Classic Genesis Album Review: Foxtrot

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Ah, yes. If you’ve been reading these reviews waiting for me to really tear into some dusty old Dad Rock, then I’ve got some bad news for you: Foxtrot, the band’s fourth album, is a full-on masterpiece. There’s hardly a weak spot on it, a bad idea in it, or a moment of boredom to speak of. Even the softer sections are mysterious and entrancing instead of just dull. It tends to get dwarfed by its descendants, but to me, this is THE Prog Genesis album, the one that I have the least trouble defending. It marked a turning point in the band and a peak in the way it presented itself.

I don’t just want to spend all of these reviews focusing on Peter Gabriel, since part of the whole reason for his split with the band came from the way he started hogging the spotlight. Still, it’s hard not to connect the Foxtrot era with the rise of Gabriel’s famous costumes and theatrics. With all due respects to David Bowie (RIP), Gabriel would blow through several different costumes and stage persona per concert at his height to match his changing voice and bizarre, rambling stories. One of these costumes even included the fox in a red dress from the album’s cover.

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I guess this makes Gabriel a kitsune…

Aside from him, the bandmembers who stand out the most on this album are Banks and Hackett: the former has lots of synth stuff to do, while the latter gets his first (brief) solo moment to shine as a composer. But really, everyone has some great moments, and let’s not forget that this album gave forth a legendarily long monster track, one that is a mini-masterpiece in its own right.

That might make all of this sound fairly disjointed, but this is also one of the tighter thematic albums of the band’s early years. Foxtrot is all about the apocalypse, in one form or the other, as each song sees some form of death or change arrive with cataclysmic results, culminating in a song about the actual, Biblical end of days. While it would be a suitable topic for a thrash-metal band, Genesis has an idiosyncratic take, weaving heavy rock, classical guitar, mellow ballads and pretty much anything they found interesting into a tight, propulsive collection of songs. There are fewer tracks here, but that’s only if you count the behemoth on Side 2 as a single song, which we’ll get into in a minute.

There’s so much to talk about with this one, it’s hard to know where to begin. Probably with the first track, right? That’s generally a good idea. Activate your prayer capsule and let’s get started.

Watcher of the Skies: Don’t let the ominous opening chords fool you: this is one of the most blistering, exciting tracks in the entire Prog Genesis library. After a chuchly Banks intro, we get a slowly building bass riff (presumably Mike Rutherford, and if so, it’s one of his all-time best moments) that bursts into the first line. Originally, I thought this song was about the last human searching hopelessly for more life in space, but the lyrics are actually so ambiguous that it could be about the exact opposite, a wandering alien arriving on Earth after humanity has wiped itself out. Either way, the combination of choral shouts and Gabriel’s aching verses is a perfect match for the grand, driving rhythm (I believe musicologists know it as DUHNUHNUHNUHNUHNUH NUHNUHNUH NUHNUHNUH NUHNUHNUH). There’s a great section where the synth and the guitars sort of trade the  beat back and forth, getting softer and then surging back loud again, and it’s exhilarating. This song became a classic live opener for the band (though it was an encore when I saw Genesis cover band The Musical Box do it a few years ago) and Gabriel’s character wore the iconic bat wings and glittery rainbow cape for the tune, as well as some great Ace Frehley-esque eye makeup.While Trey Anastasio and Phish deserves some credit for playing this at Genesis’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2010, they lose points for not even bothering with the costume. For shame!

Rating: ***** (five out of five)

Time Table: Get past the cutesy title and you’ll find a criminally underrated gem, and further proof that the prog and pop modes of Genesis weren’t entirely exclusive. Here’s a song that’s melodically catchy enough to play on any radio station and complex enough to fit alongside all the other more challenging stuff on this same record. The Keatsian lyrics use the subject of a Medieval oak table to meditate on the passage of time, and whether the greatness of former empires lives on or simply fades away. At first, the table is a handsome reminder of nobility, but by the second verse it’s dusty, musty and neglected. So, yeah, it’s literally a song about a table, which is kind of silly, and the words favor a sort of labored faux-middle English syntax that isn’t super singable (“A time when kings and queens sipped wine from goblets gold/And the brave would lead their ladies from out the room/ To arbors cool.”). It doesn’t matter, because everything works so well, even the tinkly piano outro which could have been cheesy but is instead heartfelt and sweet. I genuinely love this song and think it’s a great example of how you can combine several influences without producing a big honking mess.

