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Trollheart 10-02-2021 01:38 PM

Trollheart's Album Discography Reviews: Genesis
Note: In these threads I will also be covering any solo projects or other bands artists may have been in. As all of these guys have their own solo work, expect to see their material featured at some point too.

All right, I obviously enjoy all of the artists I'm making threads here for and whose discographies I'm featuring, but this one holds a lot of personal significance for me, as this was the first band whose records I ever collected, and the one that got me into progressive rock. A byword for some for boring, lazy and predictable music - and that is sometimes hard to deny after the mid-eighties, in fairness - but for others an iconic band who pushed the boundaries almost before those boundaries were there, who developed a reputation for intricate, complicated and interesting music and for elaborate lightshows, who would be among the first to use multimedia, and who in the seventies were in the forefront of the new movement sweeping music as progressive rock was born.

Though I constantly get sneered at for liking them, the band recorded what I believe to be some of the most important albums in the genre, and many of their contemporaries today owe a debt of gratitude to them. Sure, they sort of imploded under the weight of their own self-importance and a partial betrayal of their principles near the end, but they remain my favourite band ever. So without further ado, let me introduce you to the music of Genesis.

As anyone who knows anything about the other two artists I've started threads on will realise, these discogs are not going to be in any order whatever; while I originally wrote some of them that way (including this one) I don't really want to retread that idea, and it can be a little boring. So instead I'm going to kick this off with what struggles with another of two of their albums as my favourite from the band, and often comes out on top. All the more amazing when you realise they released two in the same year, and yes, that other one is one of its rivals for the top spot

Wind and Wuthering (1976)

For me, this album has it all. Long, epic prog masterpieces, sumptuous ballads and gorgeous and provocative instrumentals; Banks at his best and Steve Hackett still with them, his swansong before departing the band for a solo career. Collins had only taken the helm that year with the previous A Trick of the Tail, which was the second album released by Genesis in 1976 and the first without longtime member and founder Peter Gabriel, and was settling well into his role. Phil Collins was actually the first vocalist I heard with Genesis, as my original introduction to them was via the double-live Seconds Out, with him on vocals, as related in the very first entry in this journal, almost a year ago now. So unlike others I had no real knowledge of the much different voice of Peter Gabriel, and was without their dislike for “the new guy”.

This is not to say that I prefer Collins, or that I undervalue the massive contribution Gabriel made to the band, but like the Fish vs Hogarth debate in Marillion over a decade later, I find I don't like one or the other: I like both, and each brings his own special set of skills and his own touch to the particular period he is associated with. Gabriel does great on songs like “Visions of Angels”, “Watcher of the Skies” and “The Musical Box”, but I actually prefer Collins' vocal on “Supper's Ready”, which was originally a Gabriel vehicle. Possibly the fact that two of my favourite Genesis albums turn out to be this and A Trick of the Tail could say something, but then I love The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and Trespass, as well as Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme, though funnily perhaps I don't agree with the conclusion come to by the readers of Classic Rock presents Prog recently, when they voted their favourite Genesis album of all time to be Selling England by the Pound. So what does that say?

Well, the debate can go on and on, but for myself I'm happy to say that I appreciate both singers, in both their periods, and don't prefer one over the other. This though was one of the first studio Genesis albums I heard. I recall that for my birthday (don't ask me what age I was, though I was in school still so probably 15 or 16) I asked for A Trick of the Tail and Discovery (by ELO) as well as Paris by Supertramp as presents. My brother already had this album, so I had no need to buy it when I could just borrow, tape and listen to it. But it made a massive impression on me, almost as much as A Trick of the Tail did.

It's an album I hardly need to listen to in order to be able to review it, I know it so well, but sometimes when listening for review purposes I've discovered things on other albums which I hadn't previously noticed, so I'm spinning it as I write. It opens on “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, and it's obvious from the off that it's a keyboard-centric album, with as I mentioned somewhere else, possibly on someone else's journal, some of Tony Banks' very best work. This is probably borne out as he has cited it as one of his favourite albums. It's a heavy, synthy opening which quickly morphs into a bouncy, uptempo number with Phil Collins' vocals somehow fitting the material perfectly. Great Hammond organ work in particular from Tony, and some excellent guitar work from Steve Hackett.

