Very, very badly underrated. With this album, Genesis took another sizable step away from the dregs of Wind, and hence from their progressive past, and that helps explain why so many people dislike this album. There are still some artistic elements, sure – the album is supposedly conceptual, there are lots of the traditional Banksynths, as well as some energetic drumming from Phil, and there are ten minutes of instrumental jamming at the end – but this is certainly the band’s first major move towards becoming the “pop” Genesis. Regardless of some of the cool instrumental parts, drum machines and various elements of synth pop (including simpler songs with more mundane lyrical topics) can be found in abundance throughout.
The thing is, this album gets hammered by even devoted fans of the pop-era of Genesis for a number of reasons (though I can share their chagrin with the fact that, since it hit the top #10 on both sides of the Atlantic, it helped launch Phil’s solo career). Supposedly, all of these songs are totally non-descript and lacking anything that makes them stand out in any positive way. Well, there are exactly two songs on here I don’t like, so I can’t say I agree with this. Like most people, I strongly dislike the mega-hit Misunderstanding, Collins’ first solo credit since Peter left: what can I say, it’s horrendously bland and has an utterly moronic melody. I’m also not really fond of Bank’s Cul-de-sac: it’s too clumsy to work as a pop song, and it just sees too dippy to work as art-rock (though I will admit that I kinda like the big goofy keyboard riff that pops up here and there). Not to mention that the lyrics are of his usual quality.
However, I cannot share these negative sentiments past those two songs. EVERY one of the other songs has at least a couple of good things going for it, and some are just terrific. For one thing, I must tell you that, for the first time since Lamb, I am not bothered by the Banksynths. Some see his tone as horribly cheezy on this album, and there may be something to that. However, there is one major advantage they have here over the past two albums – they’re much, much brighter and more cheerful than before. Maybe that’s why the base color of Duke’s cover is white, while the last two were so drab.
As for the songs themselves, the major highlight comes from track seven, Turn it on Again. Absolutely blatant pop, definitely disco-influenced, but how can I help it if the song is so friggin’ good??!! The main melody is amazingly catchy, the bridge is fabulous (“I I get so lonely when she’s not there, I … I … I ….”), and the chord progressions are nothing short of genial. Needless to say, it’s one of the finest pop songs the band ever did, and even haters of Duke rarely fail to tip their hats to it.
But while none of the others provide quite the same wallop, they’re all enjoyable. The opening Behind the Lines is a peculiar number that I keep liking more with each listen, opening with a couple of minutes of jamming in an “overture” of sorts, before settling into a neat pop song with a pretty verse melody (sung with lots of passion). Even better, though, is the following Duchess. Yes, it has drum machines, the first instance of them used on a Genesis track. But SO WHAT??!! The introduction is mellow in a creepy sort of way, and the melody is just wonderful. In particular, I love the “.. all she had to do was step into the light” parts, but the rest could stick in my brain for as long as it wanted for all I care. I actually really like the lyrics, too.
There are also a pair of Banks numbers on side one that cause me to take note. The one-minute Guide Vocal may seem like blatant filler at first glance, but one should note that it does a good job of creating the impression of Duke as a pseudo-conceptual album, not to mention that it has a lovely ethereal beauty in the pleasant vocal melody. This same ethereal beauty also helps lift Heathaze from the doldrums of the verse melodies. The counter-melody, the one that has the “The trees and I are shaken …” lyrics, is positively gorgeous, fully making up for the fact that I couldn’t remember the rest of the song with a gun to my head.
Mike also contributes a pair of solo numbers, and both times comes up a winner. Well, ok, neither one reaches the heights of Ripples or Snowbound, and both numbers are based on the same idea (unconventional verse melody, bombastic heavenly chorus) as before, but I still appreciate them. Man of our Times, in particular, is a standout on the album. The main melody, for lack of a better term, is very twisted, with Phil contorting his voice to match up with this fact, while the synth approach is in the “ugly” vein of Back in NYC, which means I can’t help but enjoy it. Not to mention that I greatly appreciate the way Phil sings the chorus. Likewise with Alone Tonight, which is perfectly pleasant in the verses and beautifully memorable in the chorus.
