Genesis began as a songwriter’s collective, and that remained the basic focus of the band from the progressive rock days through the Top 40 radio days. Writing and performing with an eye to perfected detail was always the procedure. Despite above average instrumental capacity - and an interest in breaking rock rules, especially in the early 1970s - Genesis wasn’t really a “players” band, where golden chariots were rolled out for hot solos and personal grandstanding. No, they just wanted the songs themselves to grandstand.
In the reviews below, I’ll be skipping over the band’s earliest years, and in doing so, I’ll miss a decent album called Trespass (1970). At that point, the basic nucleus of Peter Gabriel (vocals, sundries), Mike Rutherford (bass and 12-string guitar), and Tony Banks (keyboards) was in place, minus a permanent drummer and guitarist. Those roles were filled respectively by Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, and the classic quintet made its recorded debut on 1971’s Nursery Cryme. Words now about the members:
Tony Banks: Genesis begins and ends with the soft-spoken keyboardist. (Well, soft spoken in public; I’ve read stories of thrown chairs...) Creatively speaking, he had two lead singers who often took praise or blame for his tunesmithing. Like “Firth of Fifth” or “Supper’s Ready”? Praise Tony. Don’t like “Tonight Tonight Tonight” or “Hold on my Heart”? Blame Tony. Instrumentally, he’s the dominant force within the group. I like a lot of his better work on organ and piano, while some of his synth tones from the late ‘70s sound atrocious.
Mike Rutherford: Second in command is Rutherford, another key songwriter through the years. At his best, he wrote evocative pieces like “Ripples”; at worst, he fell into banal filler. In Genesis, Rutherford doubles as good bassist and a functional guitarist given to pithy lines and arpeggios. His 12-string is a major part of the early Genesis sound (he would cover the bass on pedals if playing guitar), although I think his best instrument is bass.
Peter Gabriel: Gabriel wasn’t quite the dominating figure most people assumed him to be in early Genesis. He wrote a lot of lyrics, and some music, but his main role was as the front man, a role he dove into with relish once he started wearing masks and elaborate costumes on stage. His wit and theatrical sense were unparalleled, in my opinion. Feeling professionally constrained in Genesis, he left in 1975. His solo albums, which began in 1977, are all quite interesting, especially the second and third eponymous titles.
Phil Collins: After Gabriel went on to a hip solo career, Collins went on to a much-maligned one, very pop-oriented, and I won’t defend it. I will defend his drumming chops, and when he took over the lead vocals from Peter, he developed into a good singer. Even his drumming is misunderstood, though. He’s associated with the heavy tom fills (phils?) of his solo hit “In The Air Tonight”, but long before that, he was a jazzy player with lots of subtle touches and great time. This continued into the 1980s, actually - listen to “Just a Job to Do” for his tight pocket playing. Collins’ smug pop persona is enough to turn anyone off, but there’s a lot more to him than that. For one, he was so committed as a musician that he had a side fusion project, Brand X, running alongside Genesis in the mid 70s. Check out Moroccan Roll or Unorthodox Behaviour.
Steve Hackett: Odd man out. The first live album and Selling England put his guitar out front, and it sounds great. Elsewhere, Hackett was often shoved behind the walls of keyboards. He was a good writer, too, but he was often muscled out of the way by the Mike/Tony cabal. All of which was unfortunate, because he had a lot to offer. If Steve’s style had to be summed up in one phrase, it’d be “melody as texture” - the soaring lines that could loft certain passages into the stratosphere. He also excelled at quasi-classical nylon string playing.
That’s the classic quintet, who in their time together played what is usually construed as progressive rock. I won’t nitpick the classification, but I’ll note as above that they weren’t prima donna virtuosos or mystical twits. They simply had an interest in creative writing, and in the early 1970s, that meant they could ride rock audiences’ receptivity for longer forms. The transition from prog to pop took just over a decade, and it’s a pretty smooth transition, listening to all the albums in order. To get from one stage to the other, they had to go through a bloated pomp-rock stage, which ironically came during the time the band was reducing personnel.
I’m personally not a big fan of anything post-Abacab (1981), although I can enjoy it just because I know their history, and I can hear echoes of their older glory days. In fact, Banks’ compositional style never really changed; it just traveled from a fantastic, mythical setting to modern pop.
This fanciful album could only have come from its specific time and place, and from well-read, imaginative young men who spent a few terms crying and masturbating in an English boarding school. The weight of myth and fable lays heavy on the lyrics and music, where candlelit acoustic arpeggios and pastoral dreaminess sit alongside passages that roar and pummel. Phil Collins drums with strength and precision, and Steve Hackett’s guitar has a distinct presence because there aren’t yet multiple synthesizers to compete with. Alongside the newcomers, Mike Rutherford balances bass and 12-string guitar duties, Tony Banks does a good job on piano, organ, and Mellotron, and Peter Gabriel ventures into theatrical, “acted-out” singing both humorous and/or macabre.
Cryme features three classic mini-epics, two smaller but no less involved tracks, and two brief acoustic wisps. Of the epics, “The Musical Box” is the most famous. The whole piece basically breaks down to the alternation of soft and thrashing sections, thus a primal emotional drama that ties in with the perversity of the lyric. (You know, the old “fetch me my bowl and fiddlers three and resurrected child in the body of an old man about to rape the girl who killed him with a croquet mallet” kind of story.) So on the one hand are the guitar arpeggios, intimate vocal, wafting organ, flute, humming bass pedals, etc., and then you have the harder sections with blazing guitar and overdriven organ riffs. The transitional passage, three minutes in, where the chords move around under the flute solo is one of the most beautiful moments in Genesis for me. It’s just prior to the first guitar-led rave up, and the second thrash jam at six minutes is nothing short of headbanging. Yes, along with the folksy tweeness, Genesis could rock out. The end of the piece introduces a new acoustic segment that accumulates electric textures and leads to Gabriel’s screaming climax. Every bar of “Musical Box” is of theatrical conception, and it’s no surprise that the song (or the most common excerpt of it) is best heard in live versions. And if you’ve got a video of the old days, you can see Gabriel in an old man’s mask humping his way through the final cadence. He wanted to be young Cynthia’s sledgehammer.
Wilder fun comes in “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”, a humorous tale of man versus botanical monster - “they seem immune to all our herbicidal battering!” - where guitar and organ lines creep like roots and tendrils. Note also the softer chord progressions in the verses, and the thrashing section that concludes the piece on the heels of Gabriel’s battle cry. As with “Musical Box”, “Hogweed” comes across effectively in the studio blueprint and gains strength on the 1973 live album.
The third long piece is “The Fountain of Salmacis”, a squeamish, hermaphroditic tale. The vast soundscape that opens the piece leads into somewhat staggered verses and an elevated finale. Not to be a broken record here, but even “Salmacis” is at least equaled in a later live version to be found on Three Sides Live. And as a side note, “Salmacis”, “Hogweed”, and a couple of later pieces show that Hackett was one of the first to extensively utilize tapping as a guitar technique, more for musical purpose than flash.
On the smaller end of the scale, “Harold the Barrel” sets a bizarro tale to the album’s perkiest music, apparently written almost in full by Gabriel. The lyrics are hilarious, their performance even more so. “Seven Stones” is a very Banks-ish song with a dream-like, orchestral keyboard flavor and mundane lyrics. (“Changes of no consequence will pick up the reins from nowhere” indeed.) It’s sort of a waterlogged, meandering track, but it’s got a couple of good hooks and I happen to like it, personally.
“For Absent Friends” and “Harlequin” are brief ditties with prissy vocals and a hangover of sixties folkiness that desperately needed to be overrun by, um, a Giant Hogweed or something. They work as interludes on the album, but on their own they can be shrugged off. Overall, Nursery Cryme sets the stage for the adventurous creativity to follow.
Foxtrot builds upon the general sound of its predecessor with new levels of technical prowess and intricate arrangements. It’s a very busy, dense album, and the playing sometimes comes across a bit stiff, which is partly explained by the narrative writing style and the required precision therein. Nonetheless, after becoming familiar with the many twists and turns, one might recognize Foxtrot as being near the group’s creative peak. The first half contains four solid tracks, all packed to the brim, while the second half, after a gorgeous classical guitar piece from Steve Hackett (“Horizons”), features “Supper’s Ready”, Genesis’ one and only bowl on progressive rock’s sidelong epic lawn.
The opening Mellotron chords of “Watcher of the Skies” (and the staccato entry of guitars and drums underneath) remain a mood-making pinnacle in the Genesis catalog. The rest of the song is like an overstuffed shelf, a nervous setting of squibbly rhythms and hairpin section changes. Peter Gabriel somehow squeezes in a science fiction lyric over this, and while the song feels crammed together, it does open and close with a convincing atmosphere of vastness, and that’s the lasting impression I get from “Watcher”. The second track, “Time Table”, relieves the tension with gentle melodies and various instrumental colors. Though not a great song, it’s a very decent one. “Get ‘Em Out By Friday”, another busy number, imagines the benefits of genetic engineering for landlords - smaller tenant bodies, more revenue. Gabriel acts out the voices of the story while the band enacts all kinds of dramatic musical twists. My guess is that the main musical attributes of this track came from Tony Banks, but obviously everyone contributes to the continually morphing arrangement, not least Phil’s amazing drumming. Collins also breaks loose in the instrumental portion of “Can Utility and the Coastliners”, a song that starts with a couple of easygoing verses before turning to more complex developments. While not as highly revered as “Watcher” or “Friday”, “Can Utility” demonstrates the uniqueness of Genesis as well as either. (And the title is not that inscrutable, if you take the phonetic hint and read the legendary lyric.)
“Supper’s Ready” is the main heavyweight of Foxtrot, and one of the holiest of holies in the entire Genesis canon. At over twenty minutes in length, it bundles several disparate parts into (what might seem like) arbitrary sequence. Even though certain themes at the beginning are repeated at the end, it may feel cobbled together on first listen, as if the group is randomly scrolling through options - let’s turn a lovely ballad into the weirdness of Willow Farm, no wait, let’s have a quiet flute section, no scrap that, the Apocalypse in 9/8 beckons. Ah shit, let’s just go back to the beginning, shall we? But the band’s ambition is clearly at a peak here, covering lots of musical ground, and lyrically, “Supper’s Ready” adapts the Revelations mythology of good versus evil, the number of the beast, seven trumpets playing, and children whisked off to the New Jerusalem.
