Celebrating Mediocrity, Part II: Genesis

In part I of this review, I attempted–and I hope succeeded–in professing my respect for Genesis, 1978-1983, while admitting my disappointment in INVISIBLE TOUCH (1986) and my nearly complete ignorance of anything the band released after 1986.  When Steve Hackett first introduces the [insert positive descriptive] Ray Wilson on one of the Genesis Revisited concerts, I had to google the guy.  I had no idea who he was.  This, for better or worse, probably tells you how little I know about Genesis’s later history.  I also noted that there were a few good things about the documentary the BBC made a year or so ago, Genesis Together and Apart.  Some of the questions, the footage, and the memories truly moved me.  I’d never heard of one of the talking heads, but, frankly, they were pretty entertaining, and I enjoyed their enthusiasm.

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The documentary that teaches selling Britannia is better than SELLING ENGLAND

Overall, the BBC narrative just infuriated me.

Some smart guys meet in an elite school.  They really like one another, except for Tony, whom everyone simply tolerates because of his talent.  Oh, and when there is disagreement, Tony gets grumpy.  Rather than backing down, everyone gives into Tony.  His moodiness isn’t worth combatting.  The friends write music that taps into nostalgia for pre-industrialized, Edwardian England.  From there, they create complex, artful tunes and dress in funny costumes.  Along for the ride comes some guy–who according to Tony–plays the guitar “stiffly” and another guy who plays the drums fiercely but who also smiles a lot and loves fun and gets along with everyone.  Weirdo costume guy leaves the band and becomes happy, even writing a pop anthem.  Stiff guitarist guy leaves the band and no one really cares one way or the other if he is happy or not.

With weirdo costume guy gone and stiff guitarist guy who no one cares about departed (the BBC can’t even include him in the shots of all five members of the band!!!), the band is now thankfully free to write pop singles that everyone in the public will love.  No longer will their music be merely for weird, stiff people who attend elite schools.  Freed from these two crazies, Genesis finally reaches its ultimate goal, becoming mega famous and touring the world as the Beatles once had done.  In so doing, BBC seems to suggest, Britain has once again proven her greatness to all.  Thank you, Phil, Tony, Mike, and Britannia for letting us all finally share in the glory.  Forever and ever, amen.  Credits roll.

Well, need I explain the absurdities of this?  As good as ABACAB (1981) is–and I do love the album–it cannot in any way, shape, or form compare to the depth of SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND  (1973).

Musically, the 1973 album is so gorgeously layered, complex, and nuanced that it can’t be fully understood even after hundreds of listens.  ABACAB can be grasped in maybe three listens.  Again, I really like both, but it’s like comparing the finest wine to Pepsi.

Let’s even compare some sample lyrics.

From SELLING ENGLAND:

Can you tell me where my country lies?
Said the unifaun to his true love’s eyes.
It lies with me! cried the queen of maybe
– for her merchandise, he traded in his prize.

Paper late! cried a voice in the crowd.
Old man dies! the note he left was signed old father Thames?
– it seems he’s drowned;
Selling england by the pound.

And, now from ABACAB:

When they do it you’re never there.
When they show it you stop and stare.
Abacab He’s in anywhere.
Abacab Doesn’t really care.

you want it, you got it, you gotta go
you want it, you got it, now you know

GENESIS (1983)?  Fun stuff.  Good stuff.  Happy stuff (well, kind of).  GENESIS (1973) compared to, say, TRICK OF THE TAIL (1977)?  Are you kidding me?  Again, let’s just compare a few lyrics:

TRICK OF THE TAIL:

Holy Mother of God
You’ve got to go faster than that to get to the top.
Dirty old mountain
All covered in smoke, she can turn you to stone
So you better start doing it right
better start doing it right.

You’re halfway up and you’re halfway down
And the pack on your back is turning you around.
Throw it away, you won’t need it up there, and remember
You don’t look back whatever you do.
Better start doing it right.

On your left and on your right
Crosses are green and crosses are blue
Your friends didn’t make it through.
Out of the night and out of the dark
Into the fire and into the fight
Well that’s the way the heroes go, Ho! Ho! Ho!

And, from GENESIS:

I could leave but I won’t go
it’d be easier I know
I can’t feel a thing from my head down to my toes
but why does it always seem to be
me looking at you, you looking at me
s’always the same, it’s just a shame, that’s all

Truth is I love you
more than I wanted to
there’s no point in trying to pretend
there’s been no-one who
makes me feel like you do
say we’ll be together till the end

Given how close these releases are, one to another, in time, the simplifying of the music and of the lyrics is nothing short of astonishing (just to keep our language relevant; thank you, Dream Theater).

Think–even for a moment–of the trajectory of the music of bands such as Big Big Train, The Tangent, The Flower Kings, and others in third-wave prog.  Far from dumbing down, each of these bands has progressed toward ever greater goods, better goals, and higher highs.

