|11-23-2021, 10:48 AM||#42 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Ah yes, Anthony Phillips, the “forgotten man” in the Genesis story. With them from the beginning, he played on both their debut album, From Genesis to Revelation, which was quite a long way from the prog-rock masterpieces they would later turn out, but a nice little album, and also on their first “real” album, 1970's Trespass, but then he developed a severe bout of stage fright. This is not a good thing to have in a band, and his doctor advised him he should quit the band for the sake of his health, which he did. We all know what happened to Genesis of course after that: under the guidance of Peter Gabriel they became one of the most important and influential and loved progressive rock bands of the 70s and early 80s, but after Gabriel left and Phil Collins took over they drifted more towards a commercial/pop sound, eventually losing it in 1981 when they released Abacab. They recovered slightly with the next few albums but eventually Collins himself left and the band more or less imploded under the pressure of trying to keep pace with the demands of the charts.
As for Anthony? Well, whether he recovered from his stage fright or not I don't know - though I haven't seen any evidence of him touring ever - but he certainly did not give up music. Far from it. After leaving Genesis - and worldwide fame, had he known it - behind, he released his first solo album in 1977, and has pretty much put out one a year since then. He's also guested on other albums, most notably ex-bandmate Mike Rutherford on the guitarist's first solo album, and again with ex-Genesis guitarist (but not bandmate, as he was not there at the same time) Steve Hackett's Out of the Tunnel's Mouth. In addition, he has collaborated with figures in the world of classical and soundtrack music, like Joji Hirota and Harry Williamson. In total, he's recorded, played on or assisted with over fifty albums. Not bad for a man who was too scared to get up onstage with Genesis!
After a somewhat disastrous attempt at breaking into the world of commercial, chart music in 1983, Anthony swore to concentrate on film, classical and instrumental works, and in that sphere he has been rather wildly successful. This is his latest collaboration, a partnership with composer Andrew Skeet, and it's a double album.
Seventh Heaven - Anthony Phillips and Andrew Skeet (2012)
There are thirty-five tracks to get through here, but most stay within the 2/3 minutes mark, with one or two under 2 minutes, and just the one clocking in at almost seven, so it shouldn't be too hard to get them all reviewed. It opens, rather annoying and unsettlingly for me, with an operatic vocal. I personally have no time for opera (other than rock opera): I just can't stand the high-pitched voices, and the fact that it's a story you're supposed to follow while being written - and sung - in a language foreign to me has always made it totally inaccessible to these ears. So opera is not what I want to hear as my first impression of this album. Still, like most of the tracks on this album, “Credo in Cantus” is short, just over two minutes, and the music is certainly nice. Mostly driven on violin and guitar, with some nice plinky piano played by Andrew Skeet, it's not as harsh a vocal from Lucy Crowe as I often hear in the few operatic pieces I've been subjected to, and it's a slow piece, which gives way to “A Richer Earth”, a sumptuous strings arrangement carrying the melody, which gets a little heavier and more dramatic and builds to a crescendo, very film-like, and very moving.
Some nice rolling drums, as there often are in pieces of this nature, quite little in the way of guitar I have to say, but then although he made his name as mostly a guitarist, Anthony Phillips is a multi-instrumentalist, and plays at least eight different instruments on this album, many of them guitars but also piano, bazouki, oud and fylde. It's in the next track though, “Under the Infinite Sky”, that we hear his expertise on his instrument of choice, and though there is a lot of strings backup on the piece, it's mainly taken on the guitar melody, reminiscent of Steve Hackett's “Horizons” from the just-reviewed Foxtrot. It gets a little frenetic, of sorts, halfway through, but then drops away into a heavenly, celestial strings melody that itself falls away to leave Anthony solo on the acoustic guitar to take the song to its end.