“Supper’s Ready” begins with an intimate acoustic setting that buffers all the wild lyrical imagery that will follow. (And it will be repeated as the penultimate section.) After various tangents come and go, including a rollicking “battle” topped with a Hackett solo, the loony limeyness of Willow Farm appears at the piece’s midpoint, where Gabriel spills out familial rantings as the music turns from mild horror to Beatle-ish bounce and back again. I don’t know what the Willow Farm section contributes to the overall story. Maybe an intermission? The crazy “Who Dunnit” of the Gabriel era? It’s a hoot.
The lengthy homestretch of “Supper’s Ready” reintroduces a few ideas from the first half, but not before an impressively dramatic and complex section subtitled “Apocalypse in 9/8”. The organ solo here exemplifies Tony Banks’ best musical trait: harmonic exploration over a static (pedal point) backdrop. This would appear on many songs to come, where bass and/or guitar stick to a limited vamp - in the case of “Supper’s Ready”, it’s three notes set to a martial beat - and Banks finds all sorts of left-hand chords to fit the pedal notes while soloing with the right hand. Now this is the sort of thing a jazz keyboardist does all night long, but it has a specialized place in the Genesis context. It summons a dark majesty for the Apocalypse: major and minor keys clash, changing colors like the overhead sky, and Banks ascends to a tense summit, at which point we can now return to the story. Gabriel enters at the keyboard solo’s peak, singing “666 is no longer alone,” and the chords underneath alternate at the distance of a tritone, which according to old mystics symbolized the devil in music. The biblical fantasies erupt in this section, and the imagery gets ever more fantastic.
After the 9/8 section looms to a close, we’re left suspended in a rearrangement of the opening verses. Then (as sure as eggs is eggs) comes The Moment, the payoff, the return of the king, the soul ignition. The music is simple and ingenious - big bass pedal notes, dirty Mellotron chords, and Hackett’s angel-crying lead guitar entwined in Gabriel’s catharsis of deliverance.
I think “Supper’s Ready” succeeds as a side-long piece because it has so much character, and because it’s within Genesis’ narrative bounds, as opposed to a desire to show off extensive instrumental chops. There’s no overture to start it off (from the first second, it’s as if we’ve walked in on Gabriel mid-song), no hotshot solos, no unnecessary repetition. And if Banks’ organ solo seems over the top, well, come on, it’s the apocalypse! Every musical happening is tied in with the overall story (except perhaps for the Willow Farm segment). I’m not sure how seriously to take the lyrical intent, because along with the genuine intensity comes lots of humorous hullabaloo. Yet there’s something very special about “Supper’s Ready”, and it’s remarkable that the group could create this magnum opus so relatively early in their career.
Many descriptive words could be spilled on Foxtrot, because it’s so densely packed. It’s also quite quirky, almost to a fault. Besides the opening of “Watcher” and the glory moments of “Supper’s Ready”, there’s little on the album to connect with any outside musical connotations. In other words, Genesis is deeply ensconced in an insular songwriting world, having a grand time and not following any muse except the one they’ve trained.
In which five choice songs are brought to life. I don’t know if Genesis ever had a more effective opening number than “Watcher of the Skies”, what with the infinite Mellotron chords that bring the boys onstage. “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” benefits from the band’s energy, and Gabriel plays the roles to a hilt. The powerful close of “Return of the Giant Hogweed” just might be Genesis’ most aggressive, towering moment on record. “The Musical Box” is definitively done, and Hackett’s searing guitar is especially notable. Hackett also comes on strong in the early epic “The Knife”, a martial call to arms with a rocking organ vamp and bloodthirsty sloganeering from Gabriel. At the very introduction of the song’s title, the crowd goes nuts, and by the end of the piece, the listener should as well. Rock on.
No formal changes are made to any of the songs, so the value of this live album really comes down to an increase in energy. I’d say that at least three of the five tracks improve on their studio counterparts.
Selling England broadens the group’s scope and presents the closest portrait so far of each band member. We already had a good idea of Gabriel’s artistic persona, but now Hackett, for example, demonstrates a fuller range of his guitar capabilities. Banks introduces synthesizer (an ARP Pro Soloist) to his ongoing arsenal of piano, organ, and Mellotron. Phil Collins really starts to open up at the drum kit, and Mike Rutherford remains the glue that holds everything together. The album puts all five members in perfect balance. Would that the material had the same equality. It’s weighted toward the good side - no less than four all-time classics reside here - but there’s also a throwaway ditty and one epic misstep.
“Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”: The acapella opening pun (“Can you tell me where my country lies?”) begins a fanciful comparison of old and new England, from Arthurian imagery to modern commercialism (“Selling/digesting England by the pound”) to wordplay combinations (“Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout”, referring to the shopper’s incentive Green Shield stamps program). Father Thames has drowned, the Grail sun sets, credit cards are used as Tarot. All clever stuff, part lament, part parlor tale.
The accompanying music is based on a minor chord theme topped by a jazz/baroque Hackett lick. This theme appears with different instrumentation throughout, from pearly Les Paul to blaring Mellotron to quivering 12-string. Underneath the vocals, eloquent textures and harmonies begin to flower, notably in the beautiful piano accompaniment. In general, Tony Banks rarely emphasizes dissonant or ambiguous chords, but his triadic conceptions are creative and advanced. In the galloping instrumental section, Hackett leads the charge with exciting phrases and Tony sounds excellent in support. We then return to a heavy recap of the main verse and theme. The song’s disjointed coda includes a tricky synth-led segment and an ambient fadeout of acoustic arpeggios, distant lead guitar, and soft synth. A very fine piece of work.
“I Know What I Like”: A tale of a slacking, subversive lawnmower is told over an elementary riff and a rousing sing-along chorus. The darkness at the track’s outer edges saves it from being a little too oddball-jolly for its own good. Even though it’s a most popular Genesis piece, I’ve never been totally attracted to it, although the lyrics are swell, especially “Gambling only pays when you’re winning / Had to thank old Miss Mort for schooling a failure.” And how about “You can tell me by the way I walk” - hint of a future hit? Just as “Paper late!” from “Moonlit Knight” would inspire a future song title.
“Firth of Fifth”: The regal verses and watery profundity of the lyric might exemplify the prog stigma of pomp and stuffiness, yet the development of the musical themes throughout is exceptionally smart and makes a case for extended rock forms. “Firth of Fifth” roughly forms an arch, padded by little diversions. The finespun motives of Banks’ solo piano introduction reappear in a synth theme in the middle and also close the piece. In the middle section, surrounding the “happy” theme, is a mournful tune played first by flute then taken over by piano and turned into a bouncy melody, before Hackett reimagines the mournful theme on fuzz-sustain guitar, one of Steve’s highlight Genesis moments. All of these interlaced motifs pull the listener through the work and makes the verses more attractive than they would be on their own. Constructed with thorough care, “Firth of Fifth” is Genesis at their best, minus the iffy lyrics (which aren’t Peter’s).
“More Fool Me”: An oh-so-casual duet for Rutherford on strum-a-lum guitar and Collins on angelic lead vocal. It might be tempting to single out this simple relationship song as the precedent for all the love songs that would dominate the later Genesis years, and as proof of Genesis’ ‘80s claim that “we were always trying to write short hits,” but in fact, “More Fool Me” deserves neither dignity. It’s just a brief diversion that was included because it was so off their main course (how many years would pass before they recorded another one?), and because it provided a larky breather from Selling England’s heavier tracks. In hindsight, though, it gives fair warning of songwriter Rutherford’s puppy-eyed plaintiveness, innocent here yet deadly later on.
“Battle of Epping Forest”: This is a marvelous suite of music, but unfortunately it’s saturated with unwieldy vocals that leave the listener (and singer) breathless. Gabriel’s gangland war story goes overboard with voices and subplots, and his humor on this occasion is forced. With the many, many words, the lyric feels rushed, and lot of lines barely fit into place. That makes it the major disappointment of the album, though much of the music is top notch, sort of an update on Foxtrot’s schizophrenia: a battle march, a waltz, a cavalry charge, etc. Could have been a heck of an instrumental.
“After the Ordeal”: Well, here’s an instrumental anyway. It starts with a softly rolling theme for piano and nylon string guitar and turns to a more somber conclusion. Flute, cello, and light synthesizer add to the arrangement, and the modulations between the sections are brilliant as always. Why this lovely piece is often overlooked, I’ll never know.
“Cinema Show”: The song portion is based on frilly guitar arpeggios and a delicate vocal (lyrics torn from Eliot’s Waste Land), with little deep musical interest beyond the “Father Tiresias” section. (Interesting chord changes there, and the lyrics are nice: “I have crossed between the poles / For me, there’s no mystery.”) But when people talk about “Cinema Show”, they’re most often referring to the instrumental half that rides a chugging 7/8 guitar rhythm beneath a masterful Banks solo. Using the Pro Soloist, Banks explores a series of melodies while adjusting the harmony over the guitar pedal point - another Banks specialty a la the Apocalypse in “Supper’s Ready”. The climax is at nine and a half minutes in, when Mellotron chords ascend behind the synth’s spiralling phrases. Grand as Tony’s playing is, listen also to Phil’s sharp drumming. Long before he went the heavy tom route, he was a quick wristed top-kit player, and that’s nowhere more evident than the way he chops through the bars in “Cinema Show”. Great stuff. The piece fades out on an ambiguous line.
“Aisle of Plenty”: A light return to the “Moonlit Knight” theme, where commercialism overflows into grocery store sales pitches. Collins again does some elegant drumming. “Aisle of Plenty” inaugurates the Genesis album tradition of musical reprise that will continue up through Duke.
At least half of Selling England captures classic Genesis at its best, and thus it is perhaps the definitive album of the Gabriel era, with a caveat or two. Even if Foxtrot and The Lamb have fewer low points (i.e., no Epping Forest battles or downtime love ditties), neither of them really has anything that tops the likes of “Moonlit Knight” or “Firth of Fifth” or “Cinema Show”. As for the album’s place in the larger progressive rock canon, its thoughtfulness puts it pretty high up, for me.
