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!
This album makes me feel good. I listen to it all the time and perhaps it’s *the* indisputable proof that I am a geek. (I like Selling England By the Pound slightly more than this, but somehow Foxtrot seems geekier.) Genesis dramatically improved their act since Nursery Cryme too; that much you’ll get after listening to the first song. Whereas their instrumentation standards on earlier albums have seemed somewhat amateurish and rough around the edges, they have blossomed so much on Foxtrot that they had surely become among the best instrumentalists in the business.
Maybe they weren’t as technically proficient as Yes, King Crimson or Jethro Tull, but give me their arrangement sensibilities over those bands any time. Listening to the pastoral sounds of “Time Table” for instance is exactly what it’s like to spend a happy day outdoors in the summer sun. There aren’t a whole hell of a lot of songs that give me that impression so distinctly. That’s my favorite song in Foxtrot, by the way, which the vast majority of this album’s fans probably wouldn’t share. But I don’t care! I love it! The vocal melody is just as warm and beautiful as the instrumentation!
Peter Gabriel’s singing has also improved greatly since the last album. He’s more or less play acting through most of this, and I buy everything he does. He sounds so compelling with his dramatic turns throughout “Get ‘Em Out By Friday,” for instance, that I hang onto his every word and never for a moment think he’s being corny or pretentious. I also have to continue my endless appraisal of Phil Collins’ masterful abilities as a prog drummer. Especially his work in “Watcher of the Skies” has me in total awe. I’m not even sure how those incessantly fast and complicated rolls and fills are even physically possible. He must have ingested a magic bean.
I only have one complaint about Foxtrot, and it’s so minor that it’s pretty much not a complaint at all. While “Can-Utility and the Coastliner” is lovely, everything I said about Genesis improving their sound doesn’t apply so much to that song. It’s rather loose around the edges, and the journey it takes us on through different textures and crescendos doesn’t compel me nearly as much as the other songs. I still like listening to it quite a lot, mostly because the vocal melody is sweet, but it seems like they easily could have done more with it. It’s just a minor lost opportunity.
The closing track, “Supper’s Ready” is a 23-minute suite and a pure treat from beginning to end. I suppose the normal people will listen to it and think it’s mostly dull, particularly those slow and quiet spots, but I cannot express enough to you that I am not a normal person. That’s one song that I listen to with my eyes closed, and I let it transport me to a different land! (I try not to do that when I’m listening to it in the car, though.) There is such a wide variety of different textures, moods and melodies in there that I always have a blast with it. It’s even terribly silly in the middle with those Hobbit singers! (Yes, I think those are Hobbits. …I already told you that I am a geek! Get over it!!)
The more I listen to Foxtrot, the more I seem to like it. It is an amazing album, and surely one of the greatest prog works ever made. Not only does it have an amazing array of textures, moods and melodies, but it’s consistently entertaining and beautiful. I have spent many happy years listening to, dissecting, and loving this album, and I plan to spend many more years continuing that. Many, many, many years. (Somebody please play “Time Table” at my funeral… It’ll cheer everyone up, and I think my corpse would like it, too.)
Whee, this is one mightily frigged out record. My guess is that Peter Gabriel thought people were still taking him less seriously than necessary, due to all the fox dresses, willow farms and Harold the Barrels. So, one thing he hadn’t still come up with was an extended, pretentious rock opera. As you might have guessed, this is a double album – a double-length rock opera. But ohmigosh, what a rock opera this is. Apparently, after a lot of squibbling one comes to the conclusion that it does have a plot: it’s based on the lifestory and hallucinogenous experiences of a Puerto Rican tramp called Rael, in order to impersonate whom Gabriel even sacrificed his long hair and trippy stage costumes (some of them, of course – over the duration of the live Lamb show Peter still used to change quite a few outfits, including some gigantic monstruous “pods” and other different stuff; but normally, he just put on a ripped T-shirt and that was it). However, not even a supertalented scientist, heck, not even a ‘supernatural anaesthesist’ can decipher what the hell is really going on, be it in reality or in Rael’s stoned mind.
