If you think of Genesis as the band Phil Collins fronted before he became a big pop star, or even as the band that Peter Gabriel was in before he released the song "Sledgehammer", then...well, you're probably at least as old as I am. But you definitely missed out on the best that Genesis had to offer. I remember seeing commercials on TV in the 1990s for some pop compilation album that included a Genesis song and credited it to "Phil Collins, featuring Genesis". Egad.
The band started in the mid-1960s at an upper-crust English school. Vocalist Gabriel met a couple guys who played acoustic guitar (Mike Rutherford and Anthony Phillips) and a pianist named Tony Banks and they started writing songs and performing together. Eventually they recorded a demo tape which found its way into the hands of Jonathan King, an alumnus of their school who had found some success as a pop star. He liked what he heard on the tape, so he became the band's manager and suggested that they name themselves Genesis. Under his guidance, they recorded some unsuccessful folk-pop singles and went through a series of drummers. King stuck with them, and eventually was able to get them the opportunity to record their debut album...
Being an obsessed Genesis fanboy in the 80s, I made the effort to track down a copy of this album. I've probably listened to it a dozen times or so since I first bought it, but it hasn't made much of an impression on me. It doesn't sound much like later Genesis (either the progressive rock incarnation of the band or the pop superstar one), and I can fully understand why the band themselves want nothing to do with it. It's not terrible, but this is not something I'd own if the band hadn't gotten famous later on with very different music. The songs here are mostly lightweight and folky, with high-pitched vocal harmonies and instrumentation that's mostly piano and acoustic guitar (plus the added orchestration that overwhelms the band sometimes). Some of Gabriel's early lyrics are interesting, and there's a slight hint of what the band would later become, but overall this is a pretty forgettable collection of songs.
Since King still holds the rights to the album, he's released it in many different formats over the years. My first encounter was with a cassette called In the Beginning. When I finally found it on CD it had the original title, but the cover was white with pictures of both the young band that recorded this music and later incarnations of the band that were much more successful. Very misleadingly, the photos show close-ups of both Phil Collins and Steve Hackett, neither of whom are on this album.
At least the CD included a few non-album bonus tracks. Speaking of which, one of those bonus songs, "One Eyed Hound", has always amused me. I'm assuming with Gabriel being the clever wordsmith that he is, the repeated line "Night is the time for chasing the one-eyed hound!" was meant to be far dirtier than Decca or King ever realized.
Eventually the group came to the attention of Charisma records, who gave them studio time to record Trespass. It ditched the orchestration of the debut record and featured songs that were longer and more complex. You can still hear some of the band's folky, acoustic beginnings, but the album is a big step towards the progressive rock powerhouse that Genesis would soon become. Banks supplemented his piano sound with organ, the guitar parts are noticeably more advanced and Gabriel adds some flute when he isn't singing. This album was also the first of several to feature a cover by artist Paul Whitehead.
I know a lot of fans of early Genesis really dig this record and hold the song "Stagnation" up as a highlight, but the only track on this one that is a particular favorite of mine is "The Knife", and that's largely because of the powerful performance of it on the Genesis Live album. After all the delicate and pretty music that proceeds it, a blistering rocker like "The Knife" is just what is needed to close out this album. That said, the entire disc is a plesant listen, and a lot of the group's early trademarks are here - layered 12 string guitar, melodic keyboards, literate and thought-provoking lyrics and dynamics that range from introspective to bombastic. It's an album I rarely listen to, but always feel like I should enjoy it more when I do.
The first album recorded by this line-up, Nursery Cryme, was not an immediate success in terms of sales but it did start to gain the band an international reputation as a great progressive rock act. It features long, multi-part songs that became fixtures in the band's live show, such as "The Musical Box" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed". The former works the nursery rhyme of Old King Cole into a track that ends on a decidedly creepy note with Gabriel donning an old man persona and demanding that listeners touch him, touch him now! The latter song is an oddball piece about explorers bringing the Hogweed back to England, not realizing that it would terrorize the countryside. There's a lightweight ballad from Collins called "For Absent Friends", the requisite delicate 12-string guitar piece "Harlequin", and the very proggy "Seven Stones". The album closes with the mini-epic "The Fountain of Salmacis" which tells the mythological tale of the creation of hermaphrodites (!) in a way that only early Genesis could, bubbling keyboards, ripping guitar solo and all.
A song that gets dismissed or overlooked by a lot of fans is the short, upbeat, comic number "Harold the Barrel". It's always been one of my favorite Genesis songs, with its satirical tale of poor Harold who is threatening to jump from a high building ledge while his mother and every sort of authority try to cajole or threaten him into coming down. Meanwhile Harold is just wishing he was out on a sailboat. It's a very fast paced song with lots of layers of things going on at once, so it's easy to miss some of its subtle charms, but it's a great track.
In addition to the upgraded drumming and more rock-oriented guitar, Banks also started branching out into some more exotic keyboards (even Mellotron!) and everyone in the band just seemed to up their game a bit. There's a lot to like on this album and it's one that I've listened to quite a few times, but I still don't think the band was quite firing on all cylinders yet. That would come with their next release.
Foxtrot is probably best known for containing the band's biggest epic song, the 23 minute long "Supper's Ready". While it is a masterpiece that I've come to appreciate more and more over the years, full of great music (especially the "Apocalypse in 9/8" section through the finale) and symbolic lyrics, the album's first side contains the songs I really love. "Watcher of the Skies" kicks things off with a pounding, staccato rhythm, apocalyptic sounding organ chords and strange, sci-fi lyrics. "Get 'Em Out By Friday" is a cautionary tale of a future where genetic manipulation creates half-sized people, leading to landlords kicking out people of normal height and making double the rent when they "fit twice as many in the same building site". Even the oft-neglected "Time Table" and "Can-Utility and the Coastliners" are wonderful little songs. And the acoustic guitar piece "Horizons" that acts as an intro for "Suppers Ready" is a brief but beautiful track.