Halfway through it slows down with an acoustic guitar bridge played by Hackett, very pastoral and with a gentle vocal from Collins, spacey keyboards keeping an ethereal backdrop until the song pulses back into life for the finale, with pretty thunderous drumming from our man Phil, the song finishing as it began on loud, expressive Hammond. The longest track by a long way, “One For the Vine” is next, loosely based on the experiences of a messiah-like figure, obvious comparisons to Christ come up. It starts on a squeaky keyboard intro which then slides into a rather beautiful piano piece by Tony Banks as the song rolls along gently, Collins introducing the “hero”, who has deserted the messiah he was following, as the man leads his people into battle. Straying off ”The path prepared for him/ Onto a wilderness of ice” he finds himself in a faraway place. Completely against his intentions he is mistaken by the people living here for that which he has just rejected, a saviour, and he ends up leading these people into another horrible battle.

As fervour catches in him, he declares he will save these people and the song gets faster and more frenetic, with powerful keys and heavy drumming, until he realises he is becoming that which he left behind, the messiah he lost faith in and escaped. He retreats to a lonely place to meditate, this being conveyed by another beautiful piano piece from Banks, with attendant synth. This then turns into a fast, uptempo, almost frantic showcase for Collins on the drumkit as the song pounds back into life, great bass work from Mike Rutherford and much more uptempo piano and keys from Tony, some sharp guitar from Hackett. Realising he can't let “his people” down, the man returns to take his place at the head of their army, and we move into another slow synth and piano piece similar to the one that opened the song. As it comes to a close, one of his followers strays off the path, and disappears, and the “saviour” sees this, realising that the whole thing is about to repeat itself; in fact, it's left open as to whether this is the “original” saviour he had been following, going “back” to “his” world, or whether it's a vision of himself. A powerful and epic song, it ends strongly and has become one of Genesis' standards. The piano line it ends on is the one it began on, as everything - story, song, music - come full circle.

“One For the Vine” is a Tony Banks composition, and it's really one of his masterpieces. Against that, Mike Rutherford's gentle ballad “Your Own Special Way” is a little mundane, but it's nice, with of course plenty of guitar, restrained and relaxed, soft keyboard lines and a gentle vocal from Collins. Not surprisingly, it was released as a single, and did well, especially in the USA, in some ways I guess introducing the band to America for the first time. It's followed by “Wot Gorilla?”, one of the few instrumentals Genesis recorded in their almost thirty-year career. It's a fast, cheerful uptempo piece driven by wailing keyboards and some fine drumming by Collins. In ways, it kind of foreshadows elements of the melodies that would be prevalent on Duke, which would not be released for another four years.

The somewhat irreverent, fun theme continues then in another Tony Banks composition, the wonderful “All In a Mouse's Night”, which tells of the adventures of a mouse as he searches the house for cheese, gets chased by a cat and is saved by fate. The song is more or less broken into three parts, the first called “The Lovers' Story” concerns two people making love and disturbed by a mouse. Almost out the door of the bedroom, the mouse is discovered by the wife/girlfriend who screams and exhorts her husband/boyfriend to get rid of it. As the door is opened the mouse escapes and has the run of the house. The music is sort of fast-waltzy, mostly keyboard based as Collins moves into the second part of the song, “The Mouse's Story”, where the mouse is accosted by a cat, who tries to kill him but knocks a vase down on his head, and so the mouse escapes. Left to explain this to his compatriots, the cat invents a story of a ten-foot mouse ”With teeth and claws to match!” in “The Cat's Story”, so as not to let it be known he was outsmarted by a mouse. The final part, the cat's story, is led by heavy Hammond organ, with a great outro on keys and guitar. Great song, and great fun.

But the fun ends there, as “Blood On the Rooftops” is an acoustic led ballad decrying the loss of identity and self to the goggle box, with such shows as The Streets of San Francisco and The Wednesday Play namechecked, as the singer, an old man tells his young visitor it was ”Better in my day/ When we got bored/ We'd have a world war/ Happy but poor” and declares that he finds ”Arabs and Jews/ Too much for me”. There's a lovely acoustic guitar opening by Steve Hackett, to rival his star turn in “Horizons” on Foxtrot in 1972, and a gorgeous little piece on autoharp. The song gets heavier about halfway in, as the old man's frustration boils over and he snaps ”The rain at Lord's stopped play/ Seems Helen of Troy/ Has found a new face again.”

