As a true child of the 1980s, it's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Peter Gabriel used to be in a band and even harder for me to come to grips with the fact that it used to be Genesis. Genesis, the masters of the 80s pop song, Genesis, with Phil Collins at drums, belting out tracks like 'Invisible Touch', 'Turn It On Again' and 'Jesus He Loves Me' and that awesome video for 'Land of Confusion' where the band turned themselves and innumerable other political figures from the 80s into creepy Muppets that looked like they belonged more in The Dark Crystal or The Labyrinth than The Muppet Show.
So Genesis to me is more associated with the 80s than anything that came before. Images of my Dad trying to dance to 'I Can't Dance' and of Mervgotti being drunk in Apartment #12 at 1012 E. Burlington making up dirty lyrics to 'Invisible Touch.' It came as something of a surprise then to find out that Genesis has been around and kicking since 1968 and up until the 80s was one of the premier voices in 70s British Prog Rock. They were famous for their big, orchestral music and bombastic live stage shows and lord, lord, lord does it require patience to listen to the best of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.
I took on three albums, Selling England By The Pound, Trespass and the double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and of the three, Trespass was probably the easiest listen, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway the most familiar-sounding of the bunch and Selling England By The Pound was a bit of a head trip for me.
Trespass, the earliest of the three albums (it was the band's second album overall) is probably the easiest to listen too. With only six tracks and none of them hitting double digits in length, it stands as a pretty accessible, open and shut example of 70s British prog rock. The usual hallmarks are all there: big instrumental arrangements- almost on the same level as that of an orchestra, somewhat abstract lyrics and the usual generous dollop of weirdness that seems to characterize all three of these albums. There was no one song that really stood out for me on this album, but what I did find fascinating about it was that after all, with a good ear, you can hear the foundations of what Genesis becomes in the 80s. Whether its the guitar work or the vocals, there are some subtle touches that sound achingly familiar.
Selling England By The Pound was an album I found to be a bit more well-defined. Taking its title from a 70s Labour Party slogan, per Wikipedia, the theme of the album is a 'longing or nostalgia for Old England' be it going all the way back to medieval times or just earlier times, before what I'm sure to the band seemed like a lot of contemporary changes and social upheaval in the 70s. This album is also notable because it contains the one song from Peter Gabriel-era Genesis that I actually recognize: 'I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)' When Mervgotti was playing his Genesis Greatest Hits Collection in Apartment #12 at 1012 E. Burlington, this was the only song from early Genesis that was on the CD. He (and when I burned it for myself, I) both tended to skip over the track. Which is a shame, because it's not a bad track to listen to at all.
Thematically, however, Selling England By The Pound hits all the marks. Britain in the 1970s wasn't exactly a fun place to be for a lot of people: economic decay, social upheaval, decimalization of currency and joining the common market meant that a lot of things were changing in Britain- and not necessarily for the better. A nostalgia or longing for earlier times must have been extremely resonant to the listeners at the time and the idea of a less complicated time is a notion that I expect can still resonate today. A good album overall.
Finally, we come to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. A double disc- the story is about the following:
The album tells the surreal story of a half-Puerto Rican juvenile delinquent named Rael living in New York City, who is swept underground to face bizarre creatures and nightmarish dangers in order to rescue his brother John. Several of the story's occurrences and places were derived from Peter Gabriel's dreams, and the protagonist's name is a play on his surnameThat, as usual is from wikipedia and it's a helluva good summary of a two-disc epic album that's damn hard to quantify. I honestly didn't know what to think about this album. Surreal, lots of instrumentals and, if there is a story, it's certainly abstract at best. One good point though: 'The Carpet Crawlers' which is an appropriate metaphor for the corporate drudgery and ladder-climbing that goes on throughout modern society today. That one I liked. The rest of it? Songs like 'The Lamia'? Um... again, not really sure what to make of it or what to think about it.
Overall: Selling England By The Pound is probably the best of the three Genesis albums I listened too- and if you're a fan of Peter Gabriel and his work, for sure check out these albums, because if you give 'em a listen, you'll hear elements of what Gabriel takes to his solo work and what Genesis becomes in the 80s, just waiting to be unveiled.