummer; rather, the band conducted extensive auditions to determine who would inherit Gabriel's post as the leader of one of the most revered outfits in the world of progressive rock, ultimately deciding, after turning down myriad big names in the industry, to simply "promote" Collins as opposed to recruiting a wholly new member for the group. Thus Collins assumed the dual role of both drummer and lead vocalist, ushering in a new era for the band as they embarked on the post Gabriel stage of their life cycle.
Unfortunately, Collins ascension to the position of lead singer is one of the greatest liabilities of the album. While his voice can, at times, seem highly reminiscent of his predecessor's, a factor that was doubtless instrumental in procuring his new role in the band, he lacks the range and expressiveness inherent to Gabriel's vocals, casting him as a pale imitation of his vastly more gifted earlier counterpart. Whereas Gabriel was incomparably versatile as a singer, resulting in a plethora of tour de force performances wherein he'd seamlessly shift characters throughout the songs, Collins seems incapable of varying his tone to any meaningful extent. When he does attempt to emulate his predecessor and portray a multitude of characters during a song, such as in Robbery, Assault And Battery, his vocals seem forced and artificial when compared to the unerring fluidity of Gabriel's role playing, a severe detriment to the quality of the track.
The most egregious manifestations of Collins' limitations as a vocalist tend to arise on the more emotional numbers, however, wherein his lack of range heavily dilutes the potency of the tracks. He's certainly a competent singer, but his performances are a far cry from the virtuoso vocals of the group's previous frontman. This is exacerbated by Collins' refusal to develop his own identity as a singer, rather simply impersonating Gabriel's style, a task he's wholly unequipped to handle.
Fortunately, Collins had yet to assume his inevitable role as a meaningful creative force within the group, and thus the task of songwriting is predominantly handled by Banks and Rutherford who, after a streak of high quality affairs, were more than capable of penning some strong prog rock tracks even without the involvement of the band's former leader. Admittedly the album suffers to a degree from the lack of Gabriel's influence, especially with regards to the lyrics (which had never quite been Banks' forte, as he harbored an unfortunate tendency to produce pretentious, bombastic verse), but Banks and Rutherford manage to largely preserve the overall sound, spirit and often even quality of their prior records.
One department in which the album often comes up short, however, is with regards to the instrumental passages, which tend to be rather erratic; Hackett is woefully underutilized, resulting in the dominance of Banks when it comes to prolonged jamming, an equation that's hardly conducive toward a positive listening experience. The LP is largely oversaturated with Banks' synths, striking a poor balance when it comes to the chemistry of the overall group. There are still some rather entertaining jams, and Hackett does contribute one immensely moving solo on Ripples…, but on the whole one wishes that Banks had exercised at least a modicum of self restraint as opposed to transfiguring the album into a forum for his, often unremarkable, keyboard solos.
What redeems this instrumental inconsistency is the overall quality of the songwriting, which is indeed quite strong. The album opens on a rousing, sweeping note with Dance On A Volcano, a brilliant number boasting terrific riffs and great vocal melodies. It retains the potency and impact of traditional Genesis epics, and starts the record on a highly auspicious note.
From there Entangled is an unlikely collaboration between the duo of Banks and Hackett, a beautiful track that would have benefited from the type of more nuanced vocals that Gabriel would have delivered as opposed to Collins' more pedestrian rendition. Nonetheless the song works quite well in spite of Collins' inadequacies as a vocalist, providing a touching and catharsis inducing experience.
Squonk is the album's true high point, an excellent rocker that manages to be extremely catchy and accessible despite its overall complexity. The track sports a superb melody, not to mention an innately anthemic character that elevates the song to new heights.
The subsequent track, Mad Man Moon, is often the recipient of the bile and derision of Genesis fans, a level of vitriol that's at least partially merited; the song contains some pretty passages and is far from offensive, but it can't compete with the record's true moments of beauty like Entangled and Ripples… and thus comes off as flat and tedious. Still, it's a testament to the quality of the album that a thoroughly competent track like Mad Man Moon is the nadir of the album, as it at least manages to cultivate an absorbing atmosphere in addition to the aforementioned pretty segments.
Robbery, Assault And Battery is intended to inject a measure of levity into a rather serious, straight faced album, and it succeeds admirably at this endeavor. It's a black comedy in the vein of Harold The Barrell, and while not quite up to that level it remains entertaining, even if Collins isn't quite up to the task of portraying different characters in the manner that Gabriel executed with such apparent grace and ease.
Ripples…, a Rutherford composition, is a beautiful ballad, further ameliorated by Hackett's gorgeous solo, his lone spotlight over the course of the album. The feel of the song, at least as conveyed by the musicians if not the singer, is genuine and organic, without a dose of artificiality to mar the track.