When I was in college, I initially bought most of the Genesis catalog on cassette, including this album. One weekend I went home to visit my family and my then-girlfriend (now wife, who accompanied me to the Musical Box show mentioned above since Genesis is one of the few prog bands she actually likes). When I got back to school, my roommate broke the news that he had forgotten to lock the door when he went to visit a friend, and when he came back my boom box had been stolen. I wasn't happy about it, but I was most upset about the fact that my Foxtrot tape had been in it at the time, and I was worried I'd never find another copy. Eventually, of course, I was able to replace it with a CD. In the meantime, I dubbed a friend's copy onto a blank tape and was surprised to find that it wouldn't fit on a 45 minute tape side - it's one of those albums that works best when listened to from beginning to end, and it always seems to fly by in much less than its 51 minute length.
I have to admit my attention drifts a bit during "Return of the Giant Hogweed", but every other track on this album is a classic. It kicks off with an intense "Watcher of the Skies" (listen to those organ chords reverberate through the concert hall!), followed by a good performance of "Get 'Em Out by Friday". "The Musical Box" is every bit as charming, melodic and ultimately creepy as one would hope, and just when you think it can't get much better some guy in the audience yells "The Knife!", Gabriel concurs and they launch into a performance to bring the house down. There's even a bit of humor on the album at the beginning of side two when Rutherford accidentally steps on a bass pedal and Gabriel tells the crowd "that was an unaccompanied bass solo by Michael Rutherford".
If only this could have been released as the double album it should have been. In case you're wondering how adding "Supper's Ready" would make it a double album - I wondered that too and searched the web until I found a site that had documentation of the rare test pressing. Side one would have been "Watcher of the Skies" and "The Musical Box", side two would have been just "Get 'Em Out By Friday", side three was "Supper's Ready" and side four was "Return of the Giant Hogweed" and "The Knife". Apparently there's also some extra between-song banter from Gabriel, but side two still would have only been about 10 minutes long, which is probably why the album ended up not getting released as a double. Oh well.
I still remember my first listen. I was home from college and went along with my parents to a local mall where I found Selling England on cassette and quickly bought a copy. During the drive home I popped it into my walkman, put my headphones on and suddenly there was Peter Gabriel's bare voice asking if I could tell him where his country lies. For some reason, that moment will always stick with me, and that's just the delicate opening moments of "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight", which builds into fantastic romp of a song that includes some guitar work from Hackett that probably still has other guitarists trying to figure out how he did it, then dissolves into overlapping chiming notes at the end.
The instrumental "After the Ordeal" doesn't get talked up much by fans, but it's a nice track. Then there's "Firth of Fifth", which is about as perfect a progressive rock song as you could ask for. A beautiful piano intro by Banks is followed by clever lyrics from Gabriel and another guitar solo by Hackett that has passed into prog legend. The song keeps getting more and more melodic until it's just achingly beautiful, yet still "rocks" throughout. Rhino picked that song as the Genesis representative on their Supernatural Fairy Tales boxed set of progressive rock, and I can't imagine a better choice. But the best is yet to come, with "Cinema Show" (my wife's favorite early Genesis song) telling the tale of a young suitor taking his date to the movies in a style that sounds like a Shakespeare poem set to baroque rock music, and then segues into an epic instrumental section and then finally into the short but sweet album closer "Aisle of Plenty".
Just a fantastic disc all around that creates a charmingly unique atmosphere and maintains it across its entire length. This was also the album where I first noticed how subtle and refined Collins' drumming could be - it rarely draws attention to itself, but he's doing some beautiful work. Hard to believe he'd later practically give up drumming to become a front man and drum machine enthusiast. Anyway, if someone asked me to pick just a handful of albums to represent the best of 70s progressive rock, this one would definitely be on the short list.
Musically, there's some good stuff on this album. The title track and "Carpet Crawlers" got some radio play and "In the Cage" and "It" were a concert highlights. I've always been fond of the instrumental "Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats" which sounds to me like it'd be perfect as the soundtrack music to a movie scene of someone floating in space. "The Colony of Slippermen" is another highlight.
But the real focus here is the lyrics. Gabriel went all out, and the spots where he's not singing are few and far between. The lyrics have all sorts of symbolism going on - far more than I ever realized until I stumbled across a FAQ file called "the annotated Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" that someone had written in the early days of the internet which goes into more detail and speculation on the lyrics than even the most obsessive fan could possibly need to know.
When I first got into Genesis in college, I was a huge fan of this album. I remember drawing the "mirror-image" Genesis logo from the cover in the margins of many a notebook. But over the years, this has become my least favorite of the "classic" Genesis albums, probably due to the overwhelming amount of lyrics. I do enjoy it when I hear parts of it, but it's just not an album that I get the urge to listen to very often any more. It hasn't aged well for me.
It also didn't go over well with the rest of the band, who felt that Gabriel had gone too far with the storytelling and the costumes and turning their rock band into a Broadway-style production. So Gabriel decided to quit the band and pursue a solo career (which has worked out pretty well for him), and the British music press largely wrote Genesis off for dead.
Genesis auditioned several potential new vocalists, with Phil Collins leading them through the parts. Eventually the rest of the band realized that Phil sounded a good bit like Peter, and he had already done a lot of backing vocals (if you listen closely for him on The Lamb, you'll hear him all over the place), not to mention lead vocals on a couple short tracks on earlier albums. So they just made Collins the new singer, which is probably what he was shooting for all along.
That worked fine in the recording studio, but what about live shows? How do you have your front man sitting at the back of the stage behind the drums? They solved this dilemma by poaching Chester Thompson from Frank Zappa's band. He'd play drums while Phil sang, and during the instrumental sections Collins would go back to a second drum kit to give the band a powerful dual-drummer attack. They took full advantage of this with the percussion-heavy songs "Dance on a Volcano" and "Los Endos" that bookend the Trick of the Tail album.
In between is a collection of songs featuring odd creatures like fawns and squonks, and characters from bank robbers to the man in the moon. To me, it sounds like they were intentionally trying to follow in Gabriel's eccentric footsteps. The band's fans really rallied around this album - it might be that they were just happy that Genesis had survived Gabriel's departure, but even to this day this seems to be an album that many fans point out as a favorite. It's never really done much for me though. A lot of it just seems a bit too "twee" for my tastes, and songs like "Entangled" and "Ripples" that many fans point out as highlights just leave me cold.
