This is undoubtedly the best Genesis album, despite strong competition from Selling England By The Pound. It also ranks (imho) amongst the best ever prog rock records. It’s just really bloody good, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that Gabriel left the band to go solo during the album tour, since the group in that makeup had reached its pinnacle with this. Genesis’s subsequent reinvention and re-reinvention as band membership changed in the years that followed is what’s kept them going and pushed them to do things differently. No one could reinvent this wheel.
This is Genesis’s sixth studio album and their only proper concept album. It’s a double with fantastic gatefold artwork from Hipgnosis and an extraordinary range of music, clocking in at nearly 100 minutes. The concept revolves around the picaresque tale of a Puerto Rican hustler called Rael who is trying to make his way in New York. He moves from Broadway to a factory to a chamber, has sex, hooks up with the mythological Lamia, has sex with them, which turns him into one of them, requiring castration in order to become human again, finds his brother John, who ends up nearly drowning, before Rael jumps into the rapids to save him, only to find he’s just saved himself, and he becomes one with the universe. Yep, doesn’t make a lot of sense does it, but hey it’s prog rock, you don’t need to take these things literally.
While Gabriel was locked away in a separate room writing his lyrics and grappling with his surreal story, most of the music was created by the rest of the band largely from extended jams. The fact that despite growing ‘creative differences’ they managed to produce such a stunning and coherent piece of work is testimony to their excellent musicianship.
There are some fantastic individual songs on here: from the scene-setting fanfare of the title track, to the delicate Cuckoo Cocoon, and Back in NYC where Gabriel lets rip with a harder aggressive singing style than we’d been used to. One that is deployed to great effect on his early solo albums. (And also covered well by Jeff Buckley). Some of my personal favourites are: In The Cage (love the line: ‘I got sunshine in my stomach like I just rocked my baby to sleep’), the beautiful Carpet Crawlers, the witty sexual farce of Counting Out Time and the philosophical The Chamber of 32 Doors. But don’t just listen to the ‘songs’ as if they were singles; this is not a singles album, and Genesis (in the Gabriel era) were not a singles band. The instrumental tracks, mainly on the second disc are fantastic pieces of music-making, both evocative and pretty innovative for 1974. Brian Eno even pops up on The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging to provide what’s credited as ‘Enossification’
This is the third Genesis album the randometer has turned up, you’d think my record collection was stock full of them. It’s not. As a band they represent only 0.8% of my collection, 1.4% with solo Gabriel included. My vinyl copy is an original release, which I’ve had since a teenager, played to death but kept in pristine condition. ‘Yes it’s only knock and knowall, but I like it like it…’
Best Bits: In The Cage. Or maybe Carpet Crawlers, or it could be The Chamber of 32 Doors…
Genre: Prog Gods
Like This, Try This: Jeff Buckley ripping Back in NYC to shreds. But in a good way.