In 2020, Genesis took to the road for what was their final tour, giving their last gig in March of this year. As such, we felt it was time to address the recorded output of these magnificent prog-pop behemoths in the deep, demented, and devoted manner they deserve.
Welcome to I Know What I Like: A Discographic Journey into Genesis. Please join historian Matthew Restall and me (Hope) as we dissect, discuss, and rate ‘n’ rank the entire Genesis discography, confronting era-related prejudices and offering demonic hot-takes—all whilst gushing with unfettered devotion. There will be beauty and bombast. Conquests and creatures. Snowmen and pigeons. Come ride majestic with us…
Supper’s ready y’all…
MATTHEW: Bands and artists that evolve dramatically over time are a particular pleasure to listen to. Whether it’s groups like Fleetwood Mac and The Bee Gees, or long-serving artists like Bowie, McCartney, and Elton, it’s fun to ponder whether the shifts were due to personnel changes, to new influences, or to the vagaries of creativity and aging. But surely no band in this category divides fans as much as Genesis. When I was a kid (growing up in England), Gabriel-era fanatics and Collins-era fans didn’t just disagree on the albums, they hated each other. Your opinions on, say, Foxtrot vs Abacab, were a personality test, determining whether you were an upstanding fellow of fine taste or a complete c—t.
HOPE: Where you stand on the Genesis discography is usually determined by where you came in or, yup, what gender you happen to be. Because there is no denying that in the days Peter Gabriel was lead singer and creative director, the band’s audience was overwhelmingly male. That was the standard demographic for most progressive rock bands back in the day, from King Crimson to Yes. When Gabriel departed and Phil Collins was officially ensconced as the Genesis front man in 1976, the songwriting began to reflect a more romantic worldview, tamping down on the cryptic, existential tales and ramping up on lonely loved-up anthems. Even more significantly, as the lyrical sentiments became more accessible, the tunes themselves got tighter, more melodic and radio-friendly, which broadened the fanbase considerably. And that’s where this dame came in. The post-Gabriel version of Genesis was the one I first fell in love with. Stuff that hogweed, hand me those ripples.
But it should be said that like a middle child kicking down, the hardcore fans of the Phil Collins era have hardly been the benevolent “come one come all” welcoming committee one might expect based on their own treatment. As dismissive as the Gabriel crew are to some Collins fans, so too are the Phil-ophiles toward the fans that came to love Genesis in the mid-’80s because of the perkily twee megahit Invisible Touch. I admit I’ve always looked down on the “invisible touch-ers”. And I have tragically acted out. I saw a guy wearing an Invisible Touch tour tee-shirt at one of the 2021 Genesis shows I attended and took a pic of the back of it—which had an actual track-listing (!)— just so I could text my visual complaint to Matthew. Old habits die hard and no, I’m not proud.
But for today, let’s set all our differences aside. It doesn’t matter when or why you became a fan or whether you are a hardcore devotee or delicate dabbler. Let us now join together to celebrate, contemplate and give thanks to these fabulously fantastical prog-pop weirdos in the manner they deserve, with outrageously indulgent love, respect, dutchess’s, duke’s, snowmen and squonks. Shine on!
Behind The Lines: Just a note on the format of this essay, Matthew and I are going to be taking turns offering up our Genesis assessments and our names will appear before our respective comments. We are going to rate each album individually (on a classic 1-10, hate-to-love scale), and will also list where it ranks in the discography as a whole (1-15 studio albums).
MATTHEW: In addition we will identify what is to us either a “Key Track” or a “Key Cluster” (a contiguous set of tracks) for each album. By “key” we don’t mean the biggest hit or the “best”; after all, this is a discussion of opinion and emotional response, not a claim (gasp!) to critical authority.
HOPE: Exactly! By “key” we mean the song (or songs) that we think best encapsulates the spirit of each album, good or bad. In addition, we will also be addressing the solo and side projects via a lean and mean breakdown following the actual Genesis discography. Our opinions will diverge at points from both each other, and maybe the world at large, but we are gloriously united in appreciation of the legendary Gens.
From Genesis To Revelation (1969)
MATTHEW: I’m going to start by sticking my neck out: Genesis started out as a bunch of schoolboys trying to be The Bee Gees. Hardly an original observation, I know. But here’s the thing. They didn’t do it half badly. The second-class Bee Gee production is made more interesting by hints of the Zombies and the Association, with pre-echoes of the sound they would consolidate on Trespass and Foxtrot. I admit I ignored this album for decades. And when I turned to it this year, I expected to dislike it as much as their final album, assuming the two albums made bag-o’-bollocks bookends, 28 years apart. But I didn’t hate it. It’s clearly not in the top ten (of their 15 studio albums), but nor is it their worst, and nor is it unlistenable (like, say, Supertramp’s 1970 debut). It has even started to grow on me.
Key Track: “Where the Sour Turns to Sweet,” for the admittedly lame reason that the opening lines to this the opening song of the first album—“We’re waiting for you, come and join us now”—make a sweet (ahem, not sour) invitational start to their catalog. It’s where I’d start my own extended version of R-Kive (to which we return at the end).
HOPE: This album is pretty sophisticated for a bunch of nerdy teenagers who were for all intents and purposes still figuring out how to be a band. But from a sonic standpoint, it is unquestionably an outlier in the grand discography. As I began to get into Genesis and explore their discography this album held little allure for me because neither Phil Collins nor Steve Hackett were on it and, gonna say it, I knew what I liked. Yes, it is so very Bee Gees, albeit with a side order of Zombies and a sprinkle of Cat Stevens. In fact, “Silent Sun” reminds me a whole lot of Bee Gee Robin Gibb’s 1969 bleating solo chestnut “Saved By The Bell”. The only redeeming thing about the album is that you get to hear the Gabriel voice in bloom, which is best likened to a colt when it first realizes it can run and is awkwardly amazed at what it can do.
Key Track: I’m going to say “Silent Sun” because it’s a bit more fleshed out than the rest but, like the album, it never moves beyond curio status.
HOPE: Trespass is a huge sonic step forward from the debut album. Its songs are infinitely more adventurous than those featured on that first LP and Gabriel’s fabulously assertive vocals are a treat. Alas, it is also exhibit A in the overblown medieval fairytale-themed era of the Genesis discography. If I may speak in “prog” for a moment; to all ye romantic pragmatists, there lyeth nothing within the kingdom of Trespass for you. In other words, if you are a “don’t bore us get to the chorus” kind of person, a restless soul with a sweet tooth, you probably don’t-won’t like Trespass. It is a soundtrack for non-cynical fantasist-dreamers who want to be taken on a very particular historical journey. Heading into battle, sword in hand as you rush over the drawbridge? Then “The Knife” is your jam. Want to simulate the sensation of riding horseback through the woods with Robin Hood and his Merry Men? “White Mountain” is here to theme you. You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, there are some sweet melodic flourishes on Trespass—the anthemic “Stagnation” is full of them—it’s just that they’re offset by a whole lot of self-consciously mystical lyricism and youthfully wanking keyboard-ry.
Key Track: “Looking For Someone” exemplifies the kind of drama and tenderness that Foxtrot seems to be reaching for.
MATTHEW: Trespass is certainly a step forward, but I’m in two minds, Hope, as to whether that step is “huge.” Yes, right from the opening lines, it is apparent that Gabriel has found his voice. And it soon becomes apparent from the improved musicianship and production that this is a band evolving fast, and one that has found a new genre—to which it promises to contribute some significant, even classic, albums (a promise gloriously fulfilled within a few years). But the DNA ties to the previous album are far from severed. In some of the more subtle moments (“Dusk,” for example), there are strong echoes of Revelation (and that’s not a bad thing). And while I get why “The Knife” is iconic to many fans (especially those who saw Genesis play in these very early years), it is less my “jam” than the tracks that open each side (“Looking for Someone” and “Stagnation”)—which appeal to me as a less jarring, more deft use of the prog-rock palette to layer the early Genesis sound.
Key Track: “Stagnation,” an early sign that this band would later lead prog rock into places gorgeous and stirring.
Nursery Cryme (1971)
MATTHEW: Jumping around the Genesis catalog is a good (and fun) way to savor its dramatic variety, but that also exposes the trap of the Gabriel-vs-Collins dichotomy. A far better appreciation for the various contributions of the band’s evolving personnel can be gained if you listen to the fifteen albums in sequence. The experience is a revelation. The personnel changes melt away, as the band steadily develops, album by album. Consequently, Nursery Cryme, as the first album with Phil Collins and Steve Hackett on board, is even less of a step forward (or a step in a different direction) than was Trespass. In fact, it is a remarkably similar foray into early-70s English prog, albeit better at its best and worse at its worst. The opening two tracks, for example, are an exciting preview of what the band would do in later albums—I get why “The Musical Box” is a fan favorite. But much of the rest of the album (especially “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” and “Harold the Barrel”) are more exhausting than exhilarating.