This time Gabriel apparently didn’t leave any modesty in his lyrics. You’ll find everything here, it’s like a ‘Genesis encyclopaedia’: tramps, anaesthesists, hairless hearts, deep caverns and imaginary (and real) cages, colonies of slippermen, obscure Greek mythology outtakes, quotes from hundreds of poets, writers and composers, and, of course, all of the band’s clever and not-so-clever musical tricks. All of this makes for a really terrible first listening experience, you may believe me. Sitting through the entire album was originally a task worthy of a true Hercules. And even after repeated listenings, when one gets used to the music, lyrics and general atmosphere, there is still a nagging thought that pursues me – what’s the meaning of this whole thing. Taken individually, the imagery of certain of these songs is working quite all right; but as a whole, the album is just one gigantic question mark. What’s the sense of Rael pursued by a black cloud over Broadway, waking up in a cage, meeting the “carpet crawlers” and the Slippermen? What’s the sense of him being castrated, and why insert all that scene where his brother John is falling over imaginary rapids and Rael chases after him in order to save him? What’s the “It” that concludes the album? Don’t even try to answer. It’s a put-on. If it weren’t for the form in which Gabriel and Co. dresses all that putrid stuffing, I’d probably leave my former rating of six as it was. Fortunately, on a pure musical level it certainly deserves better – after all, it’s no worse than The Wall.
The main point and accent of the imagery has certainly changed (in fact, the album might be considered an all-out Americano anti-reaction to the purely British Selling England), but the band’s sound is still for the most part the same, although they are slowly moving into the dubious “post-Gabriel progressive” territory, with Banksynths now playing a more prominent role (the main synth riff of ‘It’, for instance, while good in itself, almost coincides with the one used on ‘Robbery, Assault And Battery’ two years later). The sound is also quite energetic, roarin’ and tearin’, but… it doesn’t always work.
Now look here, I’ll be the first to admit that the album does feature a lot of interesting and sometimes even thrilling ideas (I’ll be listing the best of these in a moment), but there’s really too much filler. Sometimes a song starts out just fine and turns into a banal screamfest or into a particularly nasty Banksynth fiesta soon after. Like ‘In A Cage’, for example, the first verse of which is wonderful and the rest of which is… well, decent, although I used to hate it, but still, it’s just a normal rocker, that never lives up to the glorious introduction (‘I got sunshine in my stomach/Like I just rocked my baby to sleep…’).
Among the best stuff on here I’d certainly have to point out the title track which is a golden classic and deservedly so. It really starts the album on a high note, with, once again, Gabriel’s vocal performance (and Tony’s tinkling piano – dump those synths, Tony!) making it stand out. And, like you know, the first disc is not really bad at all. Once again, I draw on comparisons with The Wall: Disc 1 is near-amazing, fresh, exciting, full of good melodies and rich with subtle, “light” atmosphere, but it’s on Disc 2 where hell’s bells finally strike and you have to hack through its jungles with a battleaxe.
Indeed. ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’? Roaring and tearing, kicks the album off with an energy never matched afterwards. ‘Fly On A Windshield’? Excellent atmospherics (gives a great feel of the black cloud slowly and rhythmically advancing on Rael), until suddenly the drums kick in and Tony and Steve play up a thunderstorm while Phil pounds like a mule. ‘Cuckoo Cocoon’? Silly, refreshing “nursery” interlude. ‘In The Cage’? See above. ‘The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging’? Incredibly catchy chorus. ‘Hairless Heart’? Beautiful, beautiful instrumental, one of the most emotional, climactic melodies on here. ‘Counting Out Time’? Ah, there’s a real masterpiece – in between all these heavy progressive epics is etched a jovial pop number, devoted to Rael’s memories of his early days, reading sex manuals before his first date and finding out all the ‘hot spots’ on pages so-and-so. Unfortunately, the manual lets him down in the end. (Here’s another argument in favour of my hypothesis about Pete’s deep sexual complexes, but I guess everybody already knows about that). ‘Carpet Crawlers’? Another beautiful ballad, quiet, melancholic and with a philosophy of its own, not to mention the timeless Gabriel falsetto on ‘you gotta get in… to get OOOOO-UUT!’ ‘The Chamber Of 32 Doors’? How could one forget the immortal lines about ‘I’d better trust a man who works with his hands…’.
