Classic Rock Review

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Genesis Foxtrot (1972)


More of the same formula: lengthy marathons with boring instrumental passages, increasingly complicated prog lyrics and Gabriel’s fantastic singing skills. But even better this time around; the instrumental passages are generally less boring because they tend to be shorter and more multi-part, the lyrics are getting interestinger and interestinger, and Gabriel’s singing skills are on the rise again, as he goes deeper and deeper into his amazing brand of “rock theater”.

Just like in Cryme, there are three lengthy marathons, but one of them is really long. You know, of course, what I’m talking about: the famous side-long ‘Supper’s Ready’. While you’ll see quite a few reader comments condemning me for my initial rejection of the most part of the suite below, time has certainly improved my feelings towards it. Obviously, the suite was written mostly with the aim of “not falling behind” the other prog bands like ELP, Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and particularly Jethro Tull, all of which had already released side-long pieces by the time – and some of them had done pretty well on the charts. But fortunately for us, Peter Gabriel was such a talented fella that the effort eventually turned out to be much more than an obligatory tribute to his predecessors.

‘Supper’s Ready’ is basically Gabriel’s take on the Apocalypse (actually, one of the parts is subtitled ‘Apocalypse In 9/8’) – I will not go into details on the song’s ‘spiritual essence’ and the meaning of all of its individual sections, because all such things are rather debatable. There are lengthy resources for the explanation of ‘Supper’ on the Net, together with resources annotating The Lamb; check ’em out for yourselves. Here, it must be noted that most of the parts are supposed to have actual meaning, and the suite flows quite well. Kudos to the band, in particular, for actually providing us with quite a few melodies: the twenty-plus minute length is fully compensated by the multiple themes, ranging from soft and subtly ominous to gritty and openly aggressive. With all their pretentions and ambitions, they could have easily pumped out the Close To The Edge formula (a few good melodies diluted by tons of acquired-taste atmosphere), but instead they’re in for some real musical meat.

And thus, after a few listens that are needed to get used to the tune in general, it only sags in a couple of places: some instrumental breaks are, as usual, lengthier than they should be, and a couple sections like ‘How Dare I Be So Beautiful’ and the already mentioned ‘Apocalypse In 9/8’ are, well, overshadowed by the better moments. But when said moment is better, it’s usually topnotch. ‘Lover’s Leap’, with its tale of two lovers merging as one, is sad and romantic, driven forth by a gorgeous medieval guitar line; ‘The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man’ is climactic, with loads of wonderful atmosphere; and ‘Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men’ is a stomping piece of battle fury with Hackett at his very very best. The fun comes on ‘Willow Farm’, where Gabriel is the main and only star: it’s one of his most impressive theatrical British deliveries ever. And ‘As Sure As Eggs Are Eggs’ brings us back to the climactic moments of the second part, culminating in the triumphant coming of the Lord ‘to lead his children home, to take them to the new Jerusalem’.

Throughout, the band pulls out nearly everything out of their sleeves: Tony’s playing is moderate and restrained, resulting in quite a few blistering organ and Mellotron passages, Rutherford is supplying pretty acoustic guitar, Hackett stays in the shadows but the presence of his guitar in the background is always noticeable, Phil is Phil, and Gabriel… no, his starry hour had yet to come with the next record, but his singing on ‘Willow Farm’ definitely puts him in the league of Supermen. If you haven’t yet seen that video of the Genesis History, rent it if only with the aim of witnessing Mr Gabriel hop around the stage in his flower outfit while doing the ‘Willow Farm’ bit. An unforgettable experience. So screw the meaning – Apocalypse or not, this is simply a hodge-podge of enthralling musical ideas and inspired vocal and instrumental performances.

For me, however, side A hardly refuses to match Gabriel’s interpretation of the Apocalypse on side B. Not all, of course: ‘Can-Utility And The Coasters’ is classic Genesis filler, it doesn’t do a single thing for me. Some people seem to like it, but I don’t see how it is better than, say, ‘Harlequin’ on the previous record. Genesis are essentially a power band: they very rarely get on by soft melodies alone, it’s the contrast between soft and hard (I mean, upbeat and majestic) that makes their songs work. There is hardly any power in ‘Can-Utility’, just a lot of atmospheric acoustic guitar and a few more Mellotron notes that don’t seem to achieve any positive effect.

But the fan favourite ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ is certainly a great song, even with all those corny Mellotrons that predict the much later murky Wind And Wuthering synth stylizations: the melody manages to be memorable while not being very simple (as usual), and the lyrics, pretentious as they might be, are at least funny (I don’t know, I for one find a lot of fun in the lines ‘maybe the lizard shedded it’s tail/This is the end of man’s long union with Earth’). It also manages to go from stately and calm to raging and rocking with the transition effectuated smoother than most prog rock bands could ever manage such subtle changes – courtesy of Mr Hackett, whose guitar technique is even more impressive than before.

Same goes for the more obscure ‘Time Table’, with Gabriel at his most ‘universally-important’ tone – the gorgeous chorus of the song is, well, gorgeous, and Tony’s tinkling electric piano solo is utterly cute; why didn’t the man stick to non-electronic devices more often in his life is way beyond me. But my absolute favourite on the album is the sadly ignored ingenious sci-fi tale of ‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’ in which the corporation of Genetic Control buys up all the housing on the planet and then reduces humanity to half its size so that they could make more money by putting twice as many inhabitants in each house. What a bummer, eh? Why hasn’t Ray Davies come up with a rock opera like this? (Which, by the way, is no idle question: there’s much more in common between Ray Davies and Peter Gabriel than you might imagine).

‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’ is a worthy inheritor to ‘Hogweed’, with an even more complicated, but an even more funny and entertaining structure and Gabriel taking pure delight in impersonating both the ‘innocent lambs’ and the ‘big bad wolves’ of the story. While the song is nowhere near as ‘all-encompassing’ as ‘Supper’s Ready’, it manages to enthral me even more successfully: after all, it’s like an entire play stuffed in eight and a half minutes, not to mention the tons of cool melodies the band throws on here without any serious effort. Finally, Rutherford’s two-minute classic guitar showcase on ‘Horizons’ is at least a brief relief after all those nauseating Banksynths. So you see, there’s enough to make this record stand out even without the silly supper that’s finally ready.

Whatever I might say, though, there may be no doubt that this is Peter Gabriel’s peak as a lyricist. His exaggerated ‘Britishness’ shines through on all the corners, but it seems to be not the kind of ‘conservative Britishness’ that characterizes the Kinks, or the kind of ‘medieval-minstrelian Britishness’ that characterizes Jethro Tull. I’d call it ‘fairy tale Britishness’: in his imagery Gabriel relies on Germanic and Celtic mythology and old folk tales and pagan practices rather than on ‘social Britain’. So, at least in this respect, we might say that Genesis certainly delved itself a unique niche in British prog rock. Let it stay there for all its worth. And move on to their glorious culmination!

April 12, 2013 - Posted by | Genesis Foxtrot |

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