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Genesis - Foxtrot
See, now this is what artistic growth is all about. You have a strength? Build and expand upon it, systematically exploring it to discover its full potential and possibilities. You have a weakness? Work at decreasing its prevalence in your sound, replacing it with alternatives that help rather than hinder. With this album, Genesis took the giant revolution that they'd made with Cryme, accentuated the positives, substantially decreased (though, unfortunately, failed to eliminate) the weaknesses, and as a result produced the first truly awesome album of their career.
Now, it should be noted that it's not quite perfect, great as it proves to be again and again. Many people love Can Utility and the Coastliners - I do not. From the very first listen, it has always struck me as, for lack of a better term, the 'laziest' song on the album. The melody is fairly pretty and even memorable, but is it pretty enough to get by on beauty alone? I would definitely say not. Indeed, the instrumental breaks in the piece, on the whole, are the most predictable and even boring on the record - of the Mike/Tony/Steve sequence near the end, only Hackett (who apparently wrote much of the music in this song) comes up with a decent part, and even that is nothing to write home about. It's an okayish song, but I'll never love it.
But enough whining - the other five tracks aren't just good, they are overwhelmingly fabulous. First of all - remember how this album starts, with those ominous mellotrons? Man, if you've wanted a textbook definition of an 'epic hook', that is the place to go. Of course, as Tony tends to do, he overdoes the trick by at least a third, and the synth tone isn't quite as majestic as it deserves to be, but no matter, because then it leads into the fan-favorite and masterpiece Watcher of the Skies. Yes, the lyrics are dumb (as Tony's almost always are) but they're at least entertaining and funny this time around, and the actual music is sheer brilliance. From the slow build of tension and volume of the guitars and drums underneath the organs, to the incredibly complex and just as incredibly memorable chorus and verse melody, to the subtle bits of guitar without which the song wouldn't have half of its power (dig those *wheeeeeezh* noises he throws in at appropriate intervals!), to the menacing conclusion with the band messing with the rhythm in an unpredictable way, rarely has any album had such a perfect and appropriate opening track.
Time Table is up next, and while it might not seem as incredible at first (at least, it didn't seem so for me), time has revealed it as just as impressive as the other pieces of the album - just on a more subtle scale. Tony's piano part is soothing and beautiful, the lyrics are profound and universalistic without becoming annoying, and the melody is, again, memorable as hell. Especially the chorus - even if the lyrics make you wince a bit at first, you won't get that hook out of your head for hours afterwards.
Following in its footsteps is the brilliant epic Get 'Em Out By Friday, the story of a future earth run by evil landlords who impose a 4-foot restriction on human height to get twice as many tenents in each building. Tony's keyboard tone is as cheezy as ever, but somehow his keys work here - not just because he finds a neat riff for them, but because, well, such a goofy story deserves a goofy keyboard tone. Meanwhile, Steve's guitar unveils its hyper-distorted-yet-incredibly-clean guitar tone that makes itself known by piercing its way through the mix, and he finds a few interesting solos to latch it onto as well. And of course, a story like this wouldn't be complete without Peter fully playing up to it. From his 'evil overload' cackle to his imitation of the poor, intimidated tenents, Pete makes the already entertaining lyrics come to life as only he could, even making a great imitation of a public service announcer speaking through a microphone. Oh, and needless to say, the music is incredible, as the verse and chorus structure is amazingly complex while being memorable, as usual, and it goes through fast and slow parts with the greatest of ease, so the piece never tires you out. On virtually any album but this one, it would easily be my choice for 'best song' ...
But no, that honor falls to Supper's Ready (the track before it is a pretty acoustic instrumental called Horizons). First of all - Gabriel finally gets a chance to unveil his lyrical talents in all of their splendor, as the piece is 23 minutes long, and ALL the lyrics are Pete's. The lyrics are, roughly speaking, his take on the Apocalypse (the supper referred to is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, spoken of in Revelation), and Pete truly pulls out all of the stops. The song has seven parts (the seven millenia), there are seven 'shrouded men' (seven angels referred to in Rev.), there's Magog, there's the Dragon, there's the Moon turning to blood, and finally there's the King of Kings returned to take his children to the New Jerusalem. And Peter plays up to it fully, displaying his vocal talents to the extent that, even if you have no belief of Christ's second coming, the song moves you totally.
Don't think the song is all serious, though. The last two sections are based around the actual Apocalypse and the triumph of the Lord in the end (section 6 is even called Apocalypse in 9/8), but the rest of the piece is certainly varied in tone. Lover's Leap and Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man are gorgeous ballads and anthems, with an incredibly beautiful guitar line in the former and just a great melody in the second. Of course, the arrangements have a little to be desired (that cheezy keyboard sound does NOT belong in GESM, Tony!), but still, there's absolutely nothing to be sad about from a purely melodical perspective.
Meanwhile, Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men is an entertaining and energetic account of a battle, with some of Hackett's most enjoyable soloing, and some more fabulous Gabriel vox. And then, after a quiet interlude in How Dare I Be So Beautiful?, we enter a world of unfettered whackiness in Willow Farm. I tell you this - you have not truly experienced Genesis until you've watched Gabriel bipping and bopping and kicking and hopping while singing Willow Farm. That said, it's equally entertaining on the actual album - Gabriel's vocals expand and contract in a hilarious manner, his voice hops between stereo channels, and overall he's just so hugely British that it can't help but bring a smile to myself every time.
And then we hit the music of Apocalypse, and catharsis begins to truly set in. Steve's guitar quietly emits calls of warning, Peter plays some tender flute lines, and we build up and build up until we hit Mike's menacing riff while Peter scares the daylights out of you. And just as importantly, Tony has his finest hour yet - his keys do an exquisite job of mounting the tension further and further and further, both in his regular playing and in a couple of not-necessarily-jaw-dropping-on-first-listen-but-still-incredibly-well-written solos. And then Peter sings the next verse, Tony's keys add further to the gloom ...
And then the chimes sound, and the light at the end of tunnel shows up, and Steve takes over with some of the most gut-wrenching parts of his career. The guitar melody underpinning Gabriel's "Can't you feel our souls ignite" verse is astoundingly beautiful, but it only gets better. The CRYING guitar part right before we hear "and he's crying in a loud voice, this is the supper of the mighty one" has brought tears to my eyes at least 50 times, and probably won't stop as long as I live. And the triumphant call of his guitar does an impeccable job of conjuring the image of the band being lifted up and waving farewell to the world as they are carried to the New Jerusalem. It's emotionally devestating beyond words - if you haven't been shaken by this part, listen again, and if you still aren't, then there's something wrong with you.
So ... all in all, this album is friggin' incredible. About 45 minutes of it is pure progressive perfection - cut out Can Utility, and you'd probably get an F (or at least a very very very high E) here. As is, they still had room to improve, so a D it is. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go out and buy it right now.
PS: A CD-R that I've made of this album that cuts out Can-Utility and replaces it with Twilight Alehouse (found on the first Genesis Archive) is, to my ears, one of the most amazing things I've ever heard. For what it's worth.

Watcher Of The Skies / Time Table / Get 'Em Out By Friday / Can-Utility And The Coastliners / Horizons / Supper's Ready

[Image: foxtrot.jpg]

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