Rating: ***** (five out of five)

Get’Em Out By Friday: In the near future, a greedy property company slowly squeezes its tenants out of their homes, bribing them with “a block of flats with central heating” before raising their rent anyway. This is kind of a companion piece to “Return of the Giant Hogweed” from the last album, a sci-fi mini-epic that tells a complete story and features Gabriel doing several voices, sometimes with electronic assistance. There’s also a little bit of “Harold the Barrel” in the way Gabriel switches tones and melodies for each character, including the landlord, the residents and “the Winkler,” the hatchet-man sent to conduct the evictions. Sometimes, Gabriel’s busy lyrics got in the way of the already chaotic orchestration of some of these story-songs, much to the rest of the band’s annoyance. Fortunately, things continue to work together well here, with Phil Collins’ frantic drumming and Banks’ classical riffs blending smoothly. Rutherford’s bass and Hackett’s guitar come out during the bridge, and eventually things get very quiet before the narrative abruptly shifts forward to a Dalek-like voice trumpeting an announcement from “Genetic Control.” Seems that the powers that be have decided to start breeding humans smaller so they can fit them into more buildings. Then the whole thing ends with an oddly cutting line suggesting that the church is in cahoots with all of it, which is probably a little too much given the amount of content already crammed in here. The song itself is a nice change of pace for the band, a surprisingly bouncy work that combines technical virtuosity and fantastical elements with some surprisingly strong social satire. At a time when families in Hong Kong are getting squeezed into illegal 40-foot subdivisions,  this song is actually still pretty relevant, and the sneering, sarcastic finale helped keep the band’s bleak sense of humor razor sharp.

Rating: **** (four out of five

Can-Utility and the Coastliners: The title, presumably a play on King Canute, is kind of dumb, but the song itself more than makes up for it. After an opening about the “scattered pages of a book/by the sea” (and the return of the loathsome finger cymbals) we hear the tale of an arrogant king who commands the sea to halt at his feet. There’s some ELP-esque riffs but also a cool, chill section (“Far from the north/overcast/ranks advance”) before the entire melody changes and we get into the harder guitar work. I always marvel at the way this song shifts so effortlessly from a classical beat to a shredding guitar within just a few bars. Like earlier Genesis songs, this essentially feels like two different pieces mashed up together, but the group pulls it off. The final bit has Gabriel uncharacteristically screaming and snarling before everyone tidies it up with a neat finish. By this point, you’ll probably forget the pastoral way the whole thing opened, and that’s a testament to just how much there is to hear.

Rating:**** (four out of five)

Horizons: Pity poor Steve Hackett. The guy seems like he worked really hard on this soothing classical guitar piece that’s both under two minutes and poorly placed on the album right before the longest album track in the band’s history. In interviews he’s said that some listeners assumed it was just an intro to the next song. That’s a shame, because this is a lovely little ditty (the first instrumental to appear on a Genesis album, in fact) that demonstrates Hackett’s virtuosity without being too showy. If I were a guitar expert I could probably tell you about all the different techniques he works into this one piece: alas, I’m merely a schlub who listens to Genesis too much. However, I did once again notice the easy way Hackett moved from arpeggios to sharp plucking, making a nice rise and fall before everything comes to a close. It might be the most easily overlooked track on the album, given its company, but “Horizons” was an early herald of some great things to come from Hackett.