It's not a bad album - I like how it starts and ends, and I like "Robbery, Assault and Battery" (although reading other reviews, I might be the only one who likes that song). Even the twee bits are pretty enough. And the material comes across well on the live Seconds Out album. But for me, this disc will always be the weak link prior to the departure of Hackett. I should mention that my wife really likes this album though - it's probably her favorite of the pre-famous pop band period.
Let's get the stinker out of the way - I hate the song "Your Own Special Way". It's just awful. It's a limp-wristed love ballad that screams "first attempt at a hit song", which, fortunately, failed. I'll never understand what people see in that song, but apparently it has its fans.
Moving on. "Eleventh Earl of Mar" kicks the album off with a dramatic fanfare before launching into the nearly eight minute tale of a failed military campaign. "One For the Vine" is another great little mini-epic which also has vaguely war-themed lyrics and which would belatedly get its chance to shine in a live setting on the fourth live side of Three Sides Live (see that album's entry for details). I've listened to those two songs dozens of times, and I still have no idea what the lyrics are supposed to be about, but they go well together - in fact, since those are the first two songs on the album and the themes of the lyrics are so similar, it was a while before I even realized they were two different songs.
"Wot Gorilla?" is a weird, energetic little instrumental that I like a lot. According to Wikipedia, it's supposedly a reprise of "One For the Vine", but if so I never noticed. The lyrics to "All in a Mouse's Night" suffer from the "twee" issues of the previous album, but I like the music, especially the mousey keyboard sounds. That bit at the end though, about the 10 foot tall monster mouse - what the heck is that?
"Blood on the Rooftops" is a beautiful song based around Hackett's acoustic guitar melody, with lyrics that seem to be lamenting the war-torn state of the world, and how difficult it is to escape. "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers...in That Quiet Earth" is a fantastic two-part instrumental that features more nice guitar work from Hackett and lots of keyboard pyrotechnics from Banks. And then the album closer, "Afterglow", brings the disc to a melancholy end.
This definitely gets my vote for most underrated Genesis disc. Unfortunately, it would prove to be the last studio album from the remnants of the "prog line-up" version of the band.
That left the band with three completed songs and no full-time guitarist. This time, rather than try to find a replacement, they decided to release the material that was already "in the can" as this three song EP, and continue on as a trio. For live performances, they'd add another musician, Daryl Stuermer, who could play guitar while Mike Rutherford played bass and vice versa.
So what's on this EP? Not a lot to get excited about. There's "Match of the Day", a catchy little pop ditty about soccer, and "Pigeons" which is literally a song about pigeon poop. The real gem here is "Inside and Out", a longer track that starts out as a ballad about a man who was jailed on trumped up charges from a spurned lover, and who has now been released to find that his reputation has been destroyed. Somehow out of that bleak setting, a kick-ass instrumental jam arises and finishes out the last few minutes of the song with a flourish.
Some of these performances were recorded before Chester Thompson had become the band's live drummer, so those tracks feature Bill Bruford on drums. During the mid-70s, Bruford was apparently attempting to be at least a temporary member of every progressive rock band in existence (Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, Gong and probably others that I'm not aware of). The vocals on Seconds Out are all Phil Collins, as these recordings come from long after Gabriel had left the band.
The performances are great and with four sides to sprawl out they covered material from each of the studio albums released since the Gabriel-era Live album, with special emphasis on the then-recent Trick of the Tail album. There's "Firth of Fifth", "I Know What I Like" and "Cinema Show" from Selling England By the Pound, "Carpet Crawlers" and the title track from Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, "Afterglow" from Wind and Wuthering and "Dance on a Volcano", "Los Endos", "Squonk" and "Robbery, Assault and Battery" from Tail. They even dug deep into the catalog and pulled out "The Musical Box" and a side-long performance of "Supper's Ready" (I love how they fade out the ending, live on stage, followed by the roar of the crowd's applause). According to Wikipedia, this performance of "I Know What I Like" even includes bits of "Stagnation" and "Visions of Angels" from the Trespass album. I don't think I ever noticed that before - I guess it's in the little keyboard noodling bit at the end of the song.
For some reason, the memory that always sticks with me about this album is of listening to side four ("Cinema Show", "Dance on a Volcano" and "Los Endos") on a walkman cassette player, sitting in the dark in a park on the Fourth of July, watching a fireworks display sometime in the late 80s. Somehow the music went with the fireworks a lot better than the patriotic and classical music they were pumping over a PA system. I like how it starts with the quiet, restrained opening to "Cinema Show" and builds up to an instrumental frenzy by the end of that song, then maintains that energy across the last two songs. That's how to end a double live album.
Apart from wishing for Gabriel's vocals on the early tunes and wishing that Banks hadn't dropped the piano intro from "Firth of Fifth" (and that maybe they hadn't leaned quite so heavily on Trick of the Tail material), this is a nearly perfect live album to wrap up the "prog" era of Genesis' output.
I was recently browsing a progressive rock discussion site and found a thread about this album. Much to my surprise, the majority of the comments were positive and some people even said it was one of their favorite Genesis albums. I just don't get it. There are a few songs on this one that I find actively annoying - "Ballad of Big", "Scenes From a Night's Dream" and "The Lady Lies" would probably all be on my personal list of least favorite Genesis songs. But for the most part, this is just a very forgettable album. It's one of those discs where, immediately after listening to it, I can look at the song titles and not remember how any of them went.
The instrumentation and production on this album don't help things. But I think what's most annoying about this one is that someone in the band developed an obsession with the Wild West period of American history and wrote a bunch of bad songs about it. That'd be like me trying to write songs about living in Liverpool. Stick to what you know, guys. I'm guessing the castoff song "Me and Virgil" came from this era too, and it's equally annoying. There aren't many Genesis albums that I'd say can be skipped entirely, but this is one of them.
