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Old 01-13-2022, 07:29 PM   #47 (permalink)
Trollheart
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Despite what I said earlier, it cannot be disputed that though Foxtrot got Genesis their first proper album chart placing, the next album yielded them their first ever hit single, and also capitalised on the success of the previous album and their growing fanbase to push this album to the number three slot, and even make inroads in the hard-to-crack American market. Nevertheless, as they were being dogged in the music press by accusations of trying to sell out to the US, Genesis made sure that the album retained a very quintessentially English feel, and it is one of their first political works, attacking the hierarchy, railing at poverty and inequality, and asking that question so many people were asking, and would for some time ask: what happened to this green and pleasant land? The influence of American culture, seen as beating down traditional English values, is a recurring theme throughout the album, and helps to lend it its title.

Selling England by the Pound (1973)

With regard to this album, I'm reminded of Tom Baker's excellent turn as Captain Redbeard Rum in the TV series Blackadder II, when Edmund Blackadder observes "I was of the view, Captain, that it was common practice to have a crew aboard a ship." Rum fixes him with Baker's almost maniacal stare and retorts “Opinion is divided on the subject”. Blackadder, who responds with an arched eyebrow and a quizzical “Is it?” receives the answer “Yes. All the other captains say it is, I say it isn't!” Which is kind of how I am with this album: almost everyone I've spoken to, read of or known who is into Genesis considers this their finest album, but for me, while I do like it, I much prefer some of the later offerings, and feel this has very much its weak points, so cannot, in my mind, stand as, as some would have it, the perfect Genesis album.

While Trespass opens almost on Peter Gabriel's solo vocal, this one really does, with him singing a whole line before the music comes in, Hackett's twelve-string frolicking along in a very middle ages style as Gabriel asks ”Can you tell me where my country lies?” and almost immediately references the album title when he remarks ”It seems he's drowned/ Selling England by the pound.” In the second verse Banks comes in strongly with the piano, then after a little lilting guitar the percussion pounds in, and Rutherford joins the tune as the intensity powers up and “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” gets going properly. A choral vocal, achieved through use of the ARP Pro Soloist, which Banks would rely on quite a lot, flute and oboe with trumpets and a military style drum gives way to a hard rock guitar as Gabriel unleashes one of his many puns (one already being in the title) as he sings ”Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout!” This reference will only be got by those of my age, but suffice to say that Green Shield stamps were trading stamps given away at petrol stations, and the more you collected the better prizes you could buy with them.

Banks's Pro Soloist sets up the full choral vocal as the song reaches its midpoint, everything slowing down in pace before it launches off into the second chorus. The song ends then on a soft fading twelve-string guitar, almost like a clock ticking, and into what would become their first hit single. With the sound of buzzing bees, birds and the hum of a lawnmower, Gabriel mutters "It's one o'clock/ And time for lunch/ When the sun beats down/ And I lie on the bench/ I can always hear them talk” and we're into “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”. Hmm, Sounds like confessions of a crossdresser purloining his sister's clothes to me!

It's not hard to see why it became a hit, with its shades of the Beatles, easy melody and the superb hook in the chorus, and the lyric, while a little obscure, is at least earthier than previous attempts. Basically it seems to concern a lazy gardener who is happy mowing lawns and doesn't want to get a job, something that would probably resonate with a lot of the hippies and dropouts who would have been grooving to this.

It did however show the world for the first time that, as well as tricky, intricate compositions that could take up whole sides of albums, this band could write an accessible, catchy hit song. People who had no idea who they were suddenly found themselves dancing to this song. It also became a massive favourite onstage later. Some fine flute from Gabriel adds to the whimsical nature of the song, but then it's back to the serious business with “Firth of Fifth” (those puns just keep coming, don't they?) introduced on a glorious piano solo from Banks, who wrote most of the song himself. It's one of the longer songs on the album, at just over nine and a half minutes, with the first minute taken up by Banks's solo performance. It gets heavier then as the vocal begins, slowing down with a stately and even ominous feel and the lyric ... well, I have no idea what it's about. Something to do with a town flooding? Neptune is mentioned, so it might again be a mythological thing, or an allegory. Or god knows what.

In the third minute Banks comes back with the piano and takes over again for an instrumental piece that runs for five minutes and is attended by some haunting flute from Gabriel, a lovely pastoral piece that soon ramps up as it heads into the fifth minute with trumpeting keys and Collins breaking out the drumkit to carry it along to its sixth minute, where some really nice guitar from Hackett changes the melody slightly, and fools you into thinking that it's ending. But there are yet three minutes to go, and the guitar solos and riffs alongside the keys, taking the piece almost to its triumphant conclusion. Gabriel returns for one last verse in the final minute, and it ends on shimmering piano. Essentially, “Firth of Fifth” is an instrumental with some vocals not quite tacked on, but you can see how it would have worked as a complete instrumental.