Two instrumentals then, well, one really but broken into two parts, reference the second part of the album's title, taken from the Emily Bronte classics. “Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers...” is the first part, carried on whistling keys and light guitar with almost no percussion, just a few drumrolls following the tune and ushering in the second part “... In That Quiet Earth”, much more uptempo and again quite Duke-ish, with heavier guitar and mellotron, Collins' drums coming much more to the fore now, with what sounds like some backwards masking on some of the synth parts. It breaks into a heavier, rock-almost-reggae beat as it enters the last minute, Hackett and Rutherford breaking out the electric guitars and going at it, Banks keeping the main melody going on the keys. It speeds up just at the end, and segues directly into the closer.

A staple at just about every Genesis concert, “Afterglow” is a great finale to a great album. A slow, measured ballad carried on a jangly guitar line and ending on a droning keyboard melody, it's a powerful vehicle for Collins' voice, with great choral vocals which I believe are made on a Moog synth. It ends on a long instrumental part on the Moog which fades out the track, and closes the album.

They definitely don't make them like this any more. Wind and Wuthering is important to the Genesis canon for many reasons, some already mentioned. It was the last album to feature Steve Hackett, and the one on which Phil Collins really came of age as a vocalist and frontman. It gave them their first minor US hit single, and it features more instrumentals than any other Genesis album before or since. It also features one of their longest tracks; at ten minutes long it's only beaten by a handful of other tracks down the years, (other than the seminal "Supper's Ready", of course) and it's only the second album to feature solo compositions from the band, with three songs written by Tony and one by Mike: by this I mean the one person wrote both lyric and music. Mike did write other songs on the album but only the lyric; he collaborated with Steve and Tony on the music.

This was one of the albums which, along with Seconds Out and A Trick of the Tail, started off my love affair with Genesis, and so it's definitely worthy of the slot here. It was also the only other place I ever heard the word wuthering, outside of the novel. It has two messiahs for the price of one, a song about TV and a cat being beaten by a mouse! What more could you ask for, really?


1. Eleventh Earl of Mar
2. One For the Vine
3. Your own special way
4. Wot Gorilla?
5. All in a Mouse's Night
6. Blood On the Rooftops
7. Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers...
8. … In That Quiet Earth
9. Afterglow

Rating: 9.8/10

bob_32_116 10-02-2021 02:15 PM

What can I add? Very little, except to say that when you consider the totality of their catalogue, Genesis are probably my favourite band of all time. They have done albums I don't like, but that run of albums from Trespass through to ...And then There Were Three is spectacular.

Interesting that you pick this album to start with, because most of the fans seem to prefer its sibling, A Trick of the Tail. Personally I think they are neck and neck, and I think they would have worked well as a double album.

Re the Gabriel vs Collins thing: my take on this is that Collins was technically a better singer, but Gabriel's voice and delivery was better suited to the material on the albums where he was the vocalist - hardly surprising, since he was the main man behind the lyrics.

P.S. I love "Afterglow". One thing Banks is very good at is songs that close an album well. This is simpler than many of his compositions - only a relatively small number of chords, but some quite unorthodox chords and chord progressions, as we have learned to expect from Banks. You could almost call this a torch song. Another in this style is "The Final Curtain", from Tony's solo album Still; that one may be my favourite "finale" song ever, and if Tony ever did a concert of his own I would want that song to be the closing song of the night.

Trollheart 10-02-2021 06:46 PM

You'll find I don't give a rat's ass for what "the fans think", as evidenced in my disagreement with the majority that SEBTP is the best Genesis album. Not even close, in my view. I mean, "The Battle of ****ing Epping Forest"? Come on. But I began with W&W because it is MY favourite, or one of three that sort of interchange over the years.

I do like TOTT but I see it as another step along the road to throwing off their prog roots. Look at it this way (this is an analogy I was working on while making my dinner today): If you think of the band as a Roman legion coming back from the war, and after The Lamb they're a little disoriented. Their leader has left, and they're confused by the message he left in the album. They're blundering about lost in the woods. Mike spies a path, beckons the guys down to the river. It's, of course, the Rubicon. He says "Lads we can cross here!" but the boys are suspicious. "Those are the treacherous waters of pop," warns Tony, and Steve agrees. Phil though is more sanguine and says "Sure what can it hurt to try?" They urge their horses in. This is of course the time of Tric of the Tail. After sampling the pop waters they hurriedly exit, back to the bank they were on. "Didn't much like that," says Steve, and though Mike and Phil have a strange gleam in their eyes, both agree and they had back to the border of the woods.

