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Old 12-04-2021, 12:31 PM   #44 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Survival of the band may have been in his thoughts but survival of a different kind was on Phil Collins's mind as they toured the ... And Then There Were Three...” album, with his wife threatening to leave him and moving to Vancouver with his children. Worried that he was sacrificing his marriage for his career, Collins requested that the band take a hiatus, which they did, Banks and Rutherford both recording their first solo albums, and in Autumn of 1979 they reconvened. Collins had failed to save his marriage, leading to his also releasing his first solo album, a very mostly downbeat affair that nevertheless blasted him personally into the charts without Genesis, and the band began to work on their tenth album.

Duke (1980)

I have always considered this to be a concept album, but I see now that certain songs were in fact part of a thirty-minute suite, but were broken up and distributed around the playing order of the album. Nevertheless, it still kind of works, as the story of one man's attempt to balance his relationship with his career (obviously reflecting the recent travails of the frontman) and it gave rise to some of Genesis's biggest hit singles. It also gave them their first ever number one album on this side of the water, while in the US it also hit their highest position, number eleven.

We open on “Behind the Lines”, with powerful drums and piano, and a skittering synth run that continues for about two minutes before Collins comes in with the vocal. It's an interesting point that he also did a version of this on Face Value, his debut solo album, but it was much more jazzed up. It also had a much shorter introduction. To me, the lyrical idea has similarities with a-ha's blockbuster "Take On Me", with someone finding themselves inside a book (behind the lines) and then having to escape or be ejected from it. It's pretty weird, but it's a nice uptempo song to start off and it segues beautifully into “Duchess”, as "The Duke Suite" begins, Collins employing a drum machine for the first time ever. It's the tale of an old singer who has been unable to move with the times and finds that her audience has grown bored with her. The two contrasting lines show this: ”All she had to do was step into the light/ For everyone to start to roar” later becomes ”Soon every time she stepped into the light/ They really let her know the score.”

The drum machine really makes the song though, with a ticking, pulsing little beat that just drips through the melody, for once taking the spotlight off really any of the musicians, although Banks lays down some gorgeous piano throughout. It's another one with a long instrumental introduction, running for again two minutes plus, drum machine and piano building up to a big explosive drumroll as the vocal comes in, and it fades out on a beautiful little piano into “Guide Vocal”, a short piano and strings synth piece which then powers into the first kind of generic rock song, “Man of Our Times”. As it's the first solo effort by Rutherford, it's not surprising that it runs on a jangly guitar riff, though Banks sprinkles some really nice keyboards through it also. Again, I have no real idea what he's trying to say in the lyric though. It's certainly catchy. Not as much as the next one though, which went on to be one of their singles.

“Misunderstanding” is carried on a heavy, bombastic drumbeat and is one of Collins's solo efforts (they each write two tracks solo, while the other five are group compositions) and a bouncy rhythm, easy to see why it did so well. A love song that's not a love song, with a scent of betrayal and two-timing in it, it has a certain humour about it. You can see how Genesis's songwriting, or I should say commercial songwriting or maybe even pop songwriting abilities are developing here, as just about every track has a real hook and is very memorable. I don't think there's one track on this album that I don't like, and many that I love. “Heathaze” is a sublime little eco-ballad, warning of the dangers of pollution and driven, not surprisingly as it's his second solo contribution to the album, on Bank's forlorn piano. Collins sings ”We shall lose our wonder/ And find nothing in return.” Bleak sentiments in such a lush and beautiful song.

Nothing bleak about “Turn it On Again”, which everyone probably knows, it having been a big hit single for the band. With its chunky, choppy guitar intro and pulsing, thrumming and slightly syncopated drums, it stands out as having the most potential for a single, as it did, although it began life apparently as a short bridging song within “The Duke Suite”. ”I can show you” sings Phil, ”Some of the people in my life”, which must have been a godsend line for onstage. Another ballad then in “Alone Tonight”, which is the second Rutherford solo contribution, and is a really nice and heartfelt song, with some very soulful singing from Collins, for whom its sentiments probably touch a raw nerve at this point, but I prefer the final Banks number, the superb “Cul-de-sac”. Again, what the hell it is about I have no clue, but it seems to talk about an army of beings underground who come up to attack we on the surface. It's probably allegorical, but even if not, it's a great building melody, and the sense of panic and threat in it is almost palpable, from the moment Collins sings against innocent piano ”Wake up now/ This is the time you've waited for” to the big almost orchestral buildup to the vocal, you can get a sense of something approaching, something bad, and something that is likely to be victorious.

