Tuesday, January 26, 2010



Belying its shake-a-leg title, Foxtrot is most definitely not a good soundtrack for dance lessons. With the somber, droning mellotron chords of opening cut “Watcher of the Skies,” it becomes clear that this is more an album to be given a proper, serious listen with clear and open ears. No, you can’t dance to it. But once you become immersed in Foxtrot’s strangely beautiful, bizarre little universe, it won’t really matter. Many bands of the era, if they were lucky, would create the iconic album of their catalog – the one where everything magically comes together after several initial, yet not-quite-perfect stabs at greatness (in this case, the two previous albums Trespass and Nursery Cryme). Foxtrot is such an album for the then-relatively unknown (at least in the U.S.) Genesis. Brimming with musical self-confidence, strong songwriting and an insanely unique and creative musical/lyrical vision, Foxtrot in a way is the coming out party for Genesis…a musical statement that says “Go ahead, just try to ignore us now.” Anchored by the lush keyboard layerings of Tony Banks’ classically derived organ and mellotron phrasings (amazingly, he used no synthesizer on this album and his keyboard work still boggles the mind), these fractured fairy tales with titles like “Can Utility and the Coastliners” and the sidelong, multi-section epic “Supper’s Ready” wrap themselves around your head and take you for one intense, scary ride: Mind-warping time signatures that’ll have you beating your head against the wall trying to figure them out; Steve Hackett’s float-like-a-butterfly-sting-like-a-bee guitar attacks; Mike Rutherford’s massive, wall-shaking bass pedal notes; Phil Collins’ precision, rat-a-tat-tat stick work advancing things along; all topped off with absurdist, otherworldly lyrics sung by resident mime/madman Peter Gabriel in heavily caked white face makeup (as Gabriel had now begun to perfect his costumes/characterizations used in live performances). There are probably more scholarly discussions pertaining to these lyrics, but for now let’s just say this is stuff one might overhear whilst taking a stroll through your local British insane asylum:

"If you go down to Willow Farm,
to look for butterflies, flutterbyes, gutterflies
Open your eyes, it's full of surprise, everyone lies,
like the focks on the rocks,
and the musical box.
Oh, there's Mum & Dad, and good and bad,
and everyone's happy to be here."

"There's Winston Churchill dressed in drag,
he used to be a British flag, plastic bag, what a drag.
The frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick
was an egg, and the egg was a bird
Hadn't you heard?
Yes, we're happy as fish, and gorgeous as geese,
and wonderfully clean in the morning."

Granted, those are from the wacky “Willow Farm” section of the “Supper’s Ready” song suite – the aforementioned epic that takes the listener on what could only be described as a guided tour through a biblical apocalypse, as seen through the eyes of an absurdist clown (who, BTW, morphs into the Savior upon the album-ending climax). Again, it’s all pretty heavy and makes more sense when listening, cross-legged on the floor, headphones cranked up, with album sleeve opened wide in your lap to read along with the lyrics. Genesis had certainly arrived with Foxtrot, and there was no turning back now. Subsequent albums would merely cement the band’s rightful place in the pantheon of the era’s prog giants. Personnel changes (the bane of many a prog band) would ultimately change the look and the sound of Genesis. And, if in 1972 you were to predict that the progressive juggernaut responsible for a masterpiece like Foxtrot would evolve into a slick, hit-making pop music machine of the 1980s…why, you’d have been considered just as mad as some of the characters in these songs.

Essential Tracks: “Watcher of the Skies” “Get ‘Em Out by Friday” “Can Utility and the Coastliners” “Supper’s Ready”


  1. Excellent.........still my favorite Genesis lp

  2. You're right, this is when Genesis really shows their muscle.