Although it’s debatable as Genesis’ defining moment, this double album is a culmination of the group’s narrative style and Gabriel’s talents in particular. The story follows a street tough named Rael in a surreal urban tale that ventures into existentialism and split personality, while the music is darker and rougher (and more nastily electric) than ever before. Lyrics and music congeal into something that’s almost a rock musical in a way, and the work was performed in its entirety on the subsequent tour. The Lamb is the only double-length rock LP I’ve ever endorsed from front to back; there isn’t a single track I’d eliminate, and each feeds the next. Only a handful of the songs stand out on their own, but within the suite, everything has its place. And that’s the thing about The Lamb - I can’t just listen to separate bits of it. It has to be at least a side/quarter, preferably a half. The forward consistency of the album, once you get to know it, demands that you stay glued until the next stopping point.
I have no intention of delving into the story and what it means. For a straightforward description of what happens to Rael, Gabriel provides a humorous libretto in the album’s notes. Also, there’s a mammoth work entitled The Annotated Lamb floating around the Internet that explains (or attempts to) many of the various references in the lyrics. The Lamb captures Gabriel’s imagination at its peak, with plenty of personal bits, fantastical allusions, and smirky wordplay. It was clearly an attempt to get away from the historical/mythical grounds of previous lyrics, yet Rael’s journey leads to some very bizarre scenarios and characters, and the Lamia and Slippermen are much stranger than the Giant Hogweed, truth be told. The story doesn’t take a necessarily logical progression; the lyrics are more about imagery anyway, and the perception of same. What’s amazing though is that the lyrics were written in a rushed, tense atmosphere. Gabriel’s personal situation was pretty intense at the time, and his departure was already written on the wall, thanks to a dustup about what he could or couldn’t do outside the band. He nevertheless devised an original story and crammed it full of clever references.
The band, meanwhile, was on a roll churning out some of their most engrossing, esoteric music, descriptions of which are best saved for the following track by track.
“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”: The band’s most overt rock track rides a thick bassline and features Gabriel’s descriptions of metropolitan slices of life. Chords from the beautiful harmonic progression of the bridge (a detour into innocence and time-suspended reflection) will be reused later in the album. The song ends with an “On Broadway” reference.
“Fly on a Windshield”: In which the vast wall of the unknown hits Rael in the face - Mellotron, big drums, and searing guitar cries.
“Broadway Melody of 1974”: A namecheck lyrical sequence much in the style of a stage revue piece. The parade includes Marshall McLuhan, Caryl Chessman, Howard Hughes, the Klan serving soul food, and on it goes. The ba-bum “heartbeat” rhythm appears a few more times throughout the album, perhaps intended to put us in Rael’s living, breathing shoes.
“Cuckoo Cocoon”: Lovely little song over phased guitar chords. Nice vocal phrasing. For Rael to be wondering what’s happening to him, having been whisked from his day to day world, the music is perversely pleasant and cozy.
“In The Cage”: A rocking stage classic. Soft thump-thump heartbeats and a tender vocal morph into throbbing organ chords (pulses of inner panic as Rael realizes he is trapped) and a driving rhythm. The harmony hinges on a minor-second seesaw and breaks free into major chords as Rael experiences flashes of hope. Banks takes a synth solo in middle, and the vocal returns as Banks is winding down, just as in “Supper’s Ready”. The end of the song fades into a ghostly instrumental interlude.
“Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”: The music sounds like a ditzy toy soldier march at the beginning and builds up an array of noise as Rael sees what goes on inside a strange factory. Keyboard chords turn evil, whistles suggest bodies celebrating their own doom, and Hackett’s vibrato guitar connotes a nervous system about to shatter. Gabriel’s vocal is treated in places by Brian Eno, leading to some strange, robotic effects.
“Back in NYC”: Heartbeat intro. Stepwise riffs in odd meters, ballsy vocal posturing, and an eccentric bridge make for a heavy, lumbering beast.
“Hairless Heart”: Bittersweet guitar theme matched with a grand Mellotron extension. Gorgeous instrumental. Has the spacy scope of Pink Floyd and ten times the romance.
“Counting Out Time”: A song about Rael’s first romantic adventure, including a numbered textbook. Not quite as amusing as it tries to be, it lightens the mood a little, and the soul screams at the end are cool.
“Carpet Crawlers”: Maybe the most beautiful Genesis song ever. Fast sparkling arpeggios set up an evocative lyric whose melody gives Gabriel’s voice a very wise character. As the song goes along, chords shimmer in the air, Hackett’s sustained guitar enriches the chorus, and the percussion gathers strength. One of the few tracks that really works on its own.
“Chamber of 32 Doors”: On the heels of “Carpet Crawlers”, the bombastic fanfare and pseudo-country parts of “Chamber” sound weird, but it is a fairly crafty piece nonetheless. The verses move through different backdrops, including a desolate part where Rael pines for someone to trust, accompanied by his own heartbeat (again).
“Lilywhite Lilith”: Starting the second half of The Lamb is a catchy song with hard, masculine verses and a softer chorus. The final stretch recalls the thumping Broadway Melody beat and we are escorted into...
“The Waiting Room”: A spooky collective improvisation, rare for Genesis. From haunted house noises (synth and guitar) emerges a simple bass riff that gets twisted around by Phil’s drums.
“Anyway”: Gabriel contributes a substantial vocal to this otherwise dreary song, and the explosive guitar solo is fun for shock and pomp value.
“The Supernatural Anaesthetist”: One of the album’s cheeriest pieces, ironically about a grim reaper. Guitar and synth play a little duet at one point, and then Hackett’s solo winds up in the outer space of gaseous Mellotron clouds - a very “prog” sounding moment.
“The Lamia”: Beautiful, otherworldly music scores Rael’s encounter with seductive yet macabre creatures. Even though it hardly calls attention to itself, I think it’s one of the album’s strongest pieces, and the lyrics (especially the last verse and a half) are quite poetic. Parts of the track, like Banks’ quiet bits and the majestic guitar solo, sound a lot like Selling England.
“Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”: A tear-jerking, major key instrumental reverie, featuring swelled guitar arpeggios and heavenly Mellotron.
“The Colony of Slippermen”: A neo-ethnic prelude leads into a strolling rhythm and bright organ vamp. Grotesque characters and scurrying sounds fill the scene. The words are worth a chuckle, and better undo that buckle - time for Rael to meet Dr. Dyper and face castration to save himself from being a Slipperman. (After the procedure, a Raven intercepts the prize and flies away to its own synth theme.) One of the weirdest songs on the album, yet chock full of melody and rhythm.
“The Ravine”: Windswept instrumental interlude.
“The Light Dies Down on Broadway”: An expository song (lyrics from Banks and Rutherford) that replays some of The Lamia’s lush chord sequence to great effect. It also references the title track’s chorus.
“Riding the Scree”: Over an obtuse 9/4 guitar figure, a “heroic” synth solo depicts Rael in the crux of action. The track is basically a big Banks feature, and don’t overlook Collins carving away at the meter.
“In the Rapids”: A softly flowing song that brings the narrative to a surprise climax. Even though I haven’t mentioned it yet, Rael’s brother John plays a major role in the story, and at this point, after Rael has chosen to save John from a jam, Rael looks into his brother’s face and sees the unexpected.
“It”: With playful lyrics that suggest a lot but answer nothing, “It” exists outside of the main story. The charging, optimistic music has the feel of the lights and curtain coming up and all the show’s characters coming out to bid farewell. “It’s only knock and know-all,” insists Gabriel, his final tease that it is just a rock album, and it has taken you for a ride, and it is over to you to figure out what it has been about.
My cursory track skimming above leaves out all sorts of details and developments, the kinds of things listeners have to discover themselves. (It took me a period of time before the album made any sort of sense.) Of interest is that while The Lamb is a sprawling work, the individual songs are shorter than the Genesis norm to date; only “Cage”, “Lamia”, and “Colony” run to several minutes each. There are no overtures or bombastic closing finale - in fact, The Lamb is one of the band’s least bombastic albums, despite its mass. The only recurring musical motifs are the heartbeat rhythms and a couple of chord sequences that are shared between a few songs. The double LP format takes advantage of Progressive rock’s liberties and escapism yet also lacerates some of its conventions from the inside.
Musically, the album is as black, white, and gray as its cover artwork. (One might make a case for every Genesis album generally sounding like the colors of its cover.) Just as Gabriel does a lot of role-playing in the vocals, so does the band often disguise themselves in specialized arrangements. Still, Tony employs some of his trademark keyboard strategies, Hackett plays some fine leads, Phil drums well, and Rutherford contributes a lot of strong bass and 12-string parts. (Electric 12-string, that is. Acoustic textures are mostly banished.) All of which soundtracks Gabriel’s swan song. He left after the ensuing tour.
It didn’t take long for Genesis to realize they had an in-house replacement for Gabriel. Collins had sung alongside Gabriel as sort of a co-lead vocal on some songs, so the audience (and band) had been subconsciously prepared for Phil’s voice, and of course he remained the drummer as well. Not only the drums but also the keyboards, bass, and rhythm guitar are moved forward in the new quartet mix, while Hackett’s lead guitar is moved slightly back - and at times, very far back. With no more public focus on Gabriel, Banks and Rutherford were clear to step forward and claim the main creative roles they’d really had all along.
Trick of the Tail is one of the very best Genesis albums, confident, colorful, and filler-free. All eight tracks share the same several-minute running length and each carries its own weight. As mentioned, the mix brings the band closer to the listener, and the music eliminates a lot of the dramatic space that had informed the Gabriel era. Acoustic textures return in force, balanced by a somewhat jazzy, festive vibe in places. Trick occupies a warm middle ground between the early theatrical grandness and the later arena pomp rock. Lyrically, Peter is missed, but not all the time.
“Dance on a Volcano”: After a soft/loud fanfare comes a main instrumental theme that sounds to me like a major-key analog of the three-chord “Moonlit Knight” motif. Desperate verses are sung over a 7/8 riff with startling drum hits. And like “Moonlit Knight”, there’s a dazzling if unwarranted synth-led dance tacked onto the end. The “Volcano” lyric, unless I’m missing some symbolism, is actually about trying to avoid the boiling pitfalls of - well, whatever, but the imagery is memorable (“Crosses are green, crosses are blue, your friends didn’t make it through”) and it’s the post-Gabriel song I would have been most curious to hear Peter sing.
“Entangled”: Sleepytime guitar-based lullaby with a nefarious lyrical undercurrent. A rare Hackett-Banks collaboration. This is the sort of thing Phil would have been perfectly suited to sing anyway, and his self-harmonies in the chorus have a tight CSN sound. Banks was probably responsible for the creeping instrumental coda of keyboard layers and bass pedal notes. It’s a great setup for the next song.