Rating: **** (four out of five)

Supper’s Ready: Where do I even start with this beast? “Supper’s Ready” is an infamous, 23-minute behemoth that’s unique even in a genre loaded with overly long songs. While there is kind of a narrative tying the seven “movements” together, it’s more a series of tableaux and symbolic imagery, leading up to the finale to end all Genesis finales. I considered covering the entire song in one bullet, but there’s so much to unpack here I thought it made more sense to break it down into sections. While there’s lost of “official” program notes to go from, I’m just going to focus on what’s on the album and leave you to look that stuff up yourself, because I’m sure you’re interested.

I. Lover’s Leap: This gentle opening is so melodic it might trick you into thinking you’re listening to a normal song. Don’t be fooled! Gabriel harmonizes with a falsetto version himself and describes an ordinary evening at a couple’s home that starts to get weird. Taken on its own, this could almost be a standalone song, and in fact, future frontman Ray Wilson has performed just this section live. We don’t speak about Ray Wilson, though. Not yet.

II. The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man: The serene textures of the previous verse lead us to this folky part that suddenly turns into ecstatic fanfare to herald the arrival of the titular character, who doesn’t seem all that sincere. There’s some choruses and buoyant guitar work, but there’s no time to get too comfortable…

III. Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men:…because now we’re rushed into battle! Though Banks takes a lot of the spotlight here, the most memorable part of this movement by far is the dueling guitar riff that comes at the climax. Pretty rad, and it’s over all too quickly.

IV. How Dare I Be So Beautiful?: This is barely a section at all, and more  of a breather between the busier pieces. It’s hard not to snicker at the overly serious scene-setting, especially when Gabriel introduces a boy who’s been “stamped ‘Human Bacon/ by some butchery tool” before revealing “he is you.” What the hell does that mean? That’s a question you just can’t ask here, since no sooner does the boy appear than he transforms into a flower. “A flower?”

V. Willow Farm: Yup, it’s the bit where Gabriel stalks around dressed as a giant flower, single-handedly inventing Of Montreal in the process and confusing pretty much everyone. One of the most notorious moments in all of Genesis lore is also undisputably a song highlight, a goofy-yet-scary nightmare garden where nothing stays stable for long. What other band would put something so ludicrous in the middle of their huge opus? This is one case where you absolutely need to see some of the live concert footage, because the entire thing gets even crazier once you realize what was actually happening onstage while this madness was playing. In purely audio form, “Willow Farm” is still a trip, basically a 70’s version of “I Am The Walrus” full of weird Freudian imagery, pounding synth and Gabriel’s menacing purr. From here we’d get pop culture’s most sinister flower until Undertale (that reference is for the part of my readership that both loves old-school Genesis and has played a video game that came out last year. So, all of you.).

VI. Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet): What sounds at first like we’re gearing up for a 90’s videogame boss fight takes a sudden left turn into coziness with a protracted flute solo, which I know you were just dying to get back to. Once again, though, you can’t get too comfortable, because things take another turn when the flute cuts out, the keyboards start pounding and Gabriel’s voice begins echoing all over the place. For this section, he would put a magenta box on his head and don a shaggy black cloak as Magog, while describing a parade of dragons, flames, trumpets, and other Book of Revelations mainstays. And a parade is just what it sounds like, especially between the two sung verses, as the drumming gets more regimented and Tony Banks marches us higher and higher up the steps to the big confrontation. There’s a nice scratchy noise right before Gabriel shrieks “666,” too, that kind of sounds like a dolphin. Then, after so much intense buildup, we finally get the big release. I know I already said this, but please track down live concert footage of the 70’s performance of this with Gabriel: the first time I saw him burst out of a cloud of smoke in an all-white outfit and boogie to the sound of church bells I swear I burst out laughing (in a good way, Peter. Honest.).

VII. As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet): Why does so much Christian rock suck? For many people, the genre makes you think of middle-aged white guys with soul patches groaning about how awesome Jesus is while bland rock-metal drones on in the background. Yet, here’s a song that unapologetically ends with God ushering humanity into New Jerusalem and it’s totally rockin’. It helps that a) the band seems more interested in the lore of the Bible than any evangelical message and b) everybody seems completely, joyously exhausted by this point. Gabriel’s voice is shot, the Mellotron is exploding, Phil is whaling on the drums with all his strength and the guitars are tangled around themselves in sweaty riff infinity. Hallelujah.