In the end I only left out ‘Back In New York City’ which is kinda ugly. But when it comes to Disc 2, I humbly lower my hands and turn off my head. BITS, yes, BITS and PIECES of songs on there are enjoyable, but in general it’s just too plot-heavy and Gabriel is too busy proving his being well-educated and well-read for it to be consistently enjoyable. I don’t want to say that these melodies really suck, but they really go overboard with their complexity, not to mention that musically, you get all the most necessary ideas on Disc 1, while Disc 2 just keeps repeating and recycling the same stylistics over and over until you’re just sick. Besides, it features such minuses as ‘The Waiting Room’ – a load of stupid atonal noises that never trigger any nerve. The only three songs on that disc that I enjoy in their entirety are ‘The Colony Of Slippermen’ (more because of its intriguing theatricality than anything else), ‘The Light Dies Down On Broadway’ (because it’s a reprise of the title track, as you understand) and the closing ‘It’.
That said, I still raise my former rating to an eight (well, I promised it would almost definitely grow), because… well, because this is still a unique and highly intriguing album. I like the general style, too, although my main complaint is that I can hardly hear Mr Hackett at all: he was put very much in the background by Tony, and it becomes very noticeable if you put Lamb on immediately after Selling England. Poor Steve. Nevertheless, like I said, Tony rarely goes overboard with his synth stylings on here, and there’s still quite a lot of piano and different instrumentation to spice up the pie. And out of all double-length progressive albums, Lamb after all these years still turns out to be the most accessible.
Of course, as everybody knows, right after the tour Peter quit Genesis, never to rejoin again except for a single charity concert; as he himself explained it, he was far too afraid to get trapped in a band whose popularity was steadily on the rise and become just your average artificial rock star. Well, supposedly he should have stayed around until 1981 or so – because Genesis didn’t actually become a mass audience icon until the early Eighties. But to each his own ways, and after all, Peter’s solo career easily beat out Genesis’ together career.
1972 was truly an important year for progressive music. There were several artists that undeniably pushed the barriers of music and raised the bar really high. The most popular releases back then were “Close to the Edge” by Yes and “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull. These albums were artistic statements whose influential impact on art rock cannot be denied. These bands were labeled as progressive.
Most of the bands that belonged to the progressive scene were known for composing music that had several intricacies; whether it was odd-time signatures, more technical use of the instruments, or 15+ minutes suites, these bands showed very respectable musicianship skills. Genesis definitely falls into this progressive category, and Foxtrot was the first album where they actually fulfilled this progressive approach towards music.
First of all, this album has every element one would expect from a progressive album; crafty use of time signatures, extended instrumental passages, symphonic keyboards, intricate guitar and bass lines, unconventional use of vocals, and highly poetic lyrics. However, something that distinguished Genesis from fellow progressive acts is the fact that they were the ones that mastered the subtle art of restraint. Every element is thrown in such a delicate way, musicianship never becomes overbearing or exceedingly pretentious. Now, pretentiousness is often associated with progressive music, and it’s not hard to se why. Most of progressive music is more often thought-out and calculated than actually heartfelt, since creativity is something that has no real limits. But Genesis’s compositions were more organic and heartfelt than most of their contemporary bands’.
