1998 must have been a red letter year for true-blue, Genesis fans. The five titans of the group, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, and Michael Rutherford, got together and assembled this awesome, four-disc box set. The first three discs predominantly contain material taken from live shows (that weren’t also included on Genesis Live).
Part of the third disc and all of the fourth disc contain non-album singles, demos, and an assortment of early, unreleased songs. There are 52 songs on this collection in total. Indeed, sitting through this album is a project. However, speaking as someone who not only listened to this entire collection, but wrote a track review for every single one of them, I’ll tell you…… I had a blast!
The first thing you should note about it is that the first two discs contain a live rendition of the entire rock opera, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. They play its songs very similarly to how they were played in the studio album. It’s a valid criticism that it makes it a pointless collection to own, because it’s essentially an inferior version of it.
…However, I appreciate it, because I like to marvel that they were able to capture so many of those delicate textures from the album in that live setting. (With that said, there were parts that had to be rerecorded in 1998 due to technical problems with the original recording. Notably for the album closer, “It,” Gabriel’s vocals had aged tremendously! Admittedly, it would have been better if they left it alone, but surely the soul of the original shows are still there in full display.) Steve Hackett fans should especially appreciate that he gets to shine a bit more here than he did in the studio cut.
But I’m not going to spend much time talking about the first two discs, because it’s the third disc where the highest concentration of goodies are. Its crown jewel is an entire live rendition of “Supper’s Ready,” a recording that probably should have been included on Genesis Live if only Genesis gave it the proper double album length. But anyway, hearing the band perform it live is fascinating to me, because it has nearly the same effect on me as its studio counterpart.
They were able to recreate that magic on stage? Wow. Those lucky people in the audience! I also love all the Selling England By the Pound selections including “Firth of Fifth,” “More Fool Me,” “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” and my personal favorite, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” All marvelous live renditions (But why did they cut out Tony Banks’ opening piano solo at the beginning of “Firth of Fifth?”)
With that said, probably the most interesting selections of this box set for most Genesis fans are the non-LP studio songs, because they’re brand new to many people. “Twilight Alehouse” was the B-side to “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” and it’s quite fantastic! I’d say it would have been a pretty weak fit on Selling England By the Pound, because the transition between its folky beginnings and that strange dance groove comes across as jarring to me.
Certainly it doesn’t develop as gracefully as all the other songs on that album. But anyway, it’s excellent to be able to hear another Genesis song from that era that I never heard before. “Happy the Man” sounds like an attempt for them to get a radio single in 1972. It’s a sweet, sunny pop-rocker with a nice melody… However, it takes a few awkward turns here and there, so it’s not much a shocker that it never took off.
All those early, pre-From Genesis to Revelation tracks on the final disc are certainly interesting to sit through. A few of them are demo versions of songs that would come up later in their discography, such as “In the Beginning,” “In the Wilderness,” and “Where the Sour Turns to Sweet.” But the majority of them had never been released before. Some of them can be quite interesting. “Going Out to Get You” is based on one of the weirdest piano grooves I’ve ever heard… It makes me think more of The Residents than Genesis!
…However, most of the other songs are very simplistic and shows these guys in their most formative years. Some of the material was even recorded as far back as 1967 when Peter Gabriel hadn’t developed confidence a singer yet, and Tony Banks seemed to always just want to pound blocky chords at a cheap sounding piano like an amateur. But I do admit I find these art-nerd teenagers charming! I wonder if they had even an inkling of what would lie ahead in their future?
About the album score, this one was really tough to determine since I believe this is the first time I ever reviewed a box set like this. I could have gone as high as a 13 on this just based on the overall quality of it, but I figure ratings as high as 13s should be reserved for albums. For now, a 12 seems like a perfectly reasonable score. It’s a wonderful collection that all Genesis fans will certainly treasure. If you’ve been sitting on the fence about acquiring it because its length intimidates you, then get off that fence. I was on it until recently, and I’m glad I have finally gotten off of it.
A terrific example of what a boxset should be. Many boxsets aren’t much more than glorified greatest hits packages (Time Traveller). Other boxsets take an even more annoying approach, as they try to be both “best of” albums and a collection of unreleased rarities, trying to satisfy both casual and hardcore fans but not fully pleasing either (30 Years of Maximum R&B, Yesyears). But Genesis and their record company got it right with this one. All tracks here were previously unreleased – some are outtakes, some are demos, and most is live material from the Gabriel era that never made it onto album (in other words, no overlaps with Genesis Live.)
The most infamous asset of the boxset comprises the first two discs of the four disc set – an official recording (in fact, the only official recording from the tour) of a show from the Lamb tour. Not surprisingly, there aren’t that many differences between this and the studio incarnation, but it’s still worth a listen or two. The biggest difference is that, while he’s still not quite as involved as he was on England, Hackett gets much more freedom to color the sonic landscape here than he did in the studio. The stretch from Anyway through The Lamia, in particular, is quite ear-catching compared to before. As for Gabriel, given that he had to sing while wearing some insane costumes (you have got to see the Slippermen costume!), it’s no surprise that his singing often isn’t quite as powerful as you’d expect. In fact, Gabriel was sufficiently disappointed in the way his voice turned out that when the archive was being compiled, he went in and re-recorded some of his parts.