“Squonk”: Slowed-down Zepplinesque funk with a neat chord refrain and a lyric about a hunter and his fabled prey. (Maybe Rutherford took an inspirational cue from Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude” - “Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears?”) Plenty of chord riffery from the guitars and secondary melodic lines from Banks keep the music moving along. Collins shines in both the big drum track and a roll-up-the-sleeves vocal - maybe the lyric isn’t Shakespeare, but Collins makes it sound good. From the first line, it’s evident that Phil has what it takes to front the singing, and this isn’t an easy song. The four verses alternate two different chord progressions, and the coda is based on a light bo-diddley beat. (Listen closely for an allusion to the “Volcano” theme in this part.) It’s too complex to “rock”, and it’s too slow to be aggressive, but there’s definitely some muscle behind the track. One of my all-time G favorites.
“Mad Man Moon”: On the remainder of the decade’s albums, Tony Banks will find space for one or more of his own mini-epic-pomp-ballads, of which “Mad Man Moon” is the prototype. The melodies are nice, the textures are colorful, the buildup to the title line is marvelous (I love the peak moment of “That must have been another of your dreams”), and the perky middle section is a song unto itself. As usual, Banks is brilliant at chord movement, either to get from one key to the next or just to exploit a change for its affective properties. However, ingredients aside, the piece has a bloated audacity that would fertilize later cousins like “One for the Vine” and “Burning Rope”.
“Robbery Assault and Battery”: An extensive, good-humored cops ‘n robber tale with jaunty verses, a choppy disco-beat chorus, and a 13/8 keyboard solo that is probably the most complex showcase Banks ever recorded. Collins covers a lot of drumming ground from front to back. The closing cadence is so pompous as to be humorous.
“Ripples”: Ultra-precious 12-string/vocal verses and a beautiful chorus make up a song about aging. The lyrics (Rutherford) aren’t exactly poignant, but the music sure is. The middle of the track dissolves into a soundscape of fast rippling arpeggios, bass pedal notes, and a backwards Hackett solo that reeks of feeling. Great harmonic movement, especially in the return to the outro chorus. What was just an attractive song to begin with becomes a strong classic thanks to the instrumental interlude.
“A Trick of the Tail”: Another Banks solo composition, this time with a pub-piano bounce. In fact, everything stems from the piano: the vocal line is sketched by the right hand, and the melodic bass line comes from the left. The “ooo-wop” bridge is hard to resist. The lyric - about some escaped fantasy creature, or is it the human who escaped into their world? - requires a grain of salt or two. This is a good place to mention the minimization of Hackett, who is relegated on this track to little sonic effects and root reinforcement. There are few places elsewhere on the album where he rises up from similar duties, and when he does (as in “Ripples”), the mix gives his guitar little space. In a 1980s interview, Tony Banks singled out a few older Genesis tracks as “not really requiring the parts Steve was playing.” (Wot balls! This from a guy who took part in And Then There Were Three!) The interviewer failed to counter with “What was Steve doing in the band, then?” Hackett would soon be asking himself that very question, though.
“Los Endos”: All four cylinders fire in a tour-de-force instrumental. The jazzy rush of the first section comes straight from Phil’s swing-fusion tendencies, and Rutherford does a good job of keeping up on bass - a good job for a pick-wielding unfunky English rock bassist, at any rate. The keyboard and guitar themes are kind of stiff (Tony can hardly even pretend to fake his way through fusion, and his nasally synth sound offends), yet that only draws more attention to the colorful rhythms percolating below. The middle section breaks down into a reprise of the opening measures of “Volcano”, reharmonized with scary Mellotron chords. This slow, intense crescendo segues into the “Squonk” groove, an awesome moment. After a couple of trips around the Squonk house, the track starts to fade, and Phil sings in the background, “There’s an angel standing in the sun.” So not only does Genesis continue their album tactic of thematic recall, they also reach back to “Supper’s Ready” in this instance. (I suppose they wanted to connect to the Gabriel days for continuity’s sake.)
Final words? A very solid album - solid as Foxtrot really, with nothing disposable and a couple of transcendent moments.
Wind and Wuthering is like Trick’s younger sister - the superficially ambitious one who flunked out of drama school and spent a year finding herself as a tourist before impulsively marrying a foreign painter and divorcing same within six months and so spent the remainder of her twenties with bipolar moods and an acute emotional gushiness. Either that or W&W is like Selling England in that it has both some of the best and worst moments of Genesis, and Steve Hackett features well. It’s not hard to find folks who praise the album to the skies (Tony Banks included) or folks who detest it outright. I’m a “flashes of brilliance amongst boredom” fence sitter.
The best and most unique track is “Blood on the Rooftops”, a guitar-based song with a nostalgic lyric about sipping tea in prime time, as far as I can tell. Hackett’s classical guitar themes are lovely, and the Mellotron edifice of the chorus earns a gold star for Tony Banks, who spends much of the rest of the album fiddling with obnoxious synthesizer tones. Bass and drums lend just the right amounts of decoration and reinforcement. The performance summons a mood of elegance (the guitar), jaded wisdom (the conversational vocal), and a rush of memories (the Mellotron strings). “Better in my day,” yes.
Before and after “Rooftops”, the album goes to several different places that plays to the members’ strengths. For Phil, there’s lots of shuffling, swinging drum work, especially in “Wot Gorilla”, a whimsical instrumental. If “Wot Gorilla” is Genesis’ stab at fusion, it falls way short. Tony’s synth lines have no feel whatsoever, and Mike foregoes the bass for jangling guitar. Um, not exactly Weather Report. Mike’s future of shallow ballads is claimed in “Your Own Special Way”, far too saccharine for my own tastes. Hackett comes forth in “Rooftops” and also a long instrumental I will discuss shortly. But give anyone an inch, and Banks will take a mile. It’s no wonder he loves the album and calls it the band’s most romantic, because he writes three of its most indulgent songs.
“One for the Vine” is maligned in certain quarters, although I’ve yet to find anything wrong with the actual content. It’s got lots of nice piano work, a lush synth-string chorus, and an infectious prog-disco section. (A motif from this section is borrowed by the “Wot Gorilla” melody.) The lyric is a little huffy but not overly distracting. Yet I suppose some people would be bothered by the fact that “Vine” is too bloated to be a song, and too contained to be a dynamic epic. I think it’s good, if far short of a masterpiece.
“All in a Mouse’s Night” is an altogether goofier piece that narrates a mouse’s nocturnal adventure in multiple voices, with tinkly music to match. The stately final section features a prime Hackett solo, the only part I find interesting. It’s hard to believe that Collins, even in 1976, could look at “Mouse’s” lyric sheet and say, “yeah, I’ll sing that.” Finally, Banks contributes the wonderful “Afterglow”, a song of simple purity. It’s not enough for Banks to write a lyric about love and yearning, or even emotional displacement; there has to be an apocalyptic element as well. (See “Me and Sarah Jane” or “Domino”.) In “Afterglow”, the singer looks to reclaim something precious in the wake of worldly catastrophe, and the elementary music relies on key changes to elevate the emotions. I’m praising the song itself, not necessarily the arid recording of it on this album. On Three Sides Live, “Afterglow” goes to another level.
So there’s Tony’s creative part of it. The whole band is responsible for two of the more complex tracks, including the album opener “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, whose lyrics detail a Scottish uprising. I’m not sure all of the parts gel completely, but “Earl” has a lot going for it. On the downside, Banks’ synth tones are very cold and monochrome, with sawtooth waveforms that would raise the fur on any real cat. By the way, the album production overall is pretty chilly. All the instruments are clearly heard, but the warm sound of Trick of the Tail is traded for a clinical frost, and unnecessary reverb starts to blur the picture.
The instrumental suite “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers in that Quiet Earth” (Wuthering Heights, ha ha) is largely a success. A dreamy guitar and bass pedal prelude turns to a swinging, Hackett-led anthem, which shifts into a slower, abrasive, odd-beat section with gritty guitar and a synth solo (awful tone again). “Quiet Earth” leads via a reprise of an “Eleventh Earl” motif into “Afterglow”, and so ends Wind and Wuthering.
The album doesn’t really fit any one category, and interpreting that as variety or inconsistency is up to the listener. Collins’ drumming is more remarkable than his singing on the album, for whatever that’s worth, though Banks rules the roost anyway. This is Hackett’s last studio work with Genesis, and he gets off a handful of memorable farewells. At other times, he’s an absent friend.
A double length live set of new and old favorites. As Phil moves to the front microphone, Bill Bruford drums on one piece (“Cinema Show”, from 1976), Chester Thompson handles the rest of the tracks (from the ’77 tour), and Phil hops behind the drums for the instrumental sections. Bruford did well enough during his stint with Genesis (hear the thrilling homestretch of “Cinema Show”), but Thompson is the better choice for the long haul. Without dumbing down anything, Thompson gives most of the tunes a groovy pocket, whereas Bill tended to read the musical elements at face value (heh) and inject his improvisational side wherever possible into a non-improvisational band. Chester’s thinking is “if you guys want to play the songs the exact same way every night, I’ll at least make them feel good,” and he does.
The whole band musters the power, precision, and panache the arena-sized music requires. The recent songs are the least revelatory, in that “Squonk”, “Robbery Assault and Battery”, and “Afterglow” are mostly straight readings of their studio counterparts, give or take a few vocal follies. The strong “Los Endos” has a couple of different nuances, and it comes to a conclusion that the faded-out studio version obviously didn’t have.
The real interest is in the Gabriel-era pieces, and most of them (barring a truncated “Carpet Crawlers”) stand up well to the original versions - hear “Firth of Fifth”, or the melding of “The Lamb Lies Down” and “The Musical Box”. Phil is technically a better vocalist than Peter, if less idiosyncratic, and he doesn’t have much trouble with the ranges of “Firth” or “Musical Box”. The ultimate test comes in “Supper’s Ready”, which I will bravely say is as good as the Gabriel studio version and even goes a touch beyond it. Collins throws himself into every passage with elan, and he soars in the final New Jerusalem section. Behind him, the band has the whole suite down pat. They change the key of the final section, which may be a subconscious reason why I prefer it - it’s deeper than before.