Another major highlight is the title track, a charming number that's one of the rare instances in which Banks pens a slighter, more whimsical tale, abandoning his usual pretensions and serious tone. The song is disarming in its simplicity, complete with a highly catchy melody and an infectious, unforgettable refrain.
The album concludes with Los Endos, a medley of several of the melodies from the album along with a few new additions. It's hardly a classic, but it seems a fitting note to end the record on, something akin to The Aisle Of Plenty off Selling England By The Pound.
Overall the album is a shockingly strong product; while one would assume that the group would crumble without Gabriel, the band manages to deliver a listening experience that preserves much of what made Genesis a great band. The loss of Gabriel has some very noticeable negative repercussions, including (mild in some cases) deficiencies in the lyrical, musical and vocal departments, but A Trick Of The Tail is still a very strong affair; it often feels like it's simply coasting on the success of their recent work, and they struggle hard to capture that particular sound and feel, but there's no shame in that. The Genesis formula had produced some extraordinary works, and the band was entitled to adhere to it for at least a little while longer, even if it could never be the same without Peter Gabriel.
Apparently Tony Banks felt that the best way to assert his dominance in the new, post Gabriel hierarchy of the band was to monopolize every second of the album, inserting his keyboard work into every conceivable space on the record, be it empty or already occupied by another member who had the audacity to attempt to distract the listener from the endless parade of synths.
To say that the material on Wind & Wuthering is drenched in synths is the consummate understatement; synths invasively penetrate nearly every moment of the album. The melodies are universally either communicated through the synths or simply buried beneath them, obstructing any sound that isn't derived from Banks' perpetual keyboard noodling.
This results in a profoundly static, uniform sound for the album, breeding monotony and tedium. The keyboard work is bland and uninspired, largely consisting not of clever synth riffs or virtuoso finger flashing solos but rather of interchangeable walls of synths intended to be atmospheric or moving but merely coming off as an exercise in masturbatory self indulgence.
It may seem overly harsh to vilify Banks to this extent, but the fact of the matter is that he's the primary culprit in terms of sabotaging this album. Not that the other members are blameless; Rutherford's composition, Your Own Special Way, is too bland, sappy and generic to succeed as anything save a brief respite from the synths, and Collins' vocals tend to have a rather pronounced desultory character, as he meanders his way through the lyrics with seemingly no awareness of what the material demands from him on any level.
Thus he progresses through the album in a detached daze, delivering a performance bereft of any passion or even any sense of purpose at all. Some have attributed this lackluster showing to confusion over how best to deliver Banks' brand of bombastic lyrics, but this difficulty still doesn't excuse such an abysmal vocal performance.
This isn't to say that the album is devoid of merit; the opener, Eleventh Earl Of Mar, at least finds a valid usage for Banks' synths, as he delivers some stellar keyboard riffs as opposed to simply abusing the poor instrument for his own misguided ends. Elsewhere the Hackett/Collins collaboration, Blood On The Rooftops, is wholly unspectacular, but once again it at least disrupts the nearly universally synth oriented nature of the album.
The other tracks tend to be rather tepid, but many of them feature genuinely strong components that are sadly obscured or corrupted by the synth based sonic effluvia they're buried in. Songs like All In A Mouse's Night truly have something to offer, and were it not for them receiving the obligatory Banks treatment they'd constitute solid additions to the album.
Even One For The Vine, the absolute nadir of the disc, sports a few clever instrumental sections toward the end; these are hardly enough to salvage that particular debacle, however, as the song is a chthonic ten minutes of largely melodyless dreck further exacerbated by its unspeakably pretentious and inane lyrics.
To further compound the album's problems, Banks chose to magnify the record's worst vices by making a third of the tracks instrumentals, ensuring that there'd be nothing to distract the listener from the majesty and grandeur of his omnipresent synths.
Synths aren't inherently anathema to me; in certain contexts they can function quite well and augment a piece. The ones on Wind & Wuthering, however, are synths of the most obnoxious variety, with grating tones that are generally neither used to provide catchy synth riffs nor demonstrate any level of virtuoso skill with the instrument. Thus the album, with its perpetual onslaught of synths, is built on a horrible foundation, upon which Banks felt compelled to superimpose even more layers of aural agony.
Wind & Wuthering is a known fan favorite, a fact that truly mystifies me. I can envision hardcore Banks fans enjoying it, as he dominates nearly every second of the proceedings, and those more tolerant of ubiquitous synths would derive similar satisfaction from the LP. What I can't understand, however, is why more straightforward Genesis fans would laud this product. It lacks nearly everything that made the band great, namely stunning melodies, clever lyrics and a healthy dose of diversity. Wind & Wuthering offers none of those; there are the occasional instances of good melodies (those that survive being submerged in synths), but without Gabriel the lyrics are atrocious, and the diversity that helped keep their prior products fresh is nowhere to be found.