Key Track: There’s no escaping the mastery and significance of “The Musical Box.”
HOPE: Yup, I concur and have to add that I find the ”Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” vibe of “Harold The Barrel” to be particularly grating. Flute-flavored fancypants and perhaps the best song ever written about a deadly croquet match and its aftermath, “The Musical Box” is unquestionably the album’s centerpiece. It’s basically a prog party song, a skillfully played racket, with a little bit of everything that offers every member of the band an opportunity to show off and go off. But while I appreciate its madcap charms and get why it’s such a beloved part of the canon, I can’t say that I actually enjoy listening to it more than once a year. And so Matthew, I’m gonna steal your assessment and attach it to Nursery Cryme as a whole: exhausting.
Key Track: “The Musical Box”
HOPE: Foxtrot is both welcomingly accessible and unabashedly prog. And so while there are mentions of kings, queens and carved oak tables, the tunes themselves are pretty hummable and melodic (“Time Table”, “Get ‘Em Out By Friday,” and “Can-Utility And The Coastliners”). That said, when it comes to Foxtrot, there are only two things I care about. The first isn’t even a whole song but rather a smidge of one, namely Tony Banks’s opening mellotron lines in “Watcher Of The Skies.” They are immense. They are the sound of thunder clouds enveloping the earth. They make the rest of the song feel like a long, superfluous animal tail-third nipple. And so yeah, I’ll take endless loops of that. Then there’s “Supper’s Ready,” the batshit-ambitious, 23 freakin’ minute, 7-part, full plate-of-prog epic, a song I don’t love but whose execution and ridiculousness I remain kind of awed by. It features some fabulously melodic 12-string picking, Steve Hackett doing Eddie Van Halen before Eddie ever did, and a f-cking children’s choir, and absolutely deserves to have some prog devil horns raised in its honor.
Key Track: “Supper’s Ready”
MATTHEW: I agree that Banks’s mellotron opener to “Watcher of the Skies” is a fantastic way to start the album; it always makes me smile. The song closes memorably too, and indeed Side 1 is as good as Side 2—high praise, considering the latter comprises the epic “Supper’s Ready,” with “Horizons” as its tasty appetizer (in his recent book on UK prog, A New Day Yesterday, Mike Barnes insisted that “Supper” was “surely the unofficial anthem of progressive rock”). Although this isn’t Collins’ first album with the band, his contributions on sticks and vocals are—to my ears—truly noticeable for the first time. No wonder Foxtrot is the gold standard for fans who first arrived here. Its theatricality and musicality wear well, perhaps in part because there’s so much youthful invention here—-in contrast to the mature, spotless polish of the final three albums, which have worn very thin. Foxtrot ain’t perfect, and that’s perfectly fine.
Key Track: “Horizons/Supper’s Ready.”
Selling England By The Pound (1973)
MATTHEW: Finally, I’m crying. Well, not actually weeping. But after being slowly yet steadily impressed by the albums leading up to this, I am now moved, stirred, exhilarated. The skillfully balanced mixture of musical ingredients that comprises Side One of Selling England By The Pound—the sheer majesty of it—brings tears to my eyes. Bookended beautifully by vocals from Gabriel (“Dancing With the Moonlit Knight”) and Collins (“More Fool Me”), the vinyl side soars in the middle with the anthemic “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” (their first charting single, a UK #21) and with the album’s anchoring masterpiece, “Firth of Fifth.” “I love the guitar,” Tony Banks has said of the song, “the way it takes over the melody in the second half is one of the strongest moments of Genesis.” For me, that moment is more than strong: it’s transcendental, spiritually ecstatic. This is what the band seem to have been reaching for on Trespass and Foxtrot, and to be able to experience them attaining it—over and over, for Side One never gets old—is, well, deeply wonderful. Side Two is almost as good, for there is surely not a weak song on the album. The social commentary on English culture is wry, witty, and at times wonderfully weird, making the album as lyrically engaging as it is musically exquisite.
Key Track: “Firth of Fifth” (but really all Side One: “Moonlit Knight/I Know What I Like/Firth of Fifth/More Fool Me”).
HOPE: Of all the albums released in the Gabriel era, Selling England By The Pound is by far the easiest to digest, an eccentric-pretentious, melodically accessible, mythically romantic storybook of songs. Side One is a particularly grand and lustrous place and ranks as one of the top three Gens album sides ever-ever. Starting with manic throwback “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”, leading into classically-tinged epic “Firth Of Fifth”, coming down with gorgeous Phil-helmed ballad “More Fool Me,” and closing out with glorious setlist stalwart and evergreen stadium singalong, ”I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”, it’s a combination dragon and heart-slayer.
While Selling has got some, let’s just call it “medieval flavoring” and half of the tracks have running times of over eight minutes, it is still by far the poppiest of all the Peter-led albums ( and thus the ideal entry point for curious latter-day fans to start investigating the olden days). And gotta mention one last thing regarding “I Know What I Like”; Hearing an arena full of people shout about being “just a lawnmower” is infinitely more life-affirming than hearing them wail about dying “in an everlasting kiss”. I could never have imagined such a thing unless I’d seen it with my own eyes. Seriously, it’s the freakin’ best (sorry Boss). And so I’m with you Matthew: Selling is weird, witty, and pretty damn wonderful.
Key Track: “Firth of Fifth.”
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)
MATTHEW: Lamb reminds me of Pink Floyd’s The Wall: I recognize its creative brilliance, but its dark theatrical vision is not one I chose to let into my head very often. It’s unsettling. As the best art often is, sure, but do you want it on your bedroom wall? And there’s an irony here: to appreciate why this may be the ultimate English prog rock concept album (the genre’s “ultimate fantasy tale,” as Barnes puts it), you have to listen to its full 94 minutes in one undistracted sitting. But that’s less practical—less often possible for most of us—than enjoying select tracks, or perhaps savoring one vinyl side at a time. Which certainly can be satisfying (I’ll never forget the pure joy of singing the chorus to “The Carpet Crawlers,” along with Phil and over ten thousand other fans, as I did recently at the close to Genesis’s concert in Pittsburgh). But that isn’t the full immersive Lamb experience. To which I find I am always reluctant to commit. I guess you’ve got to get in to get out.
Key Cluster: “Hairless Heart/Counting Out Time/The Carpet Crawlers”
HOPE: As the Tusk album is to Fleetwood Mac’s legacy, so too is Lamb to the Gens. It is the cool cult classic that either you get or you don’t. And now a message to all the non-believers who have tried (and tried) but still can’t get into it; there is nothing wrong with you. Lamb is seriously demanding. It is consistently on the attack, endlessly, aggressively, unsparingly heaving itself at you with only a few contemplative, peaceful moments to catch your breath, especially when it comes to the lyrical content. From the indulgent and ponderous story, to the 94 minute run-time (!), Lamb asks a lot, a lot of the listener. Okay, time for my self-outing; I am a non-believer. I have tried innumerable times, but have never been able to latch onto Lamb as a whole. It is supremely dense and has often felt and sounded like one endless song to me ( maybe that’s the idea but I still find it impenetrable at points). Like you Matthew, it’s more of an out of context side at a time for me or rather, song at a time. When it comes to Lamb, I mostly just eat the fat roses off the top of the cake, specifically dirty awesome anthem “Back In N.Y.C.”, eternally beauteous “Carpet Crawlers,” and the big-chorused title track. And sometimes I like a little “Hairless Heart” to soundtrack a snowy walk. Still, I haven’t quite given up on becoming a complete Lamb loyalist/whole cake eater. Its reputation and solid assortment of good bits still inspire me to throw it on every now and then. Yeah, I know. If it was gonna happen it probably would have happened decades ago. But here I am, swaying along to “The Lamia,” as I write this and it is sounding very, very nice. Baby steps forever…
Key Track: Back In N.Y.C.
Yes, Gabriel out of Genesis…
A Trick of the Tail (1976)
HOPE: I confess that I didn’t really get into Genesis until around 1980 when the Duke album was released. And so I experienced no real-time trauma about Peter Gabriel’s departure from the band in 1975 (which came following the band’s tour in support of the previous album, Lamb). Sure, I planned to investigate the Gabriel era at some point, but it wasn’t gonna happen until after I’d gotten every album where Phil Collins was singing lead. And based on what I knew of the Peter years, I suspected I wouldn’t be as into early Genesis as I was into this current incarnation. It seemed just a little too proggy for a restless, hook-obsessed, young American girl who at that time was seriously in love with Sting. She was just not gonna get it. A Trick Of The Tail though, that was another story.