Oh, and speaking of re-recording – apparently, the tape ran out during this show, and so the band had no choice but to reunite for this boxset and present a new recording of it. And it sounds great. It’s surprising, but Gabriel’s voice, if anything, has only gotten better over the years. His voice is richer than ever, and his vocals roar through the song in a way that far surpasses the original’s. It also is nice to hear that the band can still pull off their parts as well as ever – Hackett is very active, and Collins punches out the difficult rhythms of the piece as if he had stayed a drummer forever … (note: I’ve already been sent comments correcting me on this, which are posted below, so don’t bother sending more anymore telling me I’m a dumb dumb for not knowing it’s just a re-recorded vocal).
While the first two discs get the most attention, my personal favorite has to be the third disc – a collection of various other live tracks from the Gabriel era (plus three studio tracks). The entire first half of England is presented in a live format, and while the tracks lack some polish (due to lack of studio production, obviously), they are just as powerful and funny and moving as before. But those aren’t all! There’s a *drumroll* live Supper’s Ready! Huzzah! And for those of you who want some obscurity – Stagnation!
The three studio tracks on this disc are of mixed quality, but of interest to hardcore fans nonetheless. Twilight Alehouse is a lost classic, a Trespass-era number recorded during the Foxtrot sessions. It has a number of interesting themes that somehow manage to gel together despite all logic, and the ending instrumental section is eerie as hell (indeed, over time, it’s easily become one of my five favorite Genesis tracks). It’s no wonder, then, that it was a stage favorite of the band. The other two songs, on the other hand, aren’t so great. Happy the Man is a hilariously dippy song that should never have been released as a single, and the *single version* of Watcher of the Skies (*cough*) is such a hackjob that it’s only enjoyable from a humor standpoint.
The fourth disc takes us back to the whee days of the band, and reminds us what a nice band this was all along. Even when they weren’t writing about Giant Hogweeds. The demo versions of some FGTR tracks may be enough to convert haters of that album based on its production – stringless, there is nothing to obfuscate the incredible melodies of pieces like The Wilderness and One Day. And some of them started out as completely different creatures than what they became – for instance, did you know that The Serpent was originally called She is Beautiful? The hook of the song went – “She is beautiful, very beautiful, look at her. She is a model!” In Hiding also had a different character once, as a pretty instrumental called Patricia.
Most of the other songs on the disc aren’t that great, though. They all have the wide-eyed charm that permeates the FGTR songs, but without instantly memorable hooks. I like the cute Going Out to Get You, and I always find the beginning of Sea Bee pretty, but ehn. Not bad, but I always want to whiz back to When the Sour Turns to Sweet etc.
All in all, though, this is a very enjoyable boxset for a Genesis hardcore like myself. Don’t buy it as a beginner with the expectation of it converting you, though – that’s not its purpose.
The announcement of the first volume of the ‘Genesis Archive’ box-sets was received with something approaching euphoria by many old-school Genesis fans, as it promised much unreleased live material from the hallowed Peter Gabriel era of the band. It seems bizarre that such a massively popular period had only one live release- 1973′s ‘Genesis Live’, released at the time as a budget album in the first place- when a lot of the reputation the band had was due to their live performances. As such, it’s easy to understand why so many fans went mad for this release.
‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ is often regarded by the rock media as being the finest album that the band recorded. However, this reputation doesn’t seem to have been based on the reception it got on its original release. Its length and the fact that the band played the whole thing through every night of the live tour meant that it got a frosty reception at the time.
The first 2 discs present a full live performance of this magnum opus recorded at the LA Shrine on the 24th January 1975. Thankfully, it seems to be a terrific night, with the band firing on all cylinders musically speaking. The biggest problem, though, is that Peter Gabriel overdubbed almost all of the vocals on this set. The casual listener may not notice but to the die-hard fan, there is a clear difference between his vocals of 1975 and his vocals in the 1990s, as you would expect. Somewhat bafflingly, the final track ‘It’ is sourced from the original studio version with new vocals as it is claimed that this track was not recorded. This will come as a surprise to those fans who, um, are ‘aware’ of the untreated recordings from this show that do feature ‘It’. Still, the other overdubs are not intrusive and there is obviously a massive difference in quality when you compare this to the murky bootlegs.
The first 5 tracks of 3rd disc provide a suitable bridge between ‘Genesis Live’ and the live recording of ‘The Lamb Lies on Broadway’ – recorded at The Rainbow Theatre in London about 6 months after ‘Live’ had been recorded in Leeds, and featuring tracks from the then new ‘Selling England’ album, they showcase Genesis at their most confident and powerful; these tracks also show Genesis’s lighter side, with the humorous banter between Gabriel & Collins – and finally, we have a live version of ‘Supper’s Ready’ with Gabriel at the helm!
The last 4 tracks on disc 3 are alternate takes of old favorites, and very welcome to hear – especially the version of ‘Twilight Alehouse’, formerly (I believe) only available as the B side of ‘I know what I like’, yet it had been a staple of the live set since the very early days.
Then there’s the 4th disc. For reasons unknown, this set was arranged so that the discs go gradually backwards chronologically. So, you remember that first Genesis album? The one no one ever talks about, and only the really fanatical band devotees claim to like? This disc is jam packed with live and demo versions of the songs from that album, plus other long-lost songs from early in the band’s career. There are also some songs from that album in rough mixes without the orchestral arrangements. The band sounds still very “inmature”, but with some good quality. Some songs are naive, really, but still good. The BBC recordings from 1970: some of them are very good, like “Sheperd” (with Banks sharing lead vocals with Gabriel; Banks sang very well) and “Pacidy”.
If you are a Gabriel-era Genesis freak, here’s your ultimate chance to expand your collection even further with this fantastic and unique box-set.