Nice harpsichordal opening to “Grand Central”, and though we're really reviewing this as an Anthony Phillips record, praise must also be given to his partner, who not only composes almost all of the album with him, but also plays the lovely piano melody on this track. Great violin attack too, taking the whole thing up a notch, then softer violin and classical guitar takes us into the lovely “Kissing Gate”, very pastoral and relaxing, evoking memories of summer days and lazy warm nights under the sky. The strings swell here too, but the main melody is carried by the guitar and the violin, while “Pasquinade” has a very Mozart feel to it, with pizzicato strings and oboe, a slow stately piece with some lovely sighing violin coming in.
There's much more lively violin on “Rain on Sag Harbour”, a very short piece, just over a minute and a half, but it bounces along nicely, then another short track and a chance for Phillips to shine on the piano in “Ice Maiden”, a beautiful little almost intermezzo on the keys, a solo piece for the composer, while lush strings carry “River of Life” alongside his gentle acoustic guitar lines, but he really breaks out the classical guitar for one of the longer tracks, almost four minutes of “Desert Passage”. Almost a solo spotlight for more than half of the song's length, it's eventually joined by percussion and flute and strings, with a definite ELO-style feel near the end, and taking on a very Arabic texture. It's followed by the second vocal piece, this time voiced by Belinda Sykes, with an ominous strings melody as “Seven Ancient Wonders” continues the eastern-styled music with more of a chant really than singing from Ms. Sykes, very effective.
This takes us into the second-shortest track on the whole album, just three seconds over a minute, with “Desert Passage Reprise” carrying on the Arabic/eastern influence and then some lovely acoustic guitar leads in “Circle of Light”, again recalling some of Phillips's best work with Genesis, particularly “Stagnation” and “Dusk”: very introspective, and again a solo performance from the composer. It takes us into “Forgotten Angels”, which seems to start on a glockenspiel melody, joined by strings and very nursery-rhyme or music-box themed, with choral vocals sounding like a flock of angels (what is the correct collective term for angels, anyway?), some lovely oboe and something that may be a harp. Very celestial, very ethereal, very relaxing.
“Courtesan” on the other hand borrows just a touch from the melody of “Speak Softly Love”, the theme to the movie The Godfather, by Nino Rota, and travels on soft acoustic guitar aided by lush strings and perhaps some mandolin: always hard to know when a full orchestra is involved. Great sense of space to this piece, evokes images of staring out to sea over a high cliff in some mediterranean locale. Strings drive “Ghosts of New York”, accompanied by some soft piano and some tenor saxophone, or possibly clarinet. There's a sense of drama, urgency, even panic about “Shipwreck of St Paul”, rising strings building the tension along with some low brass, then there's a suitably grave tempo and mood to “Cortege”, which closes the first disc. Very funereal, very stately, low bassy strings are joined halfway through by high, soaring ones, and the two meld to create perhaps hope out of despair. I must say, this reminds me of nothing more than the theme to Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire movie.
And so we come to the end of the first disc, and I feel like I've already reviewed a full album, but there are seventeen more tracks to go. And with quality like this, I'm glad it's not over yet. Disc two opens with the full instrumental version of the piece that began disc one, “Credo in Cantus”, and without the distracting vocal it's possible now to appreciate fully the nuances of the piece. It's very grand, very expansive and has a lovely violin and cello melody complemented by piano, with Andrew Skeet again behind the keyboard, reprising the role he played in the vocal version. An upbeat tune then for “Sojourn”, with happy violins and cellos, guitar adding its own special flavour courtesy of Anthony, giving the piece at times a very Genesis flavour.
Anthony is back at the keyboard though for a piano solo piece in “Speak of Remarkable Things”, another short track, just over a minute, then “Nocturne” is one of the longer pieces, just under four minutes, again recalling Hackett at his best as Anthony puts in a beautiful performance on the classical guitar, backed by some swelling strings that only complement his playing, never seeking to take from it. “Long Road Home” is another piano piece, again backed by powerful strings with some intense percussion that really helps up the drama, then gentle flute or clarinet reduces it all back down to basics again, this theme maintained for “The Golden Leaves of the Fall”, driven on quiet piano backed up by soft strings, then some cinematic style rolling percussion ups the drama level in a melody that's, to be fair, not a million miles removed from John Williams' theme from Jurassic Park. Sorry, but it's not.
