Here’s Something Else!: Genesis That Doesn’t, You Know, Suck

Believe it or not, Phil Collins was once just a member of this group called Genesis.

Back then, before Collins turned Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks into his backing band, Genesis had begun its musical life as a witty, sometimes quite theatrical prog-rock project. The twin departures, however, of Peter Gabriel and then Steve Hackett led to a turn into more popular sounds. Before you knew it, Collins had launched his own concurrent solo career — memorably unleashing the mid-1980s earplug “Sussudio” upon an unsuspecting public. From then on, Genesis was never the same, issuing a few formless efforts that largely mimicked the Collins sides (though they carefully inserted a few expanded instrumental passages to assuage the bitching from long-time fans), before wandering off into oblivion.

Your pals over at would like return now to that time before Collins’ career briefly went supernova — to a time when touches, we’re told, weren’t invisible and jackets were, in fact, required. Maybe this legacy can be saved …

“ABACAB” (ABACAB (1981): Abacab, the album, came near the end of the evolution of Genesis from a prog-rock band to a pop-rock band. Thing is, they became a reliable hit-making machine as they were wandering through this identity wilderness. “Follow You Follow Me,” “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It on Again” may have been pop tunes, but in surveying the scene at the time, it rated higher than most of what else was happening on Top 40 radio then.

“Abacab,” on the other hand, reconciled the two sides of Genesis at conflict with each other, the end product being something almost an anathema to both prog and pop: a pulsating, seven-minute long jam. Phil Collins’ drums weren’t yet the amped-up African rhythms he would shortly introduce later on “In The Air Tonight” but here they were jumping out of the speakers the old-fashioned way: by beating the shit out of his kit. His vocals evolved from the passive delivery of “Follow you” to this yelling, emotionally invested honest-to-goodness rock singer. Tony Banks‘ keys provide the full palate of melody and harmony, including those in-your-face synth bass blurts, and Mike Rutherford’s rhythm guitar finds its own space amongst all that.

Aside from that, I can’t really describe why 30 years later I can’t get enough of this song; it’s simply one of the best straight groove songs in rock history. — S. Victor Aaron

“FIRTH OF FIFTH” (SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, 1973) There’s music I like, music I love, and then there’s music that literally gives me goosebumps. The list of music that falls into the goosebump category is a rather short one: No matter how many times I hear Steve Hackett’s guitar solo on “Firth of Fifth,” the hairs on my arm stand on end and I find myself moved nearly to tears by the emotive beauty of his guitar-tistry.

In later years, Tony Banks was rather dismissive of the lyrics as being some of the worst he’d ever written. While I do find the lyrics to be a bit overly pretentious they do capture the escapist mood of the song and the brilliant flute solo by Peter Gabriel followed by the aforementioned haunting Hackett guitar solo more than make up for Banks’ lyrics. Besides, I’ve come to be a bit more forgiving of in recent years than Banks seems to be. — Perplexio, from DancingAboutArchitecture and The Review Revue

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Fans and critics alike pretty much ripped Genesis’ post-Collins project ‘Calling All Stations,’ but we kinda like it.]

“YOUR OWN SPECIAL WAY” (WIND AND WUTHERING, 1976): While Genesis dipped their toes in the “love ballad” pool with “More Fool Me” a few albums before and dove in full force after their turn to a more pop-friendly sound, “Your Own Special Way” is their most beautiful love song.

There’s a touching innocence to the song that suggests more of a parental than a romantic love between partners (although admittedly it could be interpreted either way). To me, the song is a tale of a father who has been away for a long time (“I’ve sailed the world for seven years”) coming home to a child he loves but is hesitant to see the father that has been absent so long (“Won’t you come out wherever you are?”). Children also have a way of reminding their parents of the innocence of the world and getting them to look at the world for the first time all over again (“You have your own special way of turning the world so it’s facing the way that I’m going.”)

A child-like whimsy can also be found in Banks’ keyboard playing, something that reinforces that father/child dynamic. — Perplexio

“HOME BY THE SEA/SECOND HOME BY THE SEA” (GENESIS, 1983): Crunchy and limber, then spacey and a bit progressive — and with a spooky theme to boot — this pair of songs (combined, they are more than 11 minutes long) represents perhaps the last rickety bridge between Genesis’s two music-making periods.

Hugh Padgham, who had engineered the previous Abacab, took over as a producer — and he would oversee the the band’s (and Phil Collins‘) transformation into overproduced mainstream pop slicksters. So yeah, Genesis, named that because it was the first to feature a complete set of songs collaborated on by all three members, included the prominent use of a drum machine (“Mama”), a catchy Top 10-hit in “That’s All” and a radio-ready ballad in “Taking It All Too Hard.”

