Wednesday 29 June 2022

"I'm Bored. Might As Well Be Listening To Genesis"

I did, and can report that I was not bored - just let down at the end with 'Calling All Stations' which I never actually managed all the way through in one sitting.

15 albums over 28 years, and I've been through them all (well, someone had to)

Charterhouse School pupils Peter Gabriel (Vocals), Tony Banks (Keyboards), Mike Rutherford (Bass), Ant Phillips (Guitar) and Chris Stewart (Drums) formed a band and recorded some initial home moade demos.  These demos found their way to former Charterhouse pupil Jonathan King who signed the band to a management deal, arranged a recording contract, gave the band a name (Genesis) and put them in the studio
(The initial deal on offer was a  10 year management contract and a 5 year recording contract.  This offer was subsequently reduced - primarily due to parental intervention of the 15 to 17 year old band members - to a one year management and recording deal.
Initial recordings took place and the band were looking to expand their songs - Jonathan King (acting as producer) advised against this and to "stick to the 3 minute pop song".
Now named Genesis, and acting on the brief, "The Silent Sun" was delivered as the first single.  A second single "A Winters Tale" met with the same dis-interest as the first, so Jonathan King decided an album was the route to go.
(By this stage though, drummer Chris Stewart had returned to his studies a Charterhouse being replaced by another school friend John Silver)

1969s 'From Genesis to Revelation', at the producers behest, eschewed the elongation, changing time signatures and self-indulgence the band wanted to go into in favour of the 3 minute song.
The album attracted as much success as the preceding singles (ie none) as did their final single before the Decca and King deal ended.  At this point, the band was effectively on hold as the members returned to their studies.  By the end of the year the band reconvened (minus John Silver who was replaced by new drummer John Mayhew), decided to turn professional, starting writing in earnest and actually started playing gigs.and they threw in their lot with Tony Stratton-Smith and Charisma Records - already home to The Nice, Van der Graaf Generator, Rare Bird and Atomic Rooster, so a little more Prog on the roster wasn't going to hurt.

And the first fruits of this relationship was 'Trespass' in 1970.  An album which follows the path of expansion, elongation and experimentation denied previously.  And it's got more than a touch of Genesis's future signature all over it.  "The Knife" is the key track here - one of those long songs (9 minutes) which is full of ideas, interludes, and diversions which doesn't feel 9 minutes long (if anything it could happily be longer).  This is the de facto debut - and very assured it is too.  The band might be getting somewhere, maybe a cultish achievement, but somewhere nonetheless.
What's that?  Oh the drummer and guitarist want to leave.  So after the promise of 'Trespass', it's goodbye to Ant Phillips and John Mayhew, and hello to Steve Hackett and Phil Collins.

The now accepted "classic" line-up kicks of proceedings with 1971s 'Nursery Cryme'.
If I'm being honest, I did start to get a bit bored with this album - there's lots of ideas, lots of parts to the songs, but it just doesn't seem to hang together for me.  "The Musical Box" and "Return Of The Giant Hogweed" are the pick of the tracks, with "Harold The Barrel" showing a humourous side to the band oft forgotten, or indeed never noticed.
There is a true-ism which says a bands 3rd album is often the point that marks the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.  If we consider 'Nursery Cryme' to be the bands 2nd album (again ignoring 'From Genesis To Revelation') then that truism is upheld with the release of 'Foxtrot' in 1972.

With Steve Hackett and Phil Collins now ensconced in the band, the creativity and performance has gone up a notch.  There now feels more "shape" and cohesion to the band and it's music, and opener "Watcher Of The Skies" exemplifies that.  There's not a duff, or skippable, track here, and the album is crowned by the 23 minute "Supper's Ready" - a 7 movement epic that repeats motifs and bounces from the pastoral to the bombastic, and then resolves itself with the final "As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs".  Epic in it's conception, and epic in it's delivery.  A true masterpiece of the Peter Gabriel era.