Where the previous album tried to mix the band's proggy past and poppy future and came up flat, this one attempts pretty much the same thing and pulls it off beautifully. There had been traces of pop ambitions since the early albums, but Duke is really the tipping point from prog to pop. From this album, the short, catchy, R&B influenced song "Misunderstanding" became a big hit, and "Turn it On Again" also got some radio airplay. Ballads like "Alone Tonight" and "Please Don't Ask" foreshadow the sort of songs that would soon make Collins a fortune. But the album is also full of proggy touches like the opening trilogy of "Behind the Lines", "Duchess" and "Guide Vocal", and the lengthy high-energy, mostly instrumental "Duke's Travels" and "Duke's End" that conclude the disc.
I just recently read that between And Then There Were Three and Duke the band went on hiatus so Collins could try to save his marriage and all three could work on solo albums and outside projects. The time off seems to have done them a world of good, as this album sounds a lot more inspired than the last one.
When I first heard this album in the mid-80s, it sounded odd to me. The production is pretty "raw" sounding. Being used to the slick and overproduced pop that I grew up with, this album sounded terrible to me. Over the years though, I've come to love the sound of Duke, once I realized that that's what drums and bass are supposed to sound like.
I always thought Duke was a concept album about the rocky relationship between two pop stars known as Duke and Duchess. If you have that idea in mind, the songs could be seen as documenting the rise of Duchess to super-stardom, and the subsequent fights as Duke has trouble handling her fame, and Duchess has trouble handling the gradual loss of fan adulation. They attempt comebacks, they get divorced, they fight over custody of the kids. Knowing what Phil Collins was going through at the time, the troubled relationship songs make more sense. But I still like my original interpretation.
Both "No Reply at All" and "Man on the Corner" are catchy tunes that became hits in the U.S. The former uses the Tower of Power horn section for somewhat of a Motown sound, and the latter is kind of a downbeat song that shows Collins' growing fascination with drum machines. It's odd that a drummer would want to use the things - I'm reminded of a video I saw on the making of Tom Petty's Southern Accents album in which Petty goes out to the garage to look for his drum machine. When he gets there, he finds the Heartbreakers' drummer destroying it with an axe. The drummer looks up and says "Oh, did you want this?" and Petty cautiously replies "Uh, no...actually I was looking for you." I have to admit that Phil Collins was able to get some interesting results out of those primitive drum machines though.
Getting back to Abacab, "Me and Sarah Jane" is a beautiful, melodic song that kicks off the section of the album that would be most likely to appeal to the prog Genesis fans. It continues with "Keep It Dark" and the odd "Dodo/Lurker" which features some memorable keyboard bits from Banks and more surreal lyrics from Phil ("Dodo pretty, so dodo must die!") Unfortunately this enjoyable section of the album comes to a screeching halt with the horrible, repetitive, annoying attempt at a "new wave" song called "Whodunnit?" I just read recently that the record label talked the band into using that song on the album instead of "You Might Recall" - worst. decision. ever.
The album ends with a couple mediocre pop songs, "Like It or Not" and "Another Record" - neither is actively unpleasant, but neither is really anything to write home about either. Overall, Abacab is not an album that I often get the urge to listen to, but every time I put it on I'm kind of surprised at how good it is (despite the fact that I listened to it a lot during my college years). Don't know why this one just doesn't really stick with me.
The album's title was both a reference to the fact that this was their third live album (just as their second one was called Seconds Out) and a description of the content. When it was originally released in the US, sides one through three were live, and side four contained new studio material. Most of that studio material had already been released in England as an EP called "3x3", so the British version included a fourth live side instead, making the title somewhat confusing. Even worse, when the album was reissued in the 1990s, the studio songs were dropped entirely and now the only version available is the four live sides version. They could have fit the studio tracks on the CDs and included the live fourth side as bonus tracks, but they didn't. This particularly annoys me because, back in the 80s, I shelled out big bucks for an imported British CD version, assuming that I could always pick up the American version and get the studio side later. Unfortunately, I never did.
Anyway, musically the album is pretty good, almost a match for Seconds Out. Side one kicks off with a smokin' "Turn It On Again", then goes through some Abacab material with "Dodo" and the title track (which builds to a big ending instead of just fading out like it does on the studio album). Side two starts with the "Behind the Lines/Duchess/Guide Vocal" suite from Duke, then throws in a couple minor hits with "Me and Sarah Jane" and "Follow You, Follow Me". Side three opens with another hit, "Misunderstanding" before launching into a wicked medley of older material that includes "In the Cage", the instrumental section of "Cinema Show" and other bits before seguing into the closing "Afterglow". Good stuff. Surprisingly though, a couple of the bigger hits from Ababcab - "Man on the Corner" and "No Reply at All" - are nowhere to be found.
The original studio side consisted of five songs. "Paperlate" became a surprise hit with its catchy, upbeat rhythm and prominent horn section. "You Might Recall" was not an immediate favorite of mine, but the song has grown on me a lot over the years. It's a perfectly crafted pop song that manages to sound happy even though it's about bitter recriminations at the end of a relationship. But those dark lyrics are set to some of Collins' catchiest drumming, a beautiful guitar backing track and a bubbly little keyboard riff from Banks. "Me and Virgil" continues the band's obsession with the Old West via a lengthy story-song about two kids who have to deal with abandonment by their father and the death of their mother. It's melodrama at its worst, and I can see why Phil Collins has disowned it. "Evidence of Autumn" is a heartbreaker from Tony Banks about a man who finds the girl of his dreams ("The girl from all those songs, she made everything all right, she came in like an angel, into your lonely life") only to be devastated when she decides to leave him. And the last song, "Open Door" - I'll be damned if I know what that odd, melancholy ballad is about.
The fourth live side was comprised of older live tracks, mostly from the Wind and Wuthering tour. It starts off with "One For the Vine", and then pulls out a real oldie with "The Fountain of Salmacis". The final track is a showstopper that begins with "It" from The Lamb, and then segues into the epic finale of "Watcher of the Skies". Oddly, on that imported CD set that I bought, the breaks between tracks are all screwed up - "One For the Vine" is split into two pieces, and the rest of the side is one 15 minute long track, almost like whoever did the CD mastering was completely unfamiliar with the band's music and just randomly threw track breaks in there.
