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.
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.