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Old 10-20-2021, 01:03 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Abacab (1981)

Ah yes, the album that almost did for me with Genesis! After the sublime Duke, this was one hell of a bitter pill to swallow, and it's got Phil Collins' muddy handprints all over it. A huge shift of direction for Genesis, you can pinpoint this as the moment they stopped being a progressive rock - or even a rock - band, and succumbed entirely to pop and bland songs. I'm afraid that even forty years later I still have very little good to say about it. I hated it when it came out, and I only bought it because I'm a huge Genesis fan, but it grated on me. I played it through a few times, but never felt the urge to do so for pleasure; I just wanted to see if it got any better than the title track and lead single. It really doesn't.

Well, that's not quite fair. There are a few good tracks on it. Well, no, not really. Let's say there are a few that are not as bad as the general low quality of music on the album, but there are probably about two songs I would listen to again, if I had to. Although the decision to change their style so radically was, according to Mike Rutherford, a group one, you can't help but feel that Phil had a huge input into what they eventually released: so much of Abacab is similar to the sort of pop pap he peddled, and continues to peddle, on his solo albums.

It opens with the title track, and this was for me where it all began to go wrong. Okay, it has its prog moments, but generally this is driven by a very pop melody: it's fast, it's stripped-down, it's commercial. It's not the Genesis I had grown up with and loved. This was all right for the charts, but I don't want a full album of this! Sadly, I got my wish, but sort of would have preferred not to have. Far from all being songs like the title, much of the tracks on Abacab are far worse, many so bad in fact that they make the opener sound great, and that can't be good. I mean, the song doesn't even make any sense! ”When you wake in the morning/ Wake and find you're covered in cellophane/ There's a hole in there somewhere...” What?

People say that Duke showcased a new Genesis, a move away from the longer, progressive compositions of their previous years, but I don't agree: I still think that was a great prog rock album, and while it may have yielded some of their bigger hit singles, I would not have ever considered it a pop album. After all, ...And Then There Were Three gave them their biggest hit ever, “Follow you follow me”, and no-one would accuse them of being pop on that album! But this is definitely pop. “No Reply At All” is a pure pop tune, which cosys up rather unsettlingly to Collins' “I Missed Again”. The addition of the horn section from Earth, Wind and Fire just, for me, pulls Genesis further off their usual course and takes them into territory which would be successfully trod by their frontman for the next few years, but which never suited his band.

Things pick up a little in terms of song quality then for “Me and Sarah Jane”, one standout on an album which has few. Not surprisingly, it's helped achieve this status by being a song solely composed by Tony Banks, without any interference from Phil “I-have-a-solo-career-now” Collins, who seemed to think his direction for the band was the only one. Banks does his best to pull the ship hard-a-port and back towards their progressive roots with an atmospheric, tense and dramatic song which recalls the best of Duke, with soft percussion and breathy organ, the typical kind of Genesis lyric we've become used to, and expect, with some very nice understated guitar from Mike Rutherford. It's also one of the longer songs on the album, at six minutes exactly. Even the slightly reggae rhythm doesn't overshadow the power or melody of this song.

There's even a synthy midsection that reminds me of “Eleventh Earl of Mar” from Wind and Wuthering, and for six minutes you can start to really believe that the first two tracks were just aberrations, that you may have to skip over them next time you spin the album, but that now at last Abacab is back on track, and all is well with the world. Unfortunately, that's far from the case, as “Keep It Dark” amply demonstrates, with its annoying squeaky synth (oh, Tony! How could you?) and although there's a rocky guitar line held by Rutherford, it's a pretty weak song which tries to tell a song of alien abduction but ends up getting a little lost along the way. It does inject a little of that old Genesis synth and keyboard sound, but when it reaches the chorus, which is disappointingly flat.

