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  Beggars Opera
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:55 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Chat - No Replies

This band are from Scotland, their name is derived from a novel by the poet John Gray in 1728. The musicians of BEGGARS OPERA were Martin Griffiths (vocals), Rick Gardiner (guitar and vocals), Alan Park (keyboards), Gordon Sellar (bass, acoustic guitar and vocals), Virginia Scott (Mellotron and vocals) and Raymond Wilson (drums and percussion). BEGGARS OPERA made a lot of records but remained acting in the shade of most progressive rock bands.

Their debut-album "Act one" ('70) contains fluent and tasteful organ driven progrock with powerful "Sixties" sounding guitarwork. The long track "Raymond's Road" is a splendid tribute to the "classics" featuring Mozart's A la Turka, Bach's Toaccata in d-fuga en Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite on the Hammond organ. The second album "Waters of Change" ('71) is build around the dual keyboardplay of Alan Park and newcomer Virginia Scott and the distinctive, a bit cynical vocals of Gardiner. The nine tracks are beautiful symphonic landscapes with many organ solos, some swelling and glorious Mellotron waves (like The MOODY BLUES and early KING CRIMSON) and fine electric guitarwork. On the third LP "Pathfinder" BEGGARS OPERA seems to have reached its pinnacle: strong and alternating compositions with lush keyboards (Mellotron, organ, piano and harpsichord), powerful electric guitarplay and many shifting moods (even Scottish folk with bagpipes). The band released three more albums but, in my opinion, they sounded far less captivating: "Get your dog off me" ('73), "Saggittary" ('76) and "Beggar's can't be choosers" ('79).

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  Genesis - Genesis
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:48 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

Genesis' absolute pop peak. Whereas Abacab was largely an experimental laboratory, Genesis finds the group taking all of the lessons and discoveries of before and synthesizing them into a shiny, beautiful pop masterpiece. If you've come to believe that nothing good could come from the mouth or mind of Phil, THIS is the place to go to wean yourself off of that idea. Whereas on previous albums, Phil's vocals were quite often a liability, his singing throughout is quite possibly the most impressive technical feature of the album. Also, the band's use of drum machines has finally reached a point where its incessant use can be fully justified - not once on the whole album do they become annoying, and in several places, they are positively genial. And finally, these melodies mostly RULE - only one or two of the songs sag at all, and the rest will get stuck in your head for hours on end (and even better, you'll WANT these songs stuck in your head!).
First of all - Collins-era Genesis doesn't get any better than Mama. I know I said in the previous review that Abacab was probably the finest synth pop number ever written, but Mama I can't even necessarily classify as pop - it's far too angry and heated throughout for me to feel comfortable calling it synth-pop (though maybe I should, in which case, Mama wins the synth-pop dominance competition). But whatever may be, one listen to Mama could single-handedly remove all predjudices with regard to pop Genesis. For one thing, the drum machine programming is absolutely incredible - it's a menacing little shuffle, a combination of what almost sound like maracas and some rhythmic pounding, not to mention some omnious sounds from Tony's keys in the background to build up the tension. And then there's Phil, who demonstrates quite aptly that almost NOBODY can beat him when it comes to singing pissed-off songs of love and lust (too bad he so rarely writes songs like that ...). From his scary "ha-ha's" to the way he's able to scream out his desperation for the woman in question, this is by far the best vocal performance that Collins would ever give as lead vocalist for the band, and in and of itself would make the song a classic. But the way it all combines ... damn. Damn.
Of course, the rest of the album can't really hope to live up to such an amazing beginning, but it nearly does nevertheless. Only one of the songs I would count as definite filler, the closing It's Gonna Get Better. The verses have some interesting stuff going on in them, with a bizarre keyboard-strings pattern underpinning parts of it, but there's a large stretch in the middle that's way too obviously influenced by Collins and that has the audacity to feature him going into falsetto. To a lesser extent, though, I could say the same thing about Taking it All Too Hard - it's not bad, and is fairly well developed, but ... well, the best way I can put it is that, by this point, when Collins is singing a song that doesn't have a good amount of drive or energy or bounce, it's hard to avoid the stench of banality. It could be a lot worse than it is in this case, but again, it could be better.
Fortunately, I have virtually no complaints about the rest of the album. EVERY one of the other songs is a stone-cold Genesis classic, pop or no pop. That's All was the biggest hit of the album, and deservedly so, as the melody is probably the catchiest in the batch from start to finish (though I must note that the "head down to my toes" hook reminds me a bit too much of a hook from a track off of Procol Harum's A Salty Dog, I forget which song at the moment). But egads, Silver Rainbow sure isn't any worse, and might be better. The cute little piano riff that drives forward the song rules, the vocal melody is ingenious, and the chorus soars!! It is easily my second favorite on the album, and I consider it a shame they didn't end the album on this note.
There's also a pair of more up-tempo numbers, and they're just as fun. Illegal Alien may have a somewhat dippy topic (and the accompanying picture of the band in the sleeve is atrocious), but Phil's vocal delivery is hilarious throughout, and you just have to admit that chorus is fun to sing along to. And, of course, there's Just a Job To Do, which I absolutely adore and so should you. I don't like synth horns anymore than the next man, but they're completely appropriate in the way Tony uses them, and the melody is, per usual, positively incredible. The lyrics also rule mightily here, looking into the mind of a hired hitman who knows that his future victims are scared out of their wits since they know he's around.
Now, what puts off many fans with regard to this album is the centerpiece of the album, and arguably the only trace of "progressive" to be found throughout, the Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea suite. Now, what obviously bothers most people of the suite is the Second chunk, where Tony and Mike decide to putter around a bit over a drum loop. The thing is, I know that from a technical standpoint, there's almost nothing to it, but I have absolutely no problems with this instrumental passage - it's very engaging in its simplicity, moving through some perfectly enjoyable and memorable passages with no problem. Ironic, isn't it? As soon as Genesis stopped trying to make their jamming pointlessly complex (since they were theoretically required to do so by the 'tenents' of progressive), I suddenly learned to enjoy their lengthy instrumental parts! But whatever - the main melody is fairly complex, sure, but it rules. So there.
This is a great album. If you're only a fan of the prog Genesis, you'll probably hate it, but I hope so very much that you can overcome any "anti-pop" bias and enjoy this collection of great pop. Enjoy it - it's also the last good album Genesis would ever make.

