Classic Rock Review

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Genesis Selling England By The Pound (1973)

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I am sticking my neck out on this one, potentially placing myself in line for a date with a pile of faggots, a fire and a pole (think about it – logically!). But the truth is, I never saw the attraction of Genesis. I kind of grew up in the early seventies surrounded by kids at school who thought that Genesis the epitome of musical genius. All I could hear whenever I listened to it was pretentious, public-school* wankery.

Let’s get the positives out-of-the-way first. In terms of musical ability, there is little anyone can do to fault a Genesis album. The arrangements are tight, the music is played with skill and precision and Peter Gabriel’s distinctive voice stands out and frames the content in exactly the way a voice should. Compare Gabriel’s voice with fellow prog-rocker Jon Anderson, and you’ll see what I mean. Anderson’s high pitched, almost falsetto whining tended to dominate the content rather than complement it. Then there is the drumming. I know that Phil Collins comes in for a good deal of criticism, but in his early career with Genesis he was able to display a mixture of competence and flair which, once again, complemented the music. Finally, the production is pretty much flawless. All in all, if you combine the good points this looks like it promises to be positive musical experience.

So why is it that I just do not like this, nor for that matter pretty much anything Genesis ever did? To answer that, it is necessary for me to explain what it is that makes me like or dislike a piece of music. First of all, I do not like music which tries to be clever or exclusive. Any music which says or implies, “allow me to let you in on a secret”, or “this is actually quite difficult to understand but if you listen hard enough you might get it” is really off putting. I much prefer, “come in, join the party”. Second, there has to be some oomph in it. I cannot define “oomph” except insofar as it is that ineffable quality which, when you are doing some task, any task, be it washing the car, doing a crossword or watching the TV, makes you stop what you are doing and listen. Oomph can come at any point in a piece of music and, while oomph can be something as banal as loudness, not all loudness (or changes in volume) qualifies as oomph.

Third, and most important, and this is something which stretches far back into my earliest music listening years, it absolutely must induce a change in state in me. That change can be physical or psychological. A piece of music which renders me incapable of sitting still fits the bill just as much as a piece of music which reduces me to tears or laughter or makes me want to punch someone. Music must reach out and connect to me to succeed. There are pieces of music I like which anyone would looking at my collection would think were the product of a temporary mental aberration, but that is missing the point. I may no longer remember why a particular piece of music connected to me, all I know is that it did.

Now, against those three criteria, it may be easier to understand why this album fares so poorly in my book. I find it exclusive and too clever for its own good at times – a typical product of a public school education which sets apart one group of people from ordinary mortals and (especially in the seventies) provided different sets of doors to open to lead to different opportunities. Second, there’s no oomph. At no point when listening to this do I stop and have a Microsoft Vista moment. Never, not once. And of course, there is no change in state in me. It does not connect with me on an emotional or physical level. It actually does nothing for me at all.

So, think about it. You are rating an album which tries to exclude you from the party and fails to make any impression on you as a listener. How are you going to rate it? I give it one and a half stars.

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February 23, 2013 - Posted by | Genesis Selling England By The Pound |

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