I certainly do not begrudge the monetary success of Phil, Tony, and Mike.  But, let’s be real.  They succeeded because they wrote clever, accessible songs that corporate cogs could sell to all comers.

They sold Pepsi, not wine.  Meanwhile. . .

Weird costume guy spends his days writing songs with fascinating structures and bizarre rhythms.

Stiff guitarist guy spends his days making his–old and new–art ever deeper, more complex, and, frankly, better.

A hundred years from now, weird costume guy will be studied as a master of this age.  So will stiff guitarist guy.  Phil, Tony, and Mike?  They will be remembered, justice be done, for SELLING ENGLAND not for selling Britannia.

weird costume guy
Weird Costume Guy
stiff guitarist guy
Stiff Guitarist Guy

 

 

9 thoughts on “Celebrating Mediocrity, Part II: Genesis

  1. L'Ornitho

    I like Genesis a lot also after 1983 – Invisible Touch is so inventing, creative and it sounds like rock as to be in the 80’s (a kind of 90125 for YES), and the production so nice !!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. connormullin94

    Thank you for this Brad. Currently listening to “stiff guitarist guy’s” new album Wolflight, and it is a gem. Genesis lost a lot when Mr. Stiff Guitar and Mr. Weird Costume departed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. People like Pepsi. And they like wine. Some people like Pepsi AND wine—just not at the same time. The whole idea that you have to choose one over the other is artificial—not necessarily a reflection on you, considering that much of the Genesis fanbase has this same idea. In the immortal words of the candy jingle, “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.”

    Where to begin…
    First, don’t bother comparing Selling England By The Pound to Abacab. They are two very different albums. That would be like comparing what one wore in high school to what one wears now. To paraphrase Phil Collins himself, you wouldn’t expect to wear the same clothes for years.

    Second, it’s my impression that the lyrics took a more personal turn when Gabriel left the band, and that Banks, intentionally or unintentionally, drove the lyrical content for the most part. I had a theory about it; without getting into it too deeply, you can basically split all post-Gabriel lyrics into two categories: lyrics by or about Banks, or pop-like lyrics which are mostly by Collins (not counting the occasional Rutherford lyric or the extremely rare Ray Wilson lyric at the end.) This is most at work on the album Invisible Touch, which I’ve thought for a long time is best thought of as two mini-albums in one. The lack of clear direction on IT is a valid criticism—I think they were going in the more moody, gloomy, experimental direction but thought they could leaven it with PC’s love songs.

    Third, yeah, We Can’t Dance was terrible. There’s only a few decent songs on it, but by then it’s clear they’d run out of steam. (That, or maybe they thought they had to write “mature” songs because the whole lot of them hit forty.)

    Definitely give Calling All Stations a listen, however. It’s not all great (it has a bit of Invisible Touch-itis happening in terms of direction), but there are some interesting songs on there, and its different from much else. In fact, the only other parallel to CAS is Banks’s solo album Strictly Inc., which was released two years before CAS.

    P.S.: I’ve never watched Sum of The Parts. The bad reviews scared me away, and I doubt they could (or would) reveal much more than the official story they’ve been putting out for years (most excellently in the book Chapter and Verse.) By the way, I thought the reason the documentarians showed less of Hackett was not some personal vendetta but vanity: to be brutally honest, his face is not telegenic. (If you don’t believe me, watch the 1976 concert film included in the 2007 reissue of A Trick of the Tail: they show Hackett there only twice, and one of those times his head is entirely in shadow—making him appear headless.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Beth, I really appreciate your thoughts–as always. Well stated and well crafted. Thank you. I don’t, however, really think we’re disagreeing. I like wine and pepsi, too. I just think they’re two very different things. One is organic, difficult ,and time consuming to produce, the other comes from mixing a few chemicals.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re welcome. I value the civil environment you create in your blog’s discussions.

        That’s true that Pepsi comes from “mixing a few chemicals”. But if it was easy to formulate, why would the formula for the chemicals be a secret? Why has no one (even Coke) been able to perfectly replicate Pepsi’s formula? Although a cola might be easily manufactured, coming up with the perfect formulation is probably a similarly time-consuming effort.

        I am happy we agree on some things!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t like Pepsi at all. But I do enjoy well-written pop songs and Genesis has written many of those, and done so more creatively than many from the genre. But if I understand what Brad is getting at here, he seems to be recognizing that progressive rock music is usually (certainly not always) interested in higher things than a catchy tune and a singable lyric. When it works, the result is more sustaining as a work of art, and therefore more timeless, than the hit of the month (or of the week these days). I haven’t seen the documentary, but nevertheless I do understand Brad’s overall point. It’s worth remembering that some of the greatest art ever created was made by people who were not greatly compensated for their work, if compensated at all. The struggle between financial concerns and artistic freedom is a perennial one.

    Liked by 1 person

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