Mama / That's All / Home By The Sea / Second Home By The Sea / Illegal Alien / Taking It All Too Hard / Just A Job To Do / Silver Rainbow / It's Gonna Get Better

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  Genesis - Abacab
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:35 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

Experimental synth pop, if you can believe for a second that anything like that could possibly exist. And it's really really good! After the commercial success of both Duke and Collins' solo debut Face Value, one might think that the band would have chosen to simply rest on their laurels and begin churning out clones of those albums. Fortunately, neither of those turned out to be true - the band seemingly took it upon itself to become a sort of Godfather to the rest of the synth pop world, looking for new ideas that would possibly make this genre worthwhile in the long run, and as for the second one, Collins still had enough discipline within him to keep his solo style from seeping in and infesting the group's work. The material is filled with synthesizers, drum machines and sequencers, but they are used in a far more interesting and novel manner than one might find in other albums of the day.
Most importantly, though, a LOT of these melodies are ridiculously enjoyable. They're far more hook-filled and energetic than most of the songs on Duke, which I enjoy but also can be a bit too lethargic at times. This, of course, prompts a question - where the heck was the group hiding all of these melodies the past few years? Well, your thoughts may vary, but my opinion is that in the last few albums, the band had had some difficulty coming to terms with the fact that their status as progressive rock heroes was a thing of the past. Abacab is, arguably, the first album that wipes away nearly ALL of the bad Wind influences - Duke may have been a sizable jump in its own right, but the songs bore several resemblences to Three, which in turn held on to some Wind traits.
And lookie here! The lyrics have been "simplified," but they've also gotten rid of the boring cliches that plagued the band the last few years, while still retaining a fair amount of intelligence. Meanwhile, some of the songs are reasonably lengthy, with some jamming here and there, but even in that context, the band has discovered a new identity for itself - even the lengthy Dodo/Lurker, arguably a full-blown progressive suite, bares little resemblance to the previous progressive pieces of the group.
The material of the album can generally be divided into two parts - the lengthier, more artsy pieces, and shorter and more "normal" songs. The title track is probably the best of all of these, and in my mind possibly the finest synth pop number ever written (yes, I'm aware that making such statements is probably irresponsible, but who's gonna stop me? Huh? Huh?). The main melody and chorus are incredibly catchy, the cool 80's robotic synths help rather than hinder, and the last three minutes are a cool robotic groove! On first listen, one might scoff at it a bit, wondering why the band would bother recording such a "pathetic jam," especially when it's propelled by drum sequencers, but Mike's guitar does a fabulous job of working with the synths, creating a memorable experience all the way to the ending fadeout.
The other two artsy pieces are good as well. Banks' solo composition Me and Sarah Jane doesn't enthrall me as much as it probably should, but some of the melodies are fairly interesting (and I really like the "round round round"/"down down down" part), not to mention it's neat the way it has a false fade-out so early in the song. Plus, the last couple of minutes are very pretty when they're on, so yeah, it's a good song. Not as good as Dodo/Lurker, though. Oh sure, it might seem a bit disconcerting to hear such cheezy synths playing an ominous pair of chords to kick things off, but strangely enough, they help add to the charm of the piece as a whole. Meanwhile, the various melodies are memorable as hell, the synth-and-drum-machine groove is tons of fun to listen to, the lyrics are hilariously intriguing, and Phil puts in one of the best vocal performances he ever would muster up on a Genesis album, contorting his voice into all sorts of characterizations throughout. He even raps in Lurker, for crying out loud! Of course, my brother hates Lurker for that very reason (he calls it the most pathetic example of rapping he's ever heard in his life), but whatever.
As for the more "normal" material, none of it fascinates me quite as much as does Dodo, but much of it is quite good regardless. No Reply at All may strike one on first listen as extraordinarily clumsy, thanks to the horns (real horns, not synth-horns) and the awkward melody in the opening line, but further listens reveal it to be very enjoyable regardless. It has a very, very engaging song structure, the melodies turn out to be memorable after all, and the ending lengthy "There's no reply at all - is anybody listening" fadeout is a blast. Keep it Dark may also strike one as very awkward initially (though it becomes very cool eventually), but that's merely because it's deceptively complex, switching between time signatures aggressively throughout. Plus, Phil's vocals sound weirdly distorted in places, the result of Banks layering his synths in a slightly unconventional manner.
The last four tracks, alas, let down the album just a whee bit. Not a LOT, but just enough to move it out of borderline-B territory. Who Dunnit?, for instance, is a silly little proto-techno groove with Phil singing stupid lyrics like "Was it you or was it me? Or was it he or she" and "I didn't do it I I didn't do it I" and especially the incessant "we know we know we know" chantings. The thing is, I actually enjoy the track while it's on (everybody needs some guilty pleasures in their lives) ... but I can very easily see where it would annoy most people. Likewise, I do gain some degree of enjoyment from Collins' Man on the Corner, as it is quite memorable, but like most solo Collins numbers, it's extremely lightweight and lacking anything truly substantial to latch onto.
Mike's Like it or Not also fails to thrill me - I do like the ascending guitar line that pops up frequently, but after several listens, that is the ONLY part of the song that I can remember. It tries hard to be one of his typically heavenly bombastic ballads, but the formula has at least temporarily run dry for Rutherford. Fortunately, the album doesn't end on a down note, instead resolving itself with the perfectly enjoyable Another Record. Banks switches to piano, finally, and it works surprisingly effectively with Collins' electronic percussion and Mike's subtle guitar calls. It's not exactly a masterpiece, as the melody isn't extremely memorable (except for the chorus), but since that chorus is repeated in the lengthy fadeout, it does a good job of leaving a good taste in your mouth.
So what do you know? Genesis loses its two most talented musicians, stagnates badly for a couple of years, and yet manages to re-emerge as leaders in a field totally different from where it found its initial glory. Now that is a sure sign of a really talented band. And this "Genesis mark-2" hadn't even hit its peak yet!

Abacab / No Reply At All / Me And Sarah Jane / Keep It Dark / Dodo / Lurker / Who Dunnit? / Man On The Corner / Like It Or Not / Another Record

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  Genesis - Duke
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:32 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