'Selling England By The Pound' has a lot to live up to after "Supper's Ready".  It tries - not least with opening track "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" and "Firth of Fifth".  And let's not forget the inclusion of a surprising hit single (Number 21 counts as a hit doesn't it?) "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)".
However, despite a brave attempt to equal or top 'Foxtrot' it falls just short (very very nearly, but not quite)

1974s concept album 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' is generally cited as the masterpiece of the Gabriel-era.  But is it?  Well, it's tough going, the story is a tad impenetrable - the songs don't do the intended narrative justice (and even less if split out of context), so Gabriel included the full story in the sleeve notes - but it is delivered with huge confidence and competence.
If you want to try and understand the fancifulness and possible madness of the story, then wikipedia attempts to explain it:
Plot Summary link 
The tour in support of The Lamb opened before the album was released - the intent of the show was a full performance of an unheard work to a bemused audience.

As the tour drew to a close, Peter Gabriel announced his intention to leave.  This decision was a combination of a desire to spend more time with his family and a belief that he'd gone as far as he could with Genesis.
Despite the loss, the remaining members did not want it to end the band - after a short break they reconvened to work on new material.  Phil Collins suggested that they could just be an instrumental band, but the others felt that a new vocalist was definitely needed.  The problem was finding one - many auditions were held, with Phil Collins teaching the auditionee the vocal parts, but no-one was found to be up to the job.  In the end, a reluctant Phil Collins took on the job (supposedly on a temporary basis).

And the first fruits of this reduced line-up with a reluctant singer was 1976s 'Trick Of The Tail' - and for a band who has lost their singer and frontman, you really wouldn't know it.  The songwriting and construction is at the same level as it ever was, the only thing changed is the tone of the voice and, by association, there's a less whimsy going on in the performance.
"Dance On A Volcano" is a statement of intent opener - showing they can pick up from where they left off, and if anything are continuing to push forward.  "Squonk" quickly establishes itself as a classic of the catalogue and closer "Los Endos" is both a jog through styles of the past and establishment of a looser rhythmic style.  Against expectations perhaps, Genesis managed to prove that losing a frontman isn't always the end.

And the four continued the trick, if a bit more laboured/fractious, with 'Wind & Wuthering'.  Still very much proggy Genesis, but mixing a more romantic/yearning styling.  What is noticeable on this album is when Phil Collin's sings in a higher register, there is a passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel - maybe that's why the transition seemed all the more seamless.
Steve Hackett expressed frustration with this one as much of his songwriting and musical idea were sidelined - but conversely his playing on this album is perhaps better than it ever was.
By the end of the tour, feeling constricted by the band and wanting to pursue a solo career, he left the band. 

Now reduced to a three-piece, but with confidence in their abilities - Rutherford, Banks and Collins had effectively constructed the basis of 'Trick Of The Tail' themselves whilst Hackett was recording his first solo album - it was decided that no replacement would be sought.

'...And Then There Were Three...' is the factually correct title of the next album, and another move away from the arty-prog epics that was their stock-in-trade of old.  The extended pieces continued, if lesser than before, and the songs were trimmed and focussed.  It also achieve that rare thing with Genesis producing a song that became a radio hit - "Follow You Follow Me", indeed their first top 10 single.
The adjustment here was not perhaps as smooth as Perter Gabriel's departure, and previously Hackett-filled gaps are noticeable, but a brave attempt to move forward in the face of adversity.

'Duke' and 'Abacab' are cut from similar cloth - now very much operating in the shorter songs smoother, softer, radio friendly world (with some old tricks included for good measure - prime example is the 10 minute "Duke's Travels"/"Duke's End" suite).  Phil Collins solo career, was gathering pace but did not seem to be affecting his commitment to Genesis.  Indeed another big hit for Genesis was "Misunderstanding" the Collins wrote for his first album but felt Genesis would give it more strength.There is some cross-over (why wouldn't there be, it's the same vocalist and drummer).  If anything, the lessons of his solo career had moved Genesis to a more pop-rock direction.  My summary: 'Duke' is a strong consistent package featuring great songs, playing and delivery.  'Abacab' feels a little more insubstantial - it's good, but one feels it could've been better.