This album flows. It is a seamless, unskippable fantastical journey that sounds most ravishing when listened to as a whole, in sequence. Warm, noble and endlessly nerdy in sentiment, Tail is equal parts mythical journey and metaphorical wallflower’s diary. There’s a lot to love here, from “Ripples” (the most lustrous singalong anthem about fading beauty ever) to “Entangled” (guitarist Steve Hackett’s swoonsome acoustic tale from the psychiatrist’s couch) to “Squonk” (shyly gritty rock-hymn of ostracism and survival). I do acknowledge that there is one tough piece of meat to contend with, namely the court-jester that is “Robbery, Assault & Battery.” It’s a bit insufferable, but the tune itself is pretty charming and catchy and it magically just kinda jibes with Trick’s vibes. This is a good time to address the longstanding sonic peccadillo of Genesis; nearly every album has a track like “Robbery”: a goofy character-driven, vaguely comic pop song with cringe-worthy lyrics and slightly irritating vocal affectations; it’s just their thing.
Key Track/Cluster: The album itself is the Key Cluster.
MATTHEW: Fears that Gabriel’s departure would cripple the band were famously assuaged here. Die-hard fans of 1970-74 Genesis would forever lament the passing of a golden age. But I have zero sympathy. Because the remaining foursome released not one but two masterpieces in 1976—both, to my mind, better than Lamb and as good as Selling England (sorry Lamb-lovers, but the 102” of the ‘76 twins blows away that double-LP’s 94”). The balance between melodic but cheese-free ballads and complex extended prog rockers is perfect on both. As explained below, I have a special fondness for Wind & Wuthering, but I won’t argue with anyone proclaiming Trick of the Tail to be the superior sibling—or even the band’s best album. It is a cliché to write of an album’s flow, but here I go (echoing you, Hope): A Trick of The Tail just flows so beautifully, from the first note to the final fade out, slowly building to the blissful climax of the last three tracks.
Key Track/Cluster: The album’s closing trio, “Ripples/A Trick of The Tail/Los Endos.”
Wind & Wuthering (1976)
MATTHEW: As you said, Hope, where we entered the Genesis camp determines which tent we end up in. Ok, you didn’t use a silly camping metaphor. But you get my point. And my entry point was Wind & Wuthering for a silly reason. Up to 1978, I’d been too young and too put off by the anti-Collins purists to give the band much attention. But when “Follow You, Follow Me” hit the airwaves that March (when I turned 14), I had a change of heart. So, as soon as I had the chance, I bought the album—the wrong one! I have no idea why. “Follow” was on the new album, of course, and Wind & Wuthering was the previous one. But I LOVED it. I’m not going to try to persuade anyone that it’s the best Genesis album. But I’ll argue that it’s one of their best. And it’s my favorite, because it’s woven into my neural pathways. Objectivity is impossible. It’s part of me. It’s my home tent. It’s where I came in.
Key Track/Cluster: A tie between “One for the Vine” and “Blood on the Rooftops,” the extraordinary compositions that each anchor one side of the album.
HOPE: I love your” incorrect” trajectory Matthew! I totally get it as we will soon predictably see. I didn’t acquire Wind until I was several years into my Genesis fandom. And I think if it had had a more garish album cover I might’ve bought it sooner than I did (sadly still a factor at that point in my life). This album has always left me with a sense of “almost” after listening to it. Every track possesses a beautiful moment but never quite penetrates my heart. Admittedly I tend to like the bigger-sounding Genesis songs with the gargantuan hooks and as Wind is a more meandering affair in terms of overall song structure, the melodies just feel less memorable (big single “Your Own Special Way” excepted). The only track I ever really spend time with is the evocative and gorgeous “Blood On The Rooftops”, which may be the most underrated ballad in the whole Gens discography. And so while I love, say, Phil’s falsetto bit on “One For The Vine” and think “Afterglow” is overall, a pretty regal and handsome beast, I just can’t quite latch onto them or any of the other tracks apart from “Blood” in a meaningful way. P.S. I hope my feelings about Wind don’t mean the end of our friendship Matthew.
Key Track: Blood on the Rooftops
…And Then There Were Three…(1978)
HOPE: In late-1977, guitarist Steve Hackett left Genesis to pursue solo ventures, thereby reducing Genesis to (and then there were) three members (that’d be Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford). And this album, the first full-length released by the newly streamlined Gens, is pretty dear to my heart. Yes, I’m about to get horrifyingly Hallmark on you, for which I apologize in advance. Now I know this might sound weird, but next to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, And Then There Were Three is my favorite holiday album ever. It entered my life as a specially requested Xmas gift and I have a vivid recollection of removing it from its shrinkwrap Xmas morning in front of a roaring fireplace. It is winter in musical form. If twinkly lights and icicles were songs, they would sound like And Then There Were Three. Happy Prog-mas you freakin’ nerd!
Anyway…And Then There Were Three usually finds itself lodged somewhere in the middle of Genesis album rankings, meaning while it’s no one’s outright favorite, it is acknowledged to have some genuinely good songs. My wintry-sentimental attachments aside, I do actually believe it to be the the most underrated album in the discography, the bonafide sleeper (not to mention a damn good starting point for the uninitiated, as are Trick and Duke, the latter of which we’ll get to next). It is for all intents and purposes, the band’s first “pop” album. But while immensely accessible, And Then is still over-the-top epic in execution, meaning it is the perfect soundtrack for both car journeys and viking-themed horseback adventures. Now I’m not sure if this is a hot take, but I find the album’s best-known track, the bubbly “Follow You Follow Me” to be one of its least compelling. It’s cute and infectious but nothing more (it only earns 5 out of a 10 possible reindeer from me). And it withers next to the good stuff. There are booming, fire breathing behemoths (“Down and Out”,“Deep In The Motherlode”,“The Lady Lies”). There are shiny and lustrous ballads (“Many Too Many” and “Undertow”). Hell, even the trademark Genesis pseudo-comedic character study on offer here is absolutely swoon-inducing (“Say It’s Alright Joe”, oh shine on!). But for me the finest song on And Then is Mike Rutherford’s on-the-nose, quiet-loud beauty “Snowbound”. It’s not just the stunning melodicism and wistful words that make it so winning but the exceptional vocal by Phil Collins, who whispers, coos and bellows with extraordinary conviction throughout. Also, I love songs about snowmen (like this). I should note there are a couple of “just okay” songs which drag down my overall rating of the album, specifically “Ballad Of Big”, “Scenes From a Night’s Dream”, but they are still chock full of charm and so my quibbles are minor.
Rating: 9 reindeer/10
Key Track: “Snowbound”
MATTHEW: Some Genesis fans might end a friendship over giving Wind & Wuthering a 5/10 (or a 10/10)! Me, I’ll forgive you, Hope. After all, with Wind & Wuthering as the gateway drug, I also then got hooked on And Then There Were Three. And doesn’t that put us back on the same page? But for reasons I have long forgotten, back in the day I put my favorite tracks from Three on mixtapes and listened to those more than the album as a whole. For example, “Many Too Many” is a oft-overlooked pop gem that featured on many a mix of mine. And while I dislike overt Christmas music (no more rock versions of “Jingle Bells,” please, or “Jingle Bell Rock” for that matter) I love songs that can be appropriated for the season—and “Snowbound” always makes my playlists of covert Xmas rock/pop. In retrospect, And Then There Were Three doesn’t quite hold together as smoothly as its 1976 predecessors. Did it lean towards pop and away from prog too much? Take “Many Too Many” again: seemingly mixed to be a single (which it was), rather than an expansive album track, it just begs for more from Banks and Rutherford. Does Hackett’s departure show? Or am I forever misled by my own teenage failing to absorb the album as a whole? Either way, it is a great album, still qualifying in my mind as a top five Genesis classic.
Key Track: The gloriously anthemic and perfectly constructed “Undertow” (tell me, what do you think you would do then?), tied with “Snowbound.”
MATTHEW: Another masterpiece, perfectly balancing the threesome’s prog rock past and their pop rock future. The soaring melodies and satisfying hooks are more in evidence than ever, with none of the irritating moments that would mar later albums. As much as I love other tracks (especially “Duchess”), and although Side One (“Behind the Lines” through “Heathaze”) is one of those perfect Genesis album sides, I think the core of Duke comprises the middle four of its twelve tracks: Collins’ almost-poignant pop-perfect “Misunderstanding,” Banks’ sublime “Heathaze,” the trio-composed smash “Turn It On Again,” and Rutherford’s totally-poignant “Alone Tonight.” Only in wrong-headed retrospect does Duke anticipate the superficial pop of later Genesis and solo Collins albums. Yes, this launched the band into a new world of commercial success (first UK #1 album, first top 20 single in the US with “Misunderstanding”), but that doesn’t mean the album was a step in the wrong direction. On the contrary, the Genesis formula was here assembled with unimpeachable creative skill.
