Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Genesis - Band Introduction

The career trajectory from innovative art rockers to pop sellouts has led many to overrate the first half of Genesis' career and underrate the second half. The six studio albums the band recorded in the first half of the '70s with Peter Gabriel declaiming lead vocals behind giant masks of fruit bowls over his head (though they'd like you to ignore the debut they recorded when they were still bugger-happy public schoolboys) had their moments and even some songs that were good from start to finish, but the overall impression is that of a talented band struggling to work out its kinks. Gabriel's endlessly inventive imagination and the band's constant sense of experimentation always kept the band at the very least interesting even when they were boring, but also more inconsistent than warranted. The recurrent problem of classic progressive rock is that its reach too often exceeded its grasp, which can be thrilling when it succeeds, but when it fails you wind up with ELP albums. Early Genesis differed from most other prog-rockers in eschewing, for the most part, lengthy solo showcases and orchestrated attempts at classical/pop fusion; to their credit, they based their music on songs and tunes. Theirs was a highly idiosyncratic, ur-English style that conjured up images of Alice in Wonderland playing cricket on the green in front of a Victorian mansion; the Kinks of the Village Green Preservation Society heavily, heavily on acid led by a Pied Piper Syd Barrett. In 1975, Peter Gabriel left, and for a while the band continued on in a prog direction, but with keyboardist Tony Banks by now completely dominating the band, drowning out all the other players with his overbearing synths – the analogy here is no longer the whimsical side of early Pink Floyd, but with Who's Next with the guitar parts removed from the master tapes, leading guitarist Steve Hackett to quit in frustration because he couldn't hear himself play. Then, as we all know, Genesis entered the '80s, and Phil Collins, Jehovah help us, took the spotlight, for music that was no longer analogous with Pink Floyd, the Who, or the Kinks, but with a post-menopausal, MOR Beatles. And then Phil left in '90s, nobody bought the CD they recorded with only two original members left, and then they split, mercifully.

I'm only reviewing the CDs that I actually have in my possession, though as you can tell from the above I've heard at one time or the other several of the rest. If you do need a good dose of '80s pop, the 1983 album simply entitled "Genesis" with the children's blocks on the cover, is actually very good – much better than "Illegal Alien" suggests, that's the worst song on that record.

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