Review: Early Genesis

I’ve been a fan of Genesis for a while now, but it occurred to me quite recently that I don’t know that many of their songs. Most of my Genesis knowledge and appreciation comes from the tracks included on their Platinum Collection triple CD, which really only gives a glimpse into the band’s long and diverse history. It first became apparent to me that I needed to listen to more of their albums when I went to see the Genesis tribute act G2 (one of the greatest live acts I have ever seen), and was only able to recognise a handful of the tracks they played. Since then, I have made it my mission to find and listen to Genesis’s entire back-catalogue.

There were three albums I was particularly interested in. The Genesis purists’ Holy Trinity: Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, and Selling England by the Pound.

*

Nursery Cryme (1971) – 

Nursery Cryme is something of a disjointed album, with some incredible tracks (The Musical Box, Seven Stones), some strangely forgettable ones (For Absent Friends, Harlequin), and some truly bizarre ones (Harold the Barrel, The Return of the Giant Hogweed). Listening to the album, there are some moments of true genius, such as the opening of The Fountain of Salmacis and the closing section of The Musical Box, but overall, the album seems to struggle to find its tone. This tonal confusion is not necessary a bad thing though, and gives the album a very unique quality. After all, not many other albums could go from the haunting beauty of Seven Stones to the barmy but strangely toe-tapping Harold the Barrel. One thing that becomes apparent while listening to the album is the talent and skill of the band. Be it Phil Collins constantly changing the time signature with his drumming or Steve Hackett’s brief but blistering guitar solos, this album is musically brilliant, and highlights that, even in these early days, the five members of Genesis were all masters of their respective crafts. Nursery Cryme is definitely worth owning because it makes for a very enjoyable album, and when it’s good, it’s great.

Stand out track: The Return of the Giant Hogweed – Yes, it might be a very odd song about plants wiping out humanity, but with some outstanding drumming from Collins and strong vocals from Gabriel, it’s the song that will stay with you when the CD’s finished playing.

*

Foxtrot (1972)– 

For me Foxtrot is the album which marks when Genesis got it right. Nursery Cryme, while very good, sounds like a band still trying to find their style. With Foxtrot, they had found it, and the album is much stronger, much more cohesive, as a result. The album opens strongly with Watcher of the Sky, which begins slowly with some excellent keyboard work from Tony Banks, before kicking it up a notch with some very energetic and catchy drumming from Collins. The rest of the album certainly lives up to the opening track, with a good mix of prog epics – the scathing Get ’em out by Friday and the mostly Hackett penned Can-Utility and the Coastliners, both of which are musically brilliant – and some more song-like tracks – the beautifully poignant Time Table and the understated instrumental Horizons – which gives the album a good balance. And then we come to the final track, Supper’s Ready. Clocking in at just over twenty-three minutes, Supper’s Ready feels more like a mini musical than a song. A huge emotional journey, the song is both as grand as classical music and as invigorating as stadium rock. With its constantly changing time and key signatures, the track is musically and vocally astounding, and you will be left awestruck by the sheer scope and scale of what you are listening to. As an album, Foxtrot is both ambitious and confident, and really highlights why Genesis were one of the leading lights in British progressive rock.

Stand out track: Supper’s Ready – This might seem like an obvious choice, but it’s also the right one. Truly epic in every sense of the word, you will never hear another song like it.

*

Selling England by the Pound (1973) – 

Selling England by the Pound is one of those rare albums that come along every so often and make you question everything you thought you knew about music. This album doesn’t just define the sound of early Genesis, it defines 70’s prog rock. Like Foxtrot, the album opens strongly with Dancing with the Moonlit Knight. Starting with just Gabriel’s haunting vocals, the song slowly builds into up-tempo rock song, with each musician getting a chance to show off. The song is reprised in the album’s final song Aisle of Plenty, and is as equally effective closing the album as it was opening it. I Know What I Like (in your Wardrobe) gave the band their first hit (number 21 in the UK charts) and it’s easy to see why. It’s upbeat, lively and totally bonkers, and even though the lyrics make no sense, they’re great to sing along to. Firth of Fifth and The Cinema Show feature some of the best piano and guitar work Genesis have ever recorded (which is saying something) and are both highlights of the album. Both musically phenomenal, they highlight just how good all the members of Genesis are, with Peter Gabriel preforming some of his best vocals on these two tracks. More Fool Me is a nice little glimpse at what was to come in the band’s future, and shows that Phil Collins was, whether he knew it or not, always going to take over lead vocal when Gabriel left the band. The best way to describe Battle of Epping Forest is odd… It has some good moments, such as the chorus and the marching band opening, but you get the feeling that they were trying to fit too many ideas into too little space, and as a result some of it works, and some of it doesn’t. After the Ordeal is a great little instrumental in which Steve Hackett gets to highlights his excellent guitar skills, which was something of a rarity during his days with Genesis. As Aisle of Plenty reaches it climax and Peter Gabriel’s clamouring vocals drown themselves out and the album fades into silence, you realise that you have just listened to something very special.

Stand out track: Firth of Fifth or The Cinema Show – I was torn between these two songs, so went for both of them instead of having to choose. Both are brilliant for different reasons, but both represent what is so outstanding about this album –  bold ideas preformed with absolute excellence.

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