Key Track/Cluster: “Misunderstanding” (but really all Side One: “Behind the Lines/Duchess/Guide Vocal/Man of Our Times/Misunderstanding/Heathaze”).
HOPE: Duke is a collection of exquisite anthems for and about “losers” (aka, all of us at one point or another), a cornucopia of awesomely tuneful, fatly chorused, oddly rousing heartbreakers built for those who prefer their angst to enter a room and make a scene rather than silently sulk against a wall (“It’s not enough!”, “it’s driving me mad!”, “I don’t understand!”). Every stage of romantic grief is honored with its own theme song. There’s unrequited love (“Misunderstanding”), rejection (“Behind The Lines”, “Alone Tonight”), obsession (“Turn It On Again”), as well as some resignation and resentment (“Please Don’t Ask”, “Guide Vocal”). There’s even a bit of decline and doom for fans of early Genesis (“Duchess”, “Cul De Sac”, “Heathaze”). Oh hell, it’s all great. And though I don’t believe there is one singular Genesis album that is markedly better than the rest, Duke is unquestionably the first album I’d recommend to new fans or curious space aliens. It’s just that easy. Lastly, as someone whose childhood dream was to “draw album covers for cool bands” when I grew up, I just want to take a minute to exult Duke’s sleeve art, which was adapted from a 1979 kids book by French Illustrator Lionel Koechlin called L’Alphabet d’Albert and features the titular green-suited Albert gazing moonward in an exceptionally profound and moving manner that belies his goofy cartoon man appearance.
Sidebar #1: Tony Banks often cites Duke as his favorite Genesis album (which reminds me, you know who has horrible taste in Genesis recordings? Phil Collins. But we’ll get to that later).
Sidebar #2: In 2019 producer-musician Steve Reidell covered the Duke album, right down to the damn sleeve art. It is sweet and fun as hell. Check it out here
Key Track: “Misunderstanding”
HOPE: In my weirdo head, Abacab and The Police’s Ghost in The Machine are brothers. Bookends. Soulmates. Thrust into the world within weeks of one another, not only did they dominate my turntable at the same damn time but to my ears seemed to emit an eerily similar sonic vibe. Each featured a perkily cynical hit single that bore no physical resemblance to the tracks that surrounded it (“No Reply At All” for the Gens, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” for The Police). Big swoonsome melodies were outnumbered by anxious drones and moans. Sentiments were cynical. All of which is to say, neither album was particularly huggable or “fun”. Abacab occupies a bit of no-man’s land in the Gens discography, too popular to be a cult classic yet too gray and disjointed to have genuine universal appeal. No Abacab tracks found their way into the band’s 2021-22 tour setlist (though neither did any songs from Trick, which is a far more egregious crime). Abacab is a cold factory of an album…and I love it.
While I genuinely dig the subtly aggressive, dolled-up krautrock of the title track, and the urgent horn-fest of “No Reply”, the album’s two best-known entities, they aren’t my Abacab all-stars. My biggest love is reserved for Tony Banks epic of madness or maybe Dr. Who, “Me And Sarah Jane” with its exquisite bridge (“First I’m flying, going round round round”, ooh), lovelorn Rutherford ballad “Like It Or Not” (not a very popular track, but me, I love an ascending guitar line always) and my all-time favorite Genesis song, the soaring, lustrous and bizarro “Keep It Dark” (no, seriously, this is the one). And I also want to offer praise to moody beauty “Man On The Corner,” a genuine dark horse in the Gens canon. This album would be a 10/10 for me if not for the presence of the ghastly “Who Dunnit?” which is some real McCartney II level bullshit. I’ve been moving the needle on this thing since 1981, back when I actually had to get up to do it (a herculean task for a teenager) and will continue to do so for as long as I’m still here.
Key Track: “Keep It Dark”
MATTHEW: Although we agree, Hope, on Duke, Abacab always struck me as less compelling. Just as Then There Were Three lacks the coherence achieved by its two 1976 predecessors (despite being almost as good), so does Abacab fail to hold together the way Duke does (despite having some great songs.) The title track is a great opener, a fine example of the pop-prog style perfected by the band in the early 80s. And “Man on a Corner” is a gem often overlooked. But I agree with the comment on the World of Genesis fan site, that “Paperlate” should have been on here instead of possibly the worst Genesis song ever, “Who Dunnit?” That said, for me Genesis’ golden age was 1973-83, and Abacab sits comfortably within that run of eight superb albums. Its flaws only serve to highlight its strengths (as opposed to increasingly overwhelming the strengths, as happens with the 1986-97 albums).
Key Track/Cluster: “Man on the Corner/Like It or Not” (back-to-back, deceptively melodic, seemingly-love songs that are actually dark songs of isolation and bitterness—very Abacab).
MATTHEW: For me, there are three Genesis albums with stunning, pretty-much-perfect Side Ones: Selling England By the Pound; Duke; and this one. I still remember buying this on vinyl the day it came out, walking straight from a pub lunch to the nearest HMV with my mate Rob, each of us forking out for our own copy, then dashing back to his to soak, somewhat beer-addled, in “Mama” and in whatever else the three lads had come up with. And I still remember being dazzled by the deft balance of that menacing opening track with the Phil-pop of “That’s All” and the neo-prog brilliance of “Homes” (as we re-titled what is really a single, thrilling 11-minute track). But I also remember the let-down of what an uneven grab-bag Side Two seemed to be, from the throwaway, embarrassing goofiness of “Illegal Alien” to B-side level songs like “Just A Job To Do” (in fact, three of Side Two’s songs were B-sides to the album’s singles). Was it the afternoon hangover kicking in? Perhaps. I admit I have grown to be fond of “Taking It All Too Hard,” the way I like similar pop songs on the next album (e.g., “Throwing It All Away”). And the rest of Side Two grew on me, and still sounds pretty good (I love the reverse-playback effect on “It’s Gonna Get Better”). But all these decades later, I still can’t quite shake the feeling that Side One (10/10) is elevating me like a roaring great pub session, while Side Two (6 or 7/10) knocks me down like the hangover to follow.
Key Track: “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” (but really all Side One: “Mama/That’s All/Home/Second Home”).
HOPE: It was at this point in the story that Genesis stopped seeming “cool” to me. By 1983, I’d been officially swept away by the foxy and glamorous sea of Durans, Furs, and Culture Clubs and the Gens started feeling, and looking, more like Dads to me (unsurprisingly the appearance of this hot new blood killed my old Phil crush. Yeah, I had one.). Don’t get me wrong, I still genuinely cared about the musical activities of my three Genesis Dads, just not quite enough to wear the tee-shirts anymore (I blame art school in NYC and teen hormones). Thus I still happily tumbled to the record shop to grab my “Mama”, the single released in advance of the album, because I was loyal like that. “Mama” is a hot, noisy factory of a song, hardly the most obvious or enticing piece of candy to relaunch one’s self into the pop charts. But holy shit, it ended up being the band’s highest charting UK single, rising all the way up to #4. Go Mama.
And as it turns out, it was the perfect establishing shot for what I consider to be the “Last Great Genesis Album” (yes, that’s a spoiler alert for what’s to come in this essay). Genesis (the album) has a definite vibe and mood, somewhere between an overheated machine and a hopeful hand on the shoulder. Representing the former are the pulsating, fab-proggy “Home By The Sea”, fab-angsty rocker “Just A Job To Do”, fab-aggressively sky-busting “SIlver Rainbow” and the aforementioned fab “Mama.” On the empathetic end are the delicately self-flagellating and supremely tuneful “Taking It All Too Hard” and simultaneously eerie and optimistic “It’s Gonna Get Better.” Every one of those tracks gets an emphatic thumbs up. I do hear what you’re saying Matthew about Side One feeling more emotionally energetic than Side Two, but gotta confess that I don’t care for “That’s All”. It’s a bit too cute for me (The Beatles “All Together Now” always pops in my head when I hear it, which is never a good thing ). And now I need to make a shameful true confession. When I first got this album, my favorite song on it was “Illegal Alien”. I didn’t care about the words, I just loved the tuneful tune. Yeegh. I can’t bear to listen to it now, but yeah, that happened. Right, gonna go sit in the corner and face the wall now.