Heck, I even like Collins’ other solo credit, the piano-based ballad Please Don’t Ask. I used to find it overly rambling, but it’s got a ton of emotional power, driven by his recent divorce, and I’d never dream of skipping it.
And, of course, we have the jamming at the end, consisting of two tracks (Duke’s Travels and Duke’s End). The former, while not really structured in an immediately discernable way, has the benefit of having a lot of the energy that was sorely lacking on the instrumentals on Wind, and it also has an added surprise in a vocal reprise of Guide Vocal in the middle. And as for Duke’s End, it’s just a “capstone” to the themes of the album, bringing full circle the ideas first shown in Behind the Lines, but it’s still very good, leaving a pleasant taste in your mouth at album’s end.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to call this a peak of Genesis’ pop career or anything like that. It has several weaknesses, many of which would be corrected on subsequent albums. But I honestly cannot figure out why this album is regarded as one of Genesis’ biggest blackeyes or embarrassments – it’s just a very good album, which means I like it quite a bit.
Progressive rock was steadily becoming a thing of the past in the late 70’s/early 80’s, and many bands that had celebrated creative highs just a few years earlier were forced to adapt in order to survive the incoming trends. Genesis used to be a leading act in the genre, and were already battered pretty badly when two of their members had left within three years of each other. And yet, they came out with greater success than any other progressive group. Things really didn’t seem too promising when Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford were initially left as a trio, but the more radio-friendly tendencies that had managed work their way in over the course of the band’s last few albums would be the key to their renewed popularity.
Duke is Genesis’ first proper venture into pop music, marking the start of an era that heavily divided fans. Its share of accessible, upbeat songs did not fare too well with all of their longer-serving supporters, but the hearts of the larger public were easily won. The album doesn’t deserve every bit of harsh judgement, as the band’s creative skills were anything but a spent force; within Duke’s conformity to pop are plenty of sections that match a certain reputation. It was a marriage doomed to fail, but for the time being, pop and prog lived in acceptance of each other. Genesis couldn’t have faced the 1980’s in a more fitting way.
At this point, their more adventurous writing was still coming out stronger; the album’s prog-oriented moments hold together its relatively straightforward portions. After the unsure direction of …And Then There Were Three…, the band once more played to their strengths. Rutherford really wasn’t too capable of filling the gap that Steve Hackett left, and shifted some weight back to his tested role as bassist. In turn, this allowed him and Collins to put their fine rhythm work as usual. With Banks’ keyboards going unchallenged as instrumental lead, the trio’s slightly reformed sound remained very distinct.
The blazing two-minute intro to Behind the Lines kicks things off in that recognizable fashion, though some may be annoyed when Collins comes in singing of love slipping away. The man was going through an eventual divorce around the time of recording, and Duke’s themes tend to reflect it. Regardless, his performance is passionate and does suit the music exceedingly well. The opener segues into the atmospheric intro of Duchess, which follows as the second part of the album’s title suite, originally meant as a half-hour epic in the vein of Supper’s Ready, but eventually ending up divided over six tracks.
It’s actually an effective split, making the album feel like a whole instead of two halves (Rush’s 2112 and Hemispheres come to mind here). Guide Vocal is the last of the first row, merely setting up a theme for the finale. The material is all carefully divided indeed: a six-track suite with collective credit, and two solo pennings for each member, adding up to another six. Banks continues to uphold his position as superior composer, his contributions being the strongest overall. Heathaze follows the previously resembling ideas of Afterglow and Undertow; an emotional ballad with subtler instrumentation, bringing out the best in Collins’ voice. Cul-de-Sac is a gutsier counterpart, mid-paced yet empowering, featuring some of the greatest interplay on the album.