So with a couple of hit singles behind them, smooth US stadium-appealing albums in the can, burgeoning solo careers (with varying degrees of success) and a steady drip of back catalogue sales, where next?
Well, turn back towards the prog obviously - and where there was once whimsy, now add a shaft of darkness.  Best exemplified by the maniacal laugh that opens into lead single "Mama" from the simply titled 'Genesis'.  And "Home By The Sea" / "Second Home By The Sea" shows the long songs are still as great as ever.
But having been bitten by the Pop Star bug, and the chance to get on MTV, the lightweight "Illegal Alien" also appears.  Whilst the song does have a point and a comment to make, the lyrical construct and delivering it in a cod-Mexican accent may not have been the smartest idea - at least judged by today's standards anyway.

There was a 3 year gap until 1986s 'Invisible Touch', but in that period they completed a 5 month tour in support of 'Genesis', Phil Collins continued his pop supremacy with a new album and multiple appearances for anyone who asked (including 2 performances at Live Aid either side of the Atlantic), Mike Rutherford convened Mike & The Mechanics, and Tony Banks released some unhailed solo work (including a very nearly hit single (number 75 for 2 weeks) with Fish from Marillion).

'Invisible Touch' is more pop market focussed than previously with 5 hit singles from 10 tracks, but the album also includes perhaps the lat great Genesis long song in the shape of "Domino".
Producer Hugh Padgham had got his feet under the table with the last Genesis album, and his work here is maybe as important to the final product - in terms of shape and presentation to the market - as the band themselves.  Genesis vs Phil Collins solo is oft debated - did he keep his best songs for himself?  was Genesis now Phil's side Project?  and many more questions.  In truth, there is always a division between the 2 worlds (see also Mike & The Mechanics versus Genesis), but this album comes confirms the 2 worlds co-existed, but there are moments when Hugh Padgham's production comes very close to muddying the water.

After a year on tour and respective solo careers (except Tony Banks) occupying more time and energy, you would be forgiven for thinking that was the end.  Indeed, a career spanning documentary was filmed and aired on the BBC.  But the Genesis Bat Signal went back up in early 1991, and they re-convened for another round.
'We Can't Dance' was written in the studio from the ground up.  It was this recording method that kept Phil Collins in the saddle, despite increasing demands and success on his own.
In fact so much material was produced, a double album was issued (well, it was nominally a double but more the fact that in the CD era they could now fill up 70 odd minutes if they really wanted to).
They culled even more singles form this one (6 from 12), but the album also contains 2 long songs in the shape of "Driving The Last Spike" and "Fading Lights" - welcome additions to the catalogue, but falling just short of previous 8 minute + efforts).

And then following the tour, Phil Collins did leave - the pressure of the solo career, solo touring, and personal issues just meant he was unable to focus on Genesis.
And arguably at that point, the band should've probably drawn a line.  But Rutherford and Banks are made of sterner stuff - a new singer (Ray Wilson from Stiltskin) was installed and 'Calling All Stations' written, recorded and released.
The title track isn't that bad a song, but stretching the good will over an entire album just (I think) sullied) the legacy - more an exercise of "keeping the name out there" rather than producing a worthy album
(although, in fairness, it does underline the importance of Tony Banks to the whole sound and focus of Genesis).

