Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Genesis Nursery Cryme (1971)

nursery-crymeFrom starling.rinet.ru

This is where the ‘classic Genesis formula’ finally falls into place, together with the acquisition of new guitarist Steve Hackett and new drummer Phil Collins – the cute little bald chappie with probably the most unpredictable career in the whole history of rock/pop. Back then, though, he did have all of his hair firmly in place and rarely ventured onto the steep path of singing, much less songwriting… oh man, those were the days. Not that I have any hard feelings towards Phil (except for ruining Clapton’s career in the mid-Eighties, that is), but somehow he always looks more favourable on photos dating back to, say, nineteen seventy-three, than any time in the present. But let’s get on with reviewing, shall we?

The new guys do contribute a lot of interesting stuff to the band’s sound, from Phil’s mature prog-rolls to Hackett’s professional soloing (that is, when he does get a chance to do some soloing, which isn’t that often, and even then he managed to procure himself an elaborate pedal which makes his guitar sound just like it was another of Tony’s synths). But it’s neither Collins nor Hackett that manage to beef up the rating for the record. Rather it is Gabriel’s lyrics, which have finally matured to the point of being able to successfully compete with the lyrical brand of such cultural heroes as Pete Sinfield, Keith Reid or Jon Anderson, and, I’m not afraid to say it, to beat them at it.

The material is divided here into two groups: the three lengthy, pretentious marathons (‘Musical Box’, ‘Return Of The Giant Hogweed’, ‘Fountain Of Salmacis’), balanced by a handful of shorter, not-so-pretentious ballads and suchlike. Those of you who hate lengthy pretentious prog rock, however, won’t get much of the shorter numbers. See, at some point Gabriel obviously decided that the simple pop tunes he proved himself master of on FGTR were way too obsolete and dated (hey! that’s what everybody else says about it, isn’t it? but not me!), so he eliminated them and preferred to concentrate himself on weird verse structures and chord progressions that are so complicated it kinda makes you sorry about what you thought of that last Beach Boys album… What I’m trying to tell you, actually, is that these shorter numbers might sound nice, but none of them are memorable in the least – no matter how you try to get into them, all you’ll be left in the end is some crazy background noise. While you’re in, though, you might just as well enjoy it.

‘Harlequin’, while not possessing any distinct melody or distinct hooks, is at least pretty, in the Genesis vibe, and ‘Harold The Barrel’ is just a fantastic tune, sounding slightly like a medieval Brit folk song, but only slightly: it almost looks like it was built on a “cut-and-paste” principle, with several different melodies cut in little pieces and slapped one over another in a fashion that seems ugly and strained at first, but turns out to be brilliantly executed in the end. Of course, all this contributes to the tune’s utter unmemorability, but the individual mini-pieces are all perfectly written and joined together. I kinda enjoy the actual story, too, though I admit it’s a little hard to understand why Harold the Barrel was going to jump out of the window… ‘For Absent Friends’ and ‘Seven Stones’ kinda suck, though, both the melodies and the lyrics. Can’t really enjoy them. Somewhat sloppy, if you ask me. Somewhat senseless, if you ask me, too. Come on now, what is ‘Seven Stones’ about, with its unclear images with unclear purposes? Sounds like a Trespass outtake to me. Oh, and for the record ‘For Absent Friends’ features the first ever apparition of Phil Collins in the role of lead singer, but that hardly improves the song.

Now, about the three lengthy marathons. These will take a really long time to get into, but you might do that, and once you do, you’ll be happy about it. The lyrics are mostly swell – Lewis Carroll rip-offs with elements of black humour and gothic mystery on ‘Musical Box’, a fantazmo sci-fi horror tale on ‘Giant Hogweed’, and a lovely Greek myth about the Hermaphrodite set to music on ‘Salmacis’. Out of these, ‘Hogweed’ is my favourite: the way that Gabriel recreates the atmosphere of panic created by the onslaught of the ‘giant hogweed’ against the planet is purely intoxicating, with the screams of ‘turn and run! stamp them out! waste no time! strike by night!’ being the most groovy part. Even the synths feel right in their place here, and the guitar/synth duet in the intro is amazing – an ultra-complex riff played at lightning speed in complete unison. And the main melody is, well, it kinda resembles something in between a music-hall tune and a martial rhythm. Very complex, yet very solid and memorable in the end.

But I also respect ‘Musical Box’ (a long-time fan favourite) for its beauty and, in part, even Pink Floyd-ian moments (the alternation of quiet and loud in the line ‘and I see… and I feel… and I touch… THE WALL!’ are certainly Wall-ish). And, finally, ‘Salmacis’ is just slick, with really talented and meaningful lyrics (after all, this is nothing but a retelling of an old Greek myth) and decent music. But, as you can see, my bet is on Gabriel more than anyone else. Only his singing can make these tunes come to life. So, when the instrumental parts (and they’re not that short, I tell you) take over, you’ll be bored, I tell you, unless it’s a rare case of an expert Steve Hackett solo (he’s especially demonic on ‘Musical Box’). You – will – be – bored. Why? Because Gabriel and Hackett are the only real virtuosos in the band, that’s why. And let me tell you that, as much as I respect (or don’t respect) Phil Collins, he absolutely was not the perfect choice for a vocalist. Sure, his voice does sound a lot like Gabriel’s, but he’s got a lot less of a range, and he can never make a record come alive just by the sheer abilities of his vocal cords, as Gabriel often does. Oh, but that comes on later. Sorry.

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March 1, 2013 - Posted by | Genesis Nursery Cryme |

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