Genesis

(formerly posted on the Yahoo! Music site)

One of the few vintage progressive-rock groups whose music doesn't sound absurd today, Genesis has survived personnel defections and stylistic jumps to become a commercial powerhouse, selling more albums today than ever before. However, crafty survival skills aside, the members have let a once-mighty band evolve into a bland pop act of little distinction.

Singer Peter Gabriel, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Michael Rutherford and guitarist Anthony Phillips started writing songs together as teenagers, after meeting at a typical British boarding school. Two years later, the group released its debut, From Genesis to Revelation. Unfortunately, syrupy string arrangements were added against the band's wishes, a move that badly dates the record. After a switch in drummers, Genesis issued Trespass the following year. A major leap forward, this one had longer songs and introduced a trademark knack for rapidly shifting instrumental themes. Still, the sound and playing were rough. Luckily, two landmark personnel changes followed: the ethereal Steve Hackett replaced the departed Phillips, and the band swapped drummers yet again, this time hiring future superstar Phil Collins. The classic Genesis lineup was complete.

The next four years were the group's creative peak. Nursery Cryme was an inconsistent first step, containing three excellent long tracks and some wispy filler, but Foxtrot was a breakthrough. Including the definitive Genesis epic "Supper's Ready," Foxtrot made Gabriel a star and earned the band worldwide recognition. They followed that success with the self-descriptive Genesis Live. Like all the group's concert albums, it's unessential, simply because Genesis songs are too tightly constructed to allow for much onstage variation. However, the subsequent Selling England by the Pound was wonderfully evocative, if not quite as powerful as Foxtrot. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway followed as Gabriel's ultimate statement, a conceptual double-record where his gifts for wordplay and surreal characterization blossomed into maturity. After an elaborate tour, Gabriel left the band in May, 1975 and launched an acclaimed solo career.

Shrugging off this loss, the remaining members carried on with Collins as lead singer and released A Trick of the Tail. While the group's ability to rock was gone for good, the album boasted some of their most sophisticated music yet. Meanwhile, Collins introduced a warm, crowd-pleasing persona on tour that contrasted sharply with the theatrical, costumed Gabriel. On a roll, the band released Wind & Wuthering just 10 months later. Slightly more lush, the record was otherwise similar to A Trick of the Tail, though "Afterglow" and "Your Own Special Way" hinted at a more commercial approach to come. Feeling stifled, Hackett left Genesis in July, 1977. Another live album, Seconds Out, served as his farewell. Collins, Banks and Rutherford gamely persevered as a trio and released ...And Then There Were Three. Though "Follow You Follow Me" became the band's first hit single, Rutherford (now playing both bass and guitar) couldn't adequately cover Hackett's absence. However, Duke was a brilliant compromise between mainstream pop and the group's arty past. After Duke, Collins released a hit solo album (the first of several), which led to his punchy R&B influences overwhelming the group's once-grandiose sound. Abacab moved into pure pop with fair results, but dumbed-down tracks like "Keep It Dark" and "Who Dunnit?" horrified many veteran fans. Three Sides Live capped off Genesis' essential period. Genesis, Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance all had some nice moments, but were severely hampered by banal Top 40 concessions and Collins' increasing hamminess as a performer. The Way We Walk was yet more live recordings.

In March, 1996, Collins announced that he too was leaving Genesis. Bravely (or desperately?), Banks and Rutherford recruited singer Ray Wilson and readied a new album, Calling All Stations. Meanwhile, original fans breathlessly await Atlantic's long-delayed series of Genesis box sets.

1. Foxtrot 1972
"Supper's Ready," a multi-sectioned masterpiece (all 23 minutes' worth) which somehow flows perfectly from beginning to end, is enough alone to send Foxtrot to the head of the class. The rhythmically fiendish "Watcher of the Skies," the colorful "Get 'Em Out by Friday" and "Can-Utility and the Coastliners" are here too.
Rating: 6

2. Selling England by the Pound 1973
Warmer, more organic than previous albums, Selling England is Hackett's best showcase. "Firth of Fifth" and "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" are majestically stirring, "Battle of Epping Forest" has some of Gabriel's most vivid storytelling, while "After the Ordeal" and "The Cinema Show" contain the group's best extended instrumental work ever.
Rating: 6

3. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway 1974
A sprawling two-disc odyssey, in which Gabriel dives into mythological pastiche to follow the strange travails of Rael, a New York street kid thrust into a supernatural world. There are several fantastic songs ("In the Cage," the title track, "The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging," "The Carpet Crawlers," "The Chamber of 32 Doors," "Lilywhite Lilith"...) but the story overwhelms the music, and the sound is so heavily processed that the album's emotional range is flattened out.
Rating: 6

4. A Trick of the Tail 1976
The first release minus Gabriel, Trick of the Tail has some startlingly beautiful melodies ("Ripples," "Mad Man Moon"), daring use of odd time signatures ("Robbery, Assault & Battery," "Dance on a Volcano") and two nifty singles (the title cut, "Squonk").
Rating: 5

5. Duke 1980
A flawlessly paced, loosely conceptual album mixing pop ("Misunderstanding," "Alone Tonight," "Turn It On Again"), nods to the old progressive days ("Man of our Times," "Heathaze," the exotic "Duke's Travels") and everything in-between. Not a bum song in the bunch.
Rating: 5

6. Nursery Cryme 1971
Featuring the debuts of Collins and Hackett, Nursery Cryme has the classics "The Musical Box" and "Fountain of Salmascis," the nutty "Harold the Barrel" and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed," but three weak tracks dampen the mood.
Rating: 5

7. Wind & Wuthering 1976
A fine record with some splendid instrumental work, but a bit fey. "Afterglow," "One for the Vine" and "Eleventh Earl of Mar" are the highlights.
Rating: 5

8. Genesis Live 1973
The only live album from the Peter Gabriel phase, the best reason to grab this is to hear Hackett's take on "The Knife" (originally from Trespass). Also included are "The Musical Box" and three superior tracks from Foxtrot.
Rating: 4

9. Seconds Out 1977
Another live collection, this double record has sharp performances, but Collins' glib renditions of Gabriel-era songs are irritating. Pay close attention to "The Cinema Show," which features the innovative drumming of temporary member Bill Bruford.
Rating: 4

10. Trespass 1970
Led by "Looking for Someone," the dramatic "Stagnation" and "The Knife" (the most ferocious piece in the band's catalog), Trespass represents the birth of the Genesis sound. The weak points are Phillips' clumsy guitar leads and some outdated vocal/keyboard arrangements.
Rating: 4

11. ...And Then There Were Three 1978
The remaining trio capably picks up the songwriting slack, but the glossy synthesizer-dominated sound doesn't serve the band well. The human touch of Hackett's soulful guitar lines is sorely missed.
Rating: 4

12. Three Sides Live 1982
The third live album, mostly covering Duke and Abacab material. Two different versions of this double-length set exist: one with versions of "One for the Vine, "Fountain of Salmacis," "It" and "Watcher of the Skies," the other with five new studio tracks substituted, including the hit "Paperlate."
Rating: 4

13. Abacab 1981
Originally dismissed as a sell-out by some listeners, this chart-topping record sounds better with age. "Abacab" and "No Reply at All" are great singles, while "Dodo" and "Me and Sarah Jane" maintain an exploratory edge.
Rating: 4

14. The Way We Walk, Vol. 2: The Longs 1993
Live recordings of some longer Genesis pieces, with an unfortunate emphasis on later material.
Rating: 3

15. From Genesis to Revelation 1969
Sounding more like the Moody Blues than Genesis, this dainty collection of biblically-themed songs has some nice melodies, but is sunk by antiquated arrangements.
Rating: 3

16. Genesis 1983
Its title underscoring the group's reinvented identity, Genesis is a lightweight collection of tunes ranging from first-rate ("That's All," "Just a Job to Do") to annoying ("Illegal Alien") to superfluous ("Second Home by the Sea") to just plain dull ("It's Gonna Get Better"). Extra points deducted for unbelievably awful artwork.
Rating: 3

17. The Way We Walk, Vol. 1: The Shorts 1992
Live performances of the recent hits -- why bother?
Rating: 3

18. We Can't Dance 1991
A slight return to the band's ornate roots, this lengthy disc is nevertheless bland and surprisingly unmemorable ("No Son of Mine" excepted). The less said about the title song, the better.
Rating: 3

19. Invisible Touch 1986
Cloying simplistic pop, with few virtues beyond a couple of good chorus hooks. Even the instrumental is a clunker.
Rating: 3

--Eric Broome