Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Genesis Selling England By The Pound (1973)


Yup, either this or Genesis’ only reason for existence. Truly, if this one were not my first Genesis album, I doubt that I would ever think of getting deeper into the band. Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot might have been okay, but you have to work really hard in order to appreciate even some of the material, and a lot of it I still treat as absolute filler. Not so with this truly timeless effort. For once, the band seem to have resolved all of their problems. For once, the instrumental passages are suddenly not so boring or even not boring at all – and, quite often, they are downright beautiful.

For once, Steve Hackett gets quite a lot of chances to make good use of his instrument (even though he’s still exploiting that silly pedal of all things). For once, Tony Banks neglects his synths to play some fresh, exciting piano. For once, Gabriel puts a little bit of everything into his lyrics – from plain, good old-fashioned humour to ultra-bombastic, but still clever lyrics. And, for the first time, Phil Collins gets to shine with a self-penned song, and it doesn’t suck! Now that’s what I call an album.

Okay now, if we prefer to refer to exact track names, then this is what I’d say. The album opener, ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’, is my current bet for best Genesis song ever. To my mind, the hidden potential of Gabriel’s voice didn’t come to light until the opening, almost accappella lines, in which majesty alternates with irony and sarcasm with lamentation. The instrumental break is superb, with the synths propelling everything to a fast, butt-kicking groove and Hackett’s guitar catching up with the keyboards with gusto. And the closing section, with Mike Rutherford endlessly repeating the same acoustic four notes over and over with synth noises in the background, is simply beautiful, though it might be about thirty or forty seconds overlong.

Then comes another favourite – their ‘hit single’ (which I put in quotes because it wasn’t really a hit single, but it was the only thing close to a hit single in Gabriel’s epoch) ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’. It demonstrates one thing: that Gabriel has finally become able to come up with short, but still thoroughly enjoyable pop tunes. But the lyrics? ‘But I remember a voice from the past/Gambling only plays when you’re winning/Had to thank old Miss Mort for schooling a failure’. Groovy. I love this song, too. It has it all: complex, but catchy verses, a bombastic refrain, and, above all, Phil’s ingenious drumming (just listen to those rolls all over the place). Classic!

Next? ‘Firth Of Fifth’, yet another fan favourite. I expected to hate it because it was so pompous and self-indulgent, with lyrics ranking among the band’s most pretentious (I wasn’t even a bit surprised when I learned their author was Tony Banks and not Peter), but I can’t deny the melody. And the instrumental part strikes me as being one of the most intelligently written pieces of music I’ve ever heard among prog rock tunes. The way that the tearful flute part, the sorrowful piano part, the upbeat synth part and the lamenting guitar part all mesh with each other and participate in creating a complete ‘wall of tension’… wow, and then this ‘wall of tension’ suddenly comes crashing down with a ‘consolation’ synth part. Wow, now that’s really clever.

I can imagine that hearing this live might result in a catharsys. Classic, too. And then, after all this bombast, we suddenly go on into a three minute acoustic folkish ditty that introduces us to the songwriting and singing talents of Mr Phil Collins. Clever guy: actually, he can write a good song and knows how to sing it, too! Some might find ‘More Fool Me’ a bit too saccharin-ee for their tastes, but me, I’m just alright. I do agree that he was banally ripping off the Beatles, though, because sometimes it sounds like something John Lennon might have taped around as a demo, then thrown into the wastebin. That’s a compliment to Phil Collins, in case you haven’t understood.

Another epic – ‘The Battle Of Epping Forest’ – well, it might not be a fan favourite, but I’ve slowly grown addicted to it. For me, this is one fine damn jolly amusing song, with Gabriel just having lots of fun in the studio as well as, once again, demonstrating the unlimited capacity of his voice. Overlong? Hell, anything that’s eleven minutes long is overlong. But it rarely becomes boring, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of catchy hooks all over the place, melodical as well as lyrical, and the part about the ‘reverend’ falling into the jaws of sin is downright hilarious, even if it really has nothing to do with the ‘battle of Epping Forest’ by itself.

Unfortunately, this is where the album slowly starts to give in, because the final two songs (the instrumental ‘After The Ordeal’ and another lengthy suite, ‘The Cinema Show’) just don’t thrill me that much. Not that they’re bad: were they placed on, say, Nursery Cryme, they could have become the highlights there. On here, they just sound a little weak: ‘After The Ordeal’ is, let’s face it, hardly necessary with the far superior instrumental arrangements on ‘Firth Of Fifth’, while ‘The Cinema Show’ borrows its melody from the first parts of ‘Supper’s Ready’ and, even with that, displays very little energy. Because Selling England is, in its essence, an energetic album – the one that keeps your blood flowing most of the time. ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’ shakes you, ‘I Know What I Like’ kicks you, ‘Firth Of Fifth’ simply moves you and ‘Epping Forest’ plainly confuses you.

‘The Cinema Show’ is more like ‘Musical Box’: it might thrill you, but it sure don’t inspire you or rouse you. Not that everything needs to rouse you, of course, but still… but still, shucks! there’s five great songs in a row, resulting in thirty-five minutes worth of great music, plus two good songs. Not to mention that the last minute and a half of ‘Cinema Show’ is really an independent ditty called ‘Aisle Of Plenty’ which is actually a reprise of the best part on ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’. Good lads! If you dig intelligent British prog rock at all, you can’t live without this record. It’s great to the point of being my favourite prog rock album of the year. Which year? Why, this year, of course! What other year I’d be living in?

April 12, 2013 - Posted by | Genesis Selling England By The Pound |

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