Classic Rock Review

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Genesis Seconds Out (1977)

Genesis - Seconds Out (2)GeFrom

An annoyingly mediocre live album. Looking at the song selection, it’s hard to imagine that this couldn’t be an extremely enjoyable experience, but sure enough, Phil and Co. managed to pull it off.

I’ve always found this album disappointing, but it wasn’t until I acquired bootlegs from the Trick and Wind tours that I finally understood why. To start: if you’re a Genesis fan and you ever have the chance to listen to a bootleg from the Trick tour with good sound quality, you need to jump at the chance. It’s a different experience from the Gabriel era to be sure, but the band took on the tour with a chip on its shoulder, and the show I’ve heard has an awesome “WE’RE STILL ALIVE, MOTHERF*#&#$S” vibe to it.

Phil’s vocals don’t stray much from the studio versions, but this is for the best, and there’s a great combination of appropriate reverence for the old material (they do White Mountain!) and enthusiasm in presenting the new. Of course, Phil can’t quite do Supper’s Ready proper justice, and his stories are kinda silly, but he sounds like a fine replacement for Peter, and one gets the sense the band would be in good hands for years to come.

The Wind show I’ve heard is nowhere near as enjoyable though (even if it has nice renditions of Eleventh Earl of Mar and the glorious rarity Inside and Out), and given that there’s no indication that this was a weak show but rather a fairly typical one, this suggests to me that I’d have problems with pretty much any show from the tour. The main culprit is Phil; I’ve always considered Wind to have the weakest Phil vocals until We Can’t Dance, and the tour was unfortunately not much different. He’s trying to make his own mark on the material rather than functioning as Peter’s replacement, but while he basically sounds ok on the Trick and Wind material (he sounds plenty amusing on Robbery, Assault and Battery), he kinda sounds like a fool on a lot of the other tracks.

He hams up I Know What I Like so much that he nearly ruins it by himself (the others don’t help either; more on that later); I mean, it was always kind of a silly song live, but it’s almost as if he’s mocking the material. Supper’s Ready has all of the vocal problems it had on the ’76 tour and then some; his only two modes in the song are his standard high-pitched “neutral” approach and his ultra-ham approach.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway loses all of its intensity; in ’76 he’d preserve some of the more dramatic moments, but here he tries to reinvent it as a standard pop song, without such treats as the “RAEL IMPERIAL AEROSOL KID” growling scream. The ending excerpt of The Musical Box becomes sing-song-y; while he does give some heated passion to the “TOUCH ME, TOUCH ME” parts, he destroys the creepy atmosphere of the verses. Carpet Crawl sounds worse than before simply by virtue of his voice being higher; the song is still beautiful, but it loses power without a lower pitch or some bite in the voice.

Firth of Fifth sounds fine enough, but he sounds like somebody who really secretly dislikes the words and is only singing them because the song requries them. Point is, Phil just does not do anything to help the older material, which is a problem when there’s so much of it.

The rest of the band isn’t off the hook, though. The setlist has a weirdly haphazard feel that makes it seem less like a normal Genesis concert and more like a Genesis revue, and the effect isn’t a good one. In ’76 they did a shortened version of The Carpet Crawlers, sure, but that’s because it was the capstone of a medley that started with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; in ’77, when it comes on after Firth of Fifth, it doesn’t feel like there’s a good reason for it to be missing its introduction.

In ’76 they closed with a jaw-dropping medley of it dissolving into Watcher of the Skies (a version is found on Three Sides Live), leaving me wanting more; in ’77 they closed with the largely punchless medley of Lamb and Musical Box. And, worst of all (and setting a precedent for years to come), I Know What I Like turns into a lengthy boring jam in the middle, with Phil hitting himself in the head with a tambourine (seriously!) seemingly forever, and the rest of it is only interesting from a “name what song they’re quoting” perspective (I appreciate the quotes of Moonlit Knight and Stagnation).

Well, as you might have guessed, the bulk of this album comes from the ’77 tour. The one exception is the ’76 version of The Cinema Show (with Bill Bruford on drums!), but that weirdly sounds worse here than there because of placement. In context, it happened fairly early in the show, and while the song is much less of a tender moment between listener and band than it is an energetic show-stopper, it really worked as a way to boost up the intensity of the show (hearing Phil and Bill crashing about during the synth climax is really something).

Here, though, it’s stuck near the end, and somehow just that detail ends up making the show- stopping aspects of it sound pretty cheesy. Beyond that, though, the album rearranges the flow of the ’77 show pretty significantly, and it ends up sounding even more haphazard and revue-like than in context. People who don’t care about those aspects of live albums may not care, but for a band that had previously been so masterful in ordering its sets in a way that would maximize tension. I mean, I may not be the biggest fan of In That Quiet Earth, but if you’re going to have Afterglow you may as well have it as the climax to something; otherwise Afterglow goes back to sounding kinda tacky to me.

Still, for all of this moaning on my part, there’s plenty of good to be found. The Trick material that starts and ends the album, in particular, conveys all of the best attributes of this era of the band as a live unit. Squonk has always been my favorite track from this era, and this doesn’t change live, but the album-closing medley of Dance on a Volcano and Los Endos (on separate tracks, but the only good way to listen to them is ripped as a single track) reveals a potential in both that I’d never quite felt just from the studio versions.

Yup, Los Endos might have been an interesting album capstone on Trick, but it becomes one of the band’s main calling cards live, and it would be embarrassing to admit how many times I’ve played air-drums to the break (in this version and others) just after the crescendo coming out of Banks’ synths and before the Squonk reprise.

All together, this is a very frustrating live album, and while there are many good attributes (for all of the weaknesses from Phil and the occasional lapses in taste from the band, it’s a treat to hear the band plowing through this material with flair in a live setting), there are nearly as many bad. If Phil’s vocals in this era don’t bother you, then loving this is a definite possibility … but as for me, I’m sticking to my boots.

March 10, 2013 Posted by | Genesis Seconds Out | | Leave a comment