Thursday, February 4, 2021

My final word on Genesis: Completing my album rankings

1977: Rutherford, Collins, Banks, Hackett

One more piece before I put Genesis to bed.

I spent a bit of bandwidth discussing the band's Peter Gabriel years and ranking the albums from that period. But Gabriel's departure was not the end of my time with Genesis. I did remain a fan for a little while longer, through their first two post-Gabriel albums, with Phil Collins as the lead singer and continuing with guitarist Steve Hackett on board. I fell off the Genesis train, though, with their first post-Hackett album, when the band became the three-piece that took the 1980s pop charts by storm.

To me, the line of demarcation separating Genesis the artful proggers and Genesis the hitmakers was Hackett's departure, not Gabriel's. Hackett left in 1977 as the band was readying the excellent live album Seconds Out, which tied a nice little bow around the first period of the band's history. Collins, Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford decided then to carry on as a trio, adding guitarist Darryl Steurmer and drummer Chester Thompson as hired hands for the stage shows.

When they headed back to the studio, they streamlined a set of shorter and simpler songs in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. It worked. And Then There Were Three became their best-selling album to date and produced the first real hit single the band ever had in "Follow You Follow Me."

But they lost me completely with that album. I did not like it at all. And that was the end of my personal Genesis era. Of course I heard the hit singles for the next several years. You couldn't avoid them. They were everywhere. But I never listened to another Genesis album again -- that is, until a couple weeks ago.

After all these decades, and getting wrapped up in writing about the early years, I listened to those remaining Genesis albums, in chronological order, to see if I could appreciate them with hindsight. I had at best a mixed reaction. I did find a few things to like in the first handful of those 1980s Genesis albums. But getting through the last three albums was a real slog, bordering on torturous.

I decided to update my earlier Genesis album rankings with the later-period albums. As usual, I am not ranking albums on artisitic merit or critical or popular acceptance. Rather, these are ranked on how likely I would be to listen to a particular album on a random day when I am in a Genesis mood.

No. 15. And Then There Were Three (1978):
I have listened to this again a few times over the past few weeks, and I still dislike it as much as I did when it first appeared. All these songs are so dominated by Banks' keyboards that it's hard for me to distinguish one song from the next. It just seems to exist on an overbearing plane of nothingness. I doubt that I will ever listen to this album again. Life is too short for any more of this.

No. 14. Invisible Touch (1986):
This was Genesis' biggest-selling album. It produced the band's only U.S. No. 1 single (the title track). A few other big hits came off this album. And it's just a big hunk of slickly produced drum machines and synth programs that the kids in the 1980s loved and bought so much. It's really hard to take listening to this for the first time in 2021.

No. 13. We Can't Dance (1991):
Pretty much a cynical retread of Invisible Touch. I rate this a little higher than its predecessor because "I Can't Dance" is built around a rare Rutherford guitar lead. 

No. 12. Calling All Stations (1997):
The last Genesis album. Collins was gone to focus on his solo career, replaced by young Scottish singer Ray Wilson. It's not a good album. The fourth one that I doubt will ever cross my ears again. I rate it this high because it moves away from that awful '80s computerized production. Nothing here is recognizable as anything Genesis. It sounds to me like something that could have been done by some nondescript '90s alternative-rock band, like somebody trying to do Pearl Jam or something.  

No. 10. From Genesis to Revelation (1969): A Gabriel-era album, covered in my previous post.

No. 9. Duke (1980):
A nice rebound from And Then There Were Three, still headed toward pop-charting territory but with some return to artistry. The closing suite, "Duke's Travels"/"Duke's End," is pretty good, worthy of serious further listening. I heard a couple of highlights earlier in the album. This is more Hackett-era Genesis Lite than formulaic hit-making Genesis.

No. 8. Genesis (1983):
Still some traces of good Genesis -- Banks hasn't yet gone completely computerized. But it's heavy on the drum machines, which hurts it. I actually liked the first half of this album, especially the suite "Home by the Sea"/"Second Home by the Sea" that closes Side 1. But the Side 2 opener, "Illegal Alien" is an incredibly offensive attempt at xenophobic humor. And nothing the rest of the way is good enough to erase that shit.

No. 7. Wind & Wuthering (1976):
The last of the Hackett albums. A couple of power ballads, "Your Own Special Way" and "Afterglow," are dynamite songs because Collins sings the hell out of them. The closing suite, "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers"/"In That Quiet Earth"/"Afterglow," ranks among the best work Genesis ever did. The album does include too much filler, limiting the appeal. 

No. 6. Abacab (1981):
Genesis has gone all-in with the drum machines and synth programs by now, but they still show enough personality to make this a consistenly enjoyable listen. The title track is catchy as hell. "No Reply at All" features Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section to good effect. And "Man on the Corner" is, essentially, an excellent Collins solo track. There's nothing great here, but it is addictively listenable throughout. 

No. 5. Nursery Cryme (1971): A Gabriel-era album.

No. 4. A Trick of the Tail (1976):
The first post-Gabriel album. I remember approaching this one with a bit of trepidation for obvious reasons. But I was as surprised as anyone by how solid this one was. The band auditioned a lot of singers while working up this material, couldn't find anyone they were happy with and called on a reluctant Collins to sing so they could get the instrumental tracks in the can. They knew their drummer -- who didn't want to not be a drummer -- could handle the ballads if need be. But when he nailed the rocker "Squonk," his bandmates knew Collins was their guy and prevailed on him to take the job. This album doesn't miss a beat in transition. A Trick of the Tail wouldn't be a significantly different album with Gabriel singing. Gabriel said several years later that people would congratulate him on this album not knowing that he had left. The closing track -- the instrumental "Los Endos," a mashup of melodies from the previous seven tracks -- is itself worth the price of admission.

The Top 3 I've already told you about:

No. 3. Selling England by the Pound (1973).

No. 2. Foxtrot (1972).

No. 1. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974).

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