I thought about giving each of these sections individual ratings, but honestly, there’s no way I can give “Supper’s Ready” anything other than a five out of five. If the band did something this nutso on every album it wouldn’t be as special. Instead, this stands as their most grandiose piece yet, a totally one-of-a-kind prog thesis. The sheer amount of stuff packed in here without weighing the whole album down is extraordinary: pretty much every movement leads organically to the next, and it all feels pretty well-constructed, which is a miracle worthy of Magog itself. If the Rapture ever does happen, I want a band of angels to be playing the final melody as everyone disappears up to Heaven, which will probably piss off all the Zeppelin fans but whatevs.

Rating: ***** (five out of five)

Conclusion: By this point, you can probably tell I dig this album. It’s almost irreproachable as a great artifact of Prog Genesis, and it’s also a sign of how the band was developing as a group. After a couple of years of experimentation, they now had a sense of what was in their wheelhouse: epic rock songs, gentle pop tunes, story-driven sci-fi narratives, and instrumentals were all up for grabs, along with whatever else these five bookish madmen fancied. While they had yet to make the mainstream, true fans know how important Foxtrot is, and it still holds up well. Give it a listen, and re-live the glory days of ecstatic drums, sweep picking and Peter Gabriel’s unclassifiable haircut. Oooo-eeee-oooo-eeee-ahhhhhh.

Classic Genesis Album Review: Nursery Cryme

If 1970’s Trespass was too solemn, the following year would see Genesis double down on their quirky side in Nursery Cryme. That title is more than a little foreboding, especially since the unnecessary “y” makes it sounds like an embarassing hair metal record or something. With two new recruits joining the party, guitar wizard Steve Hackett and some guy named Phil Collins, Genesis was gearing up for the first major arrangement that would see it immortalized as a prog mainstay. Thus the group began developing its style to create a mix of snark, myth, bombast, monstrosity and madness. Nursery Cryme marks the phase where Genesis hones in on what makes it unique, rather than embracing the generic post-hippy stuff that you could get elsewhere.

Simply put, it’s a weird, lopsided album. Combine impish schoolboy giggling with some stone-faced mysticism and surprising attempts at pathos, and you’ll get the definition of a “mixed bag.” Some consider it a masterpiece, others are more critical, and the production value especially seems to have come under fire. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of toe-flavored tea, that’s for sure. However, its oddness is part of what makes it so interesting. Genesis would eventually establish its own voice among a crowded prog scene, and this is where they add an undeniable zip to their interest in myths and staggeringly long songs. Things hum along here in a way they didn’t before.

From the delirious green and yellows gatefold cover to the tones of the songs themselves, this album feels like a mad trip. Let’s dive in, shall we?

The Musical Box: I have a confession to make. I’m not typically a big fan of this one, and, not having heard it for a while, was tempted to give it a mere two stars. For most true Genesis-heads, that might border on heresy. “The Musical Box” would go on to become one of the band’s signature tunes, so much so that there’s a whole cover band named after this very song (whom I once saw perform it, as luck would have it). I’m not sure why I’ve been so lukewarm on it. Maybe it’s the story, about a decapitated Victorian boy who returns as a horny old ghost and tries to seduce his former playmate. Peter Gabriel’s thoroughly creepy old man voice and the accompanying mask are effectively off-putting, so much so that it distracts from the rest of the admirable guitar work and mounting tonal intensity.

However, this gets a big bump in the rankings for one reason and one reason alone: Phil Collins. In 2016, it’s really easy to make fun of the omnipresent Collins, but back in the day he was a true badass, believe it or not, and this song gives him a great introduction. You can’t hear it well on the Spotify version (at least until the end), so check out the clip below and follow along with Phil’s great percussion work and odd yeow yeow noises.