Very, very badly underrated. With this album, Genesis took another sizable step away from the dregs of Wind, and hence from their progressive past, and that helps explain why so many people dislike this album. There are still some artistic elements, sure - the album is supposedly conceptual, there are lots of the traditional Banksynths, as well as some energetic drumming from Phil, and there are ten minutes of instrumental jamming at the end - but this is certainly the band's first major move towards becoming the "pop" Genesis. Regardless of some of the cool instrumental parts, drum machines and various elements of synth pop (including simpler songs with more mundane lyrical topics) can be found in abundance throughout.
The thing is, this album gets hammered by even devoted fans of the pop-era of Genesis for a number of reasons (though I can share their chagrin with the fact that, since it hit the top #10 on both sides of the Atlantic, it helped launch Phil's solo career). Supposedly, all of these songs are totally non-descript and lacking anything that makes them stand out in any positive way. Well, there are exactly two songs on here I don't like, so I can't say I agree with this. Like most people, I strongly dislike the mega-hit Misunderstanding, Collins' first solo credit since Peter left: what can I say, it's horrendously bland and has an utterly moronic melody. I'm also not really fond of Bank's Cul-de-sac: it's too clumsy to work as a pop song, and it just sees too dippy to work as art-rock (though I will admit that I kinda like the big goofy keyboard riff that pops up here and there). Not to mention that the lyrics are of his usual quality.
HOWEVER, I cannot share these negative sentiments past those two songs. EVERY one of the other songs has at least a couple of good things going for it, and some are just terrific. For one thing, I must tell you that, for the first time since Lamb, I am not bothered by the Banksynths. Some see his tone as horribly cheezy on this album, and there may be something to that. However, there is one major advantage they have here over the past two albums - they're much, much brighter and more cheerful than before. Maybe that's why the base color of Duke's cover is white, while the last two were so drab.
As for the songs themselves, the major highlight comes from track seven, Turn it on Again. Absolutely blatant pop, definitely disco-influenced, but how can I help it if the song is so friggin' good??!! The main melody is amazingly catchy, the bridge is fabulous ("I I get so lonely when she's not there, I ... I ... I ...."), and the chord progressions are nothing short of genial. Needless to say, it's one of the finest pop songs the band ever did, and even haters of Duke rarely fail to tip their hats to it.
But while none of the others provide quite the same wallop, they're all enjoyable. The opening Behind the Lines is a peculiar number that I keep liking more with each listen, opening with a couple of minutes of jamming in an "overture" of sorts, before settling into a neat pop song with a pretty verse melody (sung with lots of passion). Even better, though, is the following Duchess. Yes, it has drum machines, the first instance of them used on a Genesis track. But SO WHAT??!! The introduction is mellow in a creepy sort of way, and the melody is just wonderful. In particular, I love the ".. all she had to do was step into the light" parts, but the rest could stick in my brain for as long as it wanted for all I care. I actually really like the lyrics, too.
There are also a pair of Banks numbers on side one that cause me to take note. The one-minute Guide Vocal may seem like blatant filler at first glance, but one should note that it does a good job of creating the impression of Duke as a pseudo-conceptual album, not to mention that it has a lovely ethereal beauty in the pleasant vocal melody. This same ethereal beauty also helps lift Heathaze from the doldrums of the verse melodies. The counter-melody, the one that has the "The trees and I are shaken ..." lyrics, is positively gorgeous, fully making up for the fact that I couldn't remember the rest of the song with a gun to my head.
Mike also contributes a pair of solo numbers, and both times comes up a winner. Well, ok, neither one reaches the heights of Ripples or Snowbound, and both numbers are based on the same idea (unconventional verse melody, bombastic heavenly chorus) as before, but I still appreciate them. Man of our Times, in particular, is a standout on the album. The main melody, for lack of a better term, is very twisted, with Phil contorting his voice to match up with this fact, while the synth approach is in the "ugly" vein of Back in NYC, which means I can't help but enjoy it. Not to mention that I greatly appreciate the way Phil sings the chorus. Likewise with Alone Tonight, which is perfectly pleasant in the verses and beautifully memorable in the chorus.
Heck, I even like Collins' other solo credit, the piano-based ballad Please Don't Ask. I used to find it overly rambling, but it's got a ton of emotional power, driven by his recent divorce, and I'd never dream of skipping it.
And, of course, we have the jamming at the end, consisting of two tracks (Duke's Travels and Duke's End). The former, while not really structured in an immediately discernable way, has the benefit of having a lot of the energy that was sorely lacking on the instrumentals on Wind, and it also has an added surprise in a vocal reprise of Guide Vocal in the middle. And as for Duke's End, it's just a "capstone" to the themes of the album, bringing full circle the ideas first shown in Behind the Lines, but it's still very good, leaving a pleasant taste in your mouth at album's end.
Now don't get me wrong - I'm not about to call this a peak of Genesis' pop career or anything like that. It has several weaknesses, many of which would be corrected on subsequent albums. But I honestly cannot figure out why this album is regarded as one of Genesis' biggest blackeyes or embarrassments - it's just a very good album, which means I like it quite a bit.

Behind The Lines / Duchess / Guide Vocal / Man Of Our Times / Misunderstanding / Heathaze / Turn It On Again / Alone Tonight / Cul-De-Sac / Please Don't Ask / Duke's Travels / Duke's End

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  Genesis - ... And Then There Were Three ...
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:29 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

Not much of an improvement on Wind, but an improvement in some ways nonetheless. Maybe I'm wrong, but I get the feeling that Steve's acrimonious departure sent a wakeup call to the band concerning the dead end they'd hit, because this album corrects at least some of the mistakes of before. The general style isn't that different; it's still centered around keyboards; the synth tones are just as monotonous and boring as before (and in some ways worse); even with Hackett gone there's not that much less guitar than on Wind (though it has much less personality than before); and the lyrics are still dumb and preachy in places. Also, there's nothing here that really comes close to the greatness of Blood on the Rooftops. BUT, there are no silly instrumentals, the songs show at least some sense of compactness (this apparently helped turn off a lot of fans to the album all by itself), more than a couple of the songs are truly memorable, none of the lyrics reach to the bile-vomit depths of One for the Vine (and some are actually fairly poetic and moving) and Phil is bothering to stick some emotion and depth into his voice on a consistent basis.
Don't get me wrong - the amount of filler is still larger than on any Genesis album to that point, barring Wind of course. The first five songs are a good chunk, and Follow You Follow Me is a fabulously catchy closer from start to finish (what an incredibly memorable chorus too!), but except for the cute Scenes from a Night's Dream (poor little Nemo is right), the other four songs don't really do much at all. Deep in the Motherlode is probably the best of the lot, as it's a somewhat interesting mix of okayish synth riffs and countryish guitar licks, but it's very overlong and wouldn't become interesting until Phil's singing got better. Many Too Many is a Banks ballad that borders waaaay too close to syruppy late-70's soft-pop in places, and it doesn't move me anywhere near as much as Undertow (mentioned below) does. Say it's Alright Joe is a country-ish ballad (except for all of the keyboard parts) from Mike that totally goes in one ear and out the other, and The Lady Lies is an overlong monster whose most notable feature is a throroughly mediocre synth and guitar riff in the chorus. It has some really great drumming, but it does little to help to overall effect: I can't shake the feeling that Phil listened to the track and thought, "Wow, this kinda sucks, I'm gonna have to do everything in my power to even make this vaguely passable." All told, then, that's about 20 minutes of material that does little to justify placement on the album (especially when the band had tracks like The Day the Light Went Out lying around), and the rating can't help but suffer because of it.
Fortunately, the first five tracks all range from above average to very good, so I can't give too low of a rating to the album. Banks' Undertow, for instance, is a far better composition than any of his crud on Wind - in particular, the "Let me live again" choral melody is positively gorgeous, and the lyrics are certainly some of the best Tony has ever given us. Special attention should also be given to Mike's pretty Snowbound, an ode to a snowman. Aside from the gorgeous acoustic melody, in the grand tradition of Ripples, it also contains Phil's best singing of the album, making lines such as "pray for the snowman" burrow deep within your soul and bring you sorrow for the snowman's fate.
The other three are good enough too. The opening Down and Out could be viewed as an inferior sequel to Eleventh Earl of Mar, but the tricky jazzy rhythms are interesting, the melody is fairly memorable, and Phil has more energy in his vocals in ten seconds of the song than in the whole ten minutes of Vine. After Undertow, then, is Ballad of Big, a bouncy country ditty with lots of cheezy synths but also an amusing riff for them. And finally, we have Tony's Firth of Fifth clone Burning Rope. Now, it couldn't possibly hope to match up with such a masterpiece, even if Mike uses the same guitar tone on the mid-song solo that Steve used five years earlier, but it's not bad. The lyrics mildly suck, of course, but the melody is memorable in spots, and the middle-jam is at least not extended long enough to get annoying. Overall, it's certainly good, even if it doesn't deserve to be over seven minutes long.
Actually, I can make a very similar statement about the album in general. If it wasn't over fifty minutes, especially when there's only about half an hour of good material on here (and only a little bit approaching greatness), I could even give it an 8 if I were feeling especially charitable. As is, though, the album's greatest strength is really that it's not Wind, and it's hard to give a high grade to an album like that. But it certainly is better than Wind - much of it's dull, sure, but given the choice between boring and pathetically awful, well, I'll take boring anyday.