Key Track: “It’s Gonna Get Better”
Invisible Touch (1986)
HOPE: “Maneater”. “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”. “Shout”. Every successful ‘80s era band has one. A song that for better or worse has come to define them despite the fact that it is not their finest hour. And there is no greater example of this than “Invisible Touch,” the most egregiously offensive and sinister betrayal of a great band’s history, ability and integrity ever. It is assuredly the song that is playing upon one’s entry into hell. Shit, that was fun. I’ve been waiting to say that forever. And oh yeah, it’s one of Phil Collins’ all-time favorite Genesis songs. Sigh. Right, I just f-ing can’t anymore, so let us now talk about the album this evilness crawled out from…
On the Wikipedia page for Invisible Touch, the album, there is an aerial photo of an empty Wembley Stadium with a caption mentioning that Genesis played four shows there in support of its release. This random (or sneaky clever) reference tells you everything you need to know about the album. Invisible Touch speaks solely in the language of “stadium”. It is a $50 tour tee-shirt and $15 beer of an album. It is vast and vague. I was still in full new wave mode when this album was released, but just as with the previous album, had remained loyal enough to purchase it…and still cared enough to be outrageously disappointed by it. “Tonight, Tonight,Tonight” is what this album could have been: big, melodic and ominous. But no, what we end up with is a sub-par Phil Collins solo album, one that is as synthetic and emotionally empty as that picture of Wembley Stadium. With the exception of the aforementioned “Tonight” and hooky little groover “Throwing It All Away”, the rest is invisible.
Key Track: “Tonight, Tonight,Tonight”
MATTHEW: I certainly don’t love this album. I struggle to get through it without skipping tracks, and if I stumble across the title track on the radio I shudder and lunge to change the station. And yet, I can’t hate it either. I guess our relationship status is: it’s complicated. Why? On the one hand, “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” the album’s best track, is—as you eloquently say, Hope—wonderfully expansive, ominous, and yet tunefully catchy. Furthermore, “Land of Confusion” is quality pop-rock, “In Too Deep” and “Throwing It All Away” are catchy ballads, and I rather like “The Brazilian.” But, on the other hand, there are two problems. One is over-exposure. This was the first album (by anyone) to put five singles in the US Top Five (all peaked between #1 and #4, in fact, and all reached #22 or higher in the UK—where the album was #1). My life was divided between the UK and US in 1986-87, and the hits of Invisible Touch were inescapable on both sides of the pond. It was all too much. The other problem was that the early-80s tension between the band’s sound and Phil’s solo sound is resolved here, but not in an ideal way: Invisible Touch is a Collins solo album to which Banks and Rutherford make excellent contributions. To think of it as a Genesis album is to be forever irritated. But relabel your playlist or CD as COLLINS, INVISIBLE TOUCH, and it becomes easier to accept it as Phil’s second or third best album—and happily his most Genesis-like one!
Key Track: “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight.”
We Can’t Dance (1991)
MATTHEW: I’ve tried. I really have. But my comment about Invisible Touch being a Phil album (admittedly a rhetorical exaggeration) is even more applicable here. In fact, it feels like an uneasy mix of Phil songs with Mike + the Mechanics ones—sometimes within the same track (e.g., “Driving the Last Spike”). In other words, this is the sound of a band gradually becoming less of one, and more a meeting of solo artists who used to make unique and brilliant records together. The result isn’t terrible, but too often it is irritating (especially “I Can’t Dance”) or dull, packed with Philler, and at 72” hard to get through.
Key Track: A tie between the hits “No Son of Mine” and “Hold On My Heart,” but without much enthusiasm for either.
HOPE: Oh Matthew, I concur (insert weary sigh here). This album has a distinctly ‘“Phil Collins in the ‘90s” flavor; slick as ice and festooned with big dollops of lyrical cheese. “I Can’t Dance” is a nightmare, irritating, unfunky, and painful (and not gonna talk about the “comic” synched-up strut the guys do in the video, because just f-ing no). The highpoint is unquestionably “No Son Of Mine,” which, while it features a typically shiny early ‘90s production, is still a fabulously infectious earworm and home to a swell, super-sticky Banks synth-line on the backside of the chorus. As for the rest, well, there are some genuinely appealing melodies living on WCD—the perky-subversive“Jesus He Knows Me”, candied hymn “Fading Lights”, rain-soaked ballads ”Since I Lost You” and “Hold On My Heart”— but they are mired by a dated, tinny and clinical production (and some occasionally shudder-inducing lyrical earnestness). Yes, this album is the sound of Phil fronting Mike + the Mechanics and that is not, nor will it ever be, a good thing.
Key Track: “No Son Of Mine”
Calling All Stations (1997)
HOPE: Phil Collins left Genesis in 1996 (and returned in 2007 but solely for touring purposes). Calling All Stations is an album recorded by Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and Ray Wilson, former singer of the band Stiltskin, who was recruited to replace Phil Collins. While this album is credited to Genesis and thus an official part of the band’s discography, it is not a Genesis album. This is an album by the RBW band. Rutherford and Banks are wondrous songwriters and Wilson has a good voice but this thing has no fire in its belly. It is painfully faceless and forgettable, right down to its awful “computerized” front cover. The title track is an okay piece of AOR-style prog and the best song on the album, but I still have no desire to ever hear it again. If this hadn’t been marketed as a “Genesis” album would I feel more benevolent? No. This isn’t even a good RBW band album.
Key Track/Cluster: There’s no point in pretending. The answer is none.
MATTHEW: There are some good moments here (after all, it’s Banks and Rutherford), but as a whole, this is painfully dull and a little irritating. Considering how divided the fan base was (and still is) over Gabriel or Collins as lead vocal, it would seem imprudent to have imposed a new vocalist on band loyalists. You’re right to ask, Hope, why market this as Genesis? Just as it helps to imagine the previous two albums as Collins solo records (albeit with his Genesis bandmates playing prominent roles), I think Stations goes down easier if you think of it as a Banks/Rutherford record.
Key Track/Cluster: If I had to pick one, maybe “Shipwrecked,” but only if it was re-recorded with Gabriel singing, which is a hell-frozen-over scenario; so then, to follow Hope’s cue, none.
MATTHEW: Both these EPs are worth owning in whatever format you can find (neither are on Apple Music, for example). “Pigeons” and “Inside and Out” are excellent outtakes from Wind & Wuthering, and fans might spend hours debating whether the latter should have been squeezed onto that album (as the departing Hackett wanted), or if both songs should have been included (Rutherford’s vote). Fun times (for us music nerds)! The other track on the 1977 EP, “Match of the Day,” is an embarrassing curio. The 1982 EP is also three outtakes, this time from Abacab, and likewise comprises one song that doesn’t work and two that do (I think “Paperlate” and “You Might Recall” are both better than the weakest moments on Abacab). More fodder for the Genesis-nerd debate over song selections for albums! I’d like to see both EPs re-issued in a single vinyl and CD package, but that seems unlikely as “Pigeons,” “Inside and Out,” and “Paperlate” are all on the Turn It On Again compilation.
HOPE: I remember buying the Spot the Pigeon EP a year or so after its release, after some NY FM station played “Pigeons” during some Genesis special. I had no idea it existed prior to that (!). Anyway, I love, love the brazenly eccentric and uber-melodic “Pigeons”, a song that despite its common subject matter, is just a little too weird and twee to ever be regarded as a mainstream Gens classic (which is an achievement considering the zoo is overrun with Squonks, Hogweeds and Nemo’s). Not a fan of the other two tracks at all; “Inside and Out” shimmers sweetly enough but the tune isn’t terribly memorable. And while “Match Of The Day” is not the worst Genesis song ever, it definitely belongs in the bottom five (“So put on your hat and scarf, Have a drink, have a larf”… jeezus). 1982’s 3 x 3 EP is a different story as it is home to a couple of supremely solid tracks that would have turned Abacab into a classic namely “Paperlate” and “You Might Recall” (trade out “Who Dunnit” and “Another Record” and voilà, a classic album is born). Okay, I’m underplaying things right now. “You Might Recall” is actually one of my all-time favorite Genesis songs. No, seriously. The wanting vocals, lush piano lines, the gorgeous tune, just love it to its bones (forever). And “Paperlate”, though essentially a less fancy version of “No Reply At All” is seriously catchy, fun and poppin’.
Live, Live, Live
HOPE: As of this writing there have been six official live albums released. My favorite is the least coherent, namely Three Sides Live, a selection of live tracks recorded on assorted tours from 1976-81 (I should note that the original U.S. version of the album also included the studio tracks from the aforementioned 3×3 EP). It features a handful of recordings from the Nassau Coliseum show in November in ‘81 which is one of the few genuinely “famous” shows I can “brag” about having attended. The ticket was an intensely lobbied for birthday gift from my Mom and my seat was in the second row behind the stage. I wasn’t too upset about the fact that the band were facing in the other direction, as I was just plain happy to be there (and Phil did turn a few times to acknowledge us rearview-ers, bless him). Whilst there, I bought three (jeezus) different tour tee-shirts so I could advertise to everyone in school the next day that “I saw Genesis last night.” If you were a teen in the ‘70s or ‘80s, this shirt routine was as crucial to the concert-going experience as the actual show and I cannot stress this enough.