See? The way he works in sync with Peter, especially, is noteworthy giving the split that would come a few albums later (spoiler alert!). You could listen to just his part of the song and still get everything you need out of it, as he totally nails intricate rhythm changes and tricky lyric cues. Because of that, and because of its importance in Genesis’ prog history, this song deserves a higher ranking, which it shall have.

Ranking: **** (four out of five)

For Absent Friends: Look at that! A complete song in less than three minutes! I have no idea if it was played on the radio much (or at all), but this is the first Genesis song of this era that feels “normal people friendly.” I was a little hard on the band’s folkier song “Dusk” last album, so I’ll make up for it by saying this is a pleasant breather placed between two phantasmagoric beasts. You might say that makes the slice of life lyrics about a bittersweet “widowed pair” visiting church feel insincere. After all, this is coming after a song with lines like “the nurse will tell you lies/Of the kingdom beyond the skies”. I, however, think of it as the opposite of “Musical Box,” a song celebrating the comforts people get from church after loss, meager though they might be. Kind of like “Eleanor Rigby,” sung with hope instead of lamentation. Not much else to say. It’s kind of amazing that the band could produce such a complete song in so short a time. I think that’s Philly C singing in there? You can hear his isolated vocals here, thanks to one enterprising YouTuber. Get used to it.

Ranking: *** (three out of five)

The Return of the Giant Hogweed: How can you not like a song about man-eating plants? The opening, with Banks and Collins both delivering a kickass riff, is one of the best moments of the entire album and makes me wish Muse would hurry up and cover this song already. From there on, the track this most resembles is “The Knife,” with Gabriel yelling violent commands while the keyboards pound and mock-fanfare plays. The United Kingdom is ravaged by the titular vegetable menace, thanks to “a Victorian explorer” who foolishly brought it back to the royal family from a Russian marsh. Because “fashionable country gentlemen” let it grow, it’s now unstoppable, “immune to all our herbicidal battering,” even though it’s also apparently defenseless at night. Both the mock-seriousness and the jaunty rhythm makes this a little easier of a listen than the devastating “Knife,” and the way the different instruments weave in and out keeps your attention. The new kids get a chance to show off their stuff, later, as Hackett and Collins (I think) collaborate on a little jig-like section that almost sounds like a Dropkick Murphys tune. Like all great stories about man-eating plants, it ends with humanity being consumed, just in case you thought the band was getting soft, so don’t worry. The conclusion sounds like the end of a monster movie, which is, of course, perfect. I also love the way Gabriel introduces this song with a scream before going completely bananas in one of the live versions.

Ranking: ***** (five out of five)

Seven Stones: I can’t remember when I first noticed that a lot of prog Genesis songs don’t even bother to rhyme. It’s interesting that so many can go by without you even realizing that instead of A-B-A-B, the rhyme scheme is A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H etc. “Seven Stones” isn’t the best example of a more rhyme-centric song, not at all, but it is interesting to notice more among the lyrics. Anyway, has early warning signs of some of the bad habits of Trespass, with an organ opening and the line “I heard the old man tell his taaaaaale…Fortunately, “Seven Stones” turns out to be much tighter and more interesting than something like “Visions of Angels.” Banks is certainly Banksing it up under the main melody, almost to its detriment. We get some more AHHHHHHs but they’re used far more effectively, and the drumming continues to be suitably impressive and powerful without drowning everything out. This is also a good example of a Genesis prog song with lots of clunky lyrics that still don’t feel overwritten, especially with Gabriel’s steady delivery. The dreaded flute is also well-integrated. When all is said and done, though, there are more memorable Genesis songs in this vein. It’s another example of being pretty and well-made and ultimately lackluster.

