Classic Rock Review

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Genesis Nursery Cryme (1971)

nursery-crymeFrom johnmcferrinmusicreviews.org

As with Yes, record number 3 represented the “big leap” for Genesis. Phil Collins and Steve Hackett entered, bringing with them instrumental skill that the band oh-so-badly needed – in fact, this album is easily the second-most guitar-heavy of Genesis’ career, as all of Hackett’s tricks are on prominent display at just the right times. The progressive nature of the compositions began to enter full flight, as the band contributed three musical masterpieces in the epics. And, most of all, Gabriel finally discovered his incredible sense of the absurd, as his lyrics became more intricate and more entertaining than ever before. And that absurdity even reaches to the album cover – I may perhaps be all wet here, but I’m almost positive that the girl holding the mallet represents Gabriel, the other woman on wheels the producer, and the heads lying on the ground the other band members.

Ah yes, it also introduces us to the human-head croquet game that underpins the story of epic number one, The Musical Box. Ignoring the music just for a moment, the story Gabriel creates here is nothing short of sheer brilliance – not just the fact that it’s so strange, but the way in which he makes it impossible to truly determine who the ‘hero’ is. I mean, Cynthia lopped off Henry’s head with a mallet, but Henry comes back as an old man and rapes Cynthia. Who do you root for here??!! Is the ending tragic? A victory? The answer, of course, is that it’s neither (even the giant musical climax at the end doesn’t really betray the nature of the piece), and that it is the first of many glorious enigmas that Peter would paint for us.

But if it were just the story that were so cool, the song would lose much of its power. No, it is truly the music itself that makes this the classic it is. The vocal melodies in the beginning and middle are beautiful but sadly pleading, while the Elizabethan Folk nature of the music alternately soothes and tenses the listener. And, of course, the faster instrumental breaks are just marvelous. Hackett is the star, no question about it, and even Tony Banks is willing to reduce the role of his regular keyboard style in the jams, often using them as a feedback supplement for Steve and Mike (it’s really cool to watch a live performance of this song and realize that all of the loudest and most abrasive sounds are actually coming from Tony’s keys, and that they actually work). And again, Steve’s guitar parts are absolutely incredible – fast enough to satisfy one’s need to hear shredding, but also impeccably constructed and written.

And, of course, we have the grand finale, with Peter once again the main star, screaming in the guise of an old man, “Why don’t you TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW!” Granted, he could get a little gross with this part on stage, but there’s no denying that this conclusion is one of the most overwhelmingly moving moments in the history of rock music.

Unfortunately, the album is somewhat inconsistent from this point onwards. The other two epics are marvelous, but most of the shorter songs are, well, kinda lame. Well, except Harold the Barrel, of course, with Peter singing the story of man about to jump off a ledge. The music is hilarious, maniacally slamming from one up-tempo theme to another while we hear things like old Mrs. Barrel singing “Your shirt’s all dirty and there’s a man here from the BBC – You just can’t jump.” But the other short songs, again, stink. For Absent Friends (with Collins’ first-ever lead-vocal in Genesis) and Harlequin mostly escape me every time I hear them, and Seven Stones isn’t really better. The lyrics are pretentious without being entertaining (I’ll bet dollars-to-dimes that Tony wrote them!!), and the only part of the song that has ever fascinated me is the pretty mellotron part at the end.

No matter, though – the other two epics rule. Return of the Giant Hogweed, the heart-warming story of a race of weeds that take over the earth, is utterly fabulous and hilarious, from the feedback-drenched rolling guitar lines of the beginning to the ludicrously complex melody and chorus structure to the interesting jamming in the middle. Even Tony’s playing doesn’t seem as annoying here, as the main keyboard riff is quite entertaining. And, of course, Peter’s singing, from the “Turn and run!” etc. screams of the beginning, to the ‘Dance of the Giant Hogweed’ at the end, when the weeds finally win their battle and Peter cries “Mighty Hogweed is avenged! Human bodies soon will know our anger! Kill them with your Hogweed hairs! Heracleum Mantegazziani!” is entertaining beyond words.

And, finally, we have Fountain of Salmacis, lyrics by Mike, which tells the story of the creation of Hermaphrodites. The lyrics are straight-forward, without too much ‘commentary’ or anything pretentious like that, with Peter making you feel for the ‘hero’ with cries like “Where are you father? Give wisdom to your son” or “Away from me cold-blooded woman, your thirst is not mine!”. And some (though not really most) of the instrumental parts are cool too – there’s a little too much Tony for me (though I must say the mellotron/organ fade-in, which gets reprised several time in the song, is very beautiful), and it sounds really strange in the mid-song jam when it sounds like he’s playing a baseball organ, but Steve, when he’s around, knocks your socks off. The simple guitar flourish at the beginning of the jam, in particular, as he slowly creeps between the speakers while building tension with an ominous call from his guitar, wows me flat every time I hear it.

So what of all this? This is certainly the biggest breakthrough of Genesis’ career, as the positive aspects of the band are shown in full for the first time – but there are also still negatives. The occasional dose of lackluster songwriting, falling back on simple acoustic patterns that only try to rely on ‘atmosphere’ instead of actual music content, not to mention the fact that only three of the songs bare the obvious stamp of Gabriel’s lyrics, drags down the rating ever so slightly. But don’t get me wrong – you should definitely get this. It’s just that you should probably get the next few albums first …

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March 31, 2013 - Posted by | Genesis Nursery Cryme |

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