Another severe handicap is the even more diminished presence of Hackett on the album; while already relegated to ancillary functions, on Wind & Wuthering Hackett is all but absent; during Genesis' peak period Hackett emerged as a pivotal member of the group, and the lack of his brilliant guitarwork truly hurts the product (any and all fans of his Genesis work would be wise to check out Spectral Mornings and Voyage Of The Acolyte, two of his best solo albums).
Thus Wind & Wuthering is a poor product, easily the band's worst to this point. While it came off as more of a replica rather than the genuine article, A Trick Of The Tail at least retained much of what made the band great, translating the group's strong melodies intact into their post Gabriel incarnation. Wind & Wuthering lacks nearly everything that made the band great, with nearly all creative and clever ideas being stifled by the ever present onslaught of synths. Banks was not the man to lead Genesis, as a progressive rock group, into the future but, as would become apparent, neither were Rutherford or Collins, as it would take a drastic metamorphosis to educe anything of worth from that particular trio.
While hardly a radical departure from its wretched predecessor, …And Then There Were Three… is at least a far more listenable experience, finding ways to counteract the membrane of abrasive synths that coats nearly every instant of the record's runtime. While this doesn't dispel the annoyance of the ubiquitous synths it at least dilutes it to an extent, resulting in moments of genuine entertainment, something sorely lacking from Wind & Wuthering.
As the title alludes to, Hackett left the group after the debacle that was Wind & Wuthering, likely frustrated by how underutilized he was on the last several albums, wherein even his limited contributions were invariably eclipsed by Banks' nefarious keyboard treatments. Hackett's departure had minimal impact on the album's sound, however, as after years of squandering his vast potential his presence on the band's recent work was seldom betrayed as all, as if any contributions on his part were a mere afterthought, Banks throwing him a bone to appease his need to inject at least a modicum of guitarwork into the proceedings. Thus Hackett's absence is barely noticed, just as his presence on the last few albums had been.
The remaining trio appears ill equipped to produce a quality outing, but nonetheless they manage to exceed one's initial expectations. The album begins with Down And Out and Undertow, respectively a passable rocker and an adequate ballad, but they're far from classics. They are indeed marred by the oversaturation of synths, but even without this impediment they're simply third rate Genesis songs, presenting little that's compelling or original and ultimately lacking in musical substance. The group's songwriting faculties weren't quite up to the challenge of penning an entire album's worth of quality material, and the fact that these openers are relative highlights is a reflection of the poor condition of their creative facilities.
One of many complaints I harbor against Banks was his incessant need to indiscriminately employ the most self-important synths imaginable on every track regardless of how inappropriate or incongruous they may sound; is one really supposed to kneel in awe over the majesty of a whimsical old west tale like Ballad Of Big? The contrast between the main verses and the bombastic instrumental breaks is staggering, suggesting that Banks only knows how to perform one kind of song and will thus apply the same treatment to any number in the band's discography.
Rutherford's Snowbound comes off as a bland ballad at first, but it's hard to deny the visceral potency of the refrain, an achingly beautiful crescendo dripping with desperation and pathos (all for a snowman, no less). Thus an otherwise innocuous soft number is transfigured into a catharsis inducing experience, though admittedly a rather forced, manufactured catharsis when compared with Gabriel era emotional fare. Nevertheless the song still contains the most powerful moment on the album, easily elevating it above most of the record's content.
Elsewhere Burning Rope seems designed by Banks to be a shattering epic in the vein of Firth Of Fifth, an endeavor that, needless to say, it spectacularly fails at. This isn't to say it's bad, however; it's simply a rather middling effort exacerbated by its transparent pretensions. Epics of this nature were well out of the reach of this incarnation of the band, a sad fact that this song is a testament to.
Follow You Follow Me is generally cited as one of the highlights of the album, and while it's hard to dispute that given the quality of the LP it's still a bit saccharine for my tastes. It's catchy and charming, and the album badly needed more tracks of that nature, but the overall sappiness of it severely detracts from its appeal.
The truth, however, is that much of the album will fail to register at all, banal and interchangeable tracks filled to the brim with synths and generic attempts to emulate past glories. Songs like Scenes From A Night's Dream are cute but also wholly dispensable, and many others simply lack any merit at all. Few tracks are overtly bad, and the album certainly has its decent moments, but on the whole it's a mediocre affair, vastly superior to Wind & Wuthering without sufficiently breaking away from that album's defects. Around half the tracks on …And Then There Were Three… have at least something to offer, but it's just not enough to redeem a thoroughly expendable listening experience with nary a classic in sight.
