In the mid 1980s, Genesis and its spin-off projects – Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike and the Mechanics – were enjoying hit singles galore, with hits like ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘The Living Years’, ‘Invisible Touch’, and ‘Sussudio’. But before their mid 1980’s chart dominance Genesis produced some great music in the 1970s, with their very English blend of progressive rock, 12 string guitar folk, and densely humorous lyrics.
Genesis were formed at Charterhouse School by keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Mike Rutherford, and vocalist/flautist Peter Gabriel, while drummer Phil Collins and guitarist Steve Hackett joined in the early 1970s to complete the classic quintet. They produced a sequence of sublime albums, particularly from 1972’s Foxtrot through to 1976’s A Trick of the Tail. 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was the last Genesis album to feature Gabriel, whose was inspired to go solo after attending a Bruce Springsteen concert, and Collins took over on lead vocals.
The group do have some weaknesses – compared to other progressive rock acts from the era like Yes and King Crimson, they’re short on instrumental firepower, although Phil Collins is a very strong drummer. But their material is often very pretty, and they’re often shooting for beauty rather than virtuosity. Gabriel is a much stronger lyricist than the other members of the group, and his witty lyrics make the others’ efforts look generic in comparison.
Steve Hackett left the group in 1977, and I haven’t covered any of their subsequent albums after they became a three piece – I have covered Gabriel’s solo career on a separate page, and I’ve recently been enjoying Hackett’s solo career. I plan to come back and cover the missing late 1970s and early 1980s albums sometime. Genesis were generally talented at writing memorable tunes, and this served them well throughout their career.
Genesis Album Reviews
From Genesis To Revelation | Trespass | Nursery Cryme | Foxtrot | Live | Selling England By The Pound | The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway | A Trick of the Tail | Wind & Wuthering | …And Then There Were Three… | Duke | Abacab | Genesis | Invisible Touch | We Can’t Dance | Calling All Stations
Favourite Album: Foxtrot
Overlooked Gem: A Trick of the Tail
From Genesis To Revelation
Genesis’ debut album, recorded by pop Svengali Jonathan King during the group’s school holidays, is very different from their later progressive rock material; it sounds more like an imitation of The Bee Gees or the Moody Blues, with orchestration slathered over the top. King intended to create a musical version of The Bible; the Genesis part is evident in the creation references in the first few songs, but the concept rapidly devolves into generic love songs. From Genesis To Revelation ended up in the religious section of record stores and sold a ridiculously small number of copies.
But keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist Mike Rutherford were constant members of Genesis, and while the group’s style changed significantly throughout their tenure, they generally wrote good tunes, and this teenage debut is no exception. ‘One Day’ stands out with a soaring chorus, despite its sentimentality, while closer ‘A Place To Call My Own’ uses Gabriel’s resonant voice. Some reissues append the group’s two 1968 singles, which are generally stronger than the album itself; the b-side ‘One Eyed Hound’ is a highlight, while ‘A Winter’s Tale’ has another big catchy chorus.
Genesis sound like teenagers on From Genesis To Revelation, slightly awkward and yet to establish their own distinct identity, but it’s quite astounding to think that they were only in their early twenties when they recorded masterpieces like Foxtrot and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
After finishing school, Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Ant Phillips, and new drummer John Mayhew retreated to a remote college, where they rehearsed for 11 hours per day, living off food parcels from their parents. Despite only having three members of their classic quintet on board, Genesis already had their style figured out on Trespass. Their brand of progressive rock relies on gentle 12-string acoustic guitars, prominent organ parts, Gabriel’s croaky emotional vocals, and creative but not entirely serious lyrics based on mythology.
In terms of song writing and arrangement, the Genesis are still learning their craft on Trespass; the first side maintains a pleasant sound but tends to run together, especially in the lengthy instrumental passages, although the second half is more accomplished. The funereal ‘Dusk’ achieves an almost hymn like atmosphere with its pretty harmonies and slow feel, but the top tier track is the closing ‘The Knife’, with its uncharacteristically aggressive sound from Philips guitar runs, Gabriel’s violent lyrics, Rutherford’s busy bass lines, and Banks’ cutting organ.
Trespass is a large step below the albums that follow it and it’s not the ideal place to start in the Genesis catalogue, but it’s very much cut from the same cloth.