This takes us into only the second time Phil Collins has sung on a Genesis album during the Gabriel era. “More Fool Me” is nothing more than a simple ballad, which would be revisited in “Many Too Many” six years later, when he was at the helm and Genesis were releasing their eighth album. Collins sings in a very low and yet falsetto voice, accompanied by Hackett on the guitar and a duet with Gabriel in the chorus; it's a nice little song and something of a novelty, and has a good enough hook in the chorus, but it ends rather too abruptly for me. Mind you, I'd hear it a thousand times rather than endure the next two tracks. This is, for me, where the album takes a serious dip in quality. I've always hated “The Battle of Epping Forest.” I hated it when I first heard it, and I hate it now as I review this album. I always will hate it. It's the most un-Genesis song I've ever heard, with its tale of rival criminal gangs in the East End, and while it's entertaining enough thanks to the humour running through it - ”Liquid Len with his smashed bottle men/ Is lobbing Bob the Nob across the gob” - and starts well with a marching flute melody, it quickly degenerates into something that should not be on any Genesis album, in my opinion.

It's fast and uptempo, it's rock and roll and it has some decent solos and passages, but it's way too long at almost twelve fucking minutes! I know Gabriel was intrigued with the gang wars in London, but being intrigued with something does not necessarily mean that you include it on your album. This song has polarised Genesis fans, and is I believe one of the arguments against this being the classic Genesis album. It's strained, laboured and just completely self-indulgent. I find it hard to really pick out anything good about it. It's another of those character songs, with colourful characters like Liquid Len, Jones the Jug and The Bethnal Green Butcher, but it's nowhere as clever for my money as “Harold the Barrel” or “Get 'em Out By Friday”. It eventually lurches to a close, and the rather appropriately titled “After the Ordeal” is then an instrumental which runs for a mere four minutes, and while I don't like it because of its links to the previous song, it's a whole lot better, driven as it is on piano and guitar and without any annoying lyrics.

The album could have fallen apart here, but luckily it's saved by one more epic, which would again become a favourite live. “Cinema Show” is another of the tracks here that really serves as a long instrumental with some verses thrown in, and it too runs for eleven minutes. Unlike “The Battle of Epping Forest” though, it has a lot to recommend it, though what it's about, well again your guess is as good as mine. It opens on a harpsichordical piano, twelve-string and then flows along slowly as Gabriel sings about Romeo and Juliet, the percussion only coming in after the second verse as the chorus (such as it is) hits. More mythology as he sings about Tiresias, who apparently lived as a man and a woman, and the music runs on rippling piano and a rising guitar line. However, as mentioned, the vocal only really runs for the first four minutes, then it develops into a pretty special instrumental, recalling some of the guitar work from “Supper's Ready” before the whole thing kicks into life and takes on a life of its own. Mostly, it must be said, on Banks's trumpeting keyboards, with some fine drumming from Collins and then in the seventh minute what becomes the signature of the piece comes through, a lovely wandering keyboard run that is quickly joined by the vocal chorus from the ARP Pro Soloist and really adds gravitas to the tune. A great strumming guitar from Hackett and some thick, almost funky bass from Rutherford and the keyboard bubbles all the way to the end, fading right down as it segues into the closer.

Bookending the album perfectly, “Aisle of Plenty” looks into the rise of consumerism and what it means for the English shopkeeper and shopper, and uses many puns on supermarket names in the lyric, such as “Fine Fare discount”, “Tess co-operates” and “the safe way home”. It also uses a reprise of the opening lines and melody from “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight”. The Pro Soloist then runs the show for the closing part, slowly and grandly marching along as Gabriel rattles off various “special offers” to fade.

TRACK LISTING

Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Ordeal
Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty

If this were truly the quintessential Genesis album, I would expect it to be near perfect, and it's not, far from it. As I said, the overly bloated and so-comical-it's-tragic “Battle of Epping Forest” puts a large blot on what is overall a very decent album, which opens and closes well, but even at that, the better songs on this album survive on their instrumental merit rather than their lyrical, which is at this point unusual for Genesis, who are known for writing deep, thoughtful and meaningful lyrics. The sparsity of the lyric in “Cinema Show” and “Firth of Fifth” really makes the opener the only one that has really good lyrics, and while the closer is clever it's too short to really qualify as any sort of saviour, if one were needed, of the album.

When playing this, which I rarely do, there are then certain points at which I skip over. “More Fool Me” doesn't particularly interest me, and I've made my feelings about the other track clear. “Aisle of Plenty” is great but really only works within the context of the album and so is not a track you take for, say, a compilation or playlist. I've heard “I Know What I Like” so much now that it doesn't really do anything for me any more, but even allowing that in, that leaves half the album I don't care for. I don't call that classic, not by any means.

But they're just my observations. As already mentioned, this got Genesis to number three in the album charts and number twenty-one with the single, so it was certainly a giant leap for them commercially. Unfortunately, rather than capitalise on that popularity, the next year they released a baffling double concept album, the aftermath of which, as we have seen, would lead to the biggest seismic shift in the band as one of the founder members decided to sever the ties and part company with the rest of Genesis.

Rating: 8.2/10 (yeah go on and sue me. The average settlement is ten thousand dollars...)
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