Duke is, in theory, a concept album, centering around the exploits of the titular character. There's a sharp contrast, however, between concept albums that tell a cohesive, involving story like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and records that occasionally allude to elusive, possibly wholly illusory unifying themes like Duke. The album simply feels like it's a concept album for the sake of being a concept album, and were it not for the recurrence of the name Duke in the LP's track listing it would be nearly impossible for the listener to deduce that the album even harbored any conceptual pretensions.
Thus the album derives its significance not from its intended conceptual status but rather from its role as a crucial turning point in the band's development. Duke functions as a transitional album of sorts, a segue between the group's more artistically ambitious progressive phase and their subsequent inevitable metamorphosis into a more commercially skewed pop outfit.
Unfortunately, as a result of its position in a limbo between chapters of the group's progression the album fails to implement either side of the band particularly well. This incarnation of Genesis had already proven that they were incapable of generating quality prog fare, while they had yet to hone their pop acumen to the point where they could consistently produce creative hooks or memorable melodies. The result is a rather lackluster affair; the paradigm shift to the realm of pop was indeed a necessary step for the group, but their songwriting faculties weren't quite up to the challenge of successfully initiating that period of their life cycle.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that, rather than fully embrace pop or remain firmly entrenched in the prog genre the group opts to retain elements from the latter while they make their timid first steps into the world of the former. The products of this fusion suffer from this lack of clarity in the group's musical vision, with pop songs that are needlessly complex and prog jams that pander too much to a mainstream audience. This situation could have been averted had the group simply shed the trappings of the progressive rock genre and embarked upon a new pop oriented path, but as it stands, rather than coming across as an organic fusion of disparate styles offering the best from each musical modality the album feels like an array of incompatible ideas haphazardly grafted together and presented as a single vision.
Another factor that greatly detracts from the album is Collins' emergence as a major creative force in the group. His two solo spotlights, his first since his disastrous effort on Selling England By The Pound, are unspeakably wretched, egregious lapses of taste that demonstrate the frontman's fundamental inadequacy as a songwriter. Please Don't Ask is trite and banal, while the hit single Misunderstanding is consummate effluvia, an inane pop ballad bereft of any redeeming value.
He also receives songwriting credit on many other tracks, as the bulk of the album is composed of collaborations between all three members, and while it's ambiguous to what degree Collins shaped these tracks it's easy to assume that his involvement wasn't for the better.
Ultimately very few of the solo tracks offer much of merit. Banks' creative spotlights tend to be rather tepid as well, such as the bland, drab Heathaze, the thankfully compact filler that is the minute long Guide Vocal and the eminently expendable Cul-de-sac.
Rutherford fares somewhat better with the decent Man Of Our Times, but he too inevitably succumbs to his innate worst excesses with the nondescript Alone Tonight, which recalls the sappiness of tracks like Your Own Special Way.
The collaborations are at least somewhat better, if highly flawed. There are some moments of merit scattered throughout the album, but no songs that I can recommend without hesitation. Even the much lauded Turn It On Again, with a decent if generic riff and some passable vocal melodies is far too derivative and slight to amount to much, much too cheerful and bouncy without enough musical substance to compensate for its liabilities.
Behind The Lines opens with some decent instrumentation that would subsequently resurface in Duke's End and Duchess has some moderately catchy moments, but both are far from classics. The closing instrumentals are competent and mildly entertaining jams even if, despite boasting titles like Duke's Travels and Duke's End, they fail to offer any insight into the title character, rendering their nomenclature somewhat misleading.
While one would have hoped that a shift to pop would result in more creative hooks and catchy melodies, this proves to be far from the truth, and in fact the album fails to even significantly improve upon their prior efforts on …And Then There Were Three… The synths are less obnoxious on Duke, though that's more thanks to a welcome adjustment to their sound as opposed to a genuine reduction in their presence, while the album as a whole is more listenable than its predecessor thanks to the absence of the relentlessly serious tone that managed to pervade even the most inherently lighthearted tracks on …And Then There Were Three…, but from a songwriting perspective Duke simply isn't a dramatic improvement over the group's first outing as a trio.
Thus Duke is ultimately a mediocre product. It serves its purpose as an introduction of pop dynamics into the group's repertoire, but as a stand alone album it offers little of much meaning or consequence. Few of the songs are genuinely bad (though some, like Collins' contributions, certainly qualify) and some tracks certainly have their moments, but on the whole Duke isn't a very auspicious first flirtation with pop, nor can it be said to be a worthy prog outing either. Even if the album had focused solely on pop Duke's problems would hardly have been rectified, as is made evident by the lackluster songwriting that afflicts much of the record's material. Thus it's made clear that for the band to succeed they'd need to not only exorcise the group's progressive tendencies but likewise mature greatly as composers. This isn't an easy feat, but it's a necessary one for the group's progression lest they become irrevocably trapped in the rut of mediocrity that they've occupied for their last several albums.