The only “stretch out and jam” piece is “I Know What I Like”, where the sinister air of the Gabriel version is traded for a brighter, crowd-friendly vibe. The middle breaks down into a comfortable Chester groove, Phil tosses a tambourine around, and Hackett and Banks exchange stray lines, including references to oldies like “Stagnation” and “Moonlit Knight”. With all the tight arrangements in the rest of the set, “I Know What I Like” is a welcome chance for everyone to catch their breath and groove a little bit.
During the mixing of Seconds Out, Steve Hackett phoned in his resignation, frustrated at his low rank in the band’s creative hierarchy. Maybe that’s why these live mixes often push his guitar into the background? How appropriate for the misused and under appreciated Hackett. I don’t think the other members intended for him to quit, but neither did they ever seem to fully care that he was there in the first place. Or that he did leave.
As if Hackett’s departure was going to derail anything. Self-conscious album title aside, the remaining troopers were terrified of sounding anything like a trio: there are multiple keyboard, guitar, and percussion overdubs, Phil’s voice is often multi-tracked, and the noise-wall is further clouded in a thick haze of reverb. Hell, there was more space in Genesis’ music when they were a five-piece. Yet the density of sound cannot mask the lack of adventure in what is really the dullest of the ‘70s lot, a by-the-numbers buffet of mini-epics that validates Gabriel’s (and Hackett’s) decision to bolt before the band became an inescapable, product-churning juggernaut.
The romanticism of Wind and Wuthering is worn out and made trivial in such dreary plodders as “Deep in the Motherlode” and “Ballad of Big”, a couple of tubby episodes whose lyrics reference the American Old West - go figure. Similarly, “Say It’s Alright Joe” strikes an unconvincing torch-song mood, any intended intimacy and pathos smeared by the arrangement and mix. The sappy “Snowbound” is a bit more successful, flinching the heartstrings with Phil’s vocal and the slo-mo music in nice union, even as the lyrics celebrate a snowman (!) with no tongue in cheek. Speaking of sap, “Many Too Many” is a power-ballad before its time, all keyboard wallpaper, harmonized lead guitar (dear god), and “oh pretty mama.” Hard to tell what Genesis what trying to evince with material like this - that they were slimming down, getting back to basics, or aiming for airplay? And how does the disco-fusion and non sequitur imagery of “Scenes From a Night’s Dream” fit into all of this? Or the hard driving “Down and Out”, which could have been a really cool piece if it wasn’t so murkily produced?
(I would take a moment to discuss Rutherford taking on full responsibility for all guitars, but there isn’t much to talk about in that department. He does what’s necessary, and only once or twice does he step up with timid impersonations of Hackett’s fuzzy lead style.)
It’s tough to place ATTW3 because there aren’t any peaks and valleys to the material and thus there aren’t any standout pieces upon which one could hang a critical notion or two. Actually, there is one big one, but we’ll get to that. Picking a salvageable item from the rest of the bunch leaves me with Banks’ “The Lady Lies”, a waltz of some harmonic menace, befitting a medieval tale of a damsel-in-distress who lures our hero into a waiting trap, etc. Supporting the corny lyric (although I do like the line “who can escape what he desires?”) is some muscular and - in the fadeout - swinging playing. I will at least buy this business long before I buy the “Go west, young man” thumping of “Motherlode”. Also, the grandiose choruses of “Undertow” and its questions on mortality are truly touching. Credit Banks again for that, but dock him for the indulgent “Burning Rope”, which leaves little impression.
Tacked onto the album like an afterthought is “Follow You Follow Me”, a band jam that was crafted into a snappy pop song, for better or worse. Phil sounds comfortable with the simple love lyric penned by Mike. Lightweight and unassuming as it is, “Follow” happens to speak clearer than the rest of the tunes combined. And thus the ultimate irony of the album: 90% of it is the three-piece trying to maintain the majestic bulk of previous records (and failing), while the one throwaway tune - they didn’t even know if they wanted to include it - offers an attractive, alternate future. So, despite the cherry on top, the record documents a blurry impasse.
Duke ain’t brilliant but it’s sure refreshing. For one thing, the chunky music of the preceding album didn’t bear repeating, and Genesis chose to streamline rather than drown in excess. Duke opens the window to simpler songs, less cluttered instrumentation, and an emotional directness. (Not exactly deep emotions, mind you.) It has grand moments as well, if less esoteric than before. The ascendancy of Phil Collins starts here - he’s not just the drummer and singer anymore, he’s becoming an Artist - as do the group’s pop aspirations. Despite some iffy portions, the optimistic vibe wins out.
The album breaks down into collective compositions (which are the best) and the individuals’ songs (a motley crew). The group-written material forms a suite when put in sequence: “Behind the Lines”, “Duchess”, “Guide Vocal”, “Turn It On Again”, “Duke’s Travels”, “Duke’s End”. However, instead of appearing as a suite, these tracks are spaced across the program, starting with the first three tracks, “Turn It On Again” in the middle (beginning of Side 2, in LP terms), and the instrumental “Duke’s Travels/End” as the album’s grand finale. “Turn It On Again” became a radio and concert hit, and overexposure doesn’t change how good it is, with the neat chord riff in 13, the odd kicks of the chorus, and a fine vocal. I’m embarrassed at the way Genesis whored out this song as the basis for their oldie medleys in mid-80s concerts, because “Turn It On Again” is dignified by itself.
The bombastic overture of “Behind the Lines” echoes the recent past, before turning into a soulful song that develops in a relaxed way. A drum machine makes its Genesis debut in the introduction to “Duchess”, stating a bubbly pattern under Banks’ soft piano lines, and Phil brings in the real drums as the full weight of the song comes in. “Duchess” is formally very simple but boasts a hefty atmosphere and passionate vocal (Girl dreams of fame, earns it, loses it, and looks back on it). “Guide Vocal” (nice pun, Tony) is a sparse piano and voice passage that reappears in larger form in “Duke’s Travels”. The lyric of “Guide Vocal” is presumably a clue to whatever the Duke’s story is supposed to be, but that story remains vague, and I don’t know who the “guide” is. The melody is stirring nonetheless.
“Duke’s Travels”, after a dreamy keyboard reverie, becomes a full-band instrumental with European folk song overtones. The music isn’t on par with, say, the “Cinema Show” jam, but the trio is to be commended for their efforts here. “Travels” hits a peak when Phil reprises the “Guide Vocal” passage, now over full band accompaniment. “Duke’s End” completes the circle by reprising the themes of “Behind the Lines” and “Turn It On Again”, thus making Duke the last Genesis album to refer to itself in the closing moments.
In between all of the above tracks are the songs written by the individual members, some of which are shockingly personal. By personal, I mean “disappointing” or “repellent.” For example, the sobby chorus of Rutherford’s pitiful “Alone Tonight”. Or Collins’ divorce lament “Please Don’t Ask”, which is fine on its own naked terms but it doesn’t belong in any way, shape, or form on a Genesis album. I don’t think “Misunderstanding” (cold fun in the wintertime) does either, although it enlarged the boys’ fan base. Rutherford’s likeable “Man of Our Times” has a surprising edge to counter its elementary chorus chords. Phil experiments with vocal tones (hear him discover his “screaming” style with the “beating of your heart” lines), the verse riffs are reminiscent of “Back in NYC”, and the “Tonight, tonight” refrain is one “tonight” shy of a later hit.
Of course, Banks presents a couple of songs as well. “Heathaze” almost expires in its own languidness, although the chorus is quite pleasant. “Cul De Sac” is a bit stranger, but at least the music and lyrics don’t tumble to the lowest common denominators. In fact, in the midst of things like “Alone Tonight” and “Please Don’t Ask”, the snootier Genesis listener has to cling to “Cul De Sac” as an antidote. Anyway, the best impressions of Duke come from the spirited title suite songs, which indicate that things were looking up for the group.
The keyword for Abacab is space. Bright and spacious as Duke could be, it still stuffed aural blankets into many available nooks and corners. On Abacab, the trio celebrates the inherent sparseness of the keyboard, guitar, and drums lineup, maybe dropping a little drum program or synth bass cushion here and there, but otherwise letting notes and chords hang in the air. (The gated reverb air, instead of the cloudy infinite-decay reverb air.) And if an unpadded angle juts out, so be it. After all, music isn’t just about notes; it’s about the suspense between them. Tony Banks comes the farthest in that regard, now opting for distilled phrases. Meanwhile, the vocals and drums are moved further to the front, and Rutherford adjusts his rhythm guitar to suit.
Each member gets just one solo composition, while the majority of the tunes are generated from collective scratch. Out of necessity, the band refreshes their musical style in the process, only flirting with pop conventions. In fact, the perception of the 1980-2 Genesis as popsters has more to do with Collins’ emerging public persona than the actual music, because Abacab has hardly anything that qualifies as a Top 40 arrangement - not something that can be said about the upcoming albums. Abacab also nods to abstract ‘80s artiness in the cover painting, the absurdity of some of the music (like “Who Dunnit”), and a few ambiguous lyrics (“Abacab”). Genesis had far too much scope to devolve into mere synthy new wave, but nonetheless, fundamental change was afoot. For all of the above, I regard Abacab as one of the band’s most significant albums, even though the quality of the material varies. The most important thing is that they stopped trying to sound like a five-piece band on every track.
“Abacab”: Bum bum bum bum bum bum bum bum jeet jeet jeet jeet jeet jeet jeet jeet. Pulsing bass notes drive exchanges between guitar and keyboard. Simple harmonic movement (C, F, and G) spreads out beneath an inscrutable lyric, all cruising on a straight eight backbeat. Wait, is Genesis supposed to sound like this? “Abacab” qualifies as art-rock in some sense, but it streamlines the band’s sound into something they could not have played three years earlier. Much as the keyboard geometry defines the piece on paper, Collins really makes it work through his loose pocket drumming. He even slips into a disco swish-thump in the third verse. The extended instrumental tag sits on C minor as Mike and Tony bat phrases back and forth and Phil swats a tense beat. It says a lot about Genesis that they could ditch the complexities of earlier showcases (up to “Duke’s Travels”, even) and just “jam,” albeit in a scripted way. The main revelation of “Abacab”, beyond the catchy vocal and instrumental hooks, is the emphasis on feel.
On this and other tracks, Banks drops the noodly, nasally synthesizer tones from the later 1970s and opts for a dark, fuzzed-out sound on the ARP Quadra. Other softer tones take up textural residence in the songs.