Great piano work and fine guitar riffs drive the song along nicely, with a really laidback little piano solo about halfway before it ramps up again, Collins's voice growing ever more manic as he sings ”Even as the end approaches/ Still they're not aware/ How can you fight a foe so deadly/ When you don't even know it's there?” Big powerful guitar and keys finish with a fine flourish from Rutherford, and we're into the last of the ballads, and indeed the last solo-penned number, this being Phil Collins's “Please Don't Ask”, the touching story of a husband and wife who meet after being separated, and trying to be civil while avoiding the temptation to say ”Maybe we could try/ Maybe it would work this time”. Banks does a simple but sublime job on the piano here, and the song is an exercise in basic songwriting. Great vocal harmonies, and a depressing but inevitable surrender at the end as both realise they can never be together and the husband remarks ”I miss my boy/ I hope he's good as gold.” Again, surely hitting almost too close to home for the man who wrote the song. Brave and honest.

"The Duke Suite" then comes back into play as it takes the album to its close, with “Duke's Travels” opening on swirling, susurrating synth, bringing in a galloping drumbeat and more upbeat, squeaky synth and fast riffing guitar. Essentially this and the closer are both instrumentals, though there is a reprise of a faster version of “Guide vocal” towards the end. If anything is like the “old” Genesis of the days of A Trick of the Tail, this song retains much of the progressive rock that the band had become known for and helped create, and for that reason it prevents this being a totally pop album, finishing on a strong and familiar note. As “Duke's travels” reaches its midpoint it speeds up, losing the somewhat whimsical turn of melody and becomes harder, more dramatic and powerful in the runup to the reprise of “Guide Vocal”. “Duke's End” is a short coda then to this, providing a fast rerun of “Behind the Lines”, to bring the album full circle and end very strongly indeed.

TRACK LISTING

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

In many ways, this is the final gasp, if you like, of the progressive rock band we had come to know and love. Sure, there are pop songs on it and they became hits, but the “Duke Suite” alone allows it its prog credentials. You can see though, that from this point (in fact, from the previous album) the guys were leaning in a more commercial direction, cutting shorter songs about more down to earth and relatable subjects. I suppose you couldn't blame them: they'd had their first really big hit with “Follow You Follow Me” and surely they liked the extra attention to them it engendered, to say nothing of the financial advantages of having a top ten single and a top three album. They probably figured progressive rock was by now something of a dinosaur, with some of the bigger bands breaking up, punk feeding on their entrails, and others diversifying and updating their sound. Peter Gabriel had said, before his departure, of the recording of The Lamb that “I didn't want to go down with that Titanic.” He could sense a change in the wind, before anyone else really, which shows how much of an innovator and musical entrepreneur he was, as he proved with his own remarkable solo career. Maybe his former bandmates were recalling that cryptic prophecy, and deciding it was time to launch their own lifeboats?

Sadly, it would lead to pretty much a watering down of what had made Genesis great, as, coupled with Collins's own burgeoning solo career, they would become something of a byword in later years for boredom, selling out and, most cruelly of all perhaps, a lack of adventure. For a band who had pushed the boundaries not only of music but of multimedia presentation in the early years, it was a sad comedown and a sour legacy to end up leaving behind: as Gabriel sang in “The Lamia”, Genesis were about to reap the bitter harvest of a dying bloom.

Their next album would be full-on pop, as they embraced the charts and pandered to a less select and less demanding crowd. I will always hate Abacab, because for me it marks the point at which Genesis really just bent over and took it, and left behind pretty much all of the influences that had made them what they were. With this next album, they were knocking on the door of the Cool Kids Club, which they had always avoided, and asking to be let in. Two years later they came back with what should have been, and sounded like it might be, the album that would save them.

It wasn't.

Rating: 9.7/10
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