There's a short guitar piano and cello piece then for “Credo”, then rolling thunder effects start off “Under the Infinite Sky (Guitar Ensemble Version)” - the parentheses being there to separate it from the version on disc one - which is, not surprisingly, a showcase for Phillips's guitar talents on the acoustic, while there's far more of a full classical, even chamber feel to “The Stuff of Dreams”, mostly led by clarinet and flute; reminds me a lot of “Neptune, the Mystic,” from Holst's The Planets Suite opus. It gets a little heavier though with that rolling drumbeat and some bassoon (?), then slips back into the lighter groove it began on, almost ethereal with some lovely full strings coming in.
That takes us to easily the longest piece on either disc, “Old Sarum Suite”, which is almost eight minutes long, and is broken up into five separate movements. As a suite, it changes and evolves as it goes, and is perhaps the most versatile of the tracks on the album, showing a breadth of experience, expertise and talent in the different moods, themes and tempos used. It seems to be concerned around some sort of battle (see track listing) but I'm not familiar with it. I'd go into it in more depth, but there are still seven tracks to go before we close, so moving on, next up is “For Eloise”, which I have to admit I thought would be an adaptation of the Beethoven classic, but seems to be an original guitar piece.
The next track puts me in mind, uneasily, of the old kids' scary TV show Children of the Stones, but it's actually called “Winter Song”, and is a solo for cello, gorgeous and breathtaking thanks to Chris Worsey, with Michela Srumova providing the soprano voice at the beginning that gave me the willies. She comes back in near the end again, after the piece has jumped into something of a Russian folk song melody, but it slows back down and ends on sad cello, taking us into “Ghosts of New York”. I know we had this already, but this is a piano solo version, with Skeet again showing his prowess on the Steinway, then “Daniel's Theme” is another classical guitar piece, with horn and low violin backing, another slow, melancholy tune, with some powerful strings coming in, while “Study in Scarlet” is led by horns and violins, evoking images of Sherlock Holmes, which I would assume it's intended to.
It is in fact the shortest track on the album, exactly one minute. It ends on sudden powerful dramatic strings, and then everything eases back for “The Lives of Others”, a soft violin-and-piano driven piece, and we finally close on the shimmery piano of “Forever Always”, a lovely, slow, soothing piece which closes an album that really evokes that kind of mood. Some absolutely wonderful musicianship, some amazing compositions, a fine melding of two fine talents, even if neither are that well known in the world of commercial music.
An interesting aside, before I finish: the artwork on the album cover (at least, the layout and design) is by one Mark Wilkinson, best known for his work with Marillion and later Fish, and most recently on Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman's The Living Tree (and for Ki, the Reasoning's live album from last year, Live in the USA: The Bottle of Gettysburg) - nice to see there's some some prog rock linkage to be had, even if Anthony is no longer really working in that side of things, mostly.
This is a long album, there's no denying that. But with the tracks all so short, it really doesn't seem like it runs for the over an hour and a half that it does. It's great for background music, or to listen to as you fall to sleep (hardly any, if any, surprises in sudden fast/loud tracks) but it's also an album that deserves to be listened to in depth, paying attention to all the little tunes and melodies and idiosyncrasies of the full composition. As a collaboration this is a real triumph. As an album it's great value for money: where else are you going to get one with over thirty tracks? And as a reminder to those who knew him in the early years, it's proof that Anthony Phillips, though he missed out on the “big time” with Genesis, has quietly and determinedly forged his own path through the music world, playing the music he likes, and following his own dream.
Over forty years after he left them, Genesis are now gone as a band, and Anthony Phillips is releasing yet another new album. Doesn't that say something about the man?