The other two ultimately can’t live it up on their own. Collins took two compositions intended for his solo debut Face Value, released a year later. Please Don’t Ask is a forgettable love song and a lower point, but the straight-up pop of Misunderstanding offers some entertainment in its cheesiness. Although Rutherford came up with another ballad too many in Alone Tonight, his other piece Man of Our Times competes well, packing a steady rhythm and enjoyable melodies to boot.
Then there’s Turn It On Again, not as clearly a part of the Duke epic since it isn’t connected to the more obvious start and finish. Known for a regularly alternating rhythm, it also became the album’s biggest hit. The damned catchiness explains itself, but the suite’s final section tops it all off. Duke’s Travels is a classy show of musicianship and arguably the proggiest thing here, growing more and more intense until it climaxes with the earlier-introduced theme; Duke’s End finally concludes by revisiting the record’s intro.
Opinions have always differed when it comes to final worthwhile Genesis release. Many progressive purists already find anything without the presence of Gabriel and/or Hackett unworthy of any claim, and the surviving formation didn’t build much of a better case for them. Duke however deserves plenty of credit, going far beyond blatant pop appeal. Despite the inclusion of a few average songs, Banks, Collins and Rutherford were still firmly rooted in established trademarks, delivering their first and finest work of the 1980’s; it has every right to be called the last truly great Genesis album.
Alright, if you did not immediately hear the opening synth chords to “Behind the Lines” after looking at this album cover, you are not a proper Genesis fan! I happen to own two vinyl copies of this album; one has been through Hell on someone’s turntable, and the other well preserved. While I also have a copy on my computer, I first heard “Behind the Lines” …on a Phil Collins album.
After …And Then There Were Three what deserves to be the most famous divorce in music happened, and Phil Collins went through every emotional change possible. In 1977, he was the drummer who happened to take Peter Gabriel’s place as the Genesis lead singer. In 1981, when Face Value was released, Phil Collins was well on his way to becoming a household name. Had Collins not been distressed enough to leave Genesis and begin working on solo material, we probably would not have the same bald singer today. In fact, we probably would not have Duke.
To my ears, Duke’s narrative screams of someone going through a midlife crisis. You have terrible breakups, stalking, self-realization, and a search for something meaningful in life, but written by all the members of Genesis (Collins would not be a predominant lyricist until the group saw the success of his first solo record). The late seventies and early eighties was a turning point for everyone, musically, politically, and socially, so Duke was not only setting trends, it showed the group in a web of confusion. What can we do next? Is this the new sound?
Synthesizers as eighties pop radio knew them had not been fully realized when they first began to show up on albums in the late seventies. While The Human League, The Cure, The Police, and other groups were experimenting, Genesis probably revolutionized this new sound. I would not bet an internal organ on that, but perhaps one of my copies of Duke. All that aside, listening in the new millennium to “Behind the Lines” may sound like any popular record from the 1980’s, but it is a lot different from what would follow through the years. Tony Banks certainly abused the sound throughout the record, but could actually play, unlike the simple chord maneuvers heard from top 40 bands.
Phil Collin’s drum sound on Duke is not the classic sound most eighties fans are used to. While he developed the gate drum technique with Peter Gabriel the same year, with Genesis he had a much more natural sound. Anyone who has heard “Return of the Giant Hogweed” knows Collins can play drums insanely well, but Collins never abandoned that part of his style. Genesis would later incorporate the drums like lead guitar, but Duke has many moments without any beats, or a drum machine droning on. The main attraction to Collins would come from his voice. Every time I hear “Turn It On Again” I get chills, because Collins proves he is one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time each time he opens his mouth. Through somewhat growling, often smooth lines of grief, Phil is the quintessential voice of a generation.