Wind and Wuthering is recorded. All of them feel better, getting back to solid ground (prog rock) but Steve sees the look has not left the eyes of Phil and Mike, and he knows where they're bound: back across that river to the other side. He turns his horse into the woods. "I'm off," he says. "Anyone gonna join me?" Tony considers, but those woods are dark and deep, and he has promises, well, you know. So off Steve goes, never to be seen again (by the band).

And then, there were three.

Back to the edge of the water they go and then as one they plunge into the icy waters. In the struggle they lose most of their prog sensibilities, and the next album is born. Too far to turn back, they forge on ahead and Duke arrives. They try to hold on, throwing out a few prog bits here and there, but the roiling sea of pop has them now. Pulled under, Abacab results. Tony fights his way to the surface. Underwater, Mike has a dream about mechanics and Phil is already composing a top ten hit song - he knows that something is in the air tonight.

Tony kicks upwards, adds what prog influence he can to the album which is so lacking in originality now that they can't even be bothered to come up with a name and just use the band name. Hit singles are coming, they're known on the radio, people are looking at them in a new light. On the far bank, as all three surface, they can see the hordes of pop fans, beckoning them on while back on the shore they left, the prog fans mourn, trying to entice them back before it's too late.

But it is already too late.

Invisible Touch gives up the pretence of any sort of prog leanings and bursts them into the charts, while the pop fans cheer and wave them on. People who before this didn't even know who Genesis were are buying their records. People are buying the singles without any intention of buying the albums, without even knowing what album they're from. All three go under again. "We can't swim!" they cry, but it somehow comes out as "We can't dance!" and more hits are born. Finally, Phil gives up the ghost and sinks to the bottom of the river. Tony and Mike strike on, the latter thinking to himself "All I need is a miracle" while Tony thinks it's a curious feeling to be a two-piece.

As they reach shore, another swimmer struggles up. "Hi!" he gasps. "I'm Ray! Can I join you?" They nod. "Sure." But soon after all three sink, never to be heard from as a band again.

The pop fans wait, but when nobody surfaces, they stick their hands in their pockets and shuffle off to find the next new thing. With his last breath, Phil thinks angrily "they knew I was drowning, but they would not lend a hand."

The now calm surface of the river is broken by a few bubbles popping to the surface.

The rest, is silence.

bob_32_116 10-03-2021 12:05 AM

^^ Something tells me Trollheart does not like the later albums much.

Trollheart 10-03-2021 09:09 AM

I like them fine. I think Genesis '83 has its moments (I love "Home by the Sea" and "Mama"), not a huge fan of Invisible Touch (again, the more proggy ones like "Domino" and to some extent "Tonight x3" but otherwise not really) and I have little time for Abacab generally, though I love Duke and I in fact find We Can't Dance a really good album, just not a really good prog one. Calling All Stations falls apart after the opening track for me and ends in a confused muddle where the guys don't seem to to know what the **** they're doing.

I just lament the total morphing of one of the premier classic prog bands into a pretty third-rate pop band, left to implode under the weight of its own bad decisions and torn apart by the twin forces of popularity and money, to say nothing of everyone looking to his own solo projects.

Other than that, I'm good with them.

I imagine Peter Gabriel regularly finds it hard not to bust a gut laughing.

bob_32_116 10-03-2021 09:25 AM

Broadly speaking, I agree with your assessment of the later albums. The self-titled one is the only one of those that I have.

I consider We Can't Dance as one of their worst... but it does have Fading Lights so it's not a totally lost cause. It still amazes me how Phil gets those high notes.

Trollheart 10-03-2021 02:23 PM

Yes I personally feel "Fading Lights" would have been a perfect end song for the band to go out on. It has everything in the lyric, including the final word "remember". But then they went and spoiled it by getting Ray Wilson in. Nothing against the guy, but come on: take a totally non-prog vocalist (don't even try to tell me Stiltskin were prog!) for one album and then disband? The legacy was ruined. I actually think WCD is a decent album: I do like "Driving the Last Spike" and a few of the ballads - "Hold on My Heart", "Since I Lost You" and so on, and of course that closer. I'd have been happier if that had been the end of Genesis.