"Mama" is one of the creepiest hit pop songs you'll ever hear. One of my wife's friends, when she heard that I was a Genesis fan, blurted out "They're the ones that do that evil 'Mama' song. I think Phil Collins might be the antichrist." Many old-school prog fans would probably agree with her, and if you watch the video for "Mama", she might have a point. That song's insistent drum machine rhythm is immediately followed on the album by Banks' insanely catchy piano hook in "That's All". The videos for both of these songs were on heavy rotation on the early MTV, which probably went a long way towards popularizing the band in the States. I remember loving "That's All", even though I didn't really know who Genesis were at the time. Listening back to this album now, the electronic drums used on a few tracks kind of scream "this was recorded in the 80s!", but I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Sadly, another song that had a frequently played video was "Illegal Alien", which, even back then, I thought was a horrible song. While the lyrics seem to be commiserating with the plight of illegals, the upbeat music and goofy chorus of "It's not fun, being an illegal alien" undercut the whole thing. The mess wasn't helped by Phil's awful fake "Mexican" accent and a video that, as another review that I recently read pointed out, crossed the line into flat out racism. I don't know what the band was thinking, but I guess you could still get away with that sort of thing in the 80s.
The James Bond inspired "Just a Job to Do" is a clever pop song, and "Taking it All Too Hard" is a catchy ballad. But even at their poppiest, Genesis still threw a bone to their progressive rock fans. In this case, it's the song "Home by the Sea", which starts out as a pop track that's lyrically reminiscent of the Eagles "Hotel California", but which evolves into a dark and twisted instrumental workout called "Second Home by the Sea" before reprising the opening lyrics several minutes later. A highlight.
Like Abacab, the album concludes with a couple undistinguished pop songs ("Silver Rainbow" and "It's Gonna Get Better") that basically just sound like filler. All in all, there's a lot to like on Genesis, but like And Then There Were Three, there are a bunch of tracks that I wouldn't really care if I never heard again. Unfortunately the love/hate relationship with this album would be harbinger of things to come.
Because of those side projects, three years passed between the previous Genesis album and this one. Usually, in the pop world, that much time out of the spotlight is deadly. But I think a lot of people thought of Genesis as Phil Collins' band, and Phil had become so successful as a solo act that Genesis was able to just jump right back to the top of the charts.
Invisible Touch spawned no less than five big hits - "Invisible Touch", "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight", "Land of Confusion", "In Too Deep" and "Throwing It All Away". Most people who owned this one probably knew all of side one before they even bought the album. The title track became the band's only #1 single in the US, which I've never quite understood since it's one of the crappier songs they've ever released. For my money, the brooding "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" with its driving beat and off-kilter synth patterns is the album's highlight. The song's only flaw is that it uses those cheesy '80s electronic drum sounds that again pervade most of the album. That aside, the track sounds like it was custom-made for the then hugely popular TV show Miami Vice, but it actually ended up getting used in a beer commercial of all things. The ballad "Throwing It All Away" is another pop highlight - short, sweet, rhythmic and melodic, it sounds like it was crafted in a laboratory to reach maximum pop audience appeal.
Side two of the album had a couple nods to the band's old prog fans. "Domino" is a ten minute track that at least tries to include some instrumental bits and proggy music, although it's never been a song that appeals to me very much. I prefer "The Brazilian", a shorter, fully instrumental piece that closes the album with layers of clockwork synthesizers and Latin flair.
It's hard for me to be objective about Invisible Touch because it was a big part of the soundtrack of the 1980s for me, and was hugely popular just about the time that I was really getting into Genesis and music in general. Fans of the early, progressive rock Genesis passionately hate this album and consider it a complete sell-out, but I can still listen to and enjoy most of it.
Sadly though, this is the album where the band lost me. I was underwhelmed by the dark but overwrought "No Son of Mine" single, and I find "I Can't Dance" (with the goofy shuffle-walk thing the band did in the video that became the visual representative of this era in their history) to be really, really annoying. "Hold On My Heart" seemed like an attempt to replicate the ballad success of "Throwing It All Away", except this new song just came across as sappy.
The album's pop songs aren't all bad though. I like the energetic, sarcastic shot at televangelists "Jesus He Knows Me", and "Living Forever" has a catchy guitar hook and some nice keyboard work from Banks. Of the remaining pop songs, I'm looking at a track listing right now, and even though I just listened to the album I honestly can't remember anything about them. I guess that says as much about them as a detailed review could.
For the first time in the band's long history of releasing albums, compact discs were the primary format that most people used, so they decided to make use of the longer running time of CDs and devoted almost half an hour to three long pieces aimed at their old prog fans. Of those three, "Driving the Last Spike" is the one they made the biggest deal about. A song about the suffering of nineteenth century British railway workers, this song has just never connected with me in any way. But it's still better than "Dreaming While You Sleep", a cloying song about a hit-and-run driver trying to live with his guilt. That track gets my vote for stupidest Genesis song title ever - don't most people dream while they sleep?
The only proggy track on the album that I like is "Fading Lights", a melancholy song with some nice keyboard melodies that builds up to a fiery instrumental middle section before winding down to a tasteful ending. It's the only thing on the album that sounds like a throwback to their days of prog-rock glory. For a while it seemed this would be a nice coda to the band's career - it's the last track on what, for several years, looked like it would be the band's last studio album, and the lyrics are all about things fading away and ending. It would have been the perfect way to bow out. So just pretend Calling All Stations never happened while listening to this song.
I actually saw Genesis on the tour that spawned this album - the only time I ever had a chance to see them. It was a bus trip to some stadium in Washington, D.C. I remember a really obnoxious woman on the bus who was drunk before we even pulled out of the station, and on the way home kept everyone from sleeping because she wanted to party (Woo! We're rockin' out with Phil Collins!). My memory of the show itself is pretty hazy - we were so far from the stage that we had to watch most of it via three giant video screens, one each focused on Collins, Rutherford and Banks. The set list focused on recent hits which was not surprising, but I was disappointed they didn't dig into the back catalog a little more.