Ranking: *** (three out of five)

Harold the Barrel: Here’s a weird one, a deliberately obnoxious vaudevillian jingle about a madman who ends up falling to his doom (presumably). An eccentric bloke makes a series of bad choices and it culminates with a whole crowd begging him not to jump from a building. Though it’s a little ambiguous, given that the last line is “take a running jump,” I think we can hazard a guess as to what happens. This song is pretty chaotic, mostly in a good way, and the refrain is catchy even if you have no idea what’s going on. By using it to split up the achingly earnest “Seven Stones” and “Harlequin,” Genesis were at least pacing things way better on this album. Don’t like five-minute Mellotron odysseys? It’s time for something completely different. The thumping piano and different voices makes this sound a lot like “Lady Madonna,” and the slower part where we segue into the title character’s inner monologue on the ledge is kind of like Harry Chapin’s “Sniper” (though mercifully shorter). Some are definitely going to find Gabriel’s nasally tone too much to take. I like the jittery piano, unexpected choral parts (“You must be jokiiiiiing!”) and especially the final melancholy tone fadeout. It’s a nice bookend to the cymbal  sound at the beginning, both of them signals that this is something out of the ordinary, like the rise and fall of a curtain. Whether or not you like it, this song is going to stick in your memory, which is more than I can say for the likes of “Seven Stones.”

Ranking: *** (three out of five)

Harlequin: Jeez, Genesis. Stop it with the three-minute long songs, already, people are going to think you’re, like, a regular band or something. Since I gave “Absent Friends” a pass, I’m laying the hammer down again for this. It’s still not as loose as Trespass but it’s awfully forgettable. I think this is supposed to be a poetic description of the sky after a storm: if you read the lyrics straight they kind of sound like one of Gollum’s riddles from The Hobbit, like they’re describing something we’re supposed to guess. Aside from that it’s all cloying harmonies and sunshiney guitar. I’m saving my one-star ratings for the truly awful, so this one gets two for being merely meh.  Still, it’s interesting again to note that the band has its roots as deep in pop as it does in prog. At any rate, it was making this kind of music at the same time as longer epics like “Musical Box,” which is impressive in its own right.

Ranking: ** (two out of five)

The Fountain of Salmacis: If nothing else, Nursery Cryme‘s setlist gives us a much faster-paced selection than what came before. Even the long songs feel more focused. I love the spooky opening to this one, with the shimmering cymbals and wandering keyboard synth. From there, we’re plunged into the tale of Salmacis the nymph, who tricks Hermaphroditus into merging with her into one being, from which we may get a certain word you can probably figure out. Yup, it’s a song based on a Greek myth, and unlike Seven Stones, nothing rhymes here at all.  This one has fine instrumentation weighed down by ponderous lyrics that feel like Gabriel’s just reading from a high school copy of Ovid. I like the echoing choruses a good deal, and the drums once again prevent this from getting too sleepy. I keep wanting to call this “The Font of Salmacis” because it sounds more classical. They really missed a golden opportunity there.

Ranking: **** (four out of five)

Conclusion: The more I listened to this album, the more I liked it. Things that I found disposable at first proved to be far more complex the more I paid attention. It’s undeniably step in the right direction after the growing pains of Trespass, and it’s probably the Genesis prog album most obviously influenced by the Beatles, whom I already referenced twice in this post alone, if you were paying attention. Adding Hackett and Collins to the group, both of whom have lots to do here, gave the sound a lot more personality and energy, necessary for dealing with songs as long as 10 minutes. Though there are dull moments, they don’t weigh this album down like they did on the previous one. At their proggiest, Genesis would combine all the strengths of other groups in the genre (King Crimson’s experimentalism, Jethro Tull’s twee humor, Floyd’s darkness, ELP’s statelieness, Rush’s nerdiness) into one distinct blend. Nursery Cryme moves us further in that direction and prepares us for what’s to come. It’s also apparently one of Geddy Lee’s favorite albums, so I can’t diss it too much.