Genesis finally fully shed the trappings of their progressive past and produced their first pure pop album, and the result is their first genuinely good album since A Trick Of The Tail. While the album's obviously still vastly inferior to their classic output, the paradigm shift to pop is still the best choice the band could have made; were they to continue to obstinately cling to their prior prog identity the resulting material would have been more debacles along the line of Wind & Wuthering. The group was simply incapable of recapturing the spirit and quality of their classic content, and the only viable remedy was a clean break from their past, and a resultant reinvention that plays more to the band's remaining strengths.
Referring to this metamorphosis as a 'clean break' is admittedly hyperbolic; there are traces of the group's prog roots that manifest themselves from time to time throughout the album, hence tracks like Dodo/Lurker which recalls progressive epics like Squonk. Dodo/Lurker is certainly more poppy and accessible than the band's prior output, and it needn't be construed as a genuine prog song, as a case could be made for it being simply a more ambitious pop suite. But it still clearly retains elements from their past that the band wasn't yet fully prepared to discard, and thus it stands out from the rest of the album as a nod to the group's origins. The fact that it's the best song on the album could be attributed to its innately progressive leanings, but this is uncertain; still, it's ironic for the band's best prog epic in years to arrive on their first full fledged pop outing, though it's perfectly understandable given that the reason that it succeeds where numbers like One From The Vine failed is that it's far poppier and melodic than any of their prior progressive behemoths had been, likely a symptom of the group's newfound pop identity that extended even to their more artistic creations.
Dodo/Lurker isn't the only artifact of the group's progressive 'genesis;' many of the tunes, while undeniably pop songs, are far more complex than the output of their contemporaries, filled with tricky time signatures and unconventional song structures. This transfigures the material, at times, into something akin to pop-prog, but with a transparent leaning toward the former. The album is indeed unmistakably pop no matter how much they twist the genre to suit their inherent artistic aspirations.
Ergo the most important discovery on the album is that Genesis are not only a pop band, but a rather good pop band as well. It's understandable that one would have certain reservations before willingly subjecting themselves to the album; the band had been in a prolonged creative rut, and on the somewhat poppy Duke they'd failed to impress the listener with any extraordinary pop hooks or catchy melodies.
Worse, the album is not only a pop album, nor is it only an eighties pop album; it's an eighties synth pop album, one of the most (justifiably) reviled branches of rock music imaginable. There have certainly been some worthy acts to emerge from that noxious cesspool, such as the Eurythmics and the Cars, but by and large that genre is an eldritch creation designed to torment rock fans. Many talented rock outfits had been corrupted by the eighties and its horrific excesses, and thus a group in as poor condition as Genesis would be the last band one would expect to emerge from the eighties not only unscathed but dramatically improved.
Nonetheless Genesis manage the feat, largely because they weren't acting as trend hoppers as many of their illustrious contemporaries had. While they can't be credited as founders of the genre, as that dubious honor goes to the likes of Kraftwerk for their consummately influential and quite enjoyable The Man-Machine. Rather, Genesis functioned as pioneers through their explorations of the genre, endlessly experimenting and innovating rather than producing generic synth pop effluvia.
Some of the more impressive products of this experimentation are the opener Abacab, an instance of synth pop at its finest with myriad hooks and an infectious groove. Even the jam at the end is enjoyable, bereft of prog excesses or crippling complexity. Elsewhere Banks' solo spotlight, Me And Sarah Jane, is miles above any solo work he'd done in recent memory, a pop suite that shifts through a plethora of clever and memorable melodies. The shift to pop had served him well, restraining his usual excesses and forcing himself to focus on axiomatically enjoyable melodies as opposed to his usual self-indulgent synth meanderings. The aforementioned Dodo/Lurker is also a classic, with more of the creative hooks that the band's recent work had been thoroughly devoid of.
Unfortunately the remainder of the material isn't up to these high standards, casting the album as perfectly solid listen but ultimately unremarkable in any respect save the administration of the band's new pop modus operandi. Tracks like No Reply At All, Keep It Dark and Another Record are decent and moderately enjoyable tunes, but they're ultimately too bland and gratingly poppy for my tastes. They're a few notches above filler, but they prevent the record from being elevated to 'classic' status.
The true filler can be found elsewhere. Collins' Man On The Corner is, surprisingly enough, not bereft of merit; it's rather generic, drab and derivative but the erstwhile drummer (now is the time of drum machine domination) actually manages to infuse at least a modicum of power into his vocal delivery of the chorus. The track also boasts a somewhat effective dreary atmosphere, even if little is ultimately done with it due to the song's predictable, repetitive and rudimentary nature. Rutherford's Like It Or Not is also not without its charms, but the two songs still constitute filler, albeit of the inoffensive variety.
