Music » Music Lead

Artsy and Intellectual

Time to delve into the freaky world of pre-Duke Genesis.

Can you spot Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins?
  • Can you spot Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins?
"I've been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke," explains investment banker and self-proclaimed serial-killer Patrick Bateman in the cult flick American Psycho. "Before that, I really didn't understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual."

Bateman is right: No group in rock history has undergone a more radical transformation. Pre-Duke Genesis is a totally different beast from the '80s hit factory that produced "Land of Confusion" and "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight." Long before the trio of Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford gave us Invisible Touch, an "epic meditation on intangibility," according to Bateman, Genesis was a quintet led by lead singer and lyricist Peter Gabriel, who actually started the group back in 1967.

In the '70s, the group became one of progressive rock's most popular bands. Collins was its monster drummer, and Gabriel often dressed up like a flower and chirped on and on about elves, spaceships, and more elves. Weird shit, for sure -- especially when the band launched into one of its 30-minute jams.

On the eve of the band's September 29 concert at Quicken Loans Arena, Scene's most insane Genesis fanatics help us understand four of the group's most artsy and intellectual albums.

. . . And Then There Were Three, 1978
Genesis' rabid fan base consists of two warring factions: the cult of Gabriel, and Phil's fans. Those devoted to the band's Gabriel years (1967-'75) are usually serious record collectors and artsy prog-rockers; they blame Collins for turning Genesis into a pop commodity. But that's pure myth.

In 1978, Genesis was reeling both commercially and artistically. Having lost Gabriel, its frontman, in 1975, the band now had to deal with the defection of guitar-master Steve Hackett, a member since 1970. If Collins wanted the band to go pop, now was clearly the time. Instead, Genesis recorded . . . And Then There Were Three, a record loaded with proggy weirdness and fantastical imagery. "Scenes From a Night's Dream" even mentions goblins!

Except for the lovely "Follow You, Follow Me," this LP doesn't possess a single catchy chorus or conventional song structure. "Burning Rope," for example, is heavy on neck-snapping time changes and lengthy solos. . . . And Then There Were Three makes it perfectly clear that Collins wasn't a sellout. His only crime was that he had a better voice than Gabriel. There, I said it. -- Eddie Fleisher

Foxtrot, 1972
Foxtrot is the fave for many Gabriel-era fans (i.e., dorks). The Morse-code opener, "Watcher of the Skies," sets the rocking tone, even if Gabriel's lyrics are a mishmash of William Blake and Arthur C. Clarke (and he sings them that way). Early Genesis rarely kicks with this sort of space-rock power. Banks' wall of synths, Mellotrons, and Hammonds sounds beyond cool with good headphones. And say what you want, but singing along with Gabriel is always fun, especially when wearing a cape.

Genesis even gives the Bee Gees a run for their baroque-pop money with "Time Table" and Hackett's gorgeous acoustic workout, "Horizons." But Foxtrot is all about "Supper's Ready." It's a 22-minute odyssey into the Apocalypse and Second Coming, featuring roughly 50 parts, some comedy, and a classical watch-the-sunrise ending that blows away every other prog band. Hell, there's even a section when Gabriel, during the band's live shows, would put a geometric thing on his head.

Yes's super-involved records are good, but without drugs, the long songs can get awfully boring. "Supper's Ready," in contrast, keeps listeners interested the whole time, even when Genesis sings like the Chipmunks. -- Mike McGuirk

From Genesis to Revelation, 1969
Genesis' 1969 debut is the redheaded stepchild of the Gabriel years. The guys were still teenagers when they composed this precocious concept music.

If you love baroque pop, From Genesis to Revelation is a joy to soak up. It's a lush, openhearted paean informed by the Book of Revelation. Forging a psychedelic classicism reminiscent of the Moody Blues, producer Jonathan King added a heaping dose of strings, horns, and angelic choirs. Best of all, Gabriel's vocals are rich and melodic, without the flinty edge they'd develop in later years.

You can just smell the sativa as the album opens with the lavish piano-driven evangelism of "Where the Sour Turns to Sweet." Invoking both heaven and some fairy-tale gumdrop land, Gabriel croons, "Fill your mind with love . . . Leave your ugly selfish shell to melt in the glowing flames, drift away . . . to the land where the rainbow ends." For all intents and purposes, the album's nebulous concept concludes with side one's closer, "In the Wilderness," wherein Adam is cast out. But the freaky sounds keep a-coming. The second half includes a peculiarly hard-rocking ode to "The Conqueror," while the jangly "In Limbo" features a wonderfully warped guitar solo. -- Chris Parker

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, 1974
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the cornerstone achievement in the 30-year saga that is Genesis. It's the only record that truly captured the rich visual aesthetic of the band's mid-'70s stage show -- all the costumes, characters, props, and surreal backdrops.

Spotlighting Gabriel's theatrical grandeur and literary complexity, the expansive double album essentially follows the metamorphoses of Rael, a Puerto Rican swindler from Manhattan. Lamb, however, is more about music than lyrics. The guitars of Rutherford and Hackett wind through episodes of violence, anxiety, and resolution. Playing vital roles are Banks' keyboard wizardry and the experimental flourishes of guest-musician Brian Eno.

Hell, Lamb is as epic and majestic as any concept album from the golden age of progressive rock. But it also possesses a balance that most do not. Divided evenly between tight pop and sprawling instrumentals, this monster features Genesis' best on both fronts. In the end, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway sounds as impressive as it did three decades ago. -- Austin Powell

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