Although it was Genesis’ third album, Nursery Cryme was the first to feature the classic quintet; Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford were joined by guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins. Even though it’s their third album, the young group are still on an upward learning curve. ‘The Musical Box’ and ‘The Return Of The Giant Hogweed’ both have plenty of fine moments, but don’t demand attention like Foxtrot‘s ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ or ‘Supper’s Ready’.
My favourite of the longer songs in ‘The Fountain Of Salmacis’, driven by Rutherford’s bass-line. Nursery Cryme is filled out by four shorter songs, of which ‘Harold The Barrel’ is the highlight, compressing a mini-opera into three frenetic piano driven minutes, but ‘Seven Stones’ and ‘Harlequin’ are two of the most overlooked tracks in the Genesis canon, both pretty and succinct. ‘Harlequin’ features Phil Collins’ vocal debut, singing a charming co-lead with Gabriel, while Gabriel contributes a lovely flute riff.
When taken as a whole, Nursery Cryme isn’t as consistently enthralling or thematically coherent as Genesis’ following albums with Gabriel, but on a song by song basis it is still an excellent effort. If you are interested in prog-era Genesis, you may as well start with Nursery Cryme and work your way through the group’s following four albums.
Foxtrot is where prog Genesis’ classic phase kicks into gear; they’re more confident than before, and there are less dull instrumental passages. The key piece is obviously the sidelong epic ‘Supper’s Ready’, based on the Biblical account of the apocalypse, but the first side is also filled with good songs. ‘Watcher of the Skies’ suffers from Banks’ lyrics, but regardless it’s a strong opener with its grand Mellotron introduction, while ‘Can-Utility and the Coastliners’ tells the King Canute story with pretty organ runs. ‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’ is typically theatrical with Gabriel using his different character voices.
But it’s the 23 minutes of ‘Supper Ready’ that’s the highlight of Foxtrot; it’s not so much a long song as thematically linked shorter songs stitched together, from the music hall of Willow Park to the intense Apocalypse in 9/8. It wheels through its different sections before its exhilarating climax with “Can’t you feel our souls ignite”.
Genesis made other great albums subsequently, but they never bettered Foxtrot.
It must have been obligatory for every 1970s progressive rock band to create a live album, if only to prove that they were proficient enough to pull off their complex arrangements and ambitious song structures live. Genesis’ first of many live albums and the only one to feature Gabriel (although a live recording of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is featured on the Genesis Archive set), Live is pretty much what one would expect. The nature of the live format does predictable things to the Genesis dynamic, as some of the group’s folk mysticism is straightened out into more conventional rock arrangements. And while Banks and Gabriel largely dominate the studio records, the other members are more prominent live, with Collins’ sensitive drumming and Hackett’s guitar work more apparent.
Most disappointingly, the album’s only five songs long, and I’m sure that plenty of Genesis fans would appreciate an expanded version with ‘Supper’s Ready’ thrown in, while I’d also be curious to hear less characteristic oddities like ‘Dusk’ and ‘Harold The Barrel’ in a live setting. It would be even more interesting if the album was recorded slightly later, and took in material from the last two Gabriel albums. As it stands, Live is basically just five songs, all between eight and eleven minutes long, and this format can become wearisome, as awesome as individual tracks like ‘The Knife’ and ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ are.
Live is just your average proficient live album – if you’re enough of a Genesis nerd to want to know what ‘The Knife’ sounds like with Hackett and Collins instead of Phillips and Mayhew, you’ll want this – but more casual fans should feel free to skip it. It’s a strong set, but not comprehensive enough to be completely essential.
Selling England By The Pound
Selling England By The Pound is a continuation of the confident Genesis from Foxtrot. It’s a fan favourite, and is often cited as the group’s best album, but I find it a little flabby in places as some of the songs outstay their welcome. In other aspects Selling England By The Pound is a significant improvement on Foxtrot – the instrumental sections are often sharper, and the sound is clearer.
Unlike Foxtrot, Genesis are dabbling successfully in pop length songs, with the concise ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ and Collins’ vocal spotlight on ‘More Fool Me’. Selling England By The Pound also features the opening ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ and the sweetly melodic ‘The Cinema Show’. But there’s a bit too much flab on the lengthy ‘Firth of Fifth’, even though the opening piano is Tony Banks’ finest moment, while ‘The Battle Of Epping Forest’ is less engrossing than Gabriel’s other theatrical pieces.