1. Credo in Cantus
2. A Richer Earth
3. Under the Infinite Sky
4. Grand Central
5. Kissing Gate
7. Rain On Sag Harbour
8. Ice Maiden
9. River of Life
10. Desert Passage
11. Seven Ancient Wonders
12. Desert Passage (Reprise)
13. Forgotten Angels
14. Circle of Light
16. Ghosts of New York
17. Shipwreck of St. Paul
1. Credo in Cantus (Instrumental)
3. Speak of Remarkable Things
5. Long Road Home
6. The Golden Leaves of Fall
8. Under the Infinite Sky (Guitar Ensemble Version)
9. The Stuff of Dreams
10. Old Sarum Suite
(i)Sarabande: Song of the Shires
(ii)Feast of the Ice Saints
(iii)Stormchaser : the Path to War
(iv)The Fleet Assembles: Raising the Standard
(v)Sarabande: Song of the Shires II
11. For Eloise
12. Winter Song
13. Ghosts of New York (Piano Version)
14. Daniel's Theme
15. Study in Scarlet
16. The Lives of Others
17. Forever Always
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|11-24-2021, 01:19 PM||#43 (permalink)|
Join Date: Mar 2016
Location: 32S 116E
How come I have never heard of this Anthony Phillips album? Maybe because it's billed as a "Collaboration"?
The description, and the clips posted above, make me interested to check this out in more detail. Anthony seems to be following the same route as Tony Banks, whose last three albums have all been in the "classical" style, with orchestras.
Thank you for this very detailed review.
|12-04-2021, 01:31 PM||#44 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
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.
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.
Behind the Lines
Man of Our Times
Turn it On Again
Cul de Sac
Please Don't Ask
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.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|12-04-2021, 03:24 PM||#45 (permalink)|
Join Date: Mar 2016
Location: 32S 116E
There are some nice pieces on this album, as well as a couple that I ifind a bit ho-hum. Of all the Genesis albums that I DON'T have, this is probably the first one I would acquire. Somehow though it never resonated for me in the same way as the earlier albums, including the much maligned ATTWT.
"Behind the Lines" gets a lot of praise, but I find it a bit too repetitive and pompous. Things get much better with "Duchess", which is probably my favourite track here. "Heathaze" is another highlight, and then of course the concluding suite. The two singles are both OK songs seem a little at odds with the rest. "Misunderstanding" in particular would have been more at home on a Phil Collins solo album.
From a detached viewpoint I can understand why so many call this their favourite Genesis album. It's neither fish nor fowl; it has leanings towards rock/pop, and quite good rock/pop at that, but has enough characteristics of progressive to satisfy that itch, especially for those who were just discovering this band. I wonder how many people discovered Genesis via Duke and then worked backwards.
|12-14-2021, 11:08 AM||#46 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
As has been extensively documented, 1976 marked the end of an era for Genesis. Whereas they had begun as a five-piece, then a four, then back to a five, the lineup was by 1972 at least fairly stable with Collins, Gabriel, Hackett, Rutherford and Banks. But after the double concept album he had basically written himself was released, Peter Gabriel began to feel the pressure of touring and in addition to this he had a new family to think about, his wife expecting their first baby. Tensions had simmered during the recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, mostly due to Gabriel's Roger Waters-like dictatorial grip on the concept, and the fact that the rest of the band were not really as enthusiastic about the project as he was, and now they came to a head as Gabriel was offered the chance to work with one of his idols, film director William Friedkin, and left halfway through the writing of the album, to work on a film that, in the end, never materialised. On his return, Gabriel was restless and during the tour stated his intention to leave the band.
For a very long time, Genesis had been seen essentially as Peter Gabriel's backing band, which did not sit well with the other members, so when their co-founder and frontman decided to leave, it was more or less accepted in the music press, and among fans, that the band was splitting up, that it could not survive the loss of Gabriel. Although sad to see him go, the remaining four were incensed that people thought they could not continue on their own, and set out to make not one, but two albums in the same year. The first of those would open a new chapter in the story of Genesis, and as one door closed another would open as a new vocalist, frontman and face for the band would emerge.
A Trick of the Tail (1976)
Genesis were determined to show that not only could they survive and create an album without Gabriel, but that they could record an album just as good as, if not better than, any he had been involved in. But first things first: a decision had to be made as to who would be the new vocalist, or even if there would be one. For a short while, the guys considered continuing as an instrumental band, but it was quickly understood this would never work. Their fanbase had grown not just on the strength of their music but on the clever and deep lyrics, and anyway, Genesis up to that point had few instrumental numbers, so the idea was abandoned. Auditions began for a new singer, but none suited, and in the end it was Phil Collins who rather reluctantly agreed to step into Gabriel's shoes.