Classic Genesis Album Review: Trespass

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Time to get this party started.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not very good at music reviews. What I am, however, is someone scarily obsessed with the rock band Genesis, specifically the classic progressive (or prog) era in the 70’s. If you only vaguely know them as the group behind that song that plays in CVS sometimes, follow me back to 1970, as we chart the beginnings of one of the oddest and most eclectic groups of its time. Though it would eventually become known for catchy synth-pop, Genesis famously began as a prog staple, eventually turning all of its members into music industry mainstays, some more than others.

“But Andy,” some of you may be saying, “if you’re doing a Genesis retrospective, why aren’t you starting with the first album, From Genesis to Revelation?” There’s no real answer, other than the fact that a) even many die-hard fans find that album obscure and b) I don’t wanna. If I do enough of these reviews I might go back to it eventually. For now, I find it easier to start with the group’s sophomore work, Trespass, especially since it has way fewer songs.

Even with only one album behind it, Trespass is kind of an oddity, starting with the ugly cover art. At the time, the group consisted of Peter Gabriel as vocalist, Tony Banks on various keyboard instruments, Anthony Phillips on lead guitar, Mike Rutherford on bass and John Mayhew on drums. Only Gabriel, Rutherford and Banks would move on to the next albums, and much of the folky feel of this one would be left behind with the discarded members. While it makes sense as a starting point for someone looking to get into classic Genesis, don’t be saddened if you’re not into it: the stuff on the horizon will be different.

With that in mind, let’s break down the album track by track. Keep in mind that I’m no musical expert and sometimes have trouble telling who’s doing what, instrument wise:

Looking for Someone: It’s weird that the first moments of the first song at the very beginning of Peter Gabriel’s first band actually sounds a lot like his later work. We get his vocals over a moody soundscape, and it’s not until about half a minute in that the guitars perk up and we think, “oh, right, it’s the 70’s.” I guess this is kind of a weird song to open the album in general. It’s all over the place musically and doesn’t really fit in with  the whole folky, Medieval vibe, as Gabriel’s protagonist wrestles with whether or not he wants to be in a relationship. It’s a pretty good representation of what the band was good at, though, as this one song manages to cram so many different moods and tones into a single piece. Genesis was certainly guilty of using all the prog cliches, but they could also transcend them and create a genuinely eclectic sound at their best. That isn’t the case, here, yet, unfortunately, but there’s enough going on that it makes for a solid opener, if an odd one. While the best prog tracks make all the complicated tempo changes flow naturally, this feels like four or five songs stuck together. I guess it’s better to have too many ideas than too few, especially in progland.

Ranking: *** (three out of five)

White Mountains: If the first song put you to sleep, this one will (eventually) perk you back up again, old friend. Instead of an angsty ballad about boring things like feelings, we get a totally ridiculous Beowulf-esque saga about a clash between talking wolves that sounds like “Battle of Evermore” meets “Classical Gas.” Moreso than many prog groups, Genesis loved to tell stories, and although the narrative here is pretty basic, it’s a good beginning to the mini-opera style the band would embrace going forward. There’s some great acoustic and synth work, the latter courtesy of Tony Banks, as well as a few lovely little pastoral passages and that weird echoey effect that makes it sound like there’s a dozen Peter Gabriels yelling at you at once. This song also sets up the loose theme (don’t call it a concept!) tying the album together, about who is allowed kingly authority over whom. There would be much better versions of this kind of thing later in the band’s career, but White Mountains is still an album highlight as far as I’m concerned, full of drama and lots of great atmosphere. As a side note, how does a wolf hold a scepter, exactly?

Ranking: **** (four out of five)

Visions of Angels: Here’s where things start to sag a little. As with the other weaker tracks, there’s a bunch of good elements here searching for a better song. The lyrics, about a grief-stricken pilgrim grappling with his faith in a barren forest, fit better with the general tone of the album than the opener, and the middle piece with all the AHHHHHHHs would be a great instrumental on its own. Banks showboats here pretty well and adds some nice little Rick Wakemany touches, including the opening riff. This one is mainly undone by it own stateliness. There’s too much buildup, and the chorus, while grand and majestic the first time you hear it, is repeated no less than THREE TIMES at the end, leaving you pretty exhausted. Sometimes that shit works but this isn’t “The Mercy Seat” and all that grandiosity just becomes tedious (it does make you appreciate the roughness in Gabriel’s voice, though, so different from other prog singers). Pacing was not a strength of classic prog in general, and would come to Genesis slowly. “Visions” isn’t bad by any stretch, just not extremely memorable.

