How can we resist more Dazzler? This moment in love is from issue #22, © Marvel, etc.
Off the top of my head, what do I know about Genesis? The original band were Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and Peter Gabriel. If there were any other people involved, I don’t know about ’em. Genesis played lauded prog rock with elaborate stage shows. Gabriel split to go solo; I know his material well. His first two albums each have some good moments, but I don’t adore them. His third and fourth are both really super good. He also did a movie soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s The Passion of the Christ. If we ignore the content and topic of the film and enjoy Gabriel’s instrumental score as a stand-alone work, detached from the movie, it’s also really good. I have to admit that it was a go-to make-out album in the 1990s… provided my date didn’t associate the music with the film. That would have been a mood killer. After that, Gabriel kind of lost it, making a series of increasingly slick and significantly less interesting pop albums.
I’ve never heard a note of Gabriel-era Genesis, even though I’ve been aware of it for at least four decades. I’ve really been resisting the idea of listening to Genesis for all these years due to Phil Collins’ solo career in the 1980s. I was Not. A. Fan. This guy was on the radio constantly when I was an adolescent, and his songs were pretty much guaranteed to get the station changed, every time. He was a driving force in driving me toward college radio before I was old enough to drive. Genesis were also still making records at that time, in tandem with Collins as a solo artist; the band’s records in that era were almost as disposable as Collins’ solo work. I’ll bet they don’t play “Illegal Alien” at their shows anymore. Embarrassing, guys. So, Collins turned me off of ever wanting to listen to Genesis, even the potentially interesting early stuff. I’ve struggled with ol’ Phil’s appearances on records by people who I do like, such as his pal Peter Gabriel, or Robert Fripp, or the unimpeachable Brian Eno, but I guess the middle-1970s records by those people featuring Collins were made quite a while before his years as a pop star. This feeble justification is all I can muster, even while acknowledging that Eno did some signal processing work on The Lamb Lies Down… in exchange for Collins drumming on Another Green World. There was something in the air. If nothing else, there’s some Eno DNA in today’s listening, although that’s not always a guarantee of good music: Eno has produced some of my favorite records (as a producer and/or an artist), but to be fair he did also produce Coldplay.
Well. Genesis. This is the place, and now is the time. As always, I’m listening to this album for the first time ever, and have not done any research at all before listening today (everything above is what has leaked into my skull via cultural osmosis). Going in with nothing else, I’m taking the music at face value. The writing is entirely my tabula rasa stream-of-consciousness first impressions, written in real-time as the album played, and was only edited for spelling and clarity. If I change my mind later, you’ll never know. Since I’ve got three decades as a sound engineer under my belt, I’ll be listening equally to the merits of the music and the quality of the sound production. For more info about the mission and background of this series, see C O N T E X T (post #00).
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
Version: VJCP-98019 (Japan, 2007)
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Twiddling quasi-classical piano. Who is the keyboard player? Rutherford or Banks? For some reason, I want to say Banks. Does this band have a full time bass player or is that Rutherford? So who is on guitar? Ok, now we get Gabriel’s unmistakable voice. This song does feel like something that would fit well on one of this first two solo albums. The mix is murky. After the noteworthy clarity of last post’s Van Halen recording, the thumpy upfront bass on this one combined with the guitar and keys getting lost within each other are diminishing the impact of the playing. This could be cleaned up. Sounds like a job for Steven Wilson. Or me. What’s this song about? Seems like we meet the denizens of Manhattan at night (including Rael, a graffiti artist; he’s the only one with a name), and something magical is about to happen. Is there a Christian allegory here? I don’t know much about Christianity, but there’s a thing with a lamb, right?
Fly On A Windshield
We segue right into the next song. Mellotron choirs. Are we into a concept album here? It’s got that vibe. The first tune felt like a bit of an overture, it set the scene, and now we’re into some storytelling. Something ominous is happening to our magical Broadway. Those dissonant strummed chords, atmospheric organ. A sense of tension, then – BAM – it gets huge. Not entirely predictable. Guitar solo is suitably melodic. I don’t hate this. This title; did Depeche Mode rip this off for “Fly on the Windscreen”? Seems likely; their song has some thematic similarities (“Death is everywhere / there are flies on the windscreen… and later “lambs for the slaughter”).
Broadway Melody Of 1974
Didn’t miss a beat, straight into the next song. At first, I didn’t notice that we were into a new song. The transition happens at kind of a random point. More evocative lyrics about New York, and a bunch of people get name-checked: comedians Lenny Bruce and Groucho Marx, plus media theorist Marshal McLuhan, millionaire Howard Hughes, and murderous kidnapper Caryl Chessman. But also: the Madonna. Suppose I’ll have to resign myself to missing the point here. But one should expect religious allegory form a band called Genesis, yes?