Down and Out / Undertow / Ballad Of Big / Snowbound / Burning Rope / Deep In The Motherlode / Many Too Many / Scenes From A Night's Dream / Say It's Alright Joe / The Lady Lies / Follow You, Follow Me

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  Genesis - Wind And Wuthering
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:24 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

  • Blah. You know, I'm all for bands evolving over time. After all, if you use the same style again and again, eventually it's going to grow stale. BUT, I also firmly believe that changing is not enough - you have to change into something that, at the very least, displays relative advantages over the style you're discarding. Alas, with this album, Genesis threw away large parts of their classic style in cold blood, only to replace them with genericism and dullness. Now, instead of taking a song-by-song approach with this fact, I decided it would be better to run down the list of traits that made classic Genesis so great in my eyes (and ears), and then to compare them with the inferior doppelganger in this incarnation of Genesis.

  • Good Genesis: Lengthy compositions with a clear sense of purpose and direction, as well as a solid melodical base. The song-structures were complex, but they always resolved themselves eventually, helping the listener not feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of the pieces. Or, alternatively, compositions of short or medium length, complex yet overwhelmingly interesting at times.

  • Bad Genesis: Lengthy compositions that, in the first few listens, can seem to be long and complex solely for their own sakes (One for the Vine). The melodies in these are only occasionally memorable even after repeated listens, and they lack any obvious sense of direction or purpose (One for the Vine). One also discovers a fairly large number of instrumental tracks (3 out of 9 songs) that, on the whole, don't make a tremendous amount of impact (not to mention that one of them, Wot Gorilla?, is a shameless rewrite of Riding the Scree, and another one strikes me as a shameless rewrite of Ravine). The only one that consistently keeps my interest at all is In That Quiet Earth, and that's because it has a decent Hackett-led passage and a stretch where the rhythm section becomes inexplicably heavy; whenever it becomes dominated by Banks, though, it becomes less much less interesting.

  • Good Genesis: Fairly diverse instrumentation, with at worst an acceptable balance between Hackett's guitars and the Banksynths (which showed an acceptably diverse pallette of tones), as well as a healthy amount of acoustic guitar. Hackett was regularly (if not frequently) given a chance to shine, while Banks would occasionally have some blisteringly good moments. In addition, Banks could also achieve a high level of spiritual catharsis with his keys when he wanted to, not to mention the images he painted on The Lamb.

  • Bad Genesis: The balance between the guitars and keyboards isn't nearly as off-kilter as I used to think, but there are still problems in this regard. Hackett has a number of standout moments, but uncovering those only emphasizes the sense that, when he's not doing something to stand out, he completely disappears from the mix. Banks dominates as always, and this is a problem given that he really seems pretty uninspired most of the time (yup, I mean that), except for some decent keyboard riffs. There's some piano, which is sometimes used to good effect, but he relies strongly on some awfully monotonous sounding synths most of the time. I get that the point of the synths is to create some atmosphere, but egads, anybody can create atmosphere - it's the KIND of atmosphere you make that matters, not to mention that you need to vary it at least a bit from song to song. Nope, the arrangements on this album, on the whole, are just not that good; I end up spending my time waiting for an interesting Hackett part (like the great solo at the end of One for the Vine that's by far the best part of the track), and feeling bored most of the rest of the time. There are a lot keyboard parts on here that just SCREAM out "emotionally manipulative" to me, and I mean that in the worst meaning of the term.

  • Good Genesis: Often bombastic, often humorous and usually clever lyrics (depending on the author). Though Banks could certainly contribute a lamer here and there, Gabriel could come up with clever, non-cliched texts to counteract whatever stinkiness Banks or Mike might produce.

  • Bad Genesis: There are a LOT of lyrics on this album that fall between mediocre and horrible, and few that ascend to good (Blood on the Rooftops is rather nice here). In particular, I really dislike the lyrics to One for the Vine. This "alternative" perspective of Christ has no interesting philosophical ideas and no clever individual lines, and sounds to me like Tony thought that writing about a Messiah in a non-mainstream way would be enough to make it worthwhile. I just feel like it's full of cliches, and full of preachiness, and I hate it completely. As for other songs, there are decent lyrics here and there, but not much I'd find as interesting as Squonk or Ripples.

  • Good Genesis: Peter Gabriel as lead vocalist. I know that it may seem obvious or, depending on your perspective, the cry of a deranged fan, but you have to remember - Peter had the uncanny ability to make even the most obscure and ludicrous tales and lines come to life by the sheer power of his voice. Even Banks lyrics could come close to enjoyability (e.g. Watcher of the Skies).

  • Bad Genesis: Wind and Wuthering, for large stretches, pulls off an absolutely amazing feat. See, there are many, many albums where the lyrics take a back seat to the music, and where one can successfully hear and enjoy the vocals without hearing the lyrics. W&W, on the other hand, has the distinction of being the only album in my collection where I hear the lyrics but do not hear the vocals. A paradox? Hardly. Throughout the album, it becomes painfully obvious that Phil, who isn't that talented a singer in the first place, hasn't the slightest clue what to do with the lyrics Tony presents to him to sing. Hence, if you thought his singing on Trick was a bit flat and emotionless, you need to hear Wind to hear what it's like for a singer to be totally afraid to try any expressivness for fear of "getting it wrong." The song where this hurts the most, actually, is the middle track, All in a Mouse's Night. The lyrics are actually somewhat cute (though a bit too dry to be as humorous as they could be), and in the hands of Gabriel, it could have become a minor classic (just imagine him squeaking as the mouse or screeching as the wife or hissing as the cat). But alas, Phil doesn't change his tone one iota through the track, and the result is pure, unadulterated filler, albeit with another nice Hackett passage buried in the last minute of the song..
    As you can tell, I'm not too fond of the stylistics of this album. Since I haven't done much but bash it so far, though, I should explain why it gets a 6 instead of a lower grade. First of all, with regards to the last problem (the vocals) - because three of the songs are pop songs (or, at the least, songs with a relatively clear direction and with easily discernable hooks) instead of Banks prog-ravings, Phil is able to contribute fully solid vocals on each one of them. The first, the hit Your Own Special Way, is a decent Rutherford acoustic ballad, and although it's certainly way too long (and the midsection way too soft and mellow), it also features a fully memorable chorus and a pleasant verse melody. Much better, though, is a classic in the Collins/Hackett collaboration Blood on the Rooftops. In addition to the aforementioned pretty acoustic intro, it also (a) features a well placed mellotron that sounds better than any of the other synths on the album, and (b) contains a beautifully romantic melody with some well-timed emotional climaxes. It's EASILY Collins' best vocal performance of the album, and if anything, makes me glad the band would start to shift towards pop from the next year onwards.
    I've also developed some fondness over time for the closing Afterglow. I don't think Collins' vocal part is great here, and I don't think it has as much power as was probably intended (especially with it following two instrumentals). In fact, truth be told, I don't think it's an amazing studio song ... and yet, I've heard it and enjoyed it so many times as the closing part of live medleys that some of that fondness can't help but wear off onto this version.
    I should also give props to the album opener, Eleventh Earl of Mar, which has grown on me a lot through the years. I find the intro and outro a little annoyingly over-the-top overblown, but there are some neat Hackett effects that break through the synths, and these give a deceptive sense of how much Hackett to expect on the album. I also think the vocals are pretty unremarkable (I feel like the song is better when I'm singing along to it), and I find it a little irritating that the vocal melody seems more than a bit borrowed from The Battle of Epping Forest. Still, it has some great organ riffs, more energy than the rest of the album combined, some powerhouse drumming and bass work, some decent lyrics (even if they don't come through well), and a good balance between the intended beauty of Tony's keys and the power of Steve's guitar.
    But again, there's not much else positive to be found on this album, at least not to my ears. It's not quite as horrendous as I initially thought, but egads, it's definitely NOT deserving of being called a fan-favorite. I mean, if you like 70's Genesis just because they were progressive, you could like this album. But if you like 70's Genesis because they were a special kind of progressive, chances are good that you'll be disappointed as hell in this.
    Slight addendum: Many years after writing this review, while I still think that Unquiet Slumber for the Sleepers is distressingly similar to Ravine, I do kinda like the slow unwinding of the quiet melody in the background. To be honest, while I don't find any of the last three tracks (Unquiet, Quiet Earth, Afterglow) individually very great, put together they make for a pretty decent 10-minute album-closing suite (nothing amazing, but definitely decent). This is enough to prompt me to bump the grade of the album up a notch.
Eleventh Earl of Mar / One for the Vine / Your Own Special Way / Wot Gorilla? / All In A Mouse's Night / Blood On The Rooftops / Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers / In That Quiet Earth / Afterglow