But from the end to (almost) the beginning, as we go back in time (screen warps and wobbles and goes black-and-white as my voice starts to shimmer and vibrate and echo....)

Trollheart 10-03-2021 02:44 PM

1971 saw some major changes for the band. Already having separated themselves from the vision, and control of Jonathan King, they now decided that drummer John Mayhew did not cut the muster and fired him. After some auditions they settled on a young guy called Phil Collins, and also added a second guitarist, mostly to replace the by now departed Anthony Phillips. His name was Steve Hackett. Expanding on their penchant for long, involved songs with different time signatures and esoteric lyrics, and helping in the process to lay down the blueprint for what would become the progressive rock of the 1970s, they released their third album in November of that year.

Nursery Cryme (1971)

Similar to the previous album, this one was based not so much on track numbers as lengths, with one more track than Trespass but its opening song already becoming their longest to date, at almost ten and a half minutes. It was pretty clear even at this early stage that Genesis were not writing albums with a view to releasing hit singles, though there are two shorter songs on this one. Even the album sleeve shows a determination to look back to the past, with a young girl in Victorian dress playing croquet with heads on a lawn, and yet there's a nod to the future (or at least, the present) as the young girl's nanny, who is coming out seemingly to stop her, appears to be on wheels. All of this is drawn from the opening track, “The Musical Box”, while yet retaining an air of a sort of twisted version of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The opening song is as weird as they come, with the lyric “explained” in the inside cover of the album, and basically being the story of a homicidal young girl called Cynthia who kills her cousin, Henry. He then returns to her via a (supposedly) enchanted musical box, but when she opens it and it plays the nursery rhyme “Old King Cole”, Henry ages rapidly, and wishing to explore a lifetime's carnal desires in a single moment tries to rape Cynthia, before the nanny rushes in, throws the musical box at Henry and both disappear in a cloud of smoke. Yeah. This is the kind of thing you would come to expect from Genesis; their lyrics were seldom if ever rooted in the real world of real people, something which earned them labels such as “snobs”, “musical intelligentsia” and no doubt “pretentious bastards”, all of which pretty much has to be accepted.

While bands like Free were writing about wishing wells and their cousin Jake, and Sabbath were running from the devil, Steppenwolf were heading out on the highway and Marc Bolan was getting it on, Genesis became part of a sort of quasi-underground movement of bands who did not fit into the normal strictures of what was seen as rock music, and didn't want to. With stablemates like ELP, Yes and Pink Floyd, they would go on to explore different musical boundaries, break through them and create a whole new idea of what rock music could be. For a while, this new music, which would become known as progressive rock, would be the darling of the students, the educational elite, the hipsters of the day, and then at one point it would grow so big and bloated and self-important that it would just implode, and fall victim to the ravening jaws of punk rock.

But all of that was in the future, and even as they recorded this album Genesis could have had little inkling of how well their music would be received, how big they would get and how many people they would reach. Right now, they were just experimenting, flexing their musical muscles, seeing what they could do. Trespass had failed to gain any real interest, nor indeed would this album, but in Italy it would be an entirely different story, where, after a very successful tour to support it, Nursery Cryme would climb to the dizzy heights of number four in their charts.

But back to the music. “The Musical Box” opens with a strummed twelve-string guitar, played in an almost medieval manner, then the soft voice of Peter Gabriel comes in as he, in Henry's returning form, entreats Cynthia ”Play me “Old King Cole”/ That I may join with you.” The song again, somewhat like “Visions of Angels” on the previous release, seeks to not only distance the band from the notion of the Bible and God, but to actively deconstruct it. When Gabriel snarled ”I believe there never is an end/ God gave up this world/ Its people long ago” he was pretty much taking his first real potshots at the idea of a supreme deity, and here, in his role as Henry, now an old man, he snaps to Cynthia that ”The nurse will tell you lies/ Of a kingdom beyond the skies” but he has seen what lies beyond, and there's no Heaven, or even Hell. It's just a ”Half world” according to him, and he therefore wishes to dispel the young girl's foolish notions, put there by parents and guardians and nannies, of a reward, or even punishment, after death.