So how is this live album? Well, the shorts volume includes the hits "Land of Confusion", "No Son of Mine", "Mama", "That's All", "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and, of course, the inane "I Can't Dance", from which the live album gets its title. There's also a version of "Invisible Touch" in which Phil Collins decides to go all potty-mouthed for no apparent reason - something he occasionally did at live shows. Maybe trying to shed his family-friendly, good-guy image.
The Longs volume has a little more to sink your teeth into. There's a lengthy medley that includes a bunch of pre-fame songs like "Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" and "Dance on a Volcano". There's the two-part "Domino" from Invisible Touch, and the two-part "Home By the Sea" from the self-titled album. Plus "Fading Lights" and a drum duet between Collins and Chester Thompson to close out the disc.
I listened to these live discs a bunch of times when they first came out, but haven't had much of an urge to hear them since then. They don't stray much, if at all, from the studio versions, probably because they had to keep the music in sync with the massive light show and video projection screens. Oddly, considering what a huge band Genesis was at the time, the recording quality of these discs is possibly the worst of all their live albums. The music is shrill and harsh, and just sounds like it was recorded in a huge, soulless stadium rather than the intimate club sound of the earlier live albums. I wonder if early digital recording gear is partly to blame - these discs sound almost like poorly encoded MP3s.
If you're looking for live Genesis with Collins vocals, I'd recommend Seconds Out or Three Sides Live over this one. But nothing beats the original Live album with Gabriel and Hackett and a young band looking to impress the world.
But Rutherford and Banks soldiered on. They found a young singer named Ray Wilson who sounded a lot like Peter Gabriel, and made a new Genesis album with him. They released the song "Congo" as a single and planned a world tour.
The problem is, they were still trying to be an 80s pop band and the times had sadly passed them by. Also, without Collins in the songwriting mix, the music just didn't really gel into interesting songs. I never thought I'd say this, but Phil Collins is sorely missed here. I remember reviewing the album for a progressive rock mailing list at the time and describing it as a bunch of backing tracks desperately in search of melodies or hooks or catchy lyrics, like unfinished demos that the band just released "as is" to meet a deadline. Others on the mailing list agreed with that view.
Still though, in amongst the forgettable, generic sounding songs are one or two decent tracks. "The Dividing Line" is the big "prog epic" of the album and it's actually a pretty good track. Nik Zidkyahu's drumming on that song is particularly impressive. "Alien Afternoon" is a little goofy but passable. Wilson's vocals get pretty dramatic on "There Must Be Some Other Way". "One Man's Fool" makes an attempt to build into something (not to much effect). Overall the album isn't terrible, it's just not interesting, which is inexcusable for a Genesis album.
And without Collins, the pop music world had no interest. Most people had no idea who Tony Banks was, and while Mike and the Mechanics were popular, not many people knew that "Mike" was the bassist from Genesis. So the album didn't sell in the States, the single tanked and the American leg of the world tour was quickly cancelled. To the band's credit, they realized it was time to call it a day and basically disbanded.
According to Wikipedia, there's almost another full album's worth of songs that were recorded during these sessions and used as b-sides or remain unreleased. I've never heard any of them, but considering what's on the album, I can't imagine how bad the songs that didn't make the cut must be.
The first set came out in 1998 and covered the years that Peter Gabriel was the band's lead vocalist. Fan opinions on the set were split. It was oddly laid out in reverse chronological order - it starts out with two CDs containing a live recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a third disc with some more rare early live performances (including a full "Supper's Ready" with Gabriel vocals) and a few early singles, and finally a fourth disc with a trove of unreleased songs and demos from the band's earliest days.
Several problems with the set were quickly pointed out by fans. The live "Lamb" material wasn't quite as "live" as advertised - it turns out Peter Gabriel had re-recorded a lot of the vocals, supposedly because they were low volume or inaudible on the original recording. The problem is that the late 1990s Gabriel sounds noticeably different from the early 1970s Gabriel. Check out the song "Back in N.Y.C.", where the line "You're sitting in your comfort, you don't believe I'm real" is followed by a "You cannot buy protection" that is about an octave lower and much more gravelly and then jumps right back to "from the way that I feel" in the 70s voice. Apparently some of the guitar parts (and who knows what else) were also re-recorded in the studio. And because the tape ran out early when they were recording the show, the entire final song, "It", was re-created in a studio. So much for the live Lamb. And disc four, while interesting to hear once or twice from a historical perspective, is not something you'd want to listen to a lot unless you're a huge fan of that From Genesis to Revelation album.
That leaves disc three, which is actually pretty good. It contains the early singles "Twilight Alehouse" and "Happy the Man", which were both new to me and are great songs. There's also a single version of "Watcher of the Skies", but it's basically just a chopped-down version of the album track. The live versions of "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight", "Firth of Fifth" and the epic "Supper's Ready" are keepers, assuming there wasn't too much monkeying done to them in the studio.
About a year and a half later a second boxed set covering the post-Gabriel years was released. This one was a disappointment to a lot of people because it was only three CDs, and when it was originally announced, fans expected the "Archive project" to amount to more than seven CDs total. But I think I actually enjoy the second set more than the first one. The band spawned a lot of b-sides and unreleased tracks during that era, enough to fill about a disc and a half of this set. The rest of the space is given over to live versions of Collins-era songs that never made it onto a live album, like "Duke's Travels", "The Brazilian", "No Reply At All", "Man on the Corner" and others. Also included are a few completely unnecessary extended dance mixes, a ten minute early demo version of "Mama" and a Trick of the Tale-era outtake called "It's Yourself" that was later cannibalized for other songs.
Where the second set really falls down though is in what's not included. They included four of the five songs from the "lost" studio side of Three Sides Live, but not "Me and Virgil". They included two of the three songs from Spot the Pigeon, but not "Match of the Day". They included a lot of b-sides, but not all of them. Interestingly, there isn't a single track (rare or otherwise) from Calling All Stations. Rumor has it that the band members each had veto power over including material that they didn't like anymore, but if you're going to put out an "Archives" set aimed at collectors, why the heck wouldn't you just add a fourth disc and make it as complete as possible? Who cares if the band themselves don't like certain songs - they're not the ones buying this thing. Oh well, opportunity missed.