“No Reply At All”: A carbonated pint of English R&B replete with horn arrangement. Tony’s electric piano part involves locked-hands riffing a la “Lamb Lies Down”, yet the focus is clearly on the vocal and groove, where Phil is in his element. Mike’s basslines are worth a positive mention, too. Yes, it’s pop, and yes, the lyric administers the faceless interpersonal stuff, but this fine track doesn’t overstay its welcome.
“Me and Sarah Jane”: Tony’s solo composition hops all over the map. Every verse goes in a new musical direction, from a piano/drum machine riff to a reggae bridge to heady transitional plateaus. Nothing repeats, so it takes a few listens to digest the arbitrary development. The lyric is fairly impenetrable, yet the closing verse makes strange sense of it all in the lines “The tide was rising, but there we stayed / We had no fear of dying, we weren’t afraid”. Must have been a “special thing” indeed between the protagonist and Miss Sarah Jane. I heard this song for years without rating it, and then one day it suddenly clicked. As convoluted as it is, the song cuts through the trappings of “Mad Man Moon” and that ilk and takes a more modern stance.
“Keep It Dark”: This track is based on a non-stop riff in 6 that runs under fragmented licks and chords, broken up by two engine-room percussion breaks that emerge for a few seconds each. The lyric is about returning from alien abduction or something. I’ve never been a big fan of the song, as it wears out its premise about halfway through, but it summarizes the album’s angular feel as well as any other entry.
“Dodo/Lurker”: A neo-prog piece in two parts. In the main part “Dodo”, there are echoes of “Behind the Lines” (big fanfare, albeit doomy) and “Squonk” (syncopated chord riffs) over a staggering, swaggering rhythm. The “Dodo” lyric concerns extinction, but there’s also Davey Jones and a pimp for your consideration. We wind up with Jones at the bottom of the sea and meet the “Lurker” tag, which poses a lyrical riddle amidst a catchy synth theme, chattering percussion, and more hall-filling chords. I love the whole thing, strange and arty and dementedly funky as it is.
“Who Dunnit?”: Read some of the opinions floating around the Web and you’ll assume Genesis never recorded anything more objectionable than “Who Dunnit”. Well, I counter that these folks wouldn’t know a good time if it burrowed behind their silver rainbow. I love the hell out of this short track - a burst of energy and groove that plugs directly into a jamming atmosphere. Maybe you have to have experienced countless tepid rock jams on your own to listen to “Who Dunnit” and say, “Gosh, I bet they had fun with that.” Banks takes a schizoid tour of Prophet 5 patches (the original working title was “Weird Synth”), while an ascending bass riff spurs the track forward and the drums bash with borderline angst. (Although the fill at 3:02 is of a more sophisticated furor.) Maybe it’s the lyric that bugs people: “Was it you or was it me / I didn’t do it / We know who did it” over and over again. Of course Collins knew how repetitious and obnoxious it was - it’s the whole point. What would you expect with this backing track, the Tenth Earl of Mar? Or more love lyrics? “Who Dunnit” samples a braver, artier Genesis, and I suppose it’s too strong a dose for some listeners. Their loss.
“Man on the Corner”: Phil’s song follows his solo template of the time: soft drum machine pattern, minor-key chords, repetitious vocal, thickening textures, an increase of vocal desperation, and a dramatic entry of real drums. There’s very little to distinguish it as Genesis, apart from a couple of Banks sounds. Sort of like Yes’ Fragile allowed the group members to “do their thing” on solo-conceived tracks, so does Abacab allow Phil his moody crescendo exercise. As for the drum machines, Genesis used them (in my opinion) in the correct way most of the time - as a sound unto themselves, not as a replacement for real drums. Go back to “Duchess” to hear how it started, and go forward to “Mama” to hear maybe the most effective example. Or hear the other appearance on Abacab in “Me and Sarah Jane”, where the drum machine is used as a soft mood setter, soon abandoned.
“Like It Or Not”: Put me down as “not”. Rutherford’s relationship song is the most cornfed part of the album. His mates try their best to inject something - anything - into it, but the track remains dull and leaden.
“Another Record”: This would be a gem if it weren’t for a very stupid lyric. The music is great though, and it’s a lesson to the preceding song in being consonant and interesting. From Tony, we hear his chorused, warbling piano and a poignant “harmonica” synth sound, and Phil once again does some very fine drumming. I really, really wish they had bothered to come up with other words besides a paean to an “old rock and roller,” because it’s such a sleeper track.
As fresh as Abacab is in the book of Genesis, its style wasn’t to be continued. Other musicians with an ingrained sense of improvisation or who favored clever music for its own sake could have mined this field for a while, but these three wise men were not ones to abandon songcraft, whatever its, er, genesis. So with a growing pop star in the band, and a few radio hits to their credit - and simply having done the adventurous music thing for a while now - Genesis set sail from Abacab island to the mainland. The sounds of this album, like the fuzzed Quadra and vibrant acoustic drums, were left behind, replaced by new breeds of electronic samplers and pads that gave the band a VIP pass to the middle of the decade.
Or four sides, depending on the version. The fourth side of the original American LP sequence featured studio outtakes from the time: “Paperlate”, “You Might Recall”, “Me and Virgil”, “Evidence of Autumn”, and “Open Door”. That was how an old cassette of mine was structured, while the 1994 CD edition did away with the studio tracks and offered a fourth live side. So we’ll deal with the outtakes elsewhere (Archive Volume 2) and focus here on all the live material.
Utility guitarist/bassist Daryl Stuermer appeared in 1978 as a live replacement for Hackett, and by the time of the Abacab tour, the stage quintet had gelled into a tight unit. Recent material like “Dodo/Lurker”, “Behind the Lines”, and “Duchess” all sound at least as good as the studio takes. (No, nothing is really different, but there’s a palpable live energy.) “Abacab” gains two things: funky bass guitar from Stuermer and a double-drum attack on the extended instrumental portion. “Me and Sarah Jane” is another beneficiary of the band’s onstage enthusiasm. “Turn It On Again” and “Misunderstanding” are okay, though nobody on earth ever really needed a live version of “Follow You Follow Me”.
The climactic “In the Cage” medley is tops. First, “Cage” is rendered in all of its dark, chest-pumping glory and then it segues into the 7/8 section of “Cinema Show”, interpolating a motif from “Riding the Scree”. Next is the keyboard solo from “Colony of Slippermen”, which slides ever so nicely into a passionate rendition of “Afterglow” as the finale. This whole medley is impressively musical and theatrical, the last hurrah of the seventies giving way to the eighties.
The fourth live side, if the listener is blessed with it, samples older tours. “One for the Vine” is nothing great, yet “Fountain of Salmacis” recreates the grandeur of the Nursery Cryme original and adds some swing to boot. I’m quite partial to “It” from the 1976 tour, which leads into an abbreviated “Watcher of the Skies”, yet another effective conjunction from a band whose segues are unbeatable.
I was going to dismiss the last few albums with a smarmy paragraph, but to paraphrase Macbeth, once you’ve waded so far into the river of blood, you may as well reach the other side. And so, here comes the sellout. Genesis had already been filling arenas, getting airplay, etc., but they weren’t pandering for all the attention. The simple pop songs of the past were part of a larger, richer context. On Genesis, the ratio is up-ended; user-friendly pop becomes the main context, with the more ‘serious’ moments being the exceptions. Well, scratch that, I’m hard pressed to name anything serious about the album. “Home by the Sea” might seem to qualify, on account of its sub-abacab instrumental section, but song length does not equal adventure. “Mama”, on the other hand, is a sinister mood piece that actually works, with great chordal shifts in the middle (“can’t you see me here”), and a very convincing vocal performance from Phil. He has that desperate screaming thing down for sure, never better than in “Mama”.
Other good bits: “Silver Rainbow”, a fantasy excursion with funky verses and a heavenly chorus, and “Just a Job to Do,” whose nifty groove and hitman lyric are clever fluff. And I should mention the gorgeous keyboard cloudscape that introduces “It’s Gonna Get Better,” and the sophisticated verses of same. (Musically, that is. The lyric is crap.)
Now that’s over half the album, so what’s wrong? The antiseptic production and arrangements. Genesis was made during Phil’s solo ascension, and that same muted, gated, compressed sound is all over this album. It’s suitable to “Mama”, but “Home” and “Job” need to break out of their noise gates, instead of sounding so sanitized. The arrangements are all Phil-centric, either in the focus on vocals or drums. The space that Tony used in his playing on Abacab has now taken hold in the wrong way - he’s become a background player, the occasional synth leads sounding out of place as the band hurtles toward Adult Contemporary. “Taking it All Too Hard”, “Illegal Alien”, “That’s All” - pry off the Tupperware lids of these tunes and you’ll find some crafty Banks sequences, but the context and presentation is where Genesis fully succumbed to pop temptations. They aren’t bad songs, but they’re rather empty. It’s grocery store music. It’s fodder for video shoots. It’s art rock you listen to when picking up the kids at school. Genesis claims they simply got better at writing pop songs, but I’ll never be convinced that the band was trying to write pop songs in 1974 and “failed” and came up with misfire mutants like “Back in NYC”. Yeah, a real Top 40 mock-up, that. No, the goal changed, they wanted to appeal to a mass audience, and they happened to be crafty enough to succeed. Which is why the “Home By the Sea” jam is so safely played, or why the seductive verses of “Gonna Get Better” are overtaken by a dimwit title refrain. The bulk of the album proclaims “Top 40 or Bust”. Some older Genesis fans don’t mind that. I kinda do.
(Postnote: On rehearing the album a few months after writing the above, I realize that it doesn’t deserve every arrow I fired, and that my distaste comes down to one main thing: the lyrics. “Illegal Alien” is pretty good as pop music, but the Speedy Gonzalez vocal affectations ruin it for me. I would take it a lot more seriously if it had a different vocal thrust, something nonsensical like “Abacab”. And “Gonna Get Better” is a great track saddled with a corny lyric. If the nice country bumper “That’s All” had a bizarre subject like “Harold the Barrel”, I’d spend a few words praising it. But no, it’s about a relationship - more “you and me” crap - and that’s why I mentioned mass appeal. ‘Cause everyone can relate to those personal pronoun songs, you know. I really think the idea of doing “love songs” (or vaguely conscientious songs) became a gang of termites in the artistic house. It reached a wretched apex with the title track of the next album. Anyway, they still had a well-rounded stage show, which in 1984 involved things like “Eleventh Earl of Mar” and “In the Cage” amongst the newer stuff.)