Ah, let's be honest: it's not the worst track on the album (that's yet to come!) and I do have a sneaking place in my heart for the two-part “Dodo/Lurker”, which between them make up the longest track on the album at seven and a half minutes. Starting off with powerful synth and guitar, the song soon settles into a decent groove, Banks' keys again a little light and bubbly for my tastes, but not too annoying. Rutherford keeps the hard guitar line he's famous for while Collins sings about, well, the dodo. Actually, the song seems to be about man hunting creatures to extinction for profit. I think. Again, there's a reggae beat to at least the first part of the song, “Dodo”, exacerbated by Collins' infuriating attempts at singing in that vein, but Banks and Collins pull the song back on track, then “Lurker”, the second part, becomes a proper prog-rock monster, Banks' warbling keys working here where before they seemed so out of place, then replaced with heavy synth, sharp guitar from Rutherford holding the line.

But that's it. We're now into the worst track on the album, and the worst Genesis song ever. The truly awful “Whodunnit” sounds like someone trying - unsuccessfully - to write their first song. It's really pathetic. Talk about simple. Big blasting drums and sliding bass under Collins' “inspired” lyric - ”Was it you, or was it me/ Was it he or was it she?” and the equally annoying chorus, if it can be called such, consisting of the words ”We know” repeated, then back to the verse, another chorus and then the drums crash into the ending, the whole thing falling away in a fading drop of pitch-bend as if even it has given up. I really can't say how much I hate this song: at three minutes twenty-three seconds it's exactly three minutes twenty-three seconds too long. Awful, just awful. How could one of my favourite bands have unleased this tripe on us?

It gets a little better, though not that much. “Man On the Corner” is a nice little ballad, reprising the opening from “Me and Sarah Jane” and with some really emotional keyboards from Banks, but it owes a lot of its melody structure to the likes of “In the Air Tonight” and “This Must Be Love”, so I see it as more a Phil Collins solo song than a Genesis one, while “Like It Or Not”, the only Mike Rutherford solo effort on the album, is another ballad, and indeed another standout, with its lovely drum roll opening, soft synths and Collins' vocal wistful and yearning, a great hook with a lovely fadeout ending. Why couldn't they have written more songs like this? It's almost out of place on this album.

The closer is total filler. If only they'd finished on “Like It Or Mot”, I could possibly have felt a little better about this album, but “Another Record”, although it starts off with promising synth and piano melody, turns out to be just totally forgettable, and like much of the album it fades out at the end, and the only really positive thing I can say about it is that it brings this stain on Genesis' long career to an end.

Thankfully, the next album, which they just titled Genesis, almost as if they were going back to basics, was far better (wouldn't be hard) and slid back towards the progressive rock they had built their career on, but the pop idea was never going to go away, and there are one or two on that album, which then led to Invisible Touch and then general decline for Genesis as a prog-rock band. Following the excellent We Can't Dance, the end was in sight, and there really was no way back.

TRACK LISTING

1. Abacab
2. No Reply At All
3. Me and Sarah Jane
4. Keep it Dark
5. Dodo/Lurker
6. Whodunnit?
7. Man On the Corner
8. Like It Or Not
9. Another Record

Rating: 5.0/10
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Old 10-20-2021, 01:15 PM   #22 (permalink)
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There are two tracks on Abacab that I quite like: the title track, and "Like It or Not". "Me and Sarah Jane" is not too bad. The rest? I can quite happily live without them.

I dislike "No Reply At All" almost as much a I dislike "Whodunnit?", though to be fair this is not intrinsically bad in itself, it's more that the sound is totally at odds with even the rest of this album, let alone the rest of Genesis' catalogue to that point. Those horns, mimicking the line that has just been sung - Urrgh. Maybe on second thoughts I DO think it's bad. Still it wouldn't be that bad on a Phil Collins album.

Annoyingly, "Abacab", which is probably my favourite (or least unfavourite) on the album, mainly for its musical groove and definitely not the lyrics, fades out just as it sounds as though some really interesting modulation is about to occur. This is one occasion where I think a bit of a jam would have improved the song, and thereby the album.

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Old 10-20-2021, 02:37 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Yeah I'm with you there. If he notices it, expect a stout and vigorous defence of this album by Neapolitan; we've had knock-down rows over it. I swear, when I first heard this, as it says in the first sentence, I almost gave Genesis up as a bad job. I could not believe how trite and poppy it sounded. In fact, the stage was set before I heard the album as the single, and title track, was on the radio, and I could not believe when the DJ said that's the new single from Genesis. You know, now I think about it, he might even have said the new single from Phil Collins, which would not have surprised me.