This presented its own set of problems though, as Collins was the drummer, and it's hard to keep your mind on the rhythms while also trying to sing, to say nothing of not being, literally, a frontman: drummers always set up their kits to the rear of the stage, and it's hard to interact with your audience while stuck behind tom-toms, cymbals and bass drums. So another drummer was recruited for live gigs, this being Bill Bruford, late of King Crimson. With Collins in place then as the new vocalist, Genesis set out to record what would be their seventh album, and their first without Peter Gabriel.
There's a marked difference right away. Although The Lamb was its own beast, up to that Genesis albums had had more than a few epics: nine, ten, eleven minute monsters. The songs here are shorter (though not that much) and there's a sense more of slight commercialism about some of them, so much so that you could see a few as singles, whereas on previous albums there really wasn't this option. The longest track on this is eight minutes, way below the eleven minutes of “The Battle of Epping Forest” and tiny of course compared to the twenty-three minute “Supper's Ready”. It's also the first album to show individual credits for songs, rather than crediting them as a band, perhaps a backlash against Gabriel's somewhat tyrannical control of the previous album.
And so we open on “Dance On a Volcano”, which perhaps appropriately starts, after a few piano notes, with punching drums, before the vocal comes in from Collins, and to be fair, he doesn't sound too far away from his predecessor, so it's not that much of an adjustment, which would certainly help when they played the older stuff in a live setting. Concerning, it seems, the ascent of a volcano, the song is exciting, uptempo, fun with a sense of danger when Collins warns ”If you don't want to boil as well/ Better start to dance!” The dark humour of his departed bandmate has obviously rubbed off on him, or them all really, as this is a joint effort. It would become a live favourite too, and Collins's opening lines ”Holy Mother of God!” probably reflected at the time the effect his almost-Gabriel voice had on the listeners to the new album. Not such a stretch, after all, and they'd heard him sing on the odd tune as well as add backing vocals, so it wasn't like they had to get used to a totally new voice.
There are of course the instrumental breaks, for which Genesis, as a progressive rock band at the forefront of the movement, had become known by this time, and while Collins has something to prove as the new singer, the rest of the band are obviously anxious not to be seen to be just along for the ride, so everyone is doing their best to be heard. There's a pretty frenetic ending that then slows right down on twelve-string that almost, almost segues into the next song, the only track on the album on which Tony Banks and Steve Hackett collaborate and one of my many favourites on this album. “Entangled” is basically I guess the first ballad, and rides on a beautiful dreamy acoustic guitar line, kind of waltzing along, with swelling synth and the Pro Soloist making those choral vocals again. Strange song, no idea what it's about - some sort of medical experiments perhaps, or the state of the NHS - but it's a lovely ballad and has some nice lyric lines such as ”Mesmerised children are playing/ Meant to be seen but not heard/ Stop me from dreaming?/ Don't be absurd!” It ends on a spiralling guitar line accompanied by the Pro Soloist which takes it to the last two minutes of the song. Another concert favourite, “Squonk” opens with a big heavy drumbeat and marches along with a sense of doom and despair, telling the tale of a little creature from folklore (I thought they had just made this up but I read now that it is an actual myth from North America) who hides from view, crying a lot, and when captured can dissolve in a pool of tears. Awww! This was the first song Phil Collins “auditioned” for the band as the new singer, and the one which won him the poison chalice. It's quite heavy for Genesis, thick bass and wailing synth counterpointing Collins's trundling drumwork, and strong organ punching through as well.