The ‘80s sound so dated, don’t they? I mean the technology, like the keyboard and electric drum sampling, the digital reverbs, the glassy studio effects, the tinny equalizations. Horrid stuff. The stark productions of the Lillywhites and Padghams at the beginning of the decade gave way to the utilization of studio devices whose sole purpose seemed to be the removal of life and natural timbre from instruments, or to add echo or hazed reverberations to any voice, and to make any final mix sound like a video game in action. Does it bode well for my little review of Invisible Touch that I had to start off with this wee rant? Let it tell you all you need to know about the sound of the production.
So the pop game continues. What to say about “Invisible Touch”, “In Too Deep”, or “Throwing It All Away”? One might tune out the more pandering moments of the preceding album, but the title track here is aggressively annoying, while “In Too Deep”, if one is charitable enough to even class it as a Genesis song, goes down as perhaps the all-time nadir. “Land of Confusion” was hip for its time, but it too suffers from overproduction and homogenization. “Anything She Does” has infectious verses, but they just couldn’t avoid a schoolbus chorus, could they?
“Tonight Tonight Tonight” is rather decent. Cast the radio edit and Michelob ad out of your mind and listen to the full-length album track. Still sounds cheesy, with all the drum programs and cookie-cut Miami Vice lyrics? Can’t say I blame you, but me, I can get behind it, especially the “you keep telling me” buildup to the “someone get me out of here” plea. True drama - the band knew what they were doing with this one. (And we all need a guilty pleasure. Besides, the textural middle section is prime Banks.) The other long-form is “Domino”, a seeming descendant of “In the Cage”. Not to the letter, of course, but the light/shade contrasts, the driving middle section, and some of the lyrics reference the Cage template, no doubt. (Though I think “Domino” is actually about the aftermath of nuclear attack.) The first couple minutes of the song are quite good; Banks plays subtle chords and lines, Mike chugs away, and Phil affects some emotion. But the middle sections are overdone, and the optimistic finale of the song is incongruous both lyrically and musically. In the final tally, “Domino” doesn’t make much sense, just a lot of sound and semi-fury, custom built for the stage.
In the moody, album-closing instrumental “The Brazilian”, Tony takes command with a monolithic chord sequence and eerie single lines over Phil’s electric-drum overkill. Rutherford’s lead guitar joins late in “The Brazilian”, and if you’re like me, every time you hear him take a solo, you wonder what Hackett would have done instead. I haven’t mentioned Rutherford much recently, because he’s always been a “parts” player, and on these final Genesis albums, the parts are as anonymous as one can be without disappearing completely. He still carried his weight in the writing, though, for better or worse. Anyway, this is the least essential Genesis album to my ears. But how to argue with multi-platinum and a sold-out Wembley?
Or maybe this is the least essential, eh? I remember comparing this album to Duke at the time of its release, a hasty compliment I have long since retracted. It was perhaps the emotional nature of the songs and the simplified arrangements that led to such a comparison, and I still maintain that it sounds better than Invisible Touch, the band having escaped the goofy ‘80s production methods. But on rehearing We Can’t Dance (where they first took advantage of CD playing time), there is little to cheer for.
The long form songs aren’t bad. “Driving the Last Spike” narrates the travails of tunneling railroad workers, and while the music takes a long time to get going, the emotion in the last section of the piece (“I can hear my children’s cry” etc.) sounds sincere, as Phil sings his heart out. “Dreaming While You Sleep” is an overlong hit and run tale that captures a remorseful mood, colored by marimba and bass pedals, if you’re looking for that sort of thing. And “Fading Lights”, appropriately enough as the last song on the last album by this trio, is a touching, final farewell, ‘thanks for the memories’ lid-shutter. The lyrics read like doggerel, but Tony’s chordscapes and Phil’s voice lend them some feeling. The extended rockout in the middle is the only real moment of excitement on the album, and I assume this rollercoaster jam is supposed to be the soundtrack to someone looking back on their life. I don’t really go for representational music, but I dig what the band was trying to get across here, vis-a-vis a marriage of lyric and music.
So there’s that. The rest of the album (and there’s a lot of it left over) is pretty mindless. Even the extended keyboard solo in the back half of “Living Forever” is a rinkydink banality. “Jesus He Knows Me” mocks televangelists about five years too late; “No Son of Mine” starts off very well but stagnates; “Never a Time” is pure AC. There was an excited pre-album buzz about “oh, they’re digging out the 12-string again,” visions of “Cinema Show” dancing in the fans’ heads, but no, the Rickenbacker is heard in the annoyingly prosaic “Tell Me Why”, which may as well have been a Phil solo track. “I Can’t Dance” is a fun, harmless little R&B number, not nearly as offensive as the utterly dull “Way of the World”, which I would rename Hellfire in 6/8. For the most part, the album signals a drying up of whatever magic this three-piece had been able to conjure since 1981, and thus their breakup (after a tour, of course) was timely, if not overdue.
How much did Genesis consider themselves a pop band at this point? Enough to release two live volumes from their 1992 tour, each geared to a specific audience. The popsters got all the shorties, a virtual greatest hits with clapping. There are no significant differences between Volume 1’s renditions and the studio versions, so I’ve got nothing to say about it. Volume 2 tosses a few long-form bones to the progsters. The track selection includes “Domino”, “Home by the Sea”, “Last Spike”, and “Fading Lights”, not awful stuff, and a drum duet that only goes to demonstrate that stadium-sized drum solos Cannot Be Subtle. The whole shebang starts with an insulting “Old Medley” that stuffs a handful of the best Genesis pieces into a segue-happy revue recital, and which is over and done with in the time it takes to brew some coffee. It sure is nice to hear the curtain raising of “Dance on a Volcano”, but watch out, “The Lamb” races in by the second verse, then the money shot of “Musical Box” appears in Seconds Out fashion, then the guitar solo of “Firth of Fifth”, then a portion of “I Know What I Like” with an obligatory sound-snippet medley stacked on top of that. Well, damn. It’s a nice showpiece and all, probably fun to have seen in person, but sooner or later, the old-time Genesis fan shakes off the false appeasement and realizes that shoving all these excerpts of great tunes into one easy-bake medley doesn’t do the music any justice. (Unlike the focused “In the Cage” medley of the 1980s.) But hey, that’s showbiz with a top 40 band. These two Way We Walk volumes may have made for a satisfying double album had they been double-helixed, but as they are, they emphatically slam the gavel on the notion that Genesis had sold out. Otherwise, why do you have to quarantine half your live book from the other?
So Phil left. Banks and Rutherford cracked jokes about finally getting a replacement for Peter, who came in the form of one Ray Wilson, a next-gen rock singer with a gravelly voice and the biggest nerve since Trevor Horn stepped up to the mike for Yes. Also recruited were a couple of steady drummers who could offer facsimiles of Philness, and the road was clear for a new Genesis album. It was a total non-event for the pop-oriented Genesis fans, but there was perhaps the barest hope on the part of old-timers who knew that Banks and Rutherford were the main songwriters of the band’s classic material. Maybe, just maybe, a connection to the old hogweed patch could be forged? Some old tricks and tails?
Why, hell no, he said politely. The album is dark and heavy, more so than any Genesis album in a while, but it’s a heaviness fit for Foreigner. The music is stuck in a time warp, either in bulky rock numbers (the title track, “There Must Be Some Other Way”) or boring ballads that were surely hatched with the hope of sneaking into a chart. In other words, Tony and Mike take you back all right - back to the mid-80s, only with a darker sound. There are little musical references to tracks like “Mama” (a distorted drum program) and “Throwing it all Away”, as if trying to subconsciously convince the listener of continuity. Other times, the writing seems bereft of any seasoned reference points at all - the odious “Small Talk” could have been written by any 14-year-old and is a candidate for dopiest track ever under the group’s name.
The bouncy “Congo” garnered a tiny bit of airplay before disappearing, and it’s probably the best track overall. “One Man’s Fool” contains hallmark Banks compositional developments, and it’s actually a decent piece, overlength aside. (And the lyric about terrorism was prescient, to say the least.) The last half of “Alien Afternoon” is the surest reconstruction of older Genesis, with big, swooping keyboard chords and chimey guitar under a grand vocal, but the first half of the song is sophomoric. Better is when Tony and Mike ditch the past altogether and try something new: the throbbing techno-jam “Dividing Line” is the only “progressive” thing on the record, but it too succumbs to excess by repetition. And Rutherford’s attempts at toughening up his guitar sound are ridiculous.
Banks/Rutherford should have released this under their own name, and not the Big G franchise moniker. People could then have taken the music on its own sluggish terms and not accused B/R of fouling the Genesis legacy. I suggest that the legacy was already well fouled by certain tracks in the ‘80s. I also suggest that Lizard and Islands should have been by Fripp/Sinfield, and that 90125 should have been by Rabin/Horn/Squire, so there you go. The end sum is that CAS is an unfortunate by-product of the big rock mentality - keep the machine running. Or the dinosaur lumbering, as the case may be.
This handsome addendum to the Gabriel years was released in 1998. The four discs run in chronological reverse, from a 1975 live performance of the Lamb album back through live tracks from 1973, a couple of studio outtakes, and a full disc of early demos and BBC takes. The booklet runneth over with text and photos, although very little entices repeat readings. Tony Banks’ introductory essay has, odd syntax and, punctuation that sort of diffuses - the impact of, its firsthand revelations. The other problem with the booklet is that the initial printings weren’t bound well at all, such that pages were soon falling into the laps of eager beavers like yours truly. A letter to Atlantic got a moderately improved replacement in the mail.
We start on Discs 1 and 2 with a Los Angeles performance of the entire Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album. Due to technical difficulties with the source mix (or so the explanation went), a fair amount of the vocals were redone by Peter Gabriel in the mid-90s. It is disorienting at first to hear the older, weathered Gabe in place of the younger one, and a couple of the songs do miss his youthful vigor (“Grand Parade”, “Back in NYC”), yet the juxtaposition is otherwise interesting, and a lot of the original vocals are untouched. Also, the recording reels ran out just before the end of the performance (“Engineer asleep on the job,” reckons Tony), so we get a remixed studio version of “It” to complete the suite. Doctoring or no, the overall sound quality is excellent.