In homeroom the next morning, one of my schoolmates noticed my garish but wonderful new shirt and mentioned that she’d gone to the show too. “What did you think?” she asked. “Oh. I loved it” I innocently drooled. She shrugged back, “ I didn’t, he talks too much”, him being Phil. Now while he’d offered up several lengthy and marginally comedic song intros during the show, I hadn’t been remotely bothered by his loquaciousness, because you know, I was in love with Phil. I of course did not share this little truth nugget. I knew she wasn’t gonna get it. And so I just cut my losses and caved in like a souffle. “Yeah, I know” I wussily concurred.
Here’s Phil sensing my presence behind him and over his right shoulder that special night.
But even if I hadn’t been there, I suspect I’d still be exulting this thing as it is home to absolutely wondrous versions of “Misunderstanding” and “Turn It On Again” (the former from an ‘81 show at The Savoy in NYC, the latter from the aforementioned Coliseum gig) . They showcase Phil at the peak of his vocal powers and feature some raucously fabulous ad-libs. In fact, they are so good they come damn close to obliterating the studio versions.
I’d rank the live albums in this order: (1) Three Sides, (2) Seconds Out, a gorgeous document of the first tour starring Collins on lead vocals that features a thundering version of “The Lamb Lies…” and an especially swoonsome “The Carpet Crawlers”, (3) Genesis Live (1973) which is less about the actual setlist for me, and more about the then 23-year-old Gabriel’s staggeringly impressive voice (though admittedly, I rarely listen to it). The rest of the live releases are for completists only and while I won’t get on a soapbox for it, I will say that (4) Live Over Europe (2007) contains a superb version of “Ripples”. As for (5) The Shorts (1992) and (6) The Longs (1993), they exist. To be honest, when it comes to Genesis live, there are tons of inifinitely superior unofficial/unreleased recordings floating around on YouTube I would encourage you to go forth and explore first. To get you started, have some of this.
MATTHEW: Of these six live releases, I’d rank them very roughly in this order: (1) Three Sides Live, for its energy, coherence, some memorable versions (e.g., as Hope mentioned, “Misunderstanding”; also “Abacab”!), and its nice mix of 70s classics with what was then very recent 1980-81 songs. (2) Another double-LP, Seconds Out (1977) is a riveting selection from their ‘76 and ‘77 tours that likewise has some outstanding live versions of studio favorites (e.g. I think “The Carpet Crawlers” is better here than on Lamb). (3) Their earliest, Genesis Live (1973), is a 5-track single LP that is notable for its great version of “The Musical Box,” perhaps better than the studio original, and the same is arguably true of its Gabriel-on-steroids rendering of “The Knife.” (4) Live Over Europe (2007) is certainly worth a listen, but only for serious fans, as it lacks the energy and coherence of the above albums, and the trimming down of “Firth of Fifth” always irritates me, as if the inclusion of pre-1980 material were cursory (is that a fair criticism?). And that leaves (5-6), The Shorts (1992) and The Longs (1993), because while this parsing of the catalog is better than Apple Music dividing it into “prog era” (to ‘76) and “pop era” (‘78 on), it still vandalizes the artistic impact of the creative mix of short/long and prog/pop over the decades. For me, one of the great virtues (perhaps the greatest virtue) of seeing Genesis live is experiencing that mix, and how well it works—including the 2021 show I saw in Pittsburgh, a treat made bittersweet by Phil’s apparent frailty.
SIDEBAR: The Last Domino? 2021 Tour Show Reviews!
HOPE: Matthew and I both attended shows on the North American leg of the tour and figured as we were talking about the live stuff, why not offer our highly personal and idiosyncratic reviews of what went down on those, (spoiler alert) magical and bittersweet nights. Okay, let’s start to roar…
MATTHEW: The first third of the show I saw comprised ’80s and ’90s tracks. I began to wonder if the whole tour was aimed at fans like the woman behind me, who, throughout the concert and between every song, yelled “In The Air Tonight!” Bless her heart. But the rest of the gig was split evenly between ’70s and later songs, still too heavy on Invisible Touch for my taste, but executed by an amazing band. Their skill and energy (from Phil’s son on drums to the Phil-filling backing singers to the ageless Banks and Rutherford) made for a thrilling night, but also highlighted how cruelly illness has made Collins prematurely geriatric. Bless him for being there. Like you, Hope, I was moved and grateful.
HOPE: On November 29th, 1981, my Mom dropped me off at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island to see Genesis for the first time. Fast forward to December 6th, 2021, and there I was again, nearly 40 years to the day I’d seen them for the first time, watching Genesis at MSG for the last time (well sort of, I ended up going to the second MSG show too because my heart insisted). While these shows were ostensibly celebrations, it was heart-wrenching to see how frail Phil was, having to perform sitting down and walking with a cane.
I admit I had some problems with the setlist but hey, as an old fan, that was to be expected. Five freakin’ songs from Invisible Touch, three from We Can’t Dance yet no representatives from Trick or Abacab? What the hell? But honestly, I was just grateful to see them, hear them and be part of the crowd showering them with love one last time. And okay, I confess to doing some discreet crying, though mostly of the slow-moving single tear down the cheek variety. I couldn’t help it! Who in hell would cry during the bombastic and booming “Behind The Lines”? That’d be me, because I’m just weird! I’d also like to call out how cool it was to hear “Duchess” and “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”, the latter especially because it was happening in NYC (I don’t need to tell you how much NYer’s freakin’ love singing about themselves). My number one chill-inducing moment was hearing the whole of MSG bellowing “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” at the top of their lungs, because just wow. I have no words for how outrageously moving that felt.
HOPE: At the turn of the century from 20th to 21st, CD’s were the dominant physical format. I was working in a big mega-music store in NYC during those CD salad days and can confirm that compilations like 1999’s Turn It On Again were the lifeblood of every two-fer sale we ever had. They weren’t for hardcore fans. They were mainly for dabblers who just wanted to bask in the familiar and have something to play in the car or on the boombox at the barbecue or beach. Of course, as Genesis fans are completists by nature and the comp featured a new version of “The Carpet Crawlers” with Gabriel and Collins duetting, many hardcores were forced to cave in and buy it.
As of this writing the two bestselling Genesis albums on Apple Music are the aforementioned Turn It and the 3-disc Platinum Collection from 2004. The latter is arranged in a way that makes me bristle, as it begins with the ‘90s stuff and works backward…but it remains a good overview for the uninitiated (although it does contain my ex, the devil otherwise known as “Illegal Alien”). All bitchin’ aside though, these two collections do serve a purpose and are pretty focused content-wise i.e. easily digestible.
The other two collections exist solely to draw attention to bigger, more ballyhooed events thus feel a bit half-hearted. 2004’s R-Kive was released as a companion to the (just okay) BBC doc Genesis:Together and Apart and featured tracks from the band as well as a bunch of solo work. The hits are here, but the whole thing goes off the rails because of its idiosyncratic, unfamiliar to most, solo offerings (Gabriel’s “Signal To Noise”, Collins “Wake Up Call” etc.). 2021’s The Last Domino?, released to coincide with that same year’s tour is another collection built to appeal to the casual fan, especially those who prefer the latter day Gens, but isn’t remotely essential.
MATTHEW: I’d rank these in this reverse order: (4) Turn It On Again: The Hits is, as you say, an easy way to get tracks that are not on studio albums (like “Pigeons,” “Paperlate,” and that version of “The Carpet Crawlers”). But with dreck like “Illegal Alien” and “I Can’t Dance” scattered throughout, it’s not for anyone who likes the band enough to buy actual albums, especially a listener who prefers the pre-Invisible Touch records. (3) The Last Domino? is a better selection, but really for casual fans (e.g. who only own Invisible Touch and were dragged by a more serious fan to a 2021 concert and enjoyed it). (2) R-Kive is a bad title but a great idea—a 3-CD chronological sequence of 22 Genesis tracks with a selection of 15 solo numbers—but the selection is odd. That is inevitable, as such things are rather personal, and given that fun task we would all choose a different set of songs. Still, R-Kive can’t decide whether it is a hits collection or a deeper dive, and as a result is satisfactorily neither (I’d love a 6-CD version that traces the band/solo history in depth). (1) The selection on the 3-CD PlatinumCollection is not dramatically different from the other compilations, but it is slightly better and—most interestingly (or annoyingly, if you’re like Hope!)—is a reverse sequencing (from “No Son of Mine” back to “The Knife”). This is the only one I listen to with any regularity, and even then it usually just prompts me to play an actual album or two.