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  Genesis - A Trick Of The Tail
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:19 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

Exit Peter Gabriel, enter ... actually, nobody. Upon his departure, the band auditioned scores of possible replacements for Pete, but something tells me they weren't going to choose a new person anyways. After all, no matter how good the replacement might turn out to be, chances are that he would always be looked upon as an inferior 'outsider' by the fanbase, and the band would certainly have problems if that occurred. So the band did the only logical thing - they promoted from within the organization. Hence, Phil rose from his drumkit (well, at least in live performances - the studio drumming still is the same wonderful Collins work as ever) and into the position of singer and frontman for the group.
Now, in a lot of ways, this choice seemingly made sense, and not just because he was already a group member. At the most basic level, Phil's voice isn't all that different from Peter's, and so there wouldn't be as huge of a shock for the listener's ears upon hearing a new album. Plus, Phil had had the opportunity to sing lead on a couple of songs in the past, and while the efforts weren't spectacular or anything like that, they certainly weren't bad. Add in that his backing vocals were often just as important for the vocal harmonies as Peter's were, and you had yourself an almost textbook choice for a replacement. Right? Right?
Er ... sort of, but in a lot of ways, no. The main problem with Phil the lead singer, at least at this point, is that he's just not that creative in his singing approach. Oh sure, he sounds fine when he's belting full power, but when the compositions and lyrics call for subtle nuances and variations from line to line, he really comes up short. His singing tone isn't usually bad mind you, but it's very monotonous and does little to help draw your attention to the material. Not to mention that traditional Genesis compositions rely heavily on the singer's ability to hook the listener in, as the arrangments are never chaotic enough a la Yes to be able to get by with just a straightforward vocal "covering," like what Phil mostly provides here. I wouldn't want to go so far as to say Phil's vocals on this album are a weakness, but I would say that this album took what was once one of the band's greatest strengths and turned it into a relative non-factor.
Then there's the songs themselves. Best as I can tell, the band members didn't really wish to try and gallump about for an altogether new stylistic approach like they had on The Lamb. After all, the fans had already undergone one major catastrophic change in Gabriel's departure, and the last thing they would want would be a total break from the Genesis they had grown to know and love. Hence, while there are certainly some significant changes (not all of them for the better, mind you) from the "classic" style, this album is certainly much more in line with England than with Lamb. But really, that ends up hurting the album a bit - they try to capture the old vibe, but with Peter away, it was gone forever, and trying to recapture it without the requisite parts was ultimately a futile effort. They could now be nothing more than a Genesis imitation (albeit still a really good imitation), and that meant that, however good the album could be, it would have to be the last in that style. Of course, where they ended up was a disaster, but I digress ...
There is one really really huge difference between England and Trick, and that is the arrangements. England boasted a perfect balance and meeting point between Tony and Steve, whereas this album continues the Lamb path of tipping the balance well into Tony's favor. However, while Lamb found Tony's keys creating ghostly black-and-white paintings of the netherworld, Trick finds Tony's synths getting just a little too obnoxious in tone for me in places. Steve isn't invisible, as there are a few parts where he's clearly in the front of the mix (though it should be noted that his guitar sound on this album, for the most part, is nowhere near as satisfying as on England or on his solo album from a year earlier, Voyage of the Acolyte), but for the most part he's back to being a featured supporting player (providing good texture as best as he can), and not a lot more. The best example is what happens during his solo in Ripples, as mentioned in the page introduction; of all the moments when Tony should have just scooted into the background, this was it, but instead we get the marring of what should have been one of the all-time beautiful moments in prog rock (for proof of how good this track could be when the guitar was given full emphasis, see Archive 2).
So, after all that complaining, I still give the album an overall B because the actual songs, divorced from their presentation, are very good. The only one I'm not especially thrilled about is the rambling Banks "ballad" Mad Man Moon. Granted, it represents a definite break in style and form from Gabriel Genesis, which is an "advancement" I suppose, but I liked that style and form, dang it. The song has some moments that almost leave me thinking they're beautiful (until I wonder what exactly would distinguish them from plenty of other keyboard-based prog bands), and the song takes a nice turn during the piano breaks and the "hey man, I'm the sand man part," but the lyrics are unremarkable on the whole, and the song tries too hard for a beauty that just isn't really there.
But the rest is mostly great, once weaknesses in production and presentation are accounted for. As an example, the opening Dance on a Volcano is stricken with annoying *squeak* noises coming from Steve's guitar in the beginning and some ridiculous tones from Tony's synths throughout ... on the other hand, the synth riff underpinning the vocal melody is absolutely genial, and the main melody itself is nothing to sneeze at either. And of course, there's later the gorgeous Rutherford ballad Ripples, with Phil's best vocal performance of the album, an incredibly beautiful chorus to go with the nice verses, and of course the pretty Steve solo.
My favorite, though, has to be the cute Mike/Tony composition Squonk, about a hunted creature who cries himself to non-existence when finally captured by the "narrator." The song incorporates a good chunk of 12-string guitars, Phil's powerhouse drumming grooves things along well, and the organ riff in the chorus is fabulous! It also features a vocal melody that's pretty complex but still very memorable, and the vocal parts are sometimes even moving! It also doesn't hurt that it's poppy at its core.
The other four songs are very good as well. Entangled is a nice Hackett/Banks (!) collaboration, with a pretty melody, lots of acoustic guitar and appropriate touches of mellotron here and there. And the slow winding synth part at the end is remarkable - Banks does a good enough job of building up the tension and volume such that the piece doesn't really seem as overlong as it probably is.
Two of the other tracks also have heavy input from Banks, as one is a collaboration with Collins and the other is a solo composition. Strangely enough, the solo composition, the title track, turns out to be the second best song on the album, which means it's really really good. It's actually poppy in its essence, which is a surprise given the source, and both the verse and choral melodies are incredibly memorable. Plus, the lyrics are actually entertaining for once, as they tell the story of a runaway devil who discovers that life among humans isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are also some really nice quiet guitar tinklings (if such a description can be applied to guitar) that pop up in some of the instrumental breaks. The poppiness also extends to the other track on here, the Harold-the-Barrel-inspired Robbery, Assault and Battery. On this track, Phil comes the closest he ever would to fufilling his calling as Gabriel's heir of funny characterizations, and while it's certainly no Battle of Epping Forest, it's certainly not the "worst Genesis song ever" like some fans apparently say it is. Some of the mid-song synth soloing sounds a little amateurish, but I don't mind it horribly.
Finally, capping off the album (and possibly making up for lack of other inspiration), we have an instrumental reprise of some of the various themes found throughout in Los Endos. That doesn't mean it's not good, though - there are bits and pieces of new music in there, and the way they interweave the parts from Volcano and Squonk is quite fascinating. Why Phil sings a quote from Supper's Ready near the end continues to elude me, but no matter - the melodies mostly rule, and while the arrangement isn't perfect, parts of it are fantastic (my favorite part is that brief "teasing" guitar line near the very end). It would get much better live, anyway.
So all in all, this is a pretty great album ... but that's because it's rooted in a very great style, even if there have been some small changes here and there. For the first time in the development of this style, there is no track that tops the best effort of the previous album (remember, I'm not counting Lamb in this sequence, as it really doesn't fit), and the weaknesses are beginning to rear their ugly heads again. And yet, while I'm more likely to feel in the mood to listen to live versions of these songs than the original studio versions, the songs are so good on the whole that I can mostly forgive these problems.