Ranking: *** (three out of five)

Stagnation: With a title like that, you’re probably not expecting anything rousing, but this is actually a gorgeous Genesis slow burn, building up to a great climactic chorus. The start’s a little rough: the guitar and keys sound like they’re trying to overpower each other, you can barely hear Gabriel’s watery vocals and the overall quality is pretty muddy. Things get good, though, once the drums come in, and the scene abruptly turns strange and languid. Tony Banks does this delightfully weird thing that sounds like a series of dial tones before things morph into a kind of jam, then switch again a couple more times until we get to that wonderful baroque “I WANNA DRINK” part, followed by the long, melodic outro. If that’s Phillips on the guitar, he brings a lot of enthusiasm to the jammy crescendo that makes it feel like a symphony instead of an open-ended free jazz session. Unlike “Looking for Someone,” the progressions feel organic, even when they’re radically different from what came before. It really does sound like you’re staring at a still pond while being abducted by aliens, which probably isn’t what the song is about but is as good as anyone else’s guess.

Ranking: **** (four out of five)

Dusk: The only song on this album shorter than five minutes is, weirdly enough, also the dullest. I used to think this was a beautiful tune, but the more I listen to it the less I like it. It’s pretty, sure, and that’s about it, and the more it goes on the more it sounds like second-rate Moody Blues foofery, (or, as my brother might say, “dreary hippie music”) especially with those choruses. I like the flute stuff in the middle sections and the chamber harmonies well enough, and it leaves a good memory afterwards if you don’t fall asleep. Like “Visions,” the middle section might have made a good instrumental piece if presented on its own. Unfortunately, it’s deadened by faux-mystical fluff and SO. MANY. FINGER CYMBALS. Seriously. If you take a shot every time you hear finger cymbals, you will probably be dead within two minutes.

Ranking: ** (two out of five)

The Knife: Now we’re talking. After tracks of wistful forest guitars and chimes, we now get a total 180, from the pounding opening chords onward. There was a time when I listened to this song multiple times a day, and I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold up upon a revisit. As dated as everything on Trespass is, “The Knife,” is still awesome, urgent and frightening in a way that throttles the album up to  a high note. Instead of closing with something overtly olde fashouned, the band wisely opted for a song about violent rebellion, a topic that’s both modern and timeless. Gabriel’s manic guerilla leader proudly exhorts followers to “stand up and fight/for you know we are right” while callously noting that “some of you are going to die/martyrs, of course, to the freedom that I shall provide.”) The tension doesn’t let up, even when the obligatory flute interlude appears, and the sequence where a repeated chant leads to sounds of gunfire, screams, and a kickass guitar solo is truly masterful. If “White Mountain,” a song about coronation, had been the opener, “The Knife,” a song about the rulers being overthrown, would have been an even better conclusion. The only false step comes at the very end, where the song resolves with a weird loungey “ta-DA!” moment instead of a yell, which would have been more appropriate. That’s nitpicking, though. This is the first essential Genesis track, and, as far as I’m concern, the only thing you truly need to hear from this album, if you’re short of time but still have nine minutes to spare, somehow.

Ranking: ***** (five out of five)

Conclusion: Believe it or not, I used to proudly call Trespass my favorite Genesis album, little snob that I am, and in a way I’m glad I’ve listened to it enough to no longer feel that way. It’s very much a humorless 60’s hangover, lacking much of the surreal psychodramas, bizarre jokes and propulsive rock that would define the band’s best work. The good stuff here is notable, though, and when seen as part of a full catalogue, helps show why the band’s output was more diverse than many give it credit for.