HOPE: The two Archive boxes are built to appeal to hardcores and completists. They are esoteric and honestly, a bit off-the-wall but feature a plethora of cool artifacts that make them worth owning. That said, I definitely prefer the Phil-centric Volume 2 over the Peter-centric Volume 1. Yes, here we go again. I’m sorry.
Archive Volume 1 is home to a live recording of the entire Lamb album, recorded in 1975 at LA’s Shrine Auditorium as well as some loose bits and pieces of live stuff from ‘73 and a disc of late ‘60s demos. If you are a Gabriel-era stan, then hell yes, it’s a party. As for me, I appreciate its value as a historical document but have never been into it and rarely listen to it (okay, I confess, I never do). I far prefer the company of its younger, cuter brother. Archive Volume 2 features selected tracks from the aforementioned EP’s, plus a few b-sides, live scraps and, most thrillingly, rarities like “It’s Yourself”, a gorgeously shimmery b-side that never made it to A Trick Of The Tail (ooh, seriously ooh), and fat stadium anthem “On The Shoreline”, a song that had it been included on We Can’t Dance would have improved it ten-fold (or at least five-fold). Archive Volume 2 is chock-a-block with intriguing oddballs and makes for a fun, bizarro and rewarding journey.
But the Archive collections were just a tiny prelude of what was to come.
From 2007 through 2009, there were five wonderfully comprehensive, multi-disc Genesis box sets released. To break it down in layman’s terms, one box was devoted to the Gabriel era albums (1970-1975), then there were two separate ones covering the more lengthy Collins-helmed and beyond era ( 1976-1982, 1983-1998), which were followed by slabs devoted to the live stuff (Live 1973–2007), and filmed output (The Movie Box 1981–2007). These robust little monsters were packaged in cube-shaped boxes equipped with little pull-up trap doors. Each had a tiny hardback book inside. Each was a different color, meaning they looked like an art project when seated next to one another on a shelf. They were cds and dvds, yes, but they were also toys for Genesis nerds. As for their deeper contents, care was taken. There are remastered versions of all the studio albums as well as remixed versions of the live releases plus extra discs of rarities and videos. Concise, attractive, remastered, recommended.
MATTHEW: I missed this boat—or rather, fleet of boats—having paid insufficient attention to them at the time, and to acquire them all now would cost four figures. But they are clearly compulsory for hardcore fans, due to the inclusion of goodies like demos, B-sides, and live material not on previous releases. The concept is very similar to the David Bowie “era” box sets, which are superb; I get the impression from your summary, Hope, that these rise to that standard. I doubt I’ll be able to resist any that come my way at a good price (to which you, dear reader, can no doubt relate)!
Solo Albums & Side Projects
MATTHEW: To borrow the title of a minor Mike + the Mechanics hit, everybody gets a second chance. And for current and former members of Genesis, that really means everybody.
HOPE: And to borrow the title of a Genesis song we both love, the result is many too many. When Matthew and I initially talked about doing this piece, we were unsure about how to broach the solo and side-project stuff because there was just so damn much of it. And so, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, we’ve decided to streamline this section. Instead of an exhaustive breakdown of every individual solo release, we’re just going to offer our own personal overviews of each band member’s solo discography
MATTHEW: We’ve already busted the myth of Gabriel’s exit as the great watershed in Genesis history. But here’s another kick at it: the first two (possibly three) Genesis albums after his departure are more prog and closer to Gabriel-era Genesis than Gabriel’s own solo albums are. Right off the bat, his first record is not prog at all; stylistically eclectic and recognizably Gabriel, but nonetheless a pop/rock album propelled by a catchy pop hit single (“Solsbury Hill”). Of his first four albums (all infamously named Peter Gabriel), my two favorites are that first one (aka Car, 1977) and the third (aka Melt, 1980); I’ve loved them from the start, and even today cannot connect in the same way to the second and fourth (aka Scratch, 1978, and Security, 1982). His best-known and biggest selling album, So (1986), deserves its success; it’s a brilliant and original pop album. Us (1992) is also excellent but less accessible. After that, Gabriel’s soundtrack albums work better than his studio projects. In sum, a fascinating catalog that always remains true to Gabriel’s creative vision (whatever that may be!).
HOPE: I feel guilty. Because while I recognize that the string of self-titled-nicknamed solo albums Gabriel released from 1977-1982 are adventurous and eccentric pieces of pop music art, I don’t really like the songs…in their original studio form. As nonsensical as it sounds, my favorite Gabriel album, the one I’ve listened to most in my life, is 1983’s Plays Live which features highlights of assorted shows from the tour that had taken place the previous year. From the melancholy pulse of “No Self Control”, to the audience participation in “On The Air”, the live versions have an emotional fire emanating from them that I just don’t feel in the studio versions. Yes, I know it’s weird. And to alienate everyone even further, I also don’t care for So (1986). It is a brilliant and original pop album Matthew, but with the exception of epic opener “Red Rain”, So’s overexposure has killed any of the charm it once held for me. Yes, I’m even tired of “Don’t Give Up”, and Kate Bush is my lord and savior, so there you go. I may be Satan.
The post ‘80s Gabriel catalog is a bit hit and miss and more about individual tracks than albums for me (“Digging In The Dirt” from 1992’s Us is still a nasty, brilliant blowtorch of a song, “My Head Sounds Like That” from 2002’s Up is also hypnotically, brutally beautiful). And though they aren’t on the daily hit parade, the Gabriel helmed soundtracks for Birdy (1985) and Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ (1989) are stunners, built for contemplative solo listening sessions and offering perfect musical accompaniment for your most unhinged and mystical daydreams. Lastly, I need to shout out the Shaking The Tree (1990) hits compilation because it features an exquisitely beautiful re-recorded piano version of “Here Comes The Flood” that mere words cannot possibly do justice to.
HOPE: Phil Collins’ first three solo albums, Face Value (1981), Hello I Must Be Going (1982) and No Jacket Required (1985) are by far his finest. While Phil’s eccentricities and his sonic ties to Genesis are audibly present on this initial triumvirate of LPs, so too are his sweet, soul inclinations (horns, Motown flavors, verse-chorus-verse). Alas, after this, it was straight off the cliff. It’s weird to call something “excessively commercial” these days (that concept has become as obsolete as “selling out” has), but I can’t think of a more accurate description of what a Collins album sounded like from 1989 on through the 2000s. After those first three records, Phil stopped making wonderfully weird pop-prog-lite music and instead dove headlong into the limo and headed straight to the stadium. There would be no more songs about disturbing eavesdroppers like “Thru These Walls” or embraceable bits of rustic cosplay like “The Roof Is Leaking”. From now on it was a lot of overblown schmaltz (looking at you ”I Wish It Would Rain Down”, also sorry Matthew, I know you love that one!) and faceless synthetic fodder (“Both Sides of the Story”). 1996’s Dance into the Light with its horrific cruise ship party vibe is the least tolerable. I can’t really align Phil’s highly successful forays into kids soundtracks to Tarzan (1999) and Brother Bear (2003) with his standard solo excursions but acknowledge they do possess some nice moments.
I hate being one of those people who characterize an artist’s early stuff as being markedly better than their later stuff as I know what a nerdy cliche it is. But in this case, I think it’s true. Still, holy hell, Face Value, what a treasure.
P.S. One last thing! 1981’s multi-artist Amnesty International sponsored live recording, the Secret Policeman’s Other Ball features proto-unplugged versions of “In The Air Tonight” and “The Roof Is Leaking”…and they are both wondrous.
MATTHEW: Off the cliff? Yes! Unlike Gabriel, the Collins story is more typical of a solo career: a stunning debut album, destined to be a classic that he can never match (I’d even rank Face Value as a notch ahead of So, as the best album by a Genesis member); followed by steadily diminishing returns. That said, not everyone will agree on the shape of that downward curve or on when it reached the cliff edge. For me, the third album, his most commercially successful (No Jacket Required, 1985), smacks a tad too much of the same mid-80s blockbuster sheen that mars Invisible Touch. I prefer the second (Hello, I Must Be Going!, 1982) and fourth (…But Seriously, 1989; the combination of Collins’ vocals, Eric Clapton’s guitar, and the gospel choir on smash hit “I Wish It Would Rain Down” is pure bliss). The fifth, Both Sides (1993) is the last album before the cliff drop, and it’s on the edge (at worst, it is pleasant; at best, it’s his most personal record—forgive the cliché—since Face Value, albeit far from as good). After that …the cartoon soundtracks work better than the remaining studio albums. ‘Nuff said.