On the other hand, Who Dunnit? is far too bizarre to be called filler, an assertion that isn't necessarily praise but isn't quite an insult either. The track is a techno joke; it's an intriguing curiosity for a few listens but, like most novelties, it fails to amount to anything as a full fledged song and thus becomes wearying and grating by one's fourth exposure to it.
Thus Abacab, while flawed, is far more entertaining than the three albums that preceded it. It features some strong melodies and a renewed focus for the band, paving the way, in theory, for future triumphs in the genre. It's certainly flawed, with an unhealthy amount of filler, but it's still quite enjoyable; the transition into a pop band clearly reenergized the band members who, now that they were free from futile attempts to turn back the clock to the group's heyday, were able to concentrate their efforts in more productive directions. It's better to be a good pop band than a poor grog group, an epiphany that had finally hit the long stagnating rock outfit.
Sadly enough it appears that Genesis were never destined to make a pop masterpiece, but nevertheless, operating within the confines of the genre, the band managed to produce some genuinely entertaining work, which is more than could be said for their post-Gabriel progressive output (with the exception of the classic A Trick Of The Tail, on which Genesis were able to retain some of the original lineup's charm). Their eponymous album represents the zenith of these pop endeavors, a refinement over the positive strides made on Abacab and ample proof that the group had a true gift for generating catchy pop melodies when they were able to suppress their innate self-indulgent excesses.
The album starts on an auspicious note with the tenebrous drum machine driven Mama, an unsettling and deeply atmospheric classic with an unusually compelling vocal treatment courtesy of the traditionally substandard Collins. Mama's followed by the album's biggest hit, the stellar pop anthem That's All with its incredible vocal melodies and array of unforgettable hooks.
Next comes Home By The Sea, a solid track with the misfortune of segueing into a pointless and desultory jam imaginatively entitled Second Home By The Sea. This instrumental workout doesn't detract from the previous number, but it certainly fails to add to it in any meaningful way.
The subsequent track, Illegal Alien, has a clever, memorable vocal hook in the chorus, but aside from that it's basically a lackluster pop song with pedestrian lyrics that fail to constitute the coruscations of wit that they'd been envisioned as. The song is far from bad, but it's still unspectacular, and Collins' attempts at a foreign accent can grow quite grating.
The nadirs of the album, however, are Taking It All Too Hard and It's Gonna Get Better, a pair of bland, sappy ballads that simply drag for the duration of their runtime. With no creative hooks to redeem them and a set of generic, nondescript lyrics they have little to offer the listener, and ultimately they're little more than padding, unfortunately accounting for two songs on a merely nine track album.
Elsewhere the quality songs prevail over the filler, however, as is the case with the hyper catchy pop rocker Just A Job To Do, an energetic depiction of a hit man, and the simply gorgeous Silver Rainbow, one of the few genuine moments of catharsis to be found on a post-Gabriel Genesis album.
The album's inherently erratic nature prevents it from assuming its place as a true pop classic, but it's still an impressive achievement, proving that the group still had something worthwhile to offer long after most fans had given up on them. True, it may still be anathema to fans who simply worshipped the band's progressive side, while some of the more experimental touches, like the Second Home By The Sea jam, will likely alienate a more mainstream audience, but if one puts their biases and preconceptions aside they'll find an eminently worthy set of songs.
Not since the jarring transition from A Trick Of The Tail to Wind & Wuthering had there been such an abrupt and dramatic qualitative plummet for the group. In that case, it was indicative of a usurpation of power, as Banks seized full control over the band's sound; in this case it's Collins achieving sonic dominance over the group, remaking Genesis in the image of his (admittedly extremely commercially successful) solo career.
Prior to Invisible Touch Collins had had the decency to compartmentalize the sound of his solo career and his Genesis work, with the latter representing not only a more collaborative developmental process but likewise a more experimental, artistic kind of music, vastly different from the generic, banal effluvia credited to his name alone. On Invisible Touch this bifurcation was eliminated, with the lure of cash overcoming his integrity; Collins' solo output garnered him both acclaim and ridiculous sums of money, and thus not only his avarice, but likewise that of his bandmates, was awakened, resulting in Genesis being transfigured into Phil Collins' backing band.
Collins was the group's cash cow and thus he was given free rein to craft what's ostensibly a Phil Collins album as performed by Genesis, ala Roger Waters' The Final Cut being performed by Pink Floyd. The result is an abysmal listening experience; Collins' work is nearly always bland, rudimentary and undeveloped, with a paucity of catchy hooks or even existent melodies. His creations almost universally lack musical substance, a parade of half formed ideas masquerading as songs, as Collins attempts to mask his melodic deficiencies by hiding behind the atmospherics generated by his unendurable quintessential eighties production.