I don't hate the album, but I never listen to it and it's right down there at the bottom of the pile with the debut. Even Calling All Stations gets more love than Abacab does from me (though that isn't much - there's not a hell of a lot between the two albums). I can acknowledge the quality of maybe four tracks, as I say above, but for the rest, Phil can just go shove his horns and his samba rhythms and his written-out-on-the-toilet lyrics right back where they came from.
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Old 10-20-2021, 04:00 PM   #24 (permalink)
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^^ The saying "different strokes" applies in so many situations, especially on music fora.

I've had many - shall we say "animated discussions" - about ...And Then There Were Three, an album on which I seem to hold a minority opinion, but I've learned to shrug my shoulders and respect the other person's opinion as long as they respect mine. I'm sure we'll get to discussion of that album in due course.
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Old 10-20-2021, 07:36 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Absolutely. I respect Nea's right to like/love that album, it's just he doesn't seem to be prepared to afford me the same respect. We have blazing rows about it, and he even brings it up in snide comments on subjects to which it isn't related, eg "Trollheart can't even appreciate Abacab so what does he know" kind of thing. It's boring, but also annoying, which is why I tend not to rise to him these days.

We will of course get to ATTW3 but next I'm heading back in time to a seventies classic, so don't hold yer breath...
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Old 10-21-2021, 12:52 AM   #26 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
Absolutely. I respect Nea's right to like/love that album, it's just he doesn't seem to be prepared to afford me the same respect. We have blazing rows about it, and he even brings it up in snide comments on subjects to which it isn't related, eg "Trollheart can't even appreciate Abacab so what does he know" kind of thing. It's boring, but also annoying, which is why I tend not to rise to him these days.

We will of course get to ATTW3 but next I'm heading back in time to a seventies classic, so don't hold yer breath...
ATTW3 WAS a seventies classic!
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Old 10-21-2021, 06:21 AM   #27 (permalink)
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The very end of the 70s. I'm talking some guy called Gabriel Peter or something like that... not sure he worked out but they gave him a shot.
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Old 10-23-2021, 10:47 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Currently listening to A Curious Feeling. I think "The Lie" is my second favourite, thought most of the fans seem to prefer its sequel, "After the Lie". I particularly like the abrupt change of tempo in the middle section.
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Old 10-26-2021, 10:42 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Having been, it is said, discovered by impresario (and later child molester) Jonathan King, though used by him to play the music he wanted them to and not the music they wanted to and were capable of, Genesis and he parted company after their first, far from wildly successful album. The band were now free to explore the more creative side of their music, without worrying about someone trying to direct them towards hit singles. The last album to feature guitarist Anthony Phillips, you could say he lost out on a chance at fame and fortune, but Phillips found that he suffered from chronic stagefright, and once Genesis became well known and began to gig properly that would have been a major problem. You can't have one member of the band who refuses to appear onstage, can you? So after this album he made the decision to leave, and admits himself he never regretted it, nor had any real choice in the matter at the time.

Nevertheless, with or without him, this album - which most fans see as Genesis's first real album - would be the one that would begin to define and shape their sound and their musical identity, and lead to them spearheading the progressive rock movement of the seventies, and eventually becoming household names, despite having really only a small number of hit singles in their now over forty years together. This album would be something of a barometer as to what a progressive rock album could be, following in the footsteps of the likes of Procol Harum and Van Der Graaf Generator, and would set them on a road that, while far from being an easy one to stardom, would elevate them into the highest echelons of music and inspire generations of musicians for decades to come.

Trespass (1970)

Beginning a relationship that would last for pretty much all of their career (the last official release on Charisma was 1986's Invisible Touch, though future recordings, made on the Virgin label, can still in effect be said to have been on Charisma, as Branson's monster absorbed the smaller label in 1983) and make a success of what was then a struggling minor label (Tony Stratton-Smith used to manage bands in his spare time, when he was not writing sports articles in his job as journalist), only in existence two years but fated to become inextricably linked with not only Genesis, but progressive rock bands, Trespass is really the dawning of what would become known as the Gabriel era, which would last up until 1975, when he would leave the band to pursue a solo career.