HOPE: Lastly, though I genuinely tried, I find the albums Phil recorded with Brand X, the jazz-fusion group he was briefly a part of in the late ‘70s, to be a bit too wanky and impenetrable. I know that’s kind of the point, but yeah, if the glorious Phil wasn’t able to spark the growth of a fusion-appreciation gene in me, I’m pretty sure no one ever will
Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks & Steve Hackett
HOPE: Like most fans, after I’d scooped up all the Genesis, Collins, and Gabriel albums, I began exploring the rest of the gang’s solo albums. While as a whole they are more of a mixed bag, there are some worthy treasures to be found if you are up for a bit of digging. Mike Rutherford’s 1980 debut solo album was named for and inspired by an obscure, grim sci-fi 1965 novel by Peter Currell Brown called Smallcreep’s Day (I did read it and I did not like it). The blurb on the fabulous Burning Shed label website calls this album “an unexpected traditional Prog masterpiece.” It is not a masterpiece (!) but I will acknowledge there are components within it that are pretty exquisite. The nearly 25-minute (!) suite that occupies the whole of side one has three “mini” songs that are amongst my most-played of the entire Genesis solo album catalog; the tuneful synth-washed instrumentals “After Hours”, “Smallcreep Alone” and twinkly ballad “Between the Tick & the Tock”. Rutherford delegates the album’s vocal responsibilities to singer Noel McCalla because, well, Mike can’t sing too good. “Overnight Job” and “Time And Time Again” are also damn fine prog-pop songs (both have an appealing Alan Parsons Project flavor). Anyway, if you like Duke, there’s a good chance you’ll dig some Smallcreep’s. Despite his aforementioned limitations, Rutherford bravely takes on the role of lead vocalist on solo album number two, Acting Very Strange (1982). While his scratchy wail is an, ahem, acquired taste and the songs don’t come near his best work, it is home to fun ‘n’ manic, Pete Townshend-esque banger “Halfway There.”
I don’t hate Mike & The Mechanics and actually find a few of their songs to be quite handsome (ballads “Taken In” and “If I Were You”, synth-pop hit “Silent Running” specifically). But then, that’s the thing; at their core, they were a singles band, like ABBA or yes, Queen (albeit a less fun and glamorous one). With that in mind, I can’t whole-heartedly recommend one of the 9 (!) studio albums, but I do encourage a nice cherry-picking session for the curious. There are enough cool tracks to assemble a pretty marvelous M&M masterpiece mixtape.
Steve Hackett is extraordinarily prolific and as of this writing has released close to 30 solo albums, the contents of which are all over the map ( prog-pop, blues, classical, endless mountains of live performances). He also dipped into the supergroup thing and formed GTR in partnership with Yes’s Steve Howe in 1986 ( their sole album went gold in the U.S). 1977’s Please Don’t Touch is my favorite Hackett solo album by miles. Richie Havens provides vocals on two songs and they are absolutely sublime; “Icarus Ascending”, an epic prog-pop wonder, and “How Can I”, a super lovely Beatle-esque acoustic ballad. And gotta mention soul diva Randy Crawford’s star-turn on the lustrous ballad “Hoping Love Will Last” which is right up there with Richie’s contributions.
Like Collins and Rutherford before him, Tony Banks’s debut solo album A Curious Feeling (1979) is his finest. It’s a consistently solid, mostly filler-free effort and features some fine vocalizing from late singer Kim Beacon (In terms of delegation, Tony couldn’t have made a better or more canny choice). I especially love dramatic, spacy instrumental “From The Undertow,” wistful wonder “Lucky Me,” progged-up ballad “In The Dark,” and handsomely-hooky “For A While” (a should’ve-been Genesis song if there ever was one).
About Anthony Phillips, Genesis founding member/ lead guitarist from 1967-70: I have never really dug into the Phillips solo catalog thus am not qualified to comment on it. I don’t know, I’m just not as into the early Genesis sound of which Phillips was a prime architect and so haven’t felt super motivated to explore. But hey, if anyone wants to recommend anything in particular, I’m open to having a go!
MATTHEW: I hear you, Hope. As a fan of Genesis, as well as solo Gabriel and Collins, over the decades I have periodically dipped into albums by the other band members. There I have found some great tracks—from hit singles to FM favorites to hidden gems. After all, Banks, Rutherford, and Hackett are incredibly talented and skilled musicians. If pushed, I’d say that the best Hackett albums are his first three (1975-79), the best Banks album is his first (A Curious Feeling, 1979), and the best Rutherford album is Mike + the Mechanics (1985). But with respect to all three of these musicians, I never connected with whole albums or became a genuine fan. Still, I recognize that their catalogs are deep and worth exploring; in fact, I recently discovered the excellent Hackett live album Selling England By the Pound and Spectral Mornings: Live at Hammersmith (2020). I love that the Gen/ex-Gen artists all have fervent followers, and I’m always happy to listen to tracks or albums suggested by fans. Enthusiasm for music should be shared (not contested)!
HOPE: This was a hard piece to write. Not only because of how vast the Genesis discography is, but because, like a lot of you, I’d lived with their music for so damn long that it was hard to actually explain what was so great about it. How do you accurately describe albums and songs you’ve listened to for decades, hundreds, maybe even, okay, thousands of times? Why do you like chocolate? What’s so great about the ocean?
Going up to my room as a young one, and listening to a newly acquired Genesis album was always an ecstatic experience for me (hello my fellow nerds and Matthew!). I vividly remember the first time I placed Abacab on the turntable and that sensation of not knowing what to expect or where it was going to go. And isn’t that the best feeling? It’s also one of the greatest things about Genesis, that even as they grew in popularity, they never stopped surprising, and remained consistently, wonderfully weird until the very end. For every song about heartache, there was one about the pigeon population…or an obsession with a sex worker…or a hermitted creature that hides in the woods.
We’ve had years to get used to Genesis not making new albums. We all sensed the finality at a certain point. But until Phil’s announcement that the band’s London show in March of 2022 was to be their last, it didn’t really hit home that Genesis were over and done for a lot of people, us included. But I have no complaints, just endless love forever.
And hey, Invisible Touch tee-shirt guy, I’m sorry for judging so harshly; I know in my heart that you are my brother.
MATTHEW: These journeys we make through the deep catalogs of bands like Genesis are really a way to ponder the long and winding road of our own lives (you once said something to that effect, Hope, somewhere here on Picking Up Rocks). But whereas past moments in our lives are just that—passed—the music that accompanied them remains alive, affecting us in different ways as we revisit, relisten, and reflect. The richer that catalog, the more we gain from that process of exploration. And the catalog of Genesis albums, combined with the solo albums of past and present members, is extraordinarily rich. It is a stunning treasure chest. Whether you know it well (and know more about it than we do, as I’m sure many of you do; hello Nigel from Surrey!), or whether you’ve read this far out of mere curiosity (hello woman who thinks “In the Air Tonight” is a Genesis song!), I urge you to lift the lid, climb in, and be dazzled.
Our Top 5 Genesis Albums (in chronological order)!
HOPE: Selling England By The Pound; A Trick of the Tail; And Then There Were Three; Duke; Abacab
MATTHEW: Selling England By The Pound; A Trick of the Tail; Wind & Wuthering; And Then There Were Three; Duke (some days Genesis beats out And Then There Were Three)
Our Top 10 Genesis Songs (in chronological order)!
HOPE: “Ripples”; “Snowbound”; “Say It’s Alright Joe”; “Misunderstanding”; “Turn It On Again”; “Pigeons”; “Keep It Dark”; “Like It Or Not”; “You Might Recall”; “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”
MATTHEW: “The Musical Box”; “The Carpet Crawlers”; “Firth of Fifth”; “Ripples”; “Afterglow”; “Blood on the Rooftops”; “Snowbound”; “Duchess”; “Mama”; “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”
Our Top 5 Solo Songs (in chronological order)!
HOPE: Hackett, “Icarus Ascending”; Mike Rutherford “Between the Tick & the Tock”; Phil Collins, “I’m Not Moving” and “In The Air Tonight” (live version from 1981’s Secret Policeman’s Other Ball); Gabriel“Here Comes the Flood” (1990 version)
MATTHEW: Gabriel, “Here Comes the Flood” (1977 and 1990 versions); Collins, “In the Air Tonight” and “If Leaving Me Is Easy”; Gabriel, “Sledgehammer “; Collins, “I Wish It Would Rain Down.”
We thank Genesis for absolutely all of it ❤️
And thanks to you reader friends, shine on 🌟