Some moments are better than others; Tonight, Tonight, Tonight is moody but unforgivably overlong, resulting in a monotonous experience, while Land Of Confusion, despite a few clever ideas, is nauseatingly preachy, a message song from a group with very little to say.
This is representative of another problem, namely the lyrics. While post-Gabriel Genesis nearly always featured mediocre or worse lyrics they at least eschewed typical romantic clichés; with the onset of Collins' domination, however, conventional love songs abound, reducing an album already aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator into utter derivative pandering.
The title track is insipid, In Too Deep is almost unbearably bland and generic, Domino is a failed attempt to infuse some artistic merit into the album and, as a result, criminally overlong, Throwing It All Away is more prototypical Collins and Anything She Does is sickeningly saccharine.
As I'd alluded to, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight and Land Of Confusion aren't bereft of merit, but the true bright spot on the album is, predictably enough, the one track that contains the least Collins, namely the instrumental The Brazilian. Not since tracks like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway's Hairless Heart had the band produced an instrumental of this caliber, as the number is idiosyncratic, experimental, creative and accessible all at once. It makes a wretched album end on a high note, while stylistically it recalls works like Gryphon's Red Queen To Gryphon Three, which is rather high praise indeed.
The album is simply a debacle, and Collins isn't even the lone culprit. Banks and Rutherford allowed Collins to assume his dictatorial post, and are thus as much to blame as the erstwhile drummer. Most of the albums' few instances of quality are invariably tainted by the chthonic eighties production, and Collins' creative ubiquity results in a horrid listening experience.
While Banks' omnipresence proved disastrous on Wind & Wuthering, so too does Collins' monopoly on Invisible Touch. For post-Gabriel Genesis to succeed a balance must be established between band members, ensuring that no one member dominates the album to an overly large extent. Each member had their own excesses, and these needed to be curtailed before a disaster of this magnitude erupted.
Collins' solo work is simply anathema to me, and thus this album is sheer torture for me to listen to. The band should have maintained its walls between their collective efforts and their solo excursions, and the destruction of these barriers results in an album that can scarcely even be thought of as a Genesis product. Still, while a disaster from a critical perspective, this was undeniably the most commercially viable course for the group to take; ergo, unsurprisingly, Invisible Touch was the band's most profitable effort to date. This simply encouraged the group to proceed further in this direction, embracing their newfound role as session musicians in Phil Collins' enterprises.
On their follow up to the horrendous Invisible Touch, the band actually manages to create an even worse album, which is no small feat; thus We Can't Dance is the absolute nadir of Collins' tenure as frontman for the group, a chthonic experience of criminally bland adult contemporary, egregiously tasteless pop and nondescript, interchangeable ballads.
On the other hand, perhaps the quality of the album shouldn't come as such a surprise, as the formula the band employs was virtually guaranteed to produce such dismal results. Inspired by the immense commercial success of Invisible Touch they simply crafted a rehash, one that intensifies nearly every defect to be found on their prior outing.
While Invisible Touch was highly reminiscent of Collins' solo fare, We Can't Dance is nearly completely indistinguishable from his non-Genesis output. There's precious little to betray Banks' or Rutherford's presence (save the obligatory 'progressive' moment, the closer Fading Lights, which begins as generic Collins before degenerating into a prog jam that makes Second Home By The Sea look like high art), as they're relegated to the back of the mix while Collins dominates with his noxious brand of sterile, aimless and inert adult contemporary. Collins had nearly retired the name of Genesis before he was seized by an errant dose of nostalgia and opted to resurrect the group for one last (in theory) go around, and doubtless the album would have been nearly identical even if it had arrived exclusively under the erstwhile drummer's banner. A product of this nature is of little worth to a Genesis fan, and aside from lining Banks' and Rutherford's pockets it was likely of little worth to them as well.
The tracks are nearly uniformly wretched, with alternating fits of tedious adult contemporary, the variety that substitutes bland atmospherics for melody, grating pop bereft of any clever or original hooks and emotionless ballads that accomplish little save lulling the listener into a state of unconsciousness.
The single rating point is earned through the medium of the uber hit I Can't Dance. The track is moderately entertaining, but it definitely falls under the 'guilty pleasure' category, as it's aggressively commercial and radio friendly to the point that it becomes grating and one longs for a tool with which to extricate it from one's mental jukebox, a nearly futile endeavor as the song is insanely catchy. For a few listens the song can remain enjoyable, but afterwards its lack of depth and pandering nature becomes evident, making the only safe approach the occasional listen from time to time should the fancy take you.
