Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trick/Treat: A Trick of the Tail

Genesis: A Trick of The Tail

So, my last post was about a band that started off very proggy, then gradually got poppier, before hitting it big. Why not follow that with a post about band that started off very proggy, then gradually got poppier, before hitting it big?

There are some differences, however. First, writing about Supertramp was a new experience for me, and to be fair, they were a band that I liked, but never really loved. Genesis, on the other hand, is a band that I have long loved, even after it was no longer remotely fashionable, and about which I have written a few times. Also, Supertramp’s early albums are pretty much forgotten, while Genesis’ (except their first), are still fondly remembered by those who enjoy the genre. And Supertramp essentially faded into oblivion after their major breakthrough, while Genesis continued to be successful, as they became more and more mainstream, to the point that even I gave up on them.

Many fans consider Genesis’ album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway to be a creative peak, and in some ways, it was—complex, dark, and in many places, brilliant. On the other hand, its attempt at a story was pretty much incomprehensible and there are parts of the album that sort of work in the story, but you really don’t want to listen to more than once. As most Genesis-ophiles know, after The Lamb, singer and visual focus Peter Gabriel decided to stop being part of the scenery and left the band.

Despite what many people may believe, The Lamb was not only a Gabriel project—most of the music for that album was written by the other members of the band, with the lyrics being written by Gabriel—a departure from the band’s prior more collegial practices, which led to the tensions resulting in Gabriel’s quitting. Although the music press assumed that this would be the end of the band, the remaining members wanted to continue—and the fact that they did so successfully does put to lie the myth that Gabriel was the creative heart of Genesis.

Determined to create a great new album, the band wrote a bunch of songs that hearkened back to the album before The Lamb, Selling England By The Pound, with a more pastoral, more English, more fun sound, and also included some jazzier sections, influenced by Phil Collins’ work with Brand X. It is an oft-told story that they auditioned a number of singers, assisted by Collins, but none clicked. So, like many organizations, they decided to promote from within, and Collins seized the front-man role and ran with it, ultimately doing credible versions of many of the songs originally sung by Gabriel. No, he didn’t have Gabriel’s edginess or weirdness, but he had a nice voice, and a genial, amusing stage presence.

The album, A Trick of the Tail may well be the point where Genesis best balanced its prog-rock heritage and its newer pop sensibility. There are many songs on this album that I love as much as anything that preceded them, and the title track, while not my favorite, is still a fine song. Based loosely on one of William Golding’s not-Lord-of–the-Flies books, The Inheritors (remember, songwriter Tony Banks was a graduate of the Charterhouse School, one of the oldest “public” schools in England), it is about an alien character who leaves his own world for that of humans, where he is captured and displayed as a freak, before escaping back to his “city of gold,” evading the humans who sought to plunder it. It is a bouncy pop tune, with the playfulness of older songs such as, say, “Harold The Barrel,” or “I Know What I Like,” and while it has its more complex moments, it is definitely a move toward pop, but to me, not in a bad way.

It also was the first Genesis song to have a video, and it is truly appalling. I mean really, really bad. Which is remarkable, because it was directed by the same guy who did the great video for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

So, check out both the album and song (but not the video, for god's sake), and you are in for a treat. (Sorry.)

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