Dance On A Volcano / Entangled / Squonk / Man Man Moon / Robbery, Assualt And Battery / Ripples... / A Trick Of The Tail / Los Endos

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  Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:12 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

There are two basic ways to follow up perfection - one is to continue to milk the style in which said perfect album was done for all it's worth, the other is to veer in a new direction all together. Genesis, smart band that they were, chose the second route. The result was a double-length rock opera and an album proclaimed by many fans as the absolute pinnacle and culmination of Gabriel-era Genesis. And it is great, don't get me wrong. But the fact remains that in many, many ways, it is a giant abberration in Genesis' development, one only tangentially resembling the style in which they had shown the greatest mastery. In other words, choosing this as Genesis' best album is a lot like choosing Relayer as Yes' best - I mean, it's definitely possible, and I would never condemn either statement (not to mention that I adore both albums), but ... ehn.
Ok, first things first, I won't go over the story in too much detail here (except when I have to) - there are plenty of lengthy essays of interpretation and explanation of The Lamb to be found on the net (I would highly recommend going here - my interpretation mostly matches with this one, though I have a few additional insights, like the symbolism behind the hairy heart). Suffice it to say that it rules, both on the surface (as one of the trippiest tales ever told) and deep below (as a powerfully religious modern-day story loosely reminiscient of Dante's Inferno). And although many have said that Gabriel went overboard with it as far as complexity goes (in fact, all of the lyrics, with the exception of those to The Light Dies Down on Broadway, come from Peter), I've never bought that - after a couple of readings through the booklet and one listen to the album, I understood the basic plot just fine, thank you.
But what about the music? Like I said, there is a great amount of distance between the stylistics here and on England. The bulk of the music was written by Tony and Mike, with Steve only helping to arrange it, and as a result there is an enormous dropoff in the fundamental importance of Steve to the sound. It's not like he's made invisible or anything, and he does have a few passages where he is more-or-less emphasized, but even then there are very few instances of "vintage Hackett" - he's playing his slow meticulous passages, but only on a few occasions do they have the power and bite that he had shown on the previous album (the very end of his Supernatural Anaesthetist solo is the most notable one - view the contrast between the last chunk and the rest of the solo). His playing is mostly reduced to texture and atmospherics, and while he does a very good job in these regards, his presence as a featured player is kinda missed.
The main focus of the album, then, is on the Banksynths. But, and this is a big but, for the most part they work. Large chunks of the story are very dark, murky and often take place in sub-earthly realms, and Banks' keyboards do a mostly impeccable job of scene-setting (I actually thought for a long time this was due to the presence of Brian Eno, who is credited with "Enossification" on the album, but as a reader below points out, the instrumentals have nothing to do with Eno). But regardless of who came up with most of these ideas, although the abundance of keys squeezes out Steve to a far greater extent than had yet happened, it's hard to complain here when the ominous mellotrons and moody pianos work so well.
Now, as far as the actual songs go, my main problem with the album lies with the instrumentals: there are four of them on this album, and only one of them manages to hold my attention throughout (side 2's Hairless Heart, which has a sick, perverse beauty glistening off of every note). The thing is, the remaining three all fit in well with the general flow of the story, but I don't think anybody would want to argue that they couldn't have each been cut to a minute and a half or so (especially the total cacophony of The Waiting Room, which is supposed to reflect Rael's paranoia in the dark cave but is probably 4 or 5 times too long). Same goes for the pretty Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats and the ominous, "windy" Ravine. Good plot-setters and mood-setters, to be sure, but not much else.
But the rest, well, the rest is just great. The uber-classic, of course, is the opening title track - from the fabulous opening piano line to the incredible vocal delivery by Peter (dig especially the way he sings "RAEL IMPERIAL AEROSOL KID") and the catchy melody of the song, it does a terrific job of hooking in the listener right away, preparing him for the arduous journey ahead. The next track, Fly on a Windshield, is also amazing, particularly the way the music actually makes the strange story in the booklet come to life; in particular, I'm referring to the way we have "and I'm hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freewaaay" ... and then *SPLAT* as Phil begins pounding a simple but intense rhythm (driving a jam underpinned with fantastic synth chords and Hackett at his best). And, of course, don't forget the trippy Broadway Melody of 1974 that follows it, or the cute little ditty Cuckoo Cocoon.
Closing out side one is In The Cage, found ugly by some but just wonderful by me. The opening is quiet and gentle, with Rael (the main character) feeling queazy and unable to move, while the rest of it builds and becomes more menacing (especially after the Thick as a Brick style bassline for a couple of measures that pops up to launch us into the rest of the song) until you have overwhelmingly disturbing and intensely real images of things like his dead brother John slowly turning his head towards him while crying blood. BUT, BUT, the part of the song that I love the most comes at the very end, and maybe I'm just imagining it, because nobody else has ever mentioned it, but here goes anyways. You will recall that the end of this song ends in very quiet instrumental noodling that doesn't really have anything to do with the rest of the song. Now, when was the last time we had passages specifically like that? Anybody? Anybody? The answer is ... From Genesis to Revelation. Now, given that, even if the album wasn't meant as a real religious metaphor, the band probably would have realized that it would be taken as such, and if so, what a NEAT self-reference (especially since FGTR was their first big religious spiel). Of course, maybe I'm just looking for meta that isn't there, but whatever - I think it's cool.