Gabriel's voice turns from soft and cajoling to bitter and angry in a moment, but the music remains gentle, carried on Steve Hackett's twelve-string, then Gabriel adds in some flute, the whole thing deceptively pastoral. It could almost be a tryst between lovers, which in a way it kind of is. IN the third minute the music becomes a little more intense, stately, grand, almost a musical declamation, but this fades away quickly as Henry again asks Cynthia ”Play me my song” at which point Tony Banks's newly-purchased Mellotron makes its voice heard, and with the addition of percussion from new guy Collins as well as a scorching solo from Mike Rutherford the tempo increases as things begin to spiral a little out of control. Whereas on Trespass there is little of what might be kindly called hard rock until the last track, the midsection here is a powerpunch in the face (for a Genesis album), then Gabriel recites the “King Cole” nursery rhyme, his voice dropping to almost a whisper as the music follows him down, deceiving the listener who relaxes just before a powerful aural assault takes us into another galloping instrumental which allows everyone to give vent to their talents, Collins hammering away at the kit, Banks trumpeting the keys and the two guitarists trading licks until finally it all stops suddenly as Gabriel takes us into the final section, a slow, yearning ode to love that, characteristically for this song, does not remain gentle for long, pounding up into a manic vocal with thundering drums and blaring keys, finally ending with Gabriel's desperate plea to Cynthia ”Why don't you touch me now?”, the whole thing finally ending on hammered mellotron chords, driving, wailing guitar and punching drums.

After that somewhat breathtaking introduction to this album, the next song is the shortest on it, and is a simple look at growing old, as two people visit a church to remember and perhaps say a prayer “For Absent Friends”, the first time Collins takes lead vocals. It's very pastoral, very folky and has echoes of “She's Leaving Home” in its melody. It's never been one of my favourites on the album to be honest, and owes more to the debut album than the second, but it's a nice opportunity to catch your breath after the epic opener, and not much of a breather, as the next one is eight minutes long and again shows the “heavier” side of Genesis, opening with a dancing, swirling keyboard run from Banks as “Return of the Giant Hogweed” relates the tale of a mysterious plant found in Russia and brought back to England during Victorian times. Honestly, I thought it was about John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids but it appears to be based on actual events. There are elements of “The Knife” and later “Watcher of the Skies”, as Banks seeks to make the Mellotron a signature sound for Genesis.

It proceeds mostly on a sort of marching beat, building to a frenetic crescendo, with a dangerous, warning and even frantic vocal from Gabriel as he warns ”Hurry now! We must protect ourselves/ And find some shelter!” The idea of an implacable enemy advancing is represented really well by the bass and the ticking drumbeats, and is something that thematically the band would return to almost a decade later on Duke. About halfway in, there's a powerful instrumental break which seems to presage the situation spiralling out of control as the Giant Hogweed threaten to take over the Earth. Even Gabriel's flute sounds somehow menacing. Then a rolling, rippling piano line from Banks almost offers some respite, a lonely guitar solo sounding a note of alarm as the tempo increases and things begin to build. This, again, has not ever been a favourite track of mine but you have to admire the way it's constructed, almost like a movie soundtrack. The wave breaks as the Hogweed prepare to attack and there's a big keyboard finish.

Apparently as I say this is based on real events, but I've never heard of such a thing happening. I could research it, but let's be honest: in all likelihood nobody's reading this review and if you are then I doubt you are bothered that much, so I'm not going to trouble myself. As is becoming the trend for at least this album, we have an epic piece of bombast followed by a more serene, gentle and simple tune. “Seven Stones” talks about prophecies, farmers, sailors and “the changes of no consequence”, but I have to be honest, I have no idea what it's about. Possibly the fallacy of putting faith in seers? Anyway, it's a nice soft tune driven on acoustic guitar and gentle keys, with some nice backing vocals, pretty much a vehicle for Banks to show his softer side after the manic intensity of “Return of the Giant Hogweed”. It has a nice chorus with quite the hook in it, and though there's not as much in it as either of the two epics, it's a song I do enjoy and return to from time to time. A fine vocal performance from Gabriel, who for once doesn't descend into his harder, rougher style, and adds some more of what is becoming his trademark flute passages.