Although every musician on the album deserves credit, the first thing you hear when the needle hits the vinyl (yeah, yeah!) is the plaintive voice of Peter Gabriel as he declares he is “Looking for Someone”, the title indeed of the opening track. Next Tony Banks's soft synth lines smooth in before percussion cuts in and Anthony Phillips's guitar comes into the mix too, filling out what had been a rather hollow, lonely sound. You can already see here how Gabriel is able to switch from a fairly gentle vocal to a more animated, almost manic one at times, as he does in the first verse here. Certain publications, including of course Wiki, have labelled this as pastoral music, and yes, some of it most certainly is. But it would be a mistake to think there are no more intense, faster, punchy moments on the album. Tracks like “The Knife” (which closes the album, and is anything but pastoral), “Visions of Angels” and parts of “White Mountain” all speak to a band more than ready to rock out when the occasion, or the song, demands it. To think of this as a folk album or something would be wildly inaccurate and well short of the mark. There are many folk-tinged passages on it, to be sure, but it is so much more than that. Before our eyes, a whole new way of crafting songs is coming into being.

Not that I'm suggesting that Genesis began progressive rock or anything, but up to the release of this album the only thing comparable in sound would have been the likes of The Moody Blues and to some extent Van der Graaf Generator, though the latter tended to have a harder, more jazzy edge to their music. Procol Harum were tinkering with such ideas too, but Genesis seem to have been the first band to really explore this idea of, for the want of another phrase, “English countryside music” and marry it to harder, rockier sections, often in the same song. Yes had released their debut album the previous year, but even that was more symphonic than what Genesis were doing. Genesis would have many imitators, some of whom would carry on into the twenty-first century with the likes of Big Big Train and Gazpacho using their template - often a little too closely - but few if any would ever approach their unique style over the years.

Other, non-standard instruments are used on this album too. Not for the first time ever do we hear flutes and accordions - Zappa, Tull, The Moodies, all of these and probably more had used them by this point - but I feel Genesis tend to blend them better into their compositions here. Also one of the first bands to bring keyboards to the fore (The Nice had of course led the way under Keith Emerson, and later with ELP, and Yes would also champion the keyboard), an instrument that is now not only synonymous with but integral to any prog rock band, even now. Can you think of a prog rock outfit that doesn't use keys? Neither can I. Anyway, back to the album. We're only on track one and we have a ways to go yet.

Less than two minutes into the seven-minute opener and we have a galloping drumbeat develop as Banks fires off the Hammond organ. It slows down then for an instrumental passage, and if you're a fan you should be able to hear the embryonic “Supper's Ready” in there. In the fourth minute it kicks up again, striding into another but heavier instrumental section, driven by Banks's Hammond again with flourishes from Gabriel's flute. The guitar from Phillips comes in here pretty heavily too. I will admit that this song has never been one of my favourites on the album, and tends usually to kind of pass me by when I play it. Even now, as I review it, it's not quite engaging my attention and interest as other songs on Trespass will. A slick little guitar solo then as we near the end of the song, more flute and we end as we began on Gabriel's yearning vocal.

It's not the most powerful or, indeed, impressive of starts, but with elements of “Return of the Giant Hogweed” in its closing sections, it's a statement of intent by a new band who choose to start their “first” album off with a seven-minute song that changes more times than the Irish weather. You can't say they're not ambitious, and playing it safe has been firmly removed from the table. Going further off the reservation, so to speak, they then decide to tell the tale of treachery and betrayal in the world of the wolf, as we move into “White Mountain”, a song with not a single intrusion by a human, a beautiful acoustic guitar by Mike Rutherford taking it in, backed by soft, humming keys before Gabriel begins the tale. The song bears the title of the album, so technically it can be regarded as the title track, and it speaks of a wolf called Fang (hmm) who trespasses on the sacred ground of his people, and is pursued and killed for it.