The performance gets off to a sluggish start, as the energy and tempos aren’t quite on full tap, yet “Hairless Heart” seems to infuse the band with spirit, and by the time of “Chamber of 32 Doors”, The Lamb is alive and kicking. (In fact, I gained a new appreciation of “Chamber” from hearing this live rendition.) The second half is very well done. No major changes are made to any of the arrangements, yet certain details become stronger, and the band explores the unknown on the semi-improvised “Waiting Room”. Phil Collins does an exceptional job in the drum chair, notably in the “Waiting Room” jam and the odd syncopations of “Riding the Scree”. Steve Hackett takes a great solo in “The Lamia”, although it sounds like it may have been another ex post facto insertion. I don’t know that this live version usurps the studio Lamb, yet the nuances will be of much interest to the Genesis fan.
Disc 3 takes us to London’s Rainbow theater for a few 1973 performances (great sound quality again), including a superb “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” that shows the classic quintet at the top of its game. Steve Hackett never sounded so at home in the band as he does on this and other Selling England cuts. “Supper’s Ready” again includes a few modern-day Gabriel overdubs (“I know a farmer”), but the vast majority is the old Peter, and the band makes the piece musically more compelling than the studio version. A 1971 BBC live version of “Stagnation” is much less exciting. “Happy the Man” is a throwaway cutesy single from 1972, and the single edit of “Watcher of the Skies” is useless, although its ending differs from the album version. The 1973 B-side “Twilight Alehouse” is a multifaceted ode to imbibing spirits that includes wah-guitar, a jazzy flute section, and reeling organ bends.
The fourth disc traces the pre-Collins and Hackett lineup from 1967-70, with guitarist Anthony Phillips a prominent member of the band. (The drum chair was up for grabs until Phil signed on.) Most of these tracks are demos and little more than curiosities, yet they also show that Genesis had a pop vernacular early on, and the songs range from folk to soul to psychedelia. “In the Beginning” and “Sour Turns to Sweet” are really the only standouts, both of which appeared on the debut album From Genesis to Revelation. Much of the rest is just clever kids trying their hand at songcraft, and the music (mostly acoustic) is hardly indicative of what Genesis would become, although Gabriel’s voice is well on its way to distinction. It’s easy to recognize certain embryonic vocal inflections that he would carry through his solo career, especially when the songs require a pseudo-soul edge.
The last disc indeed has an archive feel, yet the live Lamb and the Rainbow tracks are visceral companions to the studio works and are well worth the price of admission for the committed fan.
Volume 2 covers the Phil-fronted years, including 21 non-album studio tracks - outtakes, B-sides, selections from EPs, remixes, etcetera. The performance aspect is covered in 13 live tracks that all have excellent sound. The downside is that the boxset only has three discs. In the exact same longbox packaging as Volume 1, the empty fourth disc space looks awfully disappointing. Why not have included a full live set from, say, 1976 with Bruford on drums, or more of that excellent sounding stuff from the Duke tour? The reasoning behind the live selections in this archive is that the band didn’t want to duplicate songs that had already appeared on proper live albums - what bullshit. A fourth disc dedicated to a condensed concert (nevermind that we might have heard some of the songs elsewhere!!) would have been a real treat.
The tracks sprawl out over the three discs almost randomly, although Disc 2 is given fully to most of the live material. Since certain off the wall ideas got left off the Top 40-bound albums, there are a few artistic surprises amongst the studio cuts, along with some tepid forgettables. Here are my favorite tracks in the order of their appearance:
“On the Shoreline”: This We Can’t Dance outtake trounces most of the songs that made it to that album. The midtempo backdrop bursts with optimistic chords and a decent vocal. Sounds kind of dull first time around, but it grows on you.
“You Might Recall”: From the Abacab sessions, an infectious tune with jangly guitar, a happy synth/bell melody, colorful percussion, and brilliant key shifts. The lyric is the sort of thing I tend to rail against with Genesis, but I confess to being at the mercy of this regretting-the-end-of-a-relationship song. Bittersweet.
“Paperlate”: From Abacab days again, sort of “No Reply” part two. Borders on annoying, but that’s the risk a catchy song takes. Along with “You Might Recall” and the next track, “Paperlate” appeared on the studio side of Three Sides Live. As did two others, one of which is not on this boxset, but we’ll get to that.
“Evidence of Autumn”: A moody reminiscence by Banks about “the girl from all those songs who made everything feel right.” Like “One for the Vine”, there’s an incongruous bout of instrumental perkiness in the middle. I can’t decide if this Duke outtake should have gone on that album or not.
“Naminanu”: From the fertile Abacab sessions comes this quasi-fusion instrumental with vocal repetition of the title. Mike and Tony have no idea what to do with their little “solo” breaks, but the written riffs are strong and Phil sews it all up with steady, driving drums.
“Inside and Out”: A Wind and Wuthering castoff that wound up on the Spot the Pigeon EP. Maybe the song is a little sappy and strummy, and the fast instrumental part has embarrassing Styx-like synth, but there are good points, like the divine chorus, and the twangy break that Hackett takes near the end, as if Steve Howe had wandered into the studio.
“Feeding the Fire”: This fairly gritty song would have improved Invisible Touch had it appeared in place of “In Too Deep”. Not a hidden classic or anything, but it’s got a compelling vibe.
“I Can’t Dance” (12” remix): Boogie down. I envision a sultry temptress on an adult club runway, swaying as she walks before the entranced crowd. I admit with no shame that I love this. The remix centers on the electric piano riff, rather than the infamous power chord guitar part, and previously unheard chords elevate the song and actually give it some mystique. It beats the snot out of the three Invisible Touch 12” remixes found elsewhere in the box.
“Submarine”: A drifting, gloomy instrumental with hints of romance and triumph that answers the riddle of Abacab’s “Lurker”. In fact, “Naminanu”, “Dodo/Lurker”, and “Submarine” were originally conceived as a suite, if I have my Genesis trivia down. Regardless, this sub now broods alone.
“It’s Gonna Get Better” (live): The lyric (condescending social concern?) remains detestable, but the music sounds great. Love the chord movement behind the verses.
“Duke’s Travels” (live): Boots arse. Includes the “Duke’s End” recap. Why couldn’t we get a full “Duke suite” on this box? Fourth disc? Hello?
“The Lady Lies” (live): The power chord riff is hammered nicely, and the homestretch swings behind a wanky Daryl Steurmer solo. Lots of energy.
“The Day the Light Went Out”: A Banks song from the And Then There Were Three sessions that harks back to the Foxtrot rococo style. Phil’s falsetto phrases recall Mr. Gabriel as well. It suffers from the same crammed arrangement of other ATTW3 tracks, but it’s also hard to get out of your head after listening to it. The abrupt beginning of the track suggests that an introduction is missing, or at least a count-off.
“Pigeons”: Another Wind and Wuthering extra. The musical premise of the song relies on revolving a chord sequence around one note, which is twanged banjo-like throughout the entire track. I’m sure we would have gotten the point if that note had faded in and out. Nevertheless, the rest of the music is good fun. The lyric involves middle age, avian pests, and how to deal with them.
“It’s Yourself”: Chiming psychedelia from A Trick of the Tail, acoustic, ethereal, and with a sitar cameo. The introduction of “Los Endos” was taken from this very track. It’s lovely on its own, but it didn’t need to be on the album, as “Entangled” and “Ripples” already covered the same formal ground.
Now those are just personal favorites; there’s other decent stuff, especially in the live department. “The Brazilian”, “Man on the Corner”, and “Entangled” (the only live track with Steve Hackett, shame!) are good. I still don’t think “Deep in the Motherlode” and “Burning Rope” are great songs, but they definitely sound better live than on the cloudy ATTW3 album. The 1986 performance of “Your Own Special Way” substitutes a string section for the sappy counterlines in the verses, and that makes all the difference in the world to me. Some folks rave about the passion of the 1980 rendition of “Ripples”, but I get the exact opposite impression. Sounds to me like Phil doesn’t want to put full effort into the vocal. The music, though, is well executed.
The studio stuff not listed above is a mixed bag, from bubbly pop songs (the airheaded “Hearts on Fire”, or “I’d Rather Be You”, which comes from the Invisible Touch sessions but may as well be a Phil solo outtake, so ingratiating is its faux Motown groove) to a stark studio rehearsal of “Mama”. The loony instrumental “Do the Neurotic” comes from Invisible Touch days and begs the question of why the band would put so much time into crafting a complex seven minute piece only to leave it as a B-side. (I must say that parts of it play like a soundtrack to an Olympic highlight reel - electric velveeta.) The sentimental “Vancouver” from the late ‘70s is more poignant that I would want to admit in most company, while Rutherford’s “Open Door” (circa Duke, released on 3SL) is yet more of his inflated drippiness that attempts to be poignant but goes way overboard. Is it unfair to say that Rutherford pretty much lost it after “Ripples”? That his muse thereafter was a squad of doves who descended from heaven humming diatonic triads and spelling out LOVE ME, MY LOVE in formation against the blue sky?
But I jest. Here’s the real wrench: they left out “Me and Virgil”, another extra from the Abacab sessions, and they also left out an older track called “Match of the Day”. The official excuse for erasing “Me and Virgil” and “Match” from Genesis history is that “the line had to be drawn somewhere,” so says Tony Banks in his booklet essay. And tripe like “Hearts on Fire” doesn’t cross that line? The 12” remix of “Invisible Touch” doesn’t make anyone blush? Or go back to the early demos of Archive 1 - nothing embarrassing there? I know “Me and Virgil” well from the original Three Sides Live, and there’s nothing wrong with it at all. Not in the countrified verses, the galloping part in the middle, or the lyric that looks back on family bonds at an old farm. And Genesis didn’t see anything wrong with it when they released it on both 3SL and a separate EP. Or when they played it live back in the day. Of course, now that Genesis has “forbidden” it, “Me and Virgil” has taken on a stronger status in my head.
Anyrael, Archive #2 has all the ups and downs that one would expect. The live material begs for future archival releases of individual concerts. I would suggest a 1976 gig with Bruford, a 1978 show, a Duke show, more from the Savoy in 1981, and even a set from the 1984 tour, when portions of “Eleventh Earl” and “Squonk” and “Quiet Earth” were to be heard. A Genesis live archive series has actually been a talking point in recent years, and step one is for certain people to realize that it’s okay to have more than one live version of a song in existence. It really is. Just ask Virgil, if you can find him.