While the first set was in roughly reverse chronological order, the second set seems almost random, jumping between eras and from studio to live and back. Around the time the second box came out, I got my first CD burner and was able to rip tracks and make my own custom 2-CDR "rarities" set from both Archives. Considering that there were seven CDs worth of material to choose from and I had to pad out the last third of CDR 2 with tracks that I wasn't that wild about, you can imagine that these Archive sets aren't really that vital unless you're a really obsessive fan. On the other hand, the fact that I could get almost two CDs worth of stuff that I really enjoy out of a collection of the band's "castoffs" is impressive. Genesis threw away more good stuff than some bands ever create in the first place.
Personally, I'm kind of glad that Genesis knew when to call it quits. Would it have been nice to have had a few new Genesis albums since 1997? Yeah, it might have been. On the other hand they might have churned out more sub-standard stuff that just mars their reputation like some other long-lived prog bands that shall remain nameless (*cough*Yes*cough*). And considering how massively successful they were in the 80s and into the 90s, and how successful Gabriel and Collins were as solo acts and Rutherford was with Mike and the Mechanics, I'm guessing they're probably too busy sitting home counting their money to make any new music.
It's tempting to try to sort the Genesis albums into various categories - Gabriel vs. Collins, Hackett vs. post-Hackett, the early folky stuff, the progressive rock powerhouse era, the pop superstar era, etc. Most fans have a dividing line (no pun intended) where they say "before this, the band was progressive rock. After this, they were pop." But if you listen to the band's catalog back-to-back like I did while writing this page, it becomes clear that they were constantly transitioning towards new sounds (while simultaneously following popular trends and chasing fame and fortune). Each album follows logically from the last - the stylistic change from prog to pop wasn't an overnight thing, it was more gradual. Maybe that constant change is why I can listen to most of the catalog again and again and not get sick of it.
Genesis has always just been a very satisfying band for me. In that sense, they remind me of another of my favorite bands, Pink Floyd. Genesis never quite reached the heights of, say, a Dark Side of the Moon, but both bands managed to change styles several times and keep on cranking out solid albums year after year through most of the 70s and into the 80s. But while the Floyd seem to remain forever popular amongst younger generations, Genesis has kind of been forgotten. If you're one of those youngsters who have never heard them, do yourself a favor and download a copy of Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound, Duke, Abacab or even Invisible Touch and check it out. You may just find yourself a new (old) band to dig into.
One last thing that had never really occurred to me before, but which became painfully obvious as I put this web page together - has any super-successful band ever had as many just terrible album covers as Genesis? I doubt it.
Believe it or not, I actually kind of LIKE early Genesis, in a kind of perverse sort of way. They did some good stuff. To quote the old nursery rhyme (something which, I suspect, early Genesis would have approved of [see #2 below]), when they were good, they were very very good, but when they were bad... well, you get the stuff below. So as not to make this TOO easy, I'm going to ignore everything that happened after Gabriel left, as they had enough twee, tasteless, and tacky tendencies even during the early years to more than fill up a list. I'll also ignore the Jonathan King thingamadoodle [From Genesis to Revelation] because, what the hey, everybody _else_ does. Maybe later I'll put together a list of "Ten Coolest Genesis Moments", but it's more fun to slam. Note also that this list is in roughly chronological order.
1. Intro to "Looking for Someone"- Good god, I wish I could blame this monstrosity on yet another botched edit job (_Trespass_ is veritably full of them) and that somewhere out there there exists a 30 second or so intro that would make this opening not sound so completely jarring. This is up there with "The Post-War Dream" [first track on Pink Floyd's "The Final Cut"] in the category of "Completely inappropriate openings to otherwise great albums". However, since on later albums Genesis repeated the trick of starting off songs with Gabriel's naked voice (OK, how many of you are fantasizing about a naked Peter Gabriel around 1970?), it's a pretty safe bet that they meant to do it like that. Chalk it up to youthful inexperience, I guess. Interestingly enough, the technique worked a lot better on the later songs it was used in. Probably it was just that Gabriel was given better melodies to work with.
2. The "Old King Cole" bit of "The Musical Box"- Over in the interactive fiction newsgroups they would probably refer to this bit as "mimesis-breaking". This is the number one reason I can't get into the song. Whatever else it might have going for it is completely blown when Gabriel, apparently fairly sincerely, starts singing this fucking stupid nursery rhyme. At this point, if I am drinking something, it is likely to be sprayed all over the room in a classic spit-take.
3. "For Absent Friends"- Grrr. DO NOT LET PHIL COLLINS SING. I don't care if the song only IS a minute and a half, I don't care if you DO need to fill up some time, it cannot lead to anything good. As it is this little ditty is far and away the worst song on "Nursery Cryme", which says a lot considering what an uneven album it is.
4. "Harlequin"- OK, admittedly, it's not fair to blame the entire "morose jester" school of neo-prog on this one song. But dammit, it didn't help, people! Couldn't you have sang about your pet dog, or something? Seriously.
5. "Happy the Man"- On paper, this one looks pretty darn good. Capitalizing on their reputation as "quirky folk-type band", Genesis decide to do an update of sorts of "Happiness is a Warm Gun", full of their trademark 12-string charm. Hell, they even went in and got their keyboard player to pick up a 12-string to keep him from playing another one of those god-damned solos. There's only one catch. The song is LAME. Completely, totally, lame. Why is this? Well, frankly, I don't know. All I can say is that, well, despite your best hopes, sometimes things just don't pan out, Timmy. And that's why your mom and I can't be married anymore.