”Outcast he trespassed where no-one may tread/ The last sacred haunt of the dead” snarls Gabriel, as the pack sets off after Fang. There's quite the role for flute here, and Banks's frenetic keys set up a great atmosphere of a chase, a hunt, helped along by new drummer John Mayhew's thunderous fusilade, but the song really rides on Rutherford's uptempo acoustic guitar, his first real chance to step out from behind Anthony Phillips and show what he can do. This song, too, is long - well, they all are: the album only has seven tracks - though slightly less so than the opener at a shade under seven minutes, and like “Looking for someone” it changes as it goes along, another hallmark of what was slowly coalescing as progressive rock. In the middle it stops to a slow, doomy march, as Fang is accused of the crime for which he stands trial, Gabriel in the character of the old wolf chieftain One-Eye loudly declaiming behind slow, almost funereal drums, which I consider a great performance from Mayhew, though he would be fired after this album ”Only the king sees the crown of the gods/ And he, the usurper must die!”

Another sprightly keyboard run is the backdrop for the fight between Fang and One-Eye, with the old wolf emerging victorious, and Gabriel's flute plays a soft, sad but victorious melody as whistling takes us out, accompanied by the humming chant that began the song. If that was characterised by Phillips's and Rutherford's guitars though, “Visions of Angels” rides almost entirely on Banks's piano and keyboard lines, and I've always wondered if Gabriel used some sort of phased effect on his voice as it gets kind of, I don't know, metallic or something, a little out of phase. Banks's swirling keyboard attack mocks the hymns sung in church as Gabriel snarls ”I believe there never is an end/ God gave up this world/ Its people long ago.” This is one of my favourite early Genesis songs; I've always loved it and I always will. Choral vocals wash over the keyboard as it stabs in fury towards a heaven that may not exist, and for a band whose original album was supposed to be based on the Bible, this is very much a stepping away from that, separating themselves out from what Jonathan King wanted and declaring their own leanings, making their own way, making their own music.

This is one of the songs too where the pure anger and bitterness Gabriel can put into his voice comes through very strongly, dropped to a soft croon and then building again to that raging, impotent fury as the song winds to a close. Almost the longest track on the album at just short of nine minutes, “Stagnation” tells the tale of the last man on Earth, who retreated to a bunker deep beneath the planet, and survived, but alone. He sings of his loneliness, how he misses the things he used to take for granted, and quite possibly at the end goes mental. Phillips drives this with his smooth electric guitar lines, dancing and weaving through Gabriel's voice which, beginning soft and almost murmuring, soon changes to a more strident, insistent, accusatory and then pleading tone as the enormity of his loneliness, the totality of his being the only human left alive sinks in.

He speaks as if to someone, but there is nobody there to hear him. The song is full of long instrumental interludes, each of which leads, it would seem, to a change in the man's mental attitude and sanity. After the first verse, a frenetic Hammond solo breaks out, hammering along and carrying the tune until eventually it builds to a mad crescendo and then just... stops. As it does, Gabriel sings ”Wait” and begins the next verse, in which he speaks of going home, or wishing he could. I think he's reliving the memories of the life he used to lead. The vocal here is again almost muttered, but gaining in strength as it goes on, then he uses that phased (if it is phased) effect again as his voice acquires a distinctly weird, almost alien tinge, all of which leads up to another big explosion of guitar and keyboard, the drums leading the passage in.

”I want a drink!” Gabriel yells. ”I want a drink to take all the dust and the dirt from my throat!” Then begins a slow flute melody that is taken up by the guitar and then the keyboard, getting stronger as it grows, Banks virtually hammering the keys as the song barrels to a close with a big intense flourish. “Dusk” is again propelled on a lovely, I think, twelve-string guitar with a soft vocal from Gabriel, and some really nice vocal harmonies. Almost immediately the music takes a turn towards the ominous, then slips back into its original groove, Hammond now sighing into the mix. This by far the shortest track on the album, barely over four minutes. There's some fairly prominent flute in it and some lovely classical guitar before it heads into its closing section with another phrase that will become a signature of this band. It ends quietly, but Banks sets his seal on the end by again hitting the final piano key with some force. Shortest is followed by longest, and when I first heard this it came as something of a surprise to me.