Yet there were still glimmers of what had come before, and “Home by the Sea” is one of them. That starts with the theme, which amounts to a ghost story: New tenants — or, perhaps burglars? — enter a seaside dwelling, only to be greeted by spirits from beyond. These ghosts have stories to relate, many of them. In the telling, however, the visitors become entrapped inside the haunted house, as well.

Tony Banks, who composed the lyrics, is particularly effective during the extended instrumental interlude that connects the two tracks. First, he skitters with a gutsy verve over a metronomic rhythm that seems to enclose the listener, then helps shape a towering, almost paranoid wall of sound before the song’s theme is reprised. Of course, Collins had, by then, developed into a singer of newfound range (angrily imploring his new visitors to “sit down, sit down … sit down!”) but, more importantly, the song retains a distinctive musical character that rounds out the narrative — very in keeping with the Genesis era then drawing to a close. — Nick DeRiso

“RIPPLES” (A TRICK OF THE TAIL, 1976): The era immediately following Peter Gabriel’s departure contains some of Genesis’ best music. While Gabriel was a creative force for the band, I’ve always preferred Phil Collins vocals even while I missed the progressive leanings of the band after their turn to a pop-oriented sound following Steve Hackett‘s departure.

“Ripples” is one of the best songs that Banks/Rutherford wrote following Peter Gabriel’s departure. The song is largely a lament for women who get by solely on their appearance and the emptiness they feel when they don’t have their looks to trade on any more. On another level, the heart-wrenching lyrics are about growing old gracefully and coming to grips with one’s fading appearance.

One of the criticisms of a lot of prog rock is that it’s overly technical to the point of sterility. Even at their “proggiest,” Genesis bucked that stereotype and that is perhaps most evident on “Ripples.” Collins’ vocal delivery is haunting and powerful. Hackett’s guitar playing is brilliantly emotive as always. And Banks piano work on this song, I’d argue, is some of the best he ever did for Genesis. — Perplexio

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  • mark

    Pretty much everything they did up to and including the “Duke” album doesn’t just not suck, it kicks serious a**!  If they had broken up in 1980, they’d be a critically acclaimed ’70s quasi-cult band.  Even in the ’80s, there were always album tracks that provided glimmers of their un-sucky past, and I even like some of their “hits,” they’re not all bad.  “That’s All” and “Abacab” for example are very intelligent and well-crafted pop songs.  Even “Taking It All Too Hard” is way more complex than its AOR ballad contemporaries.  It’s only when they got into stuff like “Land of Confusion” and “In Too Deep” that they emitted some serious suck-age. 

    It’s virtually impossible to pick a true Genesis favorite, but I have to go with “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” (from Foxtrot), “In the Cage” (from the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) and “Inside And Out” (from the Spot the Pigeon EP). 

    Perhaps the most unfairly-maligned band in rock history, due to a “sell-out” period that only consisted of two albums, really.

  • Curt Shannon

    A lot of “Lamb” is wonderful – their absolute best album for me. And you are totally correct about them being unfairly maligned.

  • Old_Davy

    Still my favorite band barring The Beatles.  Every member loaded with talent and great songwriting skills.  “Los Endos” and the last part of the Duke album are really great instrumental works that show what fine song craftsmen they are.  I especially loved how they would re-arrange songs and stick bits and pieces in quasi-medleys for the live shows.  And thanks for singling out “Firth of Fifth” which may be the greatest prog rock song ever – and I think the lyrics are brilliant.  “The sheep remain inside their pen, though many times they’ve seen the way to leave”.  Timeless!!

  • Deiter

    Not a fan. I enjoyed some of the early, early Gabriel albums and Lamb was probably the high point for me. But nothing, nothing represents the sleep-inducing slog of Prog-rock quite like synth lines in a bath of a Hammond organ. When noodling overtakes melody, they lose me; Music by mathameticians and accountants, emptied of blood and soul. Kind like the way Duane Allman’s slide sends me into the brain glaze of what I perceive as Southern rock orthodoxy. (Love The Doors Krieger’s slide, though. Yes, I’m fickle.)

    On the other hand, when Banks pulls out the Clavinet and the Mellotron I tend to awake again. Clearly, I’m emotional about this stuff. (That, and my preference for the first Crimson LP.) Each of us to our own.

    You can have your 80s Gensis. To my ears, the very definition of corporate yacht-rock.

    Enjoyed the post.

    Best, Deiter