Classic Rock Review

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Genesis A Trick Of The Tail (1976)


What differences are there between the Gabrielled Genesis and the Gabrielless Genesis? Well, first of all, as one might guess, a Gabrielless Genesis features no Peter Gabriel. That meant that somebody had to replace his showman/singing abilities (the songwriting would be quite modestly handled by those old pals, Mr Banks and Mr Rutherford). After trying out dozens, if not hundreds, of potential candidates, they suddenly found out that the answer was right before them all of this time. Our old friend, Phil the Boomer, rose to the challenge and demonstrated his ability to take the place of Peter. And so begins the Odyssey of Phil Collins and his rapid rise from one of the best drummers in progressive rock to one of the crappiest performers on the adult contemporary scene…

One might note, though, that Phil Collins isn’t really responsible for the song material on this album (nor is he really responsible for the following two albums, for that matter). The compositions are mostly penned by Banks and/or Rutherford, with an occasional collaboration from Collins or Hackett. The latter seems to have been relegated to purely decorative functions. If one complains about the lack of audible guitar on the ‘classic’ 1971-74 Genesis albums, he should throw this stuff away even without looking at it. The little bits of guitar that you might discern aren’t certainly worth a whole band member (moreover, some of them might just as well be played by Rutherford). Sure, Steve gets in one composition of his own (‘Entangled’) and is responsible for some of the most beautiful moments on the album (the breathtaking solo on ‘Ripples’, for instance), but these sound more like a sop hastily thrown to the man by his more ambitious colleagues.

This means that Hackett’s departure in 1977 really made little influence on Genesis – contrary to what many people believe. Poor Steve, he was virtually squeezed out of the band – what you’ll find on here, actually, is a lengthy, 50-minute feast of Banksynth noises. Alas, even when he turns himself to normal pianos, it doesn’t always help. The sound is as uniform and monotonous as it might be, and while the actual melodies still stand out, Genesis seem to be heading more and more in the Kansas direction – and may I remind you that Kansas had built their entire early career on ripping off Genesis. Not to mention that they are among the most boring progressive groups to have ever existed. Granted, the sound might still have been fresh in 1976, but now it just sounds dated – pointless studio gimmickry which sure makes the music sound ‘modern’ (that is, ‘modern’ for 1976), but it sure doesn’t make the music sound entertaining.

Moreover, Phil’s singing is highly disappointing after all those Gabriel cookies – to me, at least. Yes, he does sound like Gabriel, but where are these cute little changes in intonation, these spoken passages, these inspired rambling mutterings? Phil delivers his lines in a boring, monotonous way, and even so he’s often muddied down by the production. His voice is not bad at all, but he isn’t able to model it at all, and just ends up overemoting on each track. From now on, Genesis vocals are crisp and professional, but are no longer a standout.

So… why an eight for this album, then? Well, see, the song material is actually quite strong. Whatever I may hold against Banks, at this point he did know how to turn in a great little tune (on occasion), and, hell, Rutherford was a really talented composer. His beautiful ballad ‘Ripples’, dedicated to the problems of aging, is one of the definite highlights on the record, romantic and tear-jerking, even though a little bit overlong (as a matter of fact, everything on here is overlong: the band just never knew when to shut up). Still, it does have that great solo thrown in by Steve. Other wonders include the tragic anthem of ‘Squonk’, with a charming fantasy story about a little animal who dissolved itself into tears when it was cornered, and the thrilling story of ‘Robbery, Assault, And Battery’ which again plunges us into the world of Genesis-like Britishness (strangely, the lyrical matter evokes the subject of ‘Harold The Barrel’).

Not that the songs are really that British as the album cover, with its Boz-like illustrations, suggests: in fact, without Gabriel there to deliver the lyrics, Banks often ends up sounding as a lame parody on Pete Sinfield (‘Mad Man Moon’ – arguably the worst track on here, an overlong sloppy ballad which doesn’t hold a candle to ‘Ripples’ or, well, ‘Musical Box’, for all my life’s worth; it does have a nice atmosphere to it, though, which is more than I could say about its successor on the next album, the dreadful ‘One For The Vine’). Still, his best composition on the album (title track) should be considered a classic. On ‘A Trick Of The Tail’ everything seems to gel perfectly, maybe for the last time on a Genesis album. The lyrics (a story about a devil who, for some unknown reason, came to seek happiness on Earth) are decent, the melody, a nice shuffle with delicate key changes, is invigorating, and even Phil manages to somehow lift up his spirits on this one. Try it, you’ll like it.

Plus, the other three compositions are okay. ‘Dance On A Volcano’ is anthemic, ‘Entangled’ is, well, entangled, but listenable (watch out for that mighty crescendo at the end – it’s pure heaven when the headphones are on), and the closing ‘Los Endos’ is clever, even if it’s nothing more than an average prog-rock instrumental with snippets of some other tracks and a quote from ‘Supper’s Ready’ inserted at the end. In fact, there’s little offensive stuff on the record, as far as songwriting is concerned. Just imagine how this might have sounded if they’d bother to substitute some of Banks’ tools for, say, a twelve-string? Oh, okay, an extra six-string would easily do, I’m sure.

P.S. Considering one of the reader comments which reflects a widely spread statement, I’d just like to combat one nasty myth: namely, the assertion that after Gabriel’s departure Genesis became more “musically-oriented”. Genesis always paid most of their attention to the music – ‘Supper’s Ready’ and Selling England might have their theatrical moments, but 99% of their charm stems from the actual music. If anything, Genesis became less “theatre-oriented” after Gabriel’s departure, actually, they dropped the ‘rock theatre’ vibe almost in its entirety. But they didn’t ‘compensate’ for it by paying more attention to the music, simply because they couldn’t ever have paid more attention to the music than they did in the Gabriel days. On the contrary, what was so amazing about Gabriel-era Genesis was that they managed to combine ‘rock theatre’ with perfectly written music.

If you complain about your attention being drawn away by Peter’s antics, well, it’s your problem; I, for one, can concentrate either on Gabriel or on the music, whichever I prefer, and therefore consider the early Gabriel-Genesis experience twice as rewarding as whatever followed. Yes, post-1975 Genesis never wrote such mini-show pieces as ‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’, but the main charm of these pieces stems from the fact that they are all highly melodic and incorporate blistering musical performances; the music in there is in no way overshadowed by Peter’s delivery. So much for the illusionary “theatrical/musical” Genesis opposition.

April 12, 2013 - Posted by | Genesis A Trick Of The Tail |

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