Side two is slightly weaker, but still thoroughly entertaining. The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging is a cute little pop song with a neat chorus hook, while the following Back in NYC (which is Rael watching a "viewing" of his own life) has a bit of 'ugliness' to it, but dagnabit, it conveys the hopelessness and ugliness of his former life perfectly (not to mention that the experiences of his life are essential for understanding why he needs to go through what he goes through). And, of course, following Hairless Heart comes the hilarious pop song Counting Out Time, which describes Rael's preparation for his first sexual encounter by buying a textbook on the subject but still striking out in the end. I mean, how on EARTH can anybody resist a song whose chorus is "erogenous zones I love you, without you what would a poor boy do?" Well, unless you're as much of a prude as I'm probably supposed to be, but no matter ... The melody is catchy as a cold, not to mention that Peter's vocalizations are beyond hilarious.
Up next is an absolute classic in Carpet Crawlers. The melody is pretty, with a nice soft organ washing underneath it, but what truly makes the song is the harmonies (well, and Steve's quiet pretty textures weaving in and out). Peter and Phil work in perfect compliment with each other, as Phil hits all sorts of wonderful high notes while Peter's dark, expressive singing drives the song forward and inevitably brings tears to your eyes, even though the song itself only bears a very small place of importance in the plot. Not so with the last song on the disc, though, The Chamber of 32 Doors. Basically, Rael keeps trying door after door, but each one of them leads him straight back into the chamber, and Peter does an impeccable job of conveying his tearful frustration with the situation, as well as with the fact that everybody is calling out different directions for him to go but that he can't bring himself to trust any of them. He can't even bring himself to trust his own parents, which should tell you something.
After the melancholy of 32 Doors, side two opens with a blast thanks to the pop-rocker Lilywhite Lilith. Granted, it's only great for the first two-thirds of it or so, but HOO what a bunch of hooks! Which is a good thing, because hooks aren't coming again for a good while. After the agony of The Waiting Room, we come upon Anyway, which is Rael philosophizing about his wretched fate and about waiting for the reaper to show. I disliked this a little at first, but it makes for incredible gloomy atmosphere, and I love it to pieces now. Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist, on the other hand, is at least funny, not to mention that it has some more wonderful backing harmonies from Phil and the aforementioned solo from Steve.
The centerpiece and most beautiful song on this side, however, is The Lamia. The melody is complicated but even more gorgeous than anything on England (just a lot more mellow), while the lyrics, describing Rael's experiences with these half-women-half-snakes, are sickening in a powerful sort of way. How else can I describe a song in which the women begin to nibble his flesh, shrivel up and die at the first taste of his blood, and then where Rael eats them because he's hungry??!! Plus, there's another very nice Steve solo here (at the end).
Following the instrumental Silent Sorrow ... we hit The Colony of Slippermen, and the story goes from strange to totally messed up. Essentially, Rael's pleasure from the Lamia was so intense that his body is going into a horrible withdrawl from its absence, and he has come across a whole colony of people who are suffering the same fate. He learns from one of these people that in order to get his body back to normal, he must remove the source of his problem - his "love rocket." And so, he and his brother John, whom he has just met again, go to the doctor and get castrated (this part features the beautiful line, "don't delay, dock the dick! I watch his countdown timer tick ...",) with their shlongs placed in a tube that they can wear for posterity. Alas, a raven comes down and grabs the tube from Rael (with Tony's keyboards doing a fine job of displaying the chaos surrounding this event). Rael then tries to catch up with the raven, though John declines to help him, only to watch the raven drop his tube into the river far below.
After the instrumental Ravine, we come to The Light Dies Down on Broadway, incorporating melodies from both the title track and The Lamia (so, of course, it just can't fail to rule). At this point, Rael sees an opening to take him back to his home, but as he runs towards it, he hears John crying for help in the gorge below him. He has to choose at this time to either save his brother's life or go back home - Rael chooses to save his brother's life. Which leads us to the funny and jolly Riding The Scree. Tony's keyboards are terrific here, from the wonderful sparks that fly from his hands in the beginning to the corny-but-better-for-it pseudo-heroic self-mockery at the end. And of course, it has another one of Gabriel's most memorable vocalizations, "Evil Knievel you got nothing on me" (it should be noted also Knievel was not yet a household name in '74; this is another impressive sign of cultural awareness on Peter's part).
And, last but certainly not least, we have the last two tracks on the album. In The Rapids has a beautiful, subdued melody, and even with the purposeful muffling of his vocals, Gabriel does yet another terrific job of moving you deep inside. And, of course, it contains one final and totally strange plot twist - as Rael drags his brother onto the shore, he looks into John's face ... and sees his own. He and his brother then fade away into the mist, into it, which happens to be the name of the last track. Featuring more energy in this one track than can be found on the rest of the disc, it would be difficult to think of a better ending to the album than it, from the great guitar runs to the simple-but-ingenious main riff, and especially the clever allusions to all that which is good and pleasurable in the universe (I especially love the line, "it is chicken, it is eggs, it is in between your legs").
And that's it - that wasn't so complicated was it? Er, maybe it was, as I think I wrote even more for this album than for England. No matter - point is, it's a really really really great album. But England is better.
PS: After the band toured this album, Peter left for good, essentially citing fears that the band was about to become too popular for its own good and for his own comfort. *sniff* Goodbye, Peter - thanks for the memories, and see you on your solo page.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway / Fly On A Windshield / Broadway Melody Of 1974 / Cuckoo Cocoon / In The Cage / The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging / Back In N.Y.C. / Hairless Heart / Counting Out Time / Carpet Crawlers / The Chamber Of 32 Doors / Lilywhite Lilith / The Waiting Room / Anyway / Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist / The Lamia / Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats / The Colony Of Slippermen / Ravine / The Light Dies Down On Broadway / Riding The Scree / In The Rapids / it