The other tracks have very little to offer. The openers, No Son Of Mine and Jesus He Knows Me, are slightly superior to the other tracks, but they hardly stand out as artistic triumphs. Their hooks are of the superficial variety, the kind that one will forget as soon as the tracks are over.
Thus We Can't Dance is simply an abomination, with Collins at his most irksome and no significant other creative presences to counter his relentless waves of effluvia. By all rights the album shouldn't be part of the group's discography as it's hardly a collaborative effort, wholly divorced from any facet of the band's past. Post-Gabriel Genesis had generated myriad failures but at least they were truly the products of a group effort, aspiring to at least retain a semblance of their artistic past. Invisible Touch and particularly We Don't Dance, however, exist only to further Collins' pandering, lowbrow and loathsome career while Banks and Rutherford attempt to grab the piles of cash that their partner leaves in his wake.
Genesis had actually reached a point where, even without Gabriel and Hackett, they were able to craft some truly worthwhile work, and thus it's a pity that an album as miserable as We Can't Dance is the swansong for this incarnation of the group. Nothing of the facility for generating clever and innovative synth pop as demonstrated on Abacab and their eponymous outing shows through here; all that stands out is Collins endlessly droning on with his pedestrian and tedious songs, devoid of anything that could be even remotely construed as compelling, moving or entertaining.
After myriad highly successful solo outings it had become abundantly clear that Phil Collins no longer needed the Genesis name. Unfortunately this was not the case for his, admittedly individually obscure, erstwhile bandmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, who relied on the Genesis name to attract any commercial attention. Ergo, after Collins officially dissolved the band, the comparatively unknown duo were reluctant to allow the retirement of the Genesis moniker to remain permanent; their options were to either resurrect the group and draw at least a modicum of mainstream recognition or to launch solo careers that would be almost guaranteed to slip under the radar for all but the most devoted Genesis fans.
Obviously the former seemed preferable to career suicide, and inevitably Banks and Rutherford reunited in 1997 under their old band name. With both Gabriel and Collins gone they needed a new singer, hence the recruitment of Ray Wilson, the frontman for an obscure prog outfit called Stiltskin. Banks proclaim Wilson to be the next Peter Gabriel, an assertion that in and of itself is grounds for immediate committal. Why Banks handpicked this semi-competent vocalist is truly mystifying, but to say that his performance is underwhelming would be to put it kindly. About as emotive and versatile as Collins in his very weakest moments, Wilson is always an impediment to the proceedings, bringing precious little to the table when it comes to making the songs come alive.
Not that the songs deserve to be alive, of course; murdering them would be an act of borderline altruistic charity. Banks and Rutherford had decided that they'd had enough of the superficial pop that they'd been dabbling in since Abacab, opting instead to return to the band's heyday as one of the primary acts in the progressive rock movement. This may be a bold move, but it's also a foolhardy one; the group had established over the last two albums that they were now incapable of penning halfway decent pop songs, rendering the notion that they could suddenly return to high quality prog completely absurd. The entire reasoning behind the shift to pop (besides commercial ones, of course) was the fact that the band could no longer produce worthwhile progressive rock, as evidenced by debacles like Wind & Wuthering and …And Then There Were Three… Nothing good could come of a reversion to their old style; if they couldn't handle simple pop songs there was no way that they could manage to generate even passable lengthy, complex epics.
Needless to say the results of this prog rebirth were disastrous. The album is an ordeal to listen to, over an hour's worth of horrific content that's virtually bereft of any catchy hooks or memorable melodies. The tracks simply drag on endlessly to the point that they're nearly unendurable, with nothing interesting to draw one's attention. Most of the tracks are simply composed of bland, generic instrumentation and abrasive production over which Wilson drones endlessly onward without adhering to anything that could even remotely be construed as a vocal melody. This is hardly conducive to crafting entertaining music, and even with a singer of the caliber of Gabriel the tracks would have been similarly tedious, as the songwriting is so abysmal that no amount of vocal power or dexterity could hope to redeem it.
There are no good tracks on the album, and only a few short moments that can be said to be the least bit enjoyable. Calling All Stations simply has nothing going for it, as Banks and Rutherford can no longer compose decent music, Wilson is a sub par vocalist at best and the production, an eldritch mass of headache inducing drum machines and grating sonic trickery, exacerbates an already dreadful package.
This is certainly not a fitting swansong for a group that used to be one of the giants of the prog rock movement, but at least its miserable quality ensured that there wouldn't be any comparably bad sequels. Calling All Stations probably wasn't envisioned as the group's final chapter; in fact, Banks and Rutherford likely viewed it as a fresh beginning for a new incarnation of the group. Its quality demanded that the band put an end to this experiment, however, before Genesis' legacy could be further tarnished, and the result is a testament to how badly even the greatest rock bands can go awry.