Monday, September 29, 2008

heavy rotation

middle-period genesis as i would call it: the three albums after the departure of peter gabriel and when phil collins took over lead vocals but before they made it big on the u.s. pop charts, namely a trick of the tail (1976), wind and wuthering (1977), and ...and then there were three (1978). being a devotee of the gabriel era, i never took these albums seriously because it was so easy to scoff at them.

now granted, this judgment was all after-the-fact. growing up on a steady diet of mid-1970s FM radio, i knew "follow you, follow me" and of course the big singles from 1980's duke (the ubiquitous "misunderstanding" and "turn it on again"). and the freshman year high school teacher who turned me onto prog in general certainly played us "dusk" from 1970's trespass (the first real genesis album: "from genesis to revelation" is rather expendable as i heard it). but it was precisely may 31 1984 (the date stamp on the price tag is indelible) when i bought a one-dollar used copy of 1972's foxtrot at warped records in lakewood ohio. and when you've been weaned on this one, no genesis lacking peter gabriel will really do.

nevertheless, these middle period records are not without merit. and you can find no better point of comparison between gabriel and collins than trick of the tail's opener, "dance on a volcano" (youtube) and "dancing with the moonlit knight" (youtube) the opener from selling england by the pound (the last truly great gabriel-era album before the enjoyable but completely overblown double-album concept LP the lamb lies down on broadway which gabriel entirely dominated and contributed to his irrepairable rift from the rest of the band). in many ways, trick of the tail was the surviving band's effort at bypassing the excesses of the lamb and going back to redo selling england without gabriel.

problem is -- and make no mistake, collins is a superb, entirely self-taught percussionist and a decent singer -- he sounds so close to gabriel and yet is so far. the lyrics and delivery are just never bizarre and compelling enough tho. and so the attempt to sound like gabriel but just not quite being able to pull it off gives the whole thing the slight air of parody.

but again, i'm finding them no less enjoyable as a result. "dance on a volcano" got the formula down: the acoustic guitar licked, percussion-flourished and multiple key-changed intro leading into the perfectly nimble and driving 7/8-time section that alternates twice with harder and slower 4/4 main theme ("better start doing it right") before drifting into a bit of trippy atmospherics taking us into a new theme -- all of this before we hit 2:30! but it's all a bit formulaic and just does not have the edge of "dancing with the moonlit knight."

the next two tracks on trick of the tail, "entangled" and "squonk," may be the prettiest and most anthematic pieces, respectively, that the band ever put to record. the harpsichord-like 12-string arpeggios and multi-part harmonies of "entangled" are nearly exquisite, and "squonk" gets you diggin in yr pockets for the bic-lighter to hold up in arena-rock fashion with the best of 'em.

i know i borrowed trick of the tail from friends back in the day but never bothered to buy a copy; wind and wuthering i likewise borrowed but may never have listened to more than once all the way through, and even now it still commands my attention least. tho again, the best three tracks seem to be the first three: "eleventh earl of mar," "one for the vine" and "your own special way." this latter apparently charted as a single in england and is often described as the first real genesis "love song" and thus a prelude to "follow you, follow me." again i'm struck by how truly bizarre and wonderful the verse sections are of this, particularly the slightly out-of-tune keyboards that fill in between the acoustic-12-string and collins vocal lines -- all this before the crushingly sentimental title-bearing chorus comes in and nearly wrecks the whole thing.

finally, "down and out" really does open the last of these middle-period records, and then there were three (so-named because guitarist steve hackett left the band too, leaving only collins, keyboardist tony banks and bass/gtrist mike rutherford to soldier on as a trio -- and make probably more money than the band ever had before) in classic driving fashion. "undertow" threatens to muck about in the maudlin until collins gets us to the chorus "the "stand up to the blow" and "let me live again" sections) which are probably just as sappy but i find my ears succumbing to like a complete sucker. and then the other standout, aside from "follow you, follow me" (which actually sounds like a pretty decent tune once you've gotten some distance from it), is "deep in the motherlode" which i take to be almost as anthematic and stadium-swaying as "squonk" but curiously has that "misunderstanding" slow-dance feel to it as well. honestly it's not all that far from the "loving, touching, squeezing" business that the godawful journey brought us. it's "go west young man" injunction, intended however ironically or not, is likewise nearly unbearable. but for whatever reason i find that opening and recurring keyboard figure utterly infectious and can't hear it enough.


K. Silem Mohammad said...

Haw! This takes me back. I had all these albums in the seventies. Hackett's 12-string guitar work on Trick of the Tail really is gorgeous.

What's that dreamy synthy instrumental track on Wind and Wuthering? Is it the title piece? I used to listen to it repeatedly, partly because I loved the spacey melody, and partly because I was perversely fascinated by the scratchy sound that ran through it like a defect in the vinyl. Or maybe I did have a defective copy.

I've always thought "Follow You, Follow Me" was a beautiful tune. In fact, it's what first brought Genesis to my attention. Everything Collins has done afterwards makes me cringe, however.

tmorange said...

i still don't know W&W that well -- will have to go back and let you know...