Genesis’s sound, however, is not easy to categorize. It’s mellow and sophisticated, but at the same time it’s quirky and colorful. They used 12-string acoustic guitars, mellotrons, organs, and keyboards. These elements were usually used to craft quirky, somewhat cartoonish verses connected by soothing atmospheric passages. Peter Gabriel had a very theatrical way of using his vocals, singing with many different accents and varying levels of intensity. When there are keyboards or guitar solos, they aren’t thrown in a flashy way. They are more melodic and often convey some imagery that relates to the topic of the lyrics. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t highlights of the music. Tony Banks is a very skilled keyboardist and classically trained piano player. And guitar player Steve Hackett was one of the first guitarists that used the tapping technique to speed up melodic patterns in solos. The rhythmic section is also really solid, Phil Collins is a very powerful drummer with a very delicate touch. And Rutherford’s bass lines are perfect in the task of gluing everything together, sometimes becoming more than just a rhythmic instrument. It’s also important to state that most of their songs are stories that successfully achieve the goal of creating visual imagery in one’s mind.
Foxtrot is Genesis at their quirkiest, songs like Get ‘Em Out by Friday and Supper’s Ready show what Genesis is all about; quirkiness versus seriousness. Get ’em out by Friday is a story about the rudeness and cruelty that the government shows towards people who’s economy is so limited, they can hardly keep up with the payments of the home they’re renting. It shows Peter Gabriel taking the role of every character involved in the story, and the intensity of his vocals varies depending on what character he’s representing. The rest of the band also follow this dynamic of shifting between mellow and intense to support Gabriel’s performance. Most progressive acts were also known for overbearing lyrics. Yes had a very stream-of-consciousness approach towards lyrics, and King Crimson’s lyrics were dark and haunting. Peter’s lyrics are grandiose, articulate, sophisticated and theatrical. It’s easy to notice that Gabriel was a very educated young man who was highly influenced by old English literature. His lyrics were sometimes hard to decipher, but they flowed smoothly and elegantly while still conveying fantastic imagery.
The highlight of the album is it’s closing suite Supper’s Ready. This song is a 23 minute monster that showcases the entire band’s best performances in the whole album. Peter Gabriel’s vocals are truly unique, especially in the “Willow Farm” middle section, where he sounds incredibly odd by mocking different accents, sounding clinical and almost bipolar. The acoustic passages of this song are just beautiful, excellent use of 12-string guitar. The keyboards takes the role of being an atmospheric element in the beginning of the song, and towards the end takes the role of being in the lead, with Banks’s most impressive keyboard solo of his entire career. The guitar solo in the second quarter of the song is also a highlight of the song, Steve Hackett uses his tapping technique and other different techniques to create an odd sounding but still epic solo. This song is not just Genesis’s best song, but also a landmark in progressive music right next to Yes’s Gates of Delirium and Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. This album, however, is not perfect. It has got a couple of flaws which are thankfully easy to forgive. For instance, the mellotron intro to Watcher of the Skies drags too much, it would have worked better if it was a minute shorter. Also Time Table is somehow an underwhelming song compared to the rest of the songs, however this song is highlited by an emotional and memorable chorus. The production values are also a little rough around the edges, but this was perfected in their upcoming album Selling England by the Pound which may be the reason it’s often considered Genesis’s best album (though that’s a debatable subject).
All in all, Foxtrot is a hugely influential album, and one of the genre’s best. Whether it’s for Watcher of the Skies’s commanding 6/4 beat, Get’em Out by Friday’s catchy and quirky verses linked by atmospheric passages, or Supper’s Ready’s vocal madness; Foxtrot is an album that is hard to forget. I would seriously recommend it not just to prog fans, but to every person who considers himself as a music aficionado. This album was one of the first that showed what progressive music is all about without the necessity of being self-indulgent and super pretentious.
One thing that we do here at Cool Album of the Day is endeavor to bring you something special for our milestone numbered posts. As you’ve just read, this piece represents entry number 700. So today we bring you an album that more than arguably could be considered the best progressive-rock album of all time. It contains a song that could also potentially be considered the best progressive rock song of all time. You already know the album is Foxtrot, and the song of course that I’m referring to is “Supper’s Ready.”