From slight, producer misguided, beginnings, to rising Prog Monster, to losing your vocalist and then losing a guitarist (to lose one player is careless, but to lose 2 in short order could be fateful), to reduced numbers, and then a change of sound and fanbase, there is much to like across these 15 albums (OK, apart from the last one perhaps).
So where to start for the novice?
(Novice?  that was me 3 months ago.  Hark at me and "the voice of experience")

  • From the Peter Gabriel years, 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway' may have the reputation, but is probably not the best starting point.  A double session of 'Foxtrot' quickly followed by 'Selling England By The Pound' is recommended
  • I'm going to call out 'A Trick Of The Tail' from the transitional years as muchly worthy of investigation
  • For the 3 piece era, the starting point would/should be 1983s 'Genesis', and 'Invisible Touch' is also worth a spin

Supper's Ready

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight

A Trick Of The Tail


Land Of Confusion

Monday 20 June 2022

Humdrum Express - Forward Defensive

The last Humdrum Express album dropped (as the cool kids say) just before lockdown - this meant that a highly competent collection of songs did not get the live airings and potentially reaching a wider audience it deserved.
Undeterred, the new album arrives some 27 months later, and I can report that normal service has been resumed.  More of the same gentle skewering of modern life, wry observations, exasperation, absurdity, and lyrical one-liners.
But this time, there's a little bit of politics and a cello.

Why 27 months?  Well, there's been a couple of lockdowns you know - and as a result, Ian states:

“Lockdown hit us all in different ways. I didn’t notice it at first but mixing with fewer idiots than usual was hampering my main source of writing inspiration. I eventually took the unusual step of posting a song idea on Twitter.

“The positive response gave me the encouragement needed and 24-hours later, "Denim In The Dugout" was finished. Finally back in the groove, 12 more songs came tumbling out to complete the project.”

The songs herein cover varying subjects including spending Christmas on Bondi Beach with the frontman of The Lemonheads. Peter Shilton on social media, the life of third choice goalkeepers, peculiar collectibles, people who’ve built pubs in their gardens, manscaping, and those who talk loudly at gigs (and are blissfully unaware that there is anything wrong with that).
It's not too much of a leap - and a very possibly simplistic stance - to say Humdrum Express are not far from Half Man Half Biscuit with a Midlands accent.

That little bit of politics mentioned on track 1 -"Brave Boy" - reciting the upset at getting a vaccine sticker rather than an enamel badge.  There can't be too many songs that mix trypanophobia with a political outburst.

"I'm aware the cost of a badge might be seen as a drain on resources, but this jab was an achievement for me.  It wasn't me who spent 37 billion on a failed Track & Trace system and millions more more on deficient PPE"

Mate ... I didn't even get a flipping sticker, but I agree with your assertion.

Now before you think Ian Passey's gone all Billy Bragg militant, this is the only time that the real world enters proceedings.
(Actually, not true - "What A Time To Be Alive" identifies the fact that we may all have to work until we're 85, but doesn't go down the "overthrow the Government" route.  It does off a sarcastic air punch at the end though)

Humdrum normality is restored with "Christmas With Evan Dando" - the unlikely tale of finding yourself in Australia with The Lemonheads frontman, followed by another 11 folk-indie-ska-infused, sometimes spoken word observations of the possibly un-important but actually in need of investigation (maybe even rectification).  At one point he even goes a bit Morrissey on "Manscaping" (or that's what my cloth ears heard anyway)

"The Gig Chatterer" recounts the scourge of musicians and gig goers that - like rats in London - you're never more than 6 feet away from a knobhead talking over the performance.

"One Man's Tat (Is Another Man's Treasure)" is an investigation of the stuff that people collect - to be honest, I collect some odd stuff (examples: books about the London Underground, Viz Comics) but that list there is primarily tat (in my humble opinion).  Although I do enjoy the line about having a collection of yellow, green and brown snooker balls - bought as a baulk buy (well, it made me laugh).

And another thing ... Football Managers are wearing Jeans!
Now whilst some of the names may change (such is the fickle world of Football Management) the exasperation at those who used to wear a suit or training gear have now gone all casual is evident.

Neil Warnock's flares flap in the breeze,

Steve Bruce cuts a dash in dungarees

No foul committed the ref says play on

Garry Monk's transferred to spray on

All aboard the Humdrum Express ... and a ruddy good time is guaranteed.

The Gig Chatterer

Denim In The Dugout

More here if your interest has been piqued

And if you want the whole album (and any others):