Reinterpreting the much-loved classics of one of the seminal 70s prog bands is a sensitive business, even if you are one of those responsible for creating said classics in the first place. Tinker too much and you risk losing the essence of what made those classic songs so good; change too little and people will question the point of the exercise.
The former criticism was levelled at Steve Hackett in some quarters when he released the first of his Genesis retrospectives, back in 1998. Fourteen years on, he charts a safer and more successful course with this follow-up album, opting for a more subtle treatment of seventeen Genesis songs across the 2 hours 23 minutes of a double CD. He also find space to revisit four songs from his lengthy solo career.
Let me say at the outset that your enjoyment of this album is likely to hinge upon your tolerance for different vocal presentations of the Genesis classics. If, for you, nobody but Gabriel will do for Return Of The Giant Hogweed or Collins is the only voice that sounds right for Ripples, then you are going to have difficulty. Even if you are reasonably open-minded about such things, the variety of vocal styles on display here means that you should expect to like some of the tracks much more than others. With that proviso in mind, let’s dive in.
Horizons is the first of three tracks from Foxtrot to feature on GR2. This version isn’t much different from the original – played a touch more softly, perhaps. It serves the same purpose here as on the original LP: a delicate morsel to whet our appetite before Supper. GR2’s interpretation of Supper’s Ready is – dare I say it – more refined than the original. Acoustic guitar is used more heavily here, and there are more layers of instrumentation to explore. Lover’s Leap and Apocalypse in 9/8 are the strongest sections; the latter builds to a crescendo much more effectively here and it still has the capacity to raise goosebumps as it segues into the closing Aching Man’s Feet. Hackett has gambled by using different vocalists for each part of the piece, but for me it doesn’t quite work and coherence suffers as a result.
Whilst Supper’s Ready is a qualified success, GR2’s treatment of Can Utility & The Coastliners is nothing short of a revelation. The rendition here is altogether more full-bodied and melodic than the version from 1972. Steven Wilson’s singing blends in beautifully and seems to suit the music better than Gabriel’s more strained tones. I confess I had tended to overlook Can Utility in the past, but it is now a firm favourite of mine, purely on the basis of how it has been presented here.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
‘The Lamb’ contributes four tracks to GR2. Fly On The Windshield and Broadway Melody Of 1974 are staples of Hackett’s tours over the last few years and drummer Gary O’Toole sings both of them here, just as he has done on tour. Fly benefits from having lead guitar and Mellotron more prominent in the mix but Broadway Melody is a disappointment; O’Toole has tried to make the performance his own by phrasing things differently, but in doing so loses the poetic rhythm that made Gabriel’s version so special.
The other two tracks are more interesting. The Chamber Of 32 Doors opens the album in fine style, beginning with a flourish of Spanish guitar before the familiar Mellotron chords and guitar solo kick in. Modern recording techniques have given us a richer and more three-dimensional version here; the original sounds somewhat flat by comparison. Hackett’s playing and Nad Sylvan’s vocals are very good indeed.
The Lamia is even better, I think. Roger King’s piano work is splendid, but Nik Kershaw’s plaintive vocals are undoubtedly the highlight. Like Can Utility, this manages to be a faithful version that nonethless adds substance to the original.
Wind & Wuthering
Tracks from Steve Hackett’s final Genesis studio album make up well over a third of disc 2’s 71 minutes. We start with Blood On The Rooftops, a fan favourite of Hackett’s recent tours. As in those live performances, Hackett has grafted some lovely Spanish guitar work seamlessly onto the front of the track, lengthening it to nearly 7 minutes. Gary O’Toole does a decent job here, his vocal style suiting this song better than the Lamb material, perhaps. The use of soprano sax in place of some of the synth work by Banks lends this version a touch of sophistication. It’s an enjoyable piece that, on balance, doesn’t add much to the original.
Eleventh Earl Of Mar is more impressive. It’s always been one of my favourites from Wind & Wuthering but I’ve equally felt it to be a little raucous, demonstrating the limitations of the 1976 production. No such concerns apply to GR2’s version, which is every bit as powerful and exciting but far more refined. The singing by Nad Sylvan is excellent (ignore the pedants who may point to some odd pronounciation of the lyrics in a couple of places) and there are some quite beautiful vocal harmonies during the ‘time to go to bed now’ mid-section that really lift the piece.
Finally, we have the trio that close Wind & Wuthering: Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers…, …In That Quiet Earth and Afterglow. The two instrumental numbers are reasonably faithful renditions of the originals, although the production here has given In That Quiet Earth a good deal more heft and we get sax substituting for synth again, to spice things up a little. Afterglow is sung by John Wetton, who does as good a job as Phil Collins did back in 1976 – although, in my view, neither studio version can hold a candle to live performances of the song.
Other Genesis Material
Other albums are less well represented. From Trick Of The Tail we get Entangled and Ripples. The former is truly excellent, mixing electric and acoustic guitar sounds to great effect and featuring some wonderfully rich harmonies; the latter is equally good in the choruses and instrumental sections, but I’m still trying to decide whether Amanda Lehmann’s husky tones – certainly pleasing enough on their own – are a good match for the verses.
Selling England By The Pound’s sole representative is Dancing Out With Moonlit Knight, with vocals by Francis Dunnery. The treatment given here is fairly authentic and Dunnery sings well. His more than passable Gabriel imitation may be a relief to some and an annoyance to others, depending on expectations.
Finally, from Nursery Cryme we get The Return Of The Giant Hogweed and The Musical Box. For Hogweed, Hackett has recruited Neal Morse and Roine Stolt, who recorded a cover of it as a bonus track on Tranatlantic’s The Whirlwind and who played it live, with Hackett as guest, at the High Voltage Festival in 2010. The rendition given here is very good, quite heavy in places, with Hackett indulging himself on lead guitar to the fullest extent.
If Hogweed is very good, then Musical Box is a triumph. At the risk of being labelled a heretic, I’ll even venture that this is the definitive version. As with the other great successes on this album, it remains true to the spirit of the original whilst adding both depth and texture. The middle section, in particular, is thrilling. Nad Sylvan takes on vocal duties once again and is excellent. Hackett’s playing is first class, as it is throughout the album, and the other players perform their parts admirably.
The four tracks from Hackett’s solo career will inevitably garner less attention than his Genesis reinterpretations, but don’t think for a minute that they are mere padding. Each has something different to offer.
Please Don’t Touch, which closes disc 1, adds depth with an orchestra; Camino Royale, on the other hand, injects some variety through use of Hungarian jazz group Djabe, which makes for a delightfully loose middle section.
The selections from Voyage Of The Acolyte, A Tower Struck Down and Shadow Of The Hierophant, are both given splendid treatments; the latter, in particular, builds to a much more effective climax.
This is an album of sensitive and thoughtful adaptions that mostly succeed. Some of them are triumphs that shed new light on old classics. It deserves your attention – and an open mind – if you are a Genesis or Hackett fan. Give it a try!