There the pattern breaks, as the next two songs are both short, just under three minutes each, but “Harold the Barrel” reveals the playful side of Genesis, typified by the tale of a man who ”Cut off his toes/ And served them all for tea”! There's great humour in the song, and it cannons along at a loping pace, starting fast and only breaking down once for a rather beautiful little interlude where Harold, stuck on a ledge and about to jump, imagines himself ”Sailing in an open boat on the sea.” Something else that would come through later is a cast of characters, with people like Mister Plod the Policeman (really!), the BBC reporter, Harold's mother, the Lord Mayor and others all making an appearance, and all voiced by Collins. Real wisecracks like ”He can't last long/ Hasn't got a leg to stand on” and Harold's own advice to the policeman who tries to coax him off the ledge, ”Take a running jump!” help to pull the song along and it ends on a last descending piano chord from Banks, presumably indicating that poor Harold has taken his own advice. A soft ballad in a folky vein, reminiscent of the best of CSNY, “Harlequin” again has a lyric I don't understand, but it's not that necessary when it's driven by such a beautiful performance by Steve Hackett on the twelve-string and with sweet vocal harmonies, and it leads into the final epic, and one of my favourite Genesis songs.

Again, ploughing a path which would seem them alienated lyrically from other bands who concentrated on more “earthy” subjects, “The Fountain of Salmacis” is based on the ancient Greek myth of the nymph Salmacis who pursued the demigod Hermaphroditus, until she ended up merging with him and they became one being, hence the idea of hermaphrodites. You keeping up? Good. But lyrical matter aside, it's a beautiful song, which opens with a swirling, almost echoing keyboard that grows and falls back, grows and falls back, almost like the tide ebbing and flowing, that then gives way to Collins's workmanilke drums and Gabriel's vocal as he relates the story. The tempo picks up then as Hermaphroditus, pursuing a stag, finds himself chased by a lusty nymph. Again there are some great vocal effects, with Gabriel singing the main line and Collins (?) singing another one, as Marillion would later repeat on “Fugazi”.

The song runs for eight minutes, therefore making it the third epic on the album, and around the second minute that swirling, rising keyboard line returns to usher in the next verse. In the denouement, as the demigod shrinks back from the nymph and she refuses to be parted from him and calls on the gods to witness their union, Collins goes mad on the kit, with Banks setting up a real tarantella on the mellotron, driving home the danger and the urgency as Hermaphroditus tries to get away, unsuccessfully. A squealing guitar solo from Hackett underlines the struggle, then a vocal chorus witnesses the joining. Another long instrumental passage, somewhat in the mould of “Hogweed” before Banks takes control again with first the mellotron then a reprise of the keyboard intro to take the song into its final verse, the doom of the god and a sonorous organ brings everything to a close as Gabriel sighs ”Both had given everything they had” and they had, quite literally, each giving up their individuality to become one. A metaphor for marriage? Maybe. Don't ask me. All I know is there is a superb guitar solo to almost close the track, and the album out, before a rising organ and sussurating cymbals underline the final chapter in this tragedy, and with that final flourish the album comes to an end.


The Musical Box
For Absent Friends
The Return of the Giant Hogweed
Seven Stones
Harold the Barrel
The Fountain of Salmacis

There's nobody, myself included, who could deny this album is self-indulgent, and on a grand scale. Not really until Yes began getting established, and ELP came on the scene, would rock see such excess both in terms of lyrical content and musical interpretation. None of these songs, like the previous album in fact, feature anything like a rock guitar solo, a verse/verse/chorus/verse structure; in fact, some of the songs don't even have choruses and in that way I suppose they're as close to jazz in terms of being freeform. The songs tend to look to teach rather than just repeat cliches, to open up a world of classical influences, including literature, theatre, philosophy and religion, and to make the listener actually think about the lyrics. It's a heavy album, but worth the slogging through I believe.

But if their newly won fans thought that was epic, they would be knocked sideways by what they would hear next.

Rating: 9.6/10

bob_32_116 10-03-2021 03:17 PM

One little comment: I'm sure you're correct about the narrative of The Musical Box being completely from Peter Gabriel's fevered imagination. However there are quite a few Genesis songs whose story lines I initially assumed were just made up, but which I subsequently discovered were either based on fact (eg. "Hogweed"), or on pre-existing classical mythology (eg. "Salmacis").

The Giant Hogweed soujnds as fantastical as John Wyndham's "Day of the Triffids", or the Martian invaders in H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds", but the hogweed is a real plant, and a genuine menace, and the description in the song of how they were introduced to the British Isles is a fairly faithful telling of what actually happened.

If you ever come across one of these hogweed plants, DON'T touch it, and notify the relevant authorities - local council, Department of Agriculture, or whatever - immediately.

Trollheart 10-03-2021 06:54 PM

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