Some may say that Genesis’ magnum opus should be considered The Lamb lies Down on Broadway, and they very well might be right. But I still see a way where The Lamb could be considered their magnum opus album even if Foxtrot is considered the best progressive-rock release of all time and “Supper’s Ready” the best song. That might be crazy and not make any sense at all. However to 1970s Genesis fans, I’m thinking it does. To make this even more confusing, I’d also have to figure how Selling England by the Pound fits in the mix since I consider that their best album! Now I know that may I have completely confused us, but you know what, that’s okay because that’s the point, Genesis can be a confusing band, just look at Foxtrot for example. For years I’ve looked for and asked about the meanings of these songs and I don’t believe I’ve received the same response twice.
The album begins with the long time concert staple “Watcher of the Skies.” What this one is about, again who knows. I’ve read so many different ideas including a story about aliens landing on earth. I can actually see some of that in the song, especially if you squint. I recently listened to this one for the first time in years. Sure the mellotron still is haunting, and the 6/4 time signature is interesting, but what really jumped out at me was how good the Phil Collins’ drum track was. I’ve never forgotten how tremendously he could play, but I did forget that this is one to use as a showcase for those that didn’t know or don’t remember.
“Horizons” is a beautiful Steve Hackett guitar piece. He’ll still perform this one every so often.
As I mentioned, the earlier showcase of this album will always be “Supper’s Ready.” 22-plus minutes in length, yet it does not include an unnecessary second, it’s never once seemed or felt to be that long to me. Some of those epic songs from the past can get old in a hurry. Not so on this one.
I again ask the question, what’s it about and once again, I’ve read many theories. Is it about the end of the world, is it about the battle of good over evil? Let’s put them together… is it about the triumph of good over evil at the end of the world? Why not! I do know this, not knowing exactly did make me want to hear it again so I could perhaps figure it out. Maybe that’s what the meaning was!
This is the final stanza. So an interpretation of some type of Apocalypse can’t be too far off the mark.
“There’s an angel standing in the sun, and he’s crying with a loud voice / “This is the supper of the mighty one”, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Has returned to lead his children home, To take them to the new Jerusalem. “
If you ever bump into Peter Gabriel, please ask him about some of those song meanings. I’m sure he’d be glad to share them with you.
The winter of 1971 was one of discontent after the unspectacular release of Nursery Cryme. After five years of untiring work and many disappointments the band did not really feel they had made that step ahead. In January 1972, however, they could unexpectedly see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The light came from Belgium where Genesis’ second album topped the charts. This led to their first invitation abroad – and their TV premiere. The band realized that they did not have to focus on their home country to be successful. Soon after they received more surprising news: Their current album had already made it to #4 in the Italian charts. Knowing that the number of their supporters had grown so much gave the band lots of self-confidence. Tour obligations in England did unfortunately not permit them to make their Italian fans happy by playing concerts there right away, but the summer break in the UK proved very convenient.
The shows in Italy and the impressions the band gathered there were very important for their new album because it all was a source of inspiration for the musicians. The band became aware that there were people out there who shared their musical preferences. For the first time they were perceived as stars. Says Peter: “They sent us to Italy for almost the whole summer in order to get us over the period between the end of term at university in June until the beginning of the next term in October. Our weekly income was precarious. Many people thought we had been born with silver spoons in our mouths and that we could always boomerang back home to our parents, but we really did not get any financial support.”