In many ways, Selling England By The Pound is a significant step up from Foxtrot; it is better produced, more confident and the group have improved as instrumentalists, but I just don’t find it as consistently engrossing.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
For their sixth album, each member of Genesis submitted a potential story for a thematic project. Mike Rutherford was a contender with his suggestion of a musical based on the story of the Happy Prince, but Peter Gabriel won with his seemingly incomprehensible tale of a New York street kid named Rael. Reflecting the metropolitan setting, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway has a less pastoral feel than Genesis’ previous releases; the dark mood is set by Bank’s synthesisers and Rutherford’s bass.
The first disc is song oriented, and features the acoustic ‘Cuckoo Cocoon’, the sexual humour of ‘Counting Out Time’, and the harshness of ‘In The Cage’ and ‘Back in NYC’, although the highlight is the gorgeous ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ with harmonies between Gabriel and Collins.
The most common criticism of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is that the second disc is relatively uninteresting, containing too many instrumentals. While the instrumentals are not particularly interesting in themselves, their contribution to the flow and mood of the album shouldn’t be overlooked. And the calibre of the actual songs on the second disc is high; the crunching ‘Lilywhite Lilith’, the sheer beauty of ‘The Lamia’, the theatricality of ‘The Colony of Slippermen’, and the resonance of ‘it’ are more than ample compensation for a few uninteresting moments.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway isn’t without flaws, but as a whole it’s captivating, memorable, and emotionally resonant.
A Trick Of The Tail
After unsuccessfully holding auditions to replace Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins took over lead vocals for Genesis. He’s very similar to Gabriel on the progressive material of A Trick Of The Tail. The 12-string guitars of pastoral Genesis have mostly disappeared, and A Trick Of The Tail sounds like a more relaxed version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, with most of the textures coming from Banks’ synthesizers.
Even though the lyrics are more generic without Gabriel, the songwriting on A Trick Of The Tail is still impressive. ‘Dance On A Volcano’ is an engaging opener with a tension between the taut verses and the spiralling chorus. ‘Squonk’ is a convincing faux-mythological lyric, with Collins throwing his voice around like Gabriel. ‘Ripples’ is a gorgeous ballad, written by Mike Rutherford about ageing, while ‘Mad Man Moon’ starts off as a pretty piano piece.
Despite the absence of Gabriel, A Trick Of The Tail is still one of Genesis’ strongest albums.
Wind & Wuthering
The last gasp of progressive Genesis, Wind & Wuthering was released in mid-December 1976, symbolically a few weeks before the year of punk in the U.K.. While A Trick of the Tail stands proudly alongside the best of the Peter Gabriel albums, Wind & Wutheringmatches a weak set of songs with a monotonous, synth-dominated sound.
‘The Eleventh Earl Of Mar’, about the 1715 Scottish uprising, gets Wind & Wuthering off to an excellent start, and would have fitted well onto Trick of the Tail. Tellingly, the other two successful songs are Rutherford’s ‘Your Own Special Way?’ and Hackett and Collins’ ‘Blood On The Rooftops’; both are relatively straightforward pop songs; the former is a pleasantly countrified love song. Elsewhere, there are a bunch of failed ideas, like Banks’ rambling messianic epic ‘One For The Vine’, a dramatic tale of a mouse that might have worked with Gabriel fronting it, and a couple of unremarkable instrumentals.
Wind & Wuthering still has enough of the classic Genesis sound to compare with their earlier albums, but it’s not as captivating as their best work.
I enjoy the progressive rock era of Genesis so much that it’s only fair to review some of their later pop albums too. Hackett jumped ship after 1976’s Wind & Wuthering, and Rutherford played all of the guitar parts on subsequent albums. While Banks dominated the albums directly after Gabriel left, Collins started to become the dominant force by this point.
While it’s primarily a pop album, Genesis does features the pair of song ‘Home By The Sea’ and ‘Second Home By The Sea’, with definitely progressive flavour. And their pop songwriting if often strong – particularly the opening pair of ‘Mama’ with psychotic laughing from Collins, and the gentle, catchy groove of ‘That’s All’. The second half is less consistent, particularly Collins’ accent on the dated ‘Illegal Alien’, but it’s generally tuneful enough to be entertaining.
While I prefer most of their progressive albums, there’s some good material on Genesis too.
Ten Favourite Genesis Songs
The Cinema Show
Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
The Carpet Crawlers
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
Dance on a Volcano
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
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