Genesis are not, and never have been, known for hard rock numbers. They have had, in the interim, some fast pop songs, yes, and some pretty intense passages in songs, but by and large you don't think of them in terms of what you get with “The Knife”, which seems to be a song about a Hitler-like figure who whips up his followers to revolution, advising them ”I'll give you the names of/ Those you must kill/ All must die with their children/ Carry their heads to the palace of old/ Hang them on stakes/ Let the blood flow!” It is interesting - and intentional of course - that the “messiah” figure makes sure he does not get his hands dirty, warning prophetically ”Some of you are going to die/ Martyrs of course to the freedom/ That I shall provide!” This all rides along on a bouncy, ebullient Hammond line from Banks, the euphoria of the masses being set free (so they think) to strike at their masters (those who stand in the way of their self-appointed leader) perfectly captured as the song careers along.

The guitars are almost boogie blues as they follow the keyboard melody, and Gabriel is at his most manic as he leads his followers through blood and fire to victory, or so he says. In around the middle everything falls away to Rutherford's ominously pulsing bass, then crying guitar before we hear the sound of an army, police force or other symbol of authority yelling ”Fire over their heads!” and the ensuing sounds of panic as people run headlong, trying to get away from the firefight, suddenly aware that they could be killed. Despite this obvious rout, Gabriel screams ”We have won!” and the song end on another powerful, frenetic guitar solo and keyboard passage as Gabriel yells, perhaps somewhat superfluously, ”Some of you are going to die/ Martyrs of course to the freedom/ That I shall provide!” and with some final hammered keyboard chords and a flurry on the drums, the curtain comes down.

TRACK LISTING

Looking for Someone
White Mountain
Visions of Angels
Stagnation
Dusk
The Knife

From beginning to end, you can see right through this album that this is a new Genesis, the real Genesis if you will. Mike Rutherford would later characterise From Genesis to Revelation as nothing more than "a bunch of kids on their holidays", and as I said in the previous review, that's pretty much what it feels like: some young lads taking time off school to go and have a few larks bashing out some tunes. Despite what King wanted or hoped for, this at that time was not a band who were ready for the charts, and they were never going to make him big money.

This, however, was a total different proposition. The earnestness with which the band worked, the blood, sweat and tears you can hear leaking out of every song, as Gabriel struggled to get the words perfect, and indeed the songcraft in these six songs, show a band ready to stop playing around and get down to the serious business of playing music. It helped of course that the album had mostly been played in its entirety (not in one go of course, but tracks from it) live, so Genesis already had an idea what people liked, and more to the point, what they didn't like.

The strain of making and touring the album though, together with a bout of glandular fever and severe stagefright would cause Anthony Phillips to depart the band, shocking his compatriots but leaving them no choice but to audition for a replacement, which they would find in a young guitarist called Steve Hackett. Drummer John Mayhew, having failed to meet the exacting standards of the band, would be let go too, and be replaced by a lad called Collins, as what would become the classic Genesis lineup of the seventies coalesced.

Although Trespass sold a mere six thousand copies on its release, hardly world-shattering sales, the band were pleased with its reception and soon set about recording its follow up. This would contain some future classics, though decent sales would continue to elude them, as would chart success, for a time.

But then, these guys were young, and time was one thing they had in abundance.

Rating: 9.8/10
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Old 10-27-2021, 03:33 AM   #30 (permalink)
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I passed on Trespass for many years. I think I must have heard The Knife at some point (pun intended); I didn't like it on first hearing and I'm still not crazy about it, and that made it easy to assume that the band had not yet found that sound for which I loved their later works. I actually acquired the debut album before getting Trespass.

Things changed when i heard White Mountain played on one of those "Internet radio stations". The song was unfamiliar but I instantly recognised it as Genesis.

For me there are three clear standouts on the album: White Mountain, Stagnation and Dusk.
Looking For Someone is OK but seems like a song that has not quite come together yet. Visions of Angels is nice, I suppose; most bands would be pleased to have a song like this in their catalogue, but I think it's a little bland by Genesis standards.

Had I been producing the album, I think I would have sequenced it by moving The Knife to the beginning, allowing the album to finish with Dusk, which would have made a perfect closer. When I listen to the album I generally program it to play in that order.

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