Mike Rutherford, probably the most underrated member of the band, becomes more of a guitarist on Duke. Previously, before Steve Hackett left, Rutherford focused on bass playing and the occasional twelve-string part. While Rutherford admits to being a guitar player first, his bass lines are always inventive and smooth. “Heathhaze” and “Cul-de-Sac” are dripping with incredible, perhaps innovative, bass, but it is evident that Rutherford was coming out of his shell with lead guitar. The lush chords of “Duchess” and “Please Don’t Ask” with the virtuosity of “Behind the Lines” and “Dukes End” definitely show Rutherford as a genius in his own right. While I am not fond of his solo material, or Mike and the Mechanics, within Genesis, Mike is a key ingredient.
Genesis never sold out at any point, and no one will kill you for liking Duke or their later albums. This is a Progressive Rock classic, in a decade where all the bands from the seventies, such as King Crimson, Rush, and Yes, were buying chorus pedals and digital keyboards. I cannot diminish what those bands did, as I love them too, but Genesis stands apart. They were more popular, but still technically inclined.
I base this prediction on the fact that even though this version of the band unquestionably sold a buttload of albums, the fanbase itself was more casual in nature. There was never the sort of intense fan devotion that was involved in earlier incarnations of Genesis.
The following that this band had during its early, so-called “progressive rock” years may have been smaller than the millions who gobbled up albums like Invisible Touch and We Can’t Dance. But they were a rabidly devoted lot. Much more so I would say, than what I would call the more transient fans who picked up albums by the Phil Collins-led Genesis of the “pop years,” right alongside their purchases of Journey, Loverboy and REO Speedwagon.
But I digress.
I guess that I just don’t see the memory spans of those fans matching that of those queueing up for the other big ticket reunion tour this year by the Police. Now if this reunion was with the band featuring Hackett and Gabriel doing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway for example? Different story entirely. But only time will tell if I was right or wrong on this.
But anyway, like I said it’s looking to be a big year for these guys either way.
As part of the Genesis reunion hoopla, Rhino/WEA has released Genesis: 1976 – 1982, a boxed set covering the albums released during that period in new remastered and enhanced CD/DVD versions. They have also reissued each individual album by itself as a double remastered and enhanced CD/DVD.
These albums are interesting mostly because they serve as a bridge between the old, prog-rock version of the band, and the hit machine they became in the eighties. They are bookended by Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering — the first two post-Gabriel albums in which the band simply continued doing the prog-rock they were then best known for — and Abacab, the album which completed the band’s transition to more commercial fare.
Landing right in the middle of that are these two albums, and for that reason alone they may be the most noteworthy of this entire period. On And Then There Were Three and Duke, Genesis were a band caught between directions, seeming unable to decide which way it wanted to go. On these albums, what you hear is a clear case of a band with one foot in and one foot out. It’s fascinating to be able to re-explore them in their newly remastered and enhanced context, knowing what has now come to light historically.
With Steve Hackett out of the band on the appropriately titled And Then There Were Three, you can hear Phil Collins begining to really assert creative control. The drums are mixed a lot higher for one thing – and on this remastered version they sound pretty amazing.
And let’s face it, Phil Collins was and is one hell of a drummer. It’s just too bad that what he really seemed to want to be was more of a song and dance man. Here, this first manifests itself in “Follow You, Follow Me,” which despite it’s nice, sugary enough pop sensibilities, sticks out like something of a sore thumb on this album.
Fortunately, Rutherford and Banks still made up the other two thirds of this band at this juncture, creatively speaking as well as in name. And for that, you get the soaring keyboard swells of “Snowbound” and the romantic textures of “Many Too Many.” The band also flexes it’s progressive rock muscles on tracks like “Down And Out,” “Deep In The Motherlode,” and even “Say It’s Alright Joe” which builds from a slow rock ballad to a nicely layered crescendo of crashing keyboards and guitars.
But on the seven-minute “Burning Rope,” Genesis really remind you just why they were considered one of progressive rock’s greatest bands. Banks and Rutherford build a virtual wall of layered sound on this track, and Collins just plain drums his ass off here. On this new remastered version it sounds even better than I remembered it.