It's the first time since Nursery Cryme that the band have returned to the idea of using mythology in their lyrics, and the first one to be written without Gabriel's input. It's also quite commercial; you could hear this on the radio. In fact, the little squonk could have become a trademark of or mascot for the band. It didn't, but it could have. There's a really great bassline from Mike Rutherford thumping through this, and some interesting effects on the vocals at the end. “Mad man moon” becomes the second ballad, almost. It opens on lonely flute (perhaps a belated tribute to the departed bandleader?) and is then driven on Tony Banks's solo piano with some lovely orchestral synth joining in. Halfway through there's a superb piano and flute combination, then it changes totally, ramping up on a fast rock beat that builds and builds, until it descends and rejoins the original melody. Again, clever lyric in this, the only solo Banks number: ”If this desert's all there'll ever be/ Then tell me what becomes of me?/ A fall of rain?” and ”A gaol can give you a goal/ And a goal can find you a role/ On a muddy pitch in Newcastle/ Where it rains so much/ You can't wait for a touch/ Of sun and sand.”
The first time I heard “Robbery, assault and battery” was on the live album Seconds Out and I was amazed. It's just so outside of what Genesis did that it's almost as jarring as “The Battle of Epping Forest”, though thankfully much shorter (six and a bit minutes) but again it's a role/character piece that allows this time Collins to put into effect his acting skills, and to be fair he does well. It's still not one of my favourite Genesis songs though. It hops along on a breezy, upbeat melody, but given that within the lyric is the murder of policemen by a criminal, this seems a little incongruous, not to say wrong entirely. It does seem to pull in elements of “Cinema Show” and “Firth of Fifth” in the instrumental midsection. Well, I guess you like it or you don't, and I don't.
What I do like is the longest track on the album, which runs for just over eight minutes. “Ripples” is a beautiful ballad about the advance of age and how it's impossible to stop your looks fading away, as Collins sings ”The face that launched a thousand ships/ Is sinking fast, that happens you know/ The waters get below/Seems not very long ago/ Lovelier she was than/ Any that I know.” It again runs on beautiful piano from Banks, and twelve-string and contains both a sublime hook in the chorus as well as a stunning instrumental that runs for almost half the song, so much so that when I heard it the first time, I expected it would last to the end, but then the final chorus comes in. It's very effective. The track that most impressed me when I first heard the album.
Laugh all you want, but the jaunty opening of the title track reminds me of Gilbert O'Sullivan's “Claire”! It's a cute little story of a fantasy being who leaves his “city of gold” one day because he is bored and gets captured by humans. The piano from Banks has great fun with the tune, a very honky-tonk air about it, and when the “beast who can talk” gets fed-up in captivity he breaks out and offers to lead the ones who ”Got no horns/ And they got no tails" to his city. The narrator travels with others in the beast's company, but as he cries out, seeing his city and they ”Thought that maybe we saw/ A spire of gold?/No, a trick of the eye/ That's all” he has disappeared. Great little song. The closer then is titled, appropriately “Los Endos” (translate that, Google!) and is an instrumental reprise basically of “Dance On a Volcano” and “Squonk” with quite a Latin beat and it's the perfect way to bookend the album. This, too, has become a favourite live, and for obvious reasons.
Dance On a Volcano
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault and Battery
A Trick of the Tail
In releasing this album Genesis, the new Genesis, had proven beyond all doubt that they could exist without their iconic frontman. In fact, for my money, this album stands as one of the very best Genesis albums from any period. The songwriting is tighter, the melodies flow really well, and there aren't any major epics that outstay their welcome. And yet the basic Genesis format is still there, so it's not as if they were suddenly ditching six years of their previous music, but expanding and improving on it. The album also obviously would help to elevate Phil Collins to star status, from being just “the drummer in Genesis” to being the singer, and the frontman, and eventually allow him the confidence and give him the fame to launch his own solo career.
But Genesis weren't finished with 1976, and before the year was out they would release another superb album, the first I reviewed in this thread. Having done what they had never done before, released two albums in the one year, the guys decided to take a well-deserved break from recording as they headed out in support of the album, their second tour in two years, and their next album would not appear for two more years, whereafter there would be yet another change to their lineup, leading to the title of their ninth album.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|01-13-2022, 08:29 PM||#47 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
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.
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
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...)
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018