6. "Apocalypse in 9/8" (from "Supper's Ready")- In which "apocalypse" is redefined to mean "wanky keyboard solo". This song tends to make progheads drool, despite its being overlong and hastily slopped together in an apparent attempt to satisfy the vogue of the time, and despite the fact that Genesis certainly appear to be out of their depth with it. I hate to dig out the dreaded "p" word [pretentious] here, but it sure seems like they're just playing in 9/8 for its own sake here. Which wouldn't be so bad, necessarily, if they were actually EQUIPPED to play in 9/8. But they're not. They completely fail to make 9/8 rock in any way, shape, or form. In fact, they sound like they're having a hell of a tricky time just playing it. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Hell, Pink Floyd couldn't play anything that wasn't in 4/4, yet they're still widely revered by progheads. But at least they didn't consistently go around trying to do stuff that they quite plainly weren't much good at. And then, on top of that, they go and brag about it in the title, which is one of those classic prog "look at what a SERIOUS HEAVY ART BAND we are" moves. Bah. Anyway, if they were REALLY an art band they'd know that the one true time signature for the apocalypse is 13/8. Which might go some way to explain why the song does not in the slightest sound apocalyptic. Look, you'd at least think they could get some chick to scream "I was, I am, I am to come" over and over again. But no, what do we get? A freaking keyboard solo. Bah, I say. Bah.
7. "The Battle of Epping Forest"- "You know", says Peter Gabriel, "We are known as a quirky theatrical rock band, filled with both acoustic charm and a modicum of musical wizardry. I, personally, am known for both my vocal pyrotechnics and my literal pyrotechnics, such as ending concerts by stuffing a firecracker up my butt and lighting it." (This, of course, is a surefire crowd pleaser.) "We are also, of course, known for our whimsical English humour, exemplified in songs like 'Harold the Barrel', wherein I enact, using only my own voice, a variety of eccentric characters who find themselves in a dramatic, often violent, situation. Why do we not do another song of that sort on the latest Genesis album, 'Selling England By the Pound'?" Because, Peter, the song is TWELVE FREAKING MINUTES LONG. I do not care how "whimsical" you are or how many silly voices you can do. It gets OLD. REALLY FAST. I do not think that it is a coincidence here that the song after this one is entitled "After the Ordeal". Furthermore, though I am not certain, I suspect that there is yet another god-damned keyboard solo in this song.
8. "More Fool Me"- You would think Genesis would have learned something from "For Absent Friends". Apparently not. Because not only did they let Phil Collins sing a full THREE MINUTE song here, they also let him do the darn thing LIVE. You FOOLS! You TOTAL FOOLS! Can't you see what you've done? Dang it, all you had to do was not let him sing, then maybe he might not have had the confidence to take over as lead singer than Gabriel left. We could have been spared twenty years of PURE EVIL. But no. Listen, I know I'm not too big on keyboard solos, but you could have thrown another one in on this album. Hell, maybe even a guitar solo. Or Christ, a drum solo would've been better than this. But you didn't think, did you? No. No, you didn't, and now WE'RE the ones who have to pay.
9. "Chamber of 32 Doors"- You have to understand, at this point we are nearly halfway through Genesis' epic double concept album _The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway_. So far it has gone extremely well, benefiting nicely from a freshly song-oriented approach and Banks having learned how to use synthesizers to do something OTHER than play keyboard solos, providing a fine mix of surreal imagery, raw energy, and accomplished songcraft, though it did kind of flag a bit when the band brought in Gary Gygax [creator of Dungeons and Dragons] to write the lyrics to the previous song, "The Carpet Crawl". So, keeping in mind that the drugged-out listener may or may not have the energy to put on side three after this song, keeping in mind that this last song will stick in the listener's head for a good bit, how does Genesis cap the "first act"? Why, with a cloying and patronizing homily on the virtues of the "simple folk", of course, disguised as some kind of Qabbalistic meditation. I think it is worth saying that out of all the songs on the Lamb, this is the only one that I outright can NOT stand to listen to. Way to mess up a good thing, guys.
10. "The Lamia"- So now we are in the middle of the next side of the album. Make no mistake, this album has been hurt, and hurt badly. It's going to take a good bit of work to purge the memory of that "32 Doors" song, and even digging up some old tunes from the Anthony Phillips era isn't doing the trick. On top of that, their dynamic guitar player, Steve Hackett, has started to smell something fishy. "Hey," he says, "isn't there going to be any guitar playing on this here album?" "Oh, yes, certainly," the rest of the band assure him. "Yeah, that's right, lots of guitar solos, plenty of room for guitar playing. In fact, we could use about a half a dozen guitar solos for this side three here we're recordings." "Gee, guys, half a dozen? That's a lot of guitar solos. Could I maybe just play the same guitar solo six times and hope nobody notices?" The other members of Genesis think about it. "Welll... OK. I guess." So they do it.
Unfortunately, Hackett's guitar playing does not bode well for Peter Gabriel's dreams. As Steve unfurls his solo on "The Supernatural Anaesthetist", Gabriel sinks into a long dreamless slumber. Upon waking, Gabriel is faced with a problem. He doesn't have any more dreams to rip off his lyrics from! What is he going to do now? Tony Banks has a solution. "Gee, Peter, why don't you rip off another old myth? It worked pretty good before." Peter Gabriel is not happy with this. He secretly thinks that "The Fountain of Salmacis" was crap, but does not want to hurt Tony's feelings, because things are rough enough in Genesis as they are without Tony ditching him for somebody like Max Bacon [god-awful vocalist for the band GTR who always seemed to be hanging around the prog scene, ready to replace departed lead singers].
So, unmotivated, he does a tired psychosexual reworking of the myth of the Lamia. This, of course, does not help matters, though it DOES give Steve Hackett the opportunity to play another guitar solo. The effects pretty much kill side three. From then on nobody has the energy to attempt another song. Slumped down in the studio with extremely bad posture, they fiddle around with various ambient musics to complete the side. Things are looking grim for the album until inspiration strikes. "Hey, guys," says Peter Gabriel, "I have a great idea! How about Rael gets his dick cut off, put in this big yellow tube around his neck, and then gets it stolen by this giant black bird like they have in Medford, Oregon [your guess is as good as mine on that one]? That would RAWK so hard, man!" And thus, the Lamb is salvaged... but that's a story for another day.