Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Album of the Day--June 11, 2008

Charisma Records
Produced by David Hitchcock

There must be some misunderstanding. I had first become aware of the band Genesis back in 1980 when Duke came out, and a year later, on the strength of the title track, had picked up Abacab on vinyl, which I ultimately didn’t care for all that much, even if it was their huge commercial breakthrough. I had also been familiar with Peter Gabriel, from the very weird “Games Without Frontiers” I had heard on the radio the previous year. Shortly after the Abacab purchase, a friend of mine at the time told me that Peter Gabriel had been a member of Genesis in the early 70s, and loaned me a couple of albums from that era, which I immediately fell in love with. My favorite—which continues to be one of my favorite albums of all time—was 1972’s Foxtrot. As I look at my original vinyl copy, bought back in 1981, I’m surprised it hasn’t been worn completely through.

Foxtrot was the band’s fourth album, and the second with the classic lineup of Gabriel (vocals, flute), Steve Hackett (guitars), Tony Banks (keyboards), Michael Rutherford (guitars and basses), and Phil Collins (drums). It starts with the haunting “Watcher of the Skies,” lyrics by Banks and Rutherford, about a race of aliens that come to Earth, land in a desert, and think that the human race has gone extinct. It opens with a haunting solo Mellotron before the whole band kicks in. Musically and lyrically, it is a compelling track and was even better in concert, especially with Gabriel performing it with his bat-wing-headdress-and-cape alien outfit. “Time Table” (lyrics by Tony Banks) is a simple song about the passage of time, the rise and fall of great civilizations, and how history tends to repeat itself. “Get ’Em Out by Friday” (lyrics by Gabriel) is a very funny theater-esque piece written as a play; each character is given a different musical motif and vocal style, and tells the story of evil estate agents who are in the process of evicting several tenants from their homes. Later in the song, after a passage of time we find out why:
This is an announcement from Genetic Control
“It is my sad duty to inform you of a four-foot restriction on humanoid height”

“I hear the directors of Genetic Control have been buying all the properties
That have recently been sold
Taking risks oh so bold
It’s said now that people will be shorter in height
They can fit twice as many in the same building site...”
Side one (in the old vinyl days) ends with “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” (lyrics by Steve Hackett) about the legend of King Canute, who supposedly ordered the seas to retreat to mock the sycophancy of his followers.

Side Two opens with a short solo guitar piece called “Horizons” written and performed by Steve Hackett, before launching into what has been regarded as Genesis’ magnum opus: the 22:54 “Supper’s Ready” (lyrics mostly by Gabriel), which begins with the narrator returning home after a long Odyssey-like adventure and finding his suitor somehow changed (said to be based on a strange otherworldly experience Gabriel had with his then-wife). Still, it’s good to be home, because “supper’s ready.” he then describes his travels, which involved some kind of war, wandering the aftermath, finding solace in the surreal and vaudevillian “Willow Farm,” and then experiencing an apocalypse out of the Book of Revelation (actually, the only book of the Bible that I have read—I didn’t know they had LSD back in Biblical times). Ultimately, he makes it home again, with a renewed sense of purpose, love for his suitor, and belief in god. It’s a lyrical and musical tour de force, and was a concert favorite, especially when Gabriel donned the giant flower outfit for the “Willow Farm” section. Anyway, the whole album has not left my CD player or iPod for about a week.

I wasn’t impressed by the remastering of the Foxtrot CD (for some reasssssson it’sss ssssomewhat too sssssibilant for my tasssstessss), but I hear an SACD version with 5.1 surround is coming out in September, which I am eagerly looking forward to.

By the way, I love the Internet sometimes: I found on YouTuve some clips from old Genesis concerts. Here is a great version of “Watcher of the Skies” from the Foxtrot tour:

And, find of all finds, here is “Supper’s Ready” live (in three parts). Oh, to have not been five years old in 1973!

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