By the time of Duke, Collins — by now, a commercial success as a solo artist — was well on his way to taking over the drivers seat completely in this band. Duke stands as the last gasp of the band’s former progressive sound. By the time of the next album, Abacab, it would be replaced pretty much entirely by the fusion jazz and big drum leanings of Collins. Which wasn’t so bad, because the full-on schlocky pop/R&B of later albums hadn’t yet completely reared it’s ugly head. However, it was still lying in wait and lurking just around the corner.
On Duke, there are for the first time two bonafide pop singles – the bouncy “Turn It On Again” and the more romantic sounding “Misunderstanding.” Again, two great songs from a band by now nonetheless moving further and further away from it’s former self. The best remaining evidence of the band’s prog-rock sensibilities captured here lies in the grand sweep of “Duchess/Guide Vocal” and the closing drum driven jazz-rock of “Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End.” Again, the remastered sound here does both great justice, especially on the grandly layered keyboard swells of “Duchess.”
The remastered versions of these two albums each include some great extras on the bonus DVD. Duke, most noteworthily, features a decent-sized chunk of video from a 1980 live concert in London. And Then There Were Three also has live footage, plus new interviews with band members — including Steve Hackett, who explains his departure — conducted just this year.
Taken together, both of these records close one chapter of Genesis history. They capture the final moments of a band clinging to its legacy as one of progressive rock’s most innovative and original sounding bands, right before they rode a wave of hits to become, well, that “other band” in the eighties.
Towards the end of the 1970s, the premiere progressive band was in a state of flux and looking towards a new direction. They had lost their lead singer a few albums previously, but had ably continued with drummer Phil Collins stepping to the mike. They lost their lead guitarist only recently and released an album aptly titled And Then There Were Three. This recording was a dark and moody piece, with very little of the English pastoral sound they had been famous for in the past. They got their first real taste of success here with the single “Follow You, Follow Me.” It was time to make some drastic changes if they wanted to continue in the world of popular music.
Genesis’ Duke is that change. It features a brighter, much poppier sound, most likely due to Tony Banks finding new keyboards and Collins introducing the recently invented drum machine to the band. Bassist Michael Rutherford was also comfortably finding his way to be a better lead player on the guitar.
It begins with the first part of the Duke Suite on “Behind the Lines” which leads to “Duchess” and then “Guide Vocal.” “Behind the Lines” is a bombastic, fast paced slice of progressive rock, paving the way for what might later be called neo-prog. It’s gloriously powerful and heralds this new direction for the band, as if to say: “We are here to stay! We will not be going anywhere soon!” “Duchess” continues with its tale of a popstar rising to fame and then her inevitable fall from grace. It then ends temporarily with “Guide Vocal,” sung so tender and elegantly beautiful by Collins.
This seems to be the first record that songs feel uniquely represented by the three songwriters in the band. Rutherford is represented by the big sounding tunes like “Man of Our Times” and “Alone Tonight.” Collins songs are more lyrically personal and direct. “Misunderstanding” and “Please Don’t Ask” (a heartfelt lament to a loss of family), characterize his writing quite well. This would become much more clear as his solo career took off in the early 80s. Tony Banks sound most effectively represents the classic sound of Genesis with “Heathaze” and “Cul-De-Sac.” These songs are melodic and keyboard driven.
“Turn It On Again” is perhaps the best single ever featuring a 13/4 time signature and is a continuation of the Duke Suite as is the incredible instrumental “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End” that close out the album. I understand that they played the piece as a whole on tour. It would have been nice to hear it that way, but I understand the need to have both sides of the original vinyl LP start and end strong. In the age of CDs we would most likely have heard it played as a whole on Duke. As the Duke Suite winds down in its final minutes, Collins repeats the lyrics from “Guide Vocal” in a more aggressive manner. The whole piece is amazing.
This was the last great progressive album by the band, as they would taste this success and run with it on future records. This is definitely a transition album, as they did not sound like this before, but would take this style and introduce even more pop elements on future recordings. One of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands, I have no choice but to give this my highest recommendation.