As we merge right into the next tune, there’s some kind of flanger on Gabriel’s voice. Warm flute solo gets a little lost in the mix, which is still a little murky. Really, this could also be the arrangement too. The players might just be getting in each other’s way. Maybe sorting their parts out a little better would help. There have only been a few spots so far where any instrument got to shine or take center stage. Oops, this one is over already…
In The Cage
…and we’re into a heartbeat bass throb, Mellotron choruses, and some Hammond. Seems like Gabriel is singing about someone with a booze problem. This whole album is lyrically dense. Probably in a good way. There’s no way to interpret these words while listening to the music and writing all at the same time. This blog project is all about recording immediate impressions in real time. This record probably does have a bit more to unpack. There’s a lot of stuff flashing by really fast. It’s one of the few records heard for this project so far that immediately demands another pass. Perhaps. But, I mean, Phil Collins (shudder). But… Gabriel. And Eno. Wow, out of nowhere a synthesizer solo, pushed right up front and center in the mix. The solo is striking in quality (even if it does over-reply on arpeggios), but just materializes with no warning. This sounds like it is coming from a different record. We haven’t heard any obvious synth on this record so far, and now it’s the dominant thing in the mix for a fairly substantial section. Then some other stuff and another synth solo. There is a lot going on in this album, and I’m sure I missed a lot of it. This band doesn’t seem to rest for a moment, they’re always moving things forward and almost never repeat themselves, even within a song. There haven’t been many obvious choruses and certainly nothing at all resembling a pop hook. As we discussed with a few of the other bands in this series who have done concept albums, the pitfall of through-composing, and in particular chaining the songs together like this, is that the music can seem rambling and unfocused, while incomplete ideas can pass for songs simply by sandwiching them between two other maybe-finished (maybe not) ideas. I’m going to have to listen to this one again to really get a grip on it but so far it seems like perhaps Genesis had a bit more direction with this record compared to the results of some of the other prog-conceptual records heard recently. Provisionally. A fade… and so ends side one.
The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging
So… conspicuous consumerism?
Back In N.Y.C.
Early use of a sequencer in this one. Not bad for 1974. This album and Autobahn by Kraftwerk came out the same month. We might also be hearing some kind of square wave pulse triggering a gate. That was a way of getting sounds that we associate today with “sequencers” before there were sequencers. Our lead character Rael is back in this one. Maybe he’s been the protagonist all along. He is behaving rather poorly this time out.
Another proto-sequencer, this time much more relaxed in timbre, leads this mostly-instrumental track until Gabriel tells us:
“That night he pictured the removal of his hairy heart
and to the accompaniment of very romantic music
he watched it being shaved smooth
by an anonymous stainless steel razor. “
Yup, we can all relate(?)
Counting Out Time
This one has a really different feel, it almost feels like a proper pop song. Was this the result of record label pressuring the band for a single? Well, the lyrics aren’t precisely pop material. Rael is singing about finding himself a girl. Maybe there’s some humor here – in addition to a super-goofy sounding bridge section, the lyrics seem to imply that our boy is learning how to excite a girl via a book, which didn’t work? Failure to get good results from a copy of Kama Sutra or The Joy of Sex isn’t a common song topic. The seriously goofy carnival tone that the song modulates into halfway through probably isn’t helping the narrator get laid. Is that some kind of dopey masturbation theme?
Another stand-alone tune with a little more accessibility. More of a ballad. Did Genesis have any success in America before this record? There is a lot of American imagery in these lyrics. Had they toured here? Was it a reaction to the U.S., or an impression of it? There’s a floaty ambient thing here, but once again it seems over-arranged, or just messily arranged. This would work better if everyone was playing a little less. When the drums come in toward the middle, they’re super-buried. Really they’re not necessary at all. Some woody hand percussion would have sufficed here, if anything. Is the mix engineer slowly fading the hi-hat up? It’s distracting. Oh, there is a little teeny bit of conga buried in the right channel. I’d be interested to hear a version with more of that conga audible and none of the drum set.
The Chamber Of 32 Doors
We finish with another stand alone quasi-ballad that picks up a bit halfway through, the builds to a suitably big finish. This is fine. I’m not inspired to say more. And…. it turns out that this is the end of disc one, but there’s a second disc. I don’t especially fucking hate this record, but I can’t deal with writing about disc two. I’ll listen to it later.
Song for the IFTB Mix tape:
After dutifully posting one of these meandering investigations twice a month for just over a year, I’m kind of fried. Feels like I’m repeating myself, and it feels like I’ve explored the chosen topic fairly thoroughly for now. I don’t want these writings to become rote, or to bore you… or to bore myself. So I’m gonna take a break.
Before leaving you all, I’ll post two more things over the next month, which are already written. Both are very tangentially related to this series, really only because they’re about music. First will be something that I wrote for my MFA program about Einsturzende Neubauten (who are about as far from the topic of this blog as we can get!), and then an epic musing of 4000+ words about my oft-mentioned childhood faves, E.L.O., which I wrote upon seeing them play back in 2018.
Then we’ll observe and maintain radio silence for a bit. If and when I pick this series back up, some artists who are/were in the queue are:
J. Geils Band
Blue Öyster Cult
Van der Graaf Generator
…time will tell if we end up exploring their work.
Next: [TANGENT A] Einsturzende Neubauten, coming May 01, 2022