I actually began a Genesis project over here at little ol' Dog Star Omnibus - the biggest little Omnibus in the Union, to paraphrase Rhode Island's old state slogan - last year or the year before. I sank a good amount of time into it but got sidetracked by something or other and never finished. But Political Beats recently wrapped up a fantastic seven hour overview of Genesis, and (as their overviews of bands I like usually do) it got me going through their discography again.
Here's a brief bio of me and Genesis:
- I don't know the first time I heard Phil Collins - in the 80s his hits were just part of the ether, even in West Deutschland, where I was for the first half of the decade, and where things popular in the States often took five or six months to make their way to us - but it was around 1985, I think, when I became aware of Miami Vice. That led to "In the Air Tonight" which led to No Jacket Required.
- My family moved back to the States in August '86, a couple of months after Invisible Touch came out Genesis released , one of the most popular (radio, sales, and video-wise) records of the decade. The title track was played everywhere, and constantly, as were all the other singles. "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight," a harrowing song about a junkie in the throes of withdrawal, was even used for a Michelob commercial.
- Sometime over the next few years I started getting into prog rock, and everyone kept telling me to check out the band's 70s stuff. This led me to make several pilgrimages to Luke's Record Exchange in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, commemorated elsewhere in these pages. One time I walked out of there with Foxtrot, Nursery Crime, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. (For less than $10, probably). And I liked them so much that when I finally got a CD player one of the first CDs I ever purchased was Trick of the Tail. An album I love so much that I almost made this post a 1976 to 1986 deal, just so I could cover it.
None of these just-mentioned albums are on the docket for today, though. Genesis broke big at the end of the 70s thanks to the success of "Follow You, Follow Me". (Not a particular fave of mine.) What would the 80s hold? First up:
I mentioned up there that at least part of the “80s sound” is co-authored by Genesis. I’d love to truly map out what I consider the 80s sound (how many parts the Fairlight CMI? How many parts Eddie Van Halen? How many the Human League?) but what I meant by that is the gated reverb effect on Collins’ drums. Mic-ing the drums that way forced Tony to alter the way he played keyboards. It all leads inevitably to "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and everything else on Invisible Touch. That is the eventual waterfall we hang-glide over, Moonraker-style, and you can see it ever so small in the distance when you listen to this album.
The title track was a bold choice for a single (although the radio version lops off the best part, which is all the weird stuff at the end) but an even odder choice for album opener, if you ask me. Great tune, though; there really aren’t any bad ones on this record. The two that I like least are the album’s best-known tracks (“No Reply at All” and “Man on the Corner.”) And I like those just fine, just not as much as the title track of “Me and Sarah Jane” or my two favorites: “Dodo/Lurker” (the keys are fierce as hell in that one) and “Keep It Dark.”
Here's Simon Collins covering it.
The albums’ most infamous track is probably “Who Dunnit”. I like it and its audacity, but it drives me a little crazy. I only learned from the Political Beats episodes that it’s basically a fart joke. Good for Genesis wrapping a fart joke in what could otherwise be a shop demonstration of the Prophet-5 synthesizer.
Those Political Beats guys pointed out something else interesting, as well. Abacab is as true a blend of new wave, prog rock, post-punk as any of the other albums often nominated for such (Songs for the Big Chair from Tears for Fears, Synchronicity by the Police, or even Moving Pictures by Rush). I might nominate Genesis (1983) myself, but both it and Abacab, certainly.
Very good live album. Their best? Probably. The later ones are hampered by We Can’t Dance-era stuff (spoiler alert: not a fan of We Can’t Dance; happily for me it came out in ’91 so I didn’t have to dive back into it for this here blog) and the earlier ones by poorer production. Maybe the Last Domino tour planned for 2021 will result in their definitive live album. It’d be a nice swan song for the band.
All the songs here from the band’s most recent material is fine, but the real treats are the 70s-revisit stuff (“In the Cage” and “It/ Watcher of the Skies” especially) and the b-sides. Which are left off the CD but comprised the unmentioned fourth side of the title.
“Paperlate,” though, I hadn’t heard that in thirty-odd years. It was a short-lived joy to rediscover. That style of call-and-response with the horns doesn’t really land with me. Sing “Chick-fil-A, chick-fil-A” to the melody, though, and wham, instant jingle.
Let's do a song-by-song take on this one.