Watcher Of The Skies is a product of this tour: “Mike and I wrote the lyrics for Watcher Of The Skies in Naples when we were staring at this landscape behind the hotel. It was a total wasteland – incredible. We had this idea of an alien that lands on a planet and sees this world in which there was life once, but where now nobody can be seen”, says Tony. Other songs that had been written by this point were Can-Utility And The Coastliners, Get ‘Em Out By Friday (their first song to contain social criticism) and a song that had been extensively tested live, Happy The Man. This last song had been recorded before the Foxtrot recording sessions proper, and it was released to promote the album though it did not end up on the record. Horizons is an instrumental piece for classical guitar that Steve Hackett pulled out of his hat: “When we did Foxtrot I still felt a bit self-conscious because I felt I did not contribute enough to the band. I remember asking: ‘Do you think I should leave because I do not write as much as the rest of you?’ Anyway, they calmed me down by praising my guitar playing, which was the first time I really got any feedback from them. I had an unaccompanied piece called Horizons on the album. It was not just their concession to me. It was something they all liked.”
The band’s euphoria promised a steady stream of ideas when they met in summer to work on their next album. Mike: “Some of it we wrote at a doctor’s house near Chessington, but most of it was written in Ina Billings’ dancing school in Shepherd’s Bush. We were downstairs in a rehearsal room, which meant that we would hear the stamping of the shoes the whole day long.”
Perhaps this noise was a kind of inspiration for the piece of music that many Genesis fans consider The Masterpiece. Tony: “I think Supper’s Ready is by far the best thing we have written – not least because of the combination of ideas.” The bizarre story is in part based on a very moving spiritual experience Peter had with his then wife Jill. Tony describes the way Supper’s Ready developed: “We put it together over a period of two weeks, and we would arrange other songs at the same time. We sorted it by throwing together all the bits we had, and I thought it would become exactly like Stagnation unless we were careful. So I thought we should do something really crazy after this very romantic bit that became How Dare I Be So Beautiful, and this crazy thing was going right into Willow Farm, just stop the song and hurl ourselves into it. Willow Farm was a little song Peter had finished, words and music. Suddenly we all felt good about the idea and put Willow Farm in there, and that gave us the big push to write the rest. The Apocalypse part came from that, it was a kind of improvisation I did with Mike and Phil.” Peter’s personal relation to Supper’s Ready led to good musical results: “It was the first time I felt I had got something good from my voice because I felt I was really singing from my soul – almost as if I were singing for my life.” At the time, however, nobody realized that they had written a real milestone. Remembers Mike: “We did not really realize what we had, we were worried about other songs.”
In August a collective of musicians who had become more mature, more experienced and more self-confident went into Island Studios in London to record their new material they way they wanted it to sound. Things had changed since Nursery Cryme. The musicians had really become a band, they had established their own style and also their sound. Genesis could have produced the album themselves (and would have liked to) because no-one knew better what the band wanted than the band themselves, but Charisma insisted that an external producer be brought in. This did not sit very well with Phil: “Charisma thought we needed a producer, and we made it difficult for everyone because we knew we could do it ourselves. From the middle of Supper’s Ready, from Apocalypse In 9/8 onwards we started to sound really good on record.” The fired producers were Bob Potter and Tony Platt after him and they could not stand either the music or the musicians. In the end, Genesis found a good team in David Hitchcock and a technician and Genesis fan called David Burns.
Recording and producing the album took the best part of two months. Apart from the tracks that made the album the band also recorded Twilight Alehouse. The song hat been a staple in their live repertoire, but it was released only a year after Foxtrot. All in all they were visibly happy about the result. Says Mike: “Foxtrot is probably one of my favourite Genesis records, mainly because of Supper’s Ready.” Tony agrees: “For me it is a really exciting album, very melodramatic, great treble, depths and contrasts. When you listen to it it is very original and exciting, and a very peculiar album as far as writing it was concerned.”
Tony Stratton-Smith, their manager and boss of Charisma, had tears in his eyes when he first heard the completed recordings for the album: “They’re going to make it with this record!” were his words to Richard Macphail, a close friend of the band. Foxtrot was released in October 1972, and everybody agreed that this simply had to be the breakthrough for the band. Fans and critics alike deemed it a masterpiece and took it to #12 in the UK charts. It had become clear that this band could not be ignored anymore, especially not at home.