Saturday, October 24, 2009

Selling England By The Pound


Welcome to the decline and fall of the British Empire. Or at least, the soundtrack to it. And what better band to put it all to music than Genesis – a bunch of snooty rich kids from the British Isles. Yet, these prim and proper English lads actually paid their dues, thus staking their claim to artistically trash their own country. Genesis toiled mightily on four previous studio albums, touring relentlessly and gaining a reputation for being…er, let’s just say a little “out there.” Lead singer/thespian Peter Gabriel developed a quirky habit of donning batwings, face paint, masks, costumes and other sundry dramatic elements – assuming the role of lead-singer-as-absurdist-clown, yet singing intelligently creative lyrics backed by a band that sounded more like a small chamber orchestra than a typical long-haired hippie rock ‘n roll band. “Can you tell me where my country lies...” Gabriel mournfully sings in the album’s title track. The England he once knew is long gone, but the band’s quaint, almost Victorian vibe still makes one want to jump up and hoist the Union Jack to the rhythm of “The Battle of Epping Forest”…which would be quite difficult, as the time signature on that particular track is all-over-the-place crazy. Still, throughout the album Tony Banks’ gorgeous mellotrons provide a lush, orchestral warmth, while the sweepingly sad guitar solos of Steve Hackett wail above the mix – all kept chugging along by the tightly wound rhythm section of Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins (yes, that Phil Collins… former great drummer turned sappy, yet hugely popular crooner). Maintaining their grand tradition of avoiding commercial success at all costs, Genesis nevertheless created an important artistic achievement – finally catapulting the band into bigger leagues, to take their rightful place in the hierarchy of established artists (like Yes and King Crimson) who originally inspired them. The river of constant change would soon overtake Genesis. Gabriel’s subsequent departure, followed shortly thereafter by Hackett’s exit, meant that Genesis would look and sound very different in just a few short years. But for this one brief shining moment, the music of Genesis well represented the fate of merry olde England.

Essential Tracks: “Selling England By The Pound” “Firth Of Fifth” “The Cinema Show”

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