“Mama” A few years back I watched all seven seasons of Magnum, PI without even really meaning to. I was going to do a Top Ten post for it but never did (more here). One of the episodes that would’ve been on that list, though, was "Death and Taxes" which is basically a forty-odd minute music video for this song/ Miami Vice "homage". The lyrics apparently reference The Moon’s a Baboon, made into a film with David Niven. (Never saw it.)
Here’s an excerpt from an old Keyboard Magazine about the production of this song.
“The Linn LM-1 rhythm was programmed by Mike Rutherford, rather than drummer Collins. It was fed through a reverb unit and then into a Fender amplifier with a large amount of distortion. Tony Banks used a Synclavier, ARP Quadra, E-mu Emulator, and Sequential Circuits Prophet-10 in the recording. The Quadra's rhythmic pulses were triggered by the 16th note hi-hat pattern coming from the Linn drum machine. A low E drone was recorded on the Prophet-10 through most of the song. A koto, which happened to be in the studio one day, was sampled into the Emulator and used in the song because it was felt that no other sound worked in the section.”
I understand every third or fourth word of that. Sounds awesome, though.
“That’s All” What can you say? Craftmanship supreme.
“Home By the Sea” Here’s another of those double-whammies I mention. I must’ve heard this a hundred times before I ever looked it up what it was about, and I only ever did so because I joked to a friend once that if I ever got a home by the sea it wouldn’t be the one from that Genesis song. I was only responding to the tortured mood of the song, not its lyrical content, which do happen to be about a haunted house. And that’s where the secondary realization kicks in, i.e. “wow, that song’s about a burglar who breaks into a haunted house and then the ghosts just sit him down (“Sit ow-owwwn-n-n!”) and tell him stories of who they used to be and how they came to be haunting there. And you know what? That’s exactly what it sounds like, now that I know that.” Remarkable.
“Second Home By the Sea” Because the first wasn’t enough! Absolutely not. An artsy sequel, like the sophisticated city cousin to the haunted country mouse of the previous. I’ll work on it.
“Illegal Alien” Okay, well, they can’t all be first round picks. This is a good-hearted silly song that is anachronistic and a little weird-sounding now. I’d say “offensive” but it’s practically banal these days to point out perfectly inoffensive things that are treated like Lord Haw Haw. It goes on way too long, mostly.
I never liked “Taking It All Too Hard” on previous listens but Old Man Bryan likes it just fine and kindly reminds you of the boundaries and border-hedge of his personal exteriors.
“Just A Job To Do” Is this Genesis’ most overlooked big hit? As in people forget both that it exists or that Genesis did it? In all fairness, it’s easy for the casual listener to get Phil’s 80s work mixed up with Genesis’. Mike and the Mechanics don’t have that problem. (Nor Tony, I guess, if anyone even recognized them. Poor guy released four or five non-Genesis projects in the 80s that sold a total of four copies. I’m told, unreliably. I’ve heard none of them. That’ll change one of these days. I love Tony, don't send me hate mail.) Anyway this is a fun tune. I wouldn’t say Phil is underrated as a vocalist, but one particular aspect of his fronting Genesis – that of “selling” all of these different POVs, here an assassin with (see title) – may be. That’s a whole different skill set than just hitting the notes.
(“I’m coming hard on you!” might have been re-thought as the bridge, but it was a simpler time. )
“Silver Rainbow” Some great (and weird keys) on this one. Apparently the silver rainbow is the zipper to a girl’s jeans. A trivial little tune, perhaps, but a great example of just how effortlessly these guys can construct a song. Is there a note wasted here? I think not. Despite the subject matter, it reminds me of a Wiggles tune.
“It’s Gonna Get Better” Criticized on release as “cosmic Elgar” (as in Sir Edward William Elgar, the dude whose “Elegy” graces many a montage in film and television) it actually lifts a cello part from a different composer, Aram Khachaturian. A lovely song that has only grown on me over the years and dozens of listens. The ending goes for broke and succeeds. It points squarely to where the band will land next.
Before we get there, the b-sides for the singles on this one include “Nanimani” and “Submarine.” Both are great. The latter could be the theme of an entire film, actually. Not necessarily a navy (or delicatessen) film, just a nice slice of atmosphere.
“Land of Confusion” Great track. I remember when everyone went nuts for the metal remake. Not bad, I guess, but for me the remake just underscores how perfect the original is. Ditto for the metal remakes of “Blue Monday” and “Smooth Criminal” come to think of it. Remember when there was a metal remake of everything? And then a techno remake, and then a punk/hardcore remake? Simpler times, my friends, simpler times.