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  Genesis - Selling England By The Pound
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:05 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

You might not have noticed it, but although I certainly have a healthy dose of respect and love for well-done progressive rock, not ONCE have I given a prog rock album a perfect score - atmosphere and cool instrumentation can take you to the top of the mountain overlooking the land, but they won't let you into Canaan, so to speak. But this album is a different story entirely. NEVER before and never again in the history of progressive rock can one find such a perfect confluence of atmospherics, bombastic and yet clever lyrics, catchy melodies, complicated song structures, and in a wonderous first for Genesis, constantly entertaining and often GORGEOUS arrangements (this album is Genesis' peak in both quality of keyboard playing AND quality of guitar playing, which should tell you something right away) as can be found in this incredible 53 minute piece of British lore.
The arrangements, in particular, are what ultimately set this album above Foxtrot and The Lamb. You may not believe it, but not only do I have absolutely no complaints about Tony's playing on this album, on more than a few occasions I truly believe in the title of genius that many fans have foisted upon him. This is made all the more incredible by the fact that it is on this album that he uses synthesizers for the first time, and while they would be incredibly annoying within 5 years time, here his use of them is always, dare I say it, tasteful, not to mention that he achieves some incredible stretches of cathartic beauty with them. But even with his newfound toys, he still manages to incorporate more piano on this album than any other in Genesis' catalogue, and those passages are usually even more entertaining than his synth playing - bombastic, but sounding like they deserve all their bombast.
Even with all that, though, the full emergence of Steve Hackett is what distinguishes this album the most, as this album is easily the most guitar-heavy in Genesis' catalogue, and given my attitude of "more Hackett is better Hackett," that's so much the better. With very few exceptions, he is ALWAYS playing a major role in the sound, whether it be an incredibly intelligent solo or just plain old solid riffing.
And finally, we have Gabriel reaching the absolute pinnacle of his "medieval British herald" shtick - only 3 of the songs have lyrics by him (well, 4 if you count the closing reprise Aisle of Plenty, which brings back the best parts of the opening track), but as far as his mix of bombast, incredibly British humor and unfettered whackiness go, those three songs are certainly among his peaks. Not to mention that he takes full advantage of the chance to play up to them with his singing - if you thought he was taking on some strange roles and offering weird interpretations before, well, you'd be right, but somehow he managed to outdo even himself.
Another thing that strikes me about the album in general is that, as bombastic as it may be in most cases, it also does an incredible job of deflating itself at the proper intervals so that you never feel overwhelmed by the album. I mean, examine the track order by genre - prog, pop, prog, pop, prog, soothing instrumental, prog, reprise. It's simple, really, yet utterly ingenious (not to mention that the reprise is of just the right themes so that you truly feel complete at album's end).
Ok, NOW for the specific songs. In case you aren't aware of it, the opening Dancing with the Moonlit Knight is probably Genesis' finest song ever, as the lyrics and music mix in such a way that is incredible even for this group. Gabriel probably puts forth his best singing effort yet, and he even gets the chance to sing a capella at the very beginning as he begins the process of magically transporting you back to the England that never was. But other instruments are slowly added, layer upon layer - some keys here, a light touch of acoustic guitar, as we build to the bombastic "the captain leads his dance right on through the night" passage before he launches us into a fabulous instrumental break with the cry "knights of the green shield stamp and shout!" And oh what a passage it is, filled with speedy solos and triumphant calls from Steve's guitar, eventually leading to Tony's mellotron imitating a heavenly choir as Peter begins his "There's a fat old lady outside the saloon" spiel.
Eventually, the sung passages come to an end, and this time, the instrumental parts are driven forward by an utterly brilliant combination of dissonant pounding from Tony and weird tones coming from Steve's guitar that sound like synths the first 20 times you hear them (only seeing live footage of the band doing the song is enough to confirm it otherwise), before it gradually slows down into a peaceful section with Mike playing 4 notes on his acoustic again and again. Tony plays a beautiful sequence of chords while Steve plays his own ambient selection and Peter throws in some lines on the flute, and it fades out nothing like it began, but seeming all the better for it.
And, of course, it is then followed by one of the greatest pop songs of all time, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), about a crossdresser who mows lawns for a living. The lyrics are insane yet memorable, the melody is incredibly complex yet catchy, and there are even lawnmower imitations on the bass guitar. But what amazes me most of all, though, is the drumming. It's not even that the part is necessarily very complex - it's that TONE that Phil pulls out of thin air. Never ever ever have I heard a song where the drums sound even remotely like that - how did he DO THAT??!! Inquiring minds want to know, so impart thy knowledge please. (PS: A year later, I've finally figured out that that the coolest parts of the drumming are actually Mike making that upwards *DOY* noise off of Phil's strike. I feel like an idiot for not figuring that out earlier, but whatever.)
Now, what comes next, the epic Firth of Fifth, is a whee bit controversial for me. You see, from a purely musical perspective, I could have easily dubbed this song as Genesis' best ever, and thus the best on the album. Unfortunately, Tony writes the lyrics here, and they're some of his worst to date. Not enough to hurt the album as a whole, of course, but enough to remove a whee bit of shine that the song would otherwise have. No matter, though. As far as melody, arrangements, and especially structure go, it is practically the PERFECT progressive composition. Tony's opening piano line is incredible both in its beauty and its difficulty, the main melody is terrific, and then we have the mid-section. Oh boy, DO we have the mid-section. Peter contributes a pretty flute passage, in comes a relaxing piano section, then a bouncy synth reprise of the opening piano line, and to top it all off, Steve comes in and plays his best known solo. It's not fast at all, but that doesn't hurt it in the least - it's a slow, winding, meticulous passage, with repeated climaxes building up the piece until it all releases itself and the main melody shows up again, followed by a wonderful piano fadeout. Can you say "symmetry" boys and girls? I knew you could.
The next track is probably the biggest surprise of all, actually. More Fool Me is a Collins song (both in composition and singing), but the scary thing is that not only does it not suck, it is an incredibly pretty acoustic-driven ballad. The melody is distinct and memorable, the lyrics aren't too saccharine, and it's pretty much the perfect way to catch your breath after the bombast of Firth of Fifth. In other words, lay off of it people - even Phil could write a good song on occasion.
Side two rolls around, and we get Peter's fictional take on a gang battle in the 12 minute The Battle of Epping Forest. As far as Peter the "psychotic theatrical weirdo" goes, this piece was never topped by Gabriel, as Gabriel pulls out a legion of gangster voices (especially funny is hearing him go, "I'm breaking the legs of the bastard that got me framed!"). And musically, it's fabulous, and honestly never seems overlong to my ears. Tony and Steve are each playing interesting riffs in counterpoint to each other, and Tony comes up with a REALLY good idea with his little trick after each "here comes the cavalry" line, as he makes it easy to see a bunch of 'reinforcments' storming in on horseback to help out.
And don't forget the mid-section, the hilarious nonsensical tale of a reverend who is forced to become a karmamechanic! If you thought there were lots of funny voices in the rest of the song, this passage will absolutely astound you, not to mention that the lyrics are the absolutely whackiest that Gabriel would ever come up with.
Following Forest is a nice instrumental called, appropriately, After The Ordeal. Tony's piano parts in the first half are grand and gorgeous, while the second half relies mostly on various Hackett passages of his usual quality. Overall, while not spectacular by any means, it's still a fully acceptable and even beautiful inclusion onto the album (although I swear that I can hear some quotes of Can-Utility and the Coastliners on there ...). But no matter, because Cinema Show is up as the grand finale. Now don't get me wrong, I don't disagree with those who point out that the opening passage is just a whee bit too similar to the opening of Supper's Ready (in fact, when the band reaches the "na na na na" parts in the middle, it's all I can do to not start singing "I know a farmer who looks after the farm ..."). The lyrics also come from Mike and Tony, so they can't help but be slightly inferior (though the idea of incorporating Romeo and Juliet rather than two incognitos came from Peter). Still, the melody is quite beautiful, and the beauty is sufficient to save the main part of the song on its own.
But that's not the part that everybody adores, now is it? No, it's the lengthy conclusion to the song, which doesn't seem quite right as an end to the song as an individual track, but is DEFINITELY the perfect ending climax for the album as a whole. For the longest time, I was convinced that it was a duet between Tony and Steve, as several of the notes sounded as if they were *plucked* rather than just pressed, but further information has proved me wrong about that. No matter - all that means is that the final stretch of the album is easily Tony Banks' finest moment with the band. EVERYTHING about these keyboard solos exudes a beauty from deep inside - the main theme is incredible, the tones are lovely, the counterpoint near the end is astounding, and, well, I can't begin to express what a well-placed mellotron part does for me. And then the keys slowly fade into the background, as the acoustic line from Moonlit Knight rears its head again, before we say goodbye via Aisle of Plenty.
I don't what else I can say. In writing this, I expended energy and time that probably should have been better used back in 2001 in studying for my Advanced Calculus final, or my Investment Analysis final, or cramming my brain full of 20th Century Russian history and literature (menya zovoot "Reniassance Man"!). But I don't care. This album deserves my best, and while it may take a while to understand why (again, I was mostly unimpressed when I first heard this), you will someday understand as well.

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight / I Know What I Like / Firth Of Fifth / More Fool Me / The Battle Of Epping Forest / After The Ordeal / The Cinema Show / Aisle Of Plenty

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  Genesis - Foxtrot
Posted by: IanWhann - 03-15-2019, 11:00 AM - Forum: Prog Rock Albums List - No Replies

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

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