(#468: 23 January 1993, 2 weeks)
Track listing: Old Medley (Dance On A Volcano/The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway/The Musical Box/Firth Of Fifth/I Know What I Like [In Your Wardrobe])/Driving The Last Spike/Domino (Part I – In The Glow Of The Night/Part II – The Last Domino)/Fading Lights/Home By The Sea-Second Home By The Sea/Drum Duet
This Sunday just past, Radio 4 Extra reran David Baddiel’s Desert Island Discs from May 2018. One of his musical choices was by Genesis, and it was not an obvious choice either – “Mad Man Moon” from 1975’s A Trick Of The Tail. He rhapsodised, with some practised embarrassment, about how much he loved Genesis as a boy in the mid-seventies. Now David Baddiel, give or take four months, is the same age as me, and while one might, with the smugness afforded by hindsight, observe that he should really have known better even then, I found that I still knew the song, chord change-by-chord change,word-by-word, and that wasn’t simply because Colin McDonald played it on Radio Clyde’s progressive rock show of the time, Son Of Baroque And Roll; it was remembering that, damn, despite my practised hipness, I actually did like and listen to them at the time, even (or especially) after Peter Gabriel had left the band to go solo (Fluff Freeman played a lot of Gabriel-era Genesis on his afternoon Saturday Rock Show on Radio 1; “Supper’s Ready” received regular outings and was quite the thing to experience on headphones while travelling on a Park’s of Hamilton coach to Blackpool).
My school pal Andrew Austin – hi, Andy, if you’re still out there – absolutely loved Genesis, and as a consequence I became very familiar with their 1977 double live album Seconds Out, which again I enjoyed more than I was perhaps supposed to do; then again, Phil Collins, Chester Thompson AND Bill Bruford, all on the drums? This is jazz, dummy!
But that was also the school which I attended during the second half of the seventies, access to which had been gained via a disguised eleven-plus examination which we were all given to sit at primary school. With abrupt, cold rationalism, we children of a highly impressionable age were ruthlessly divided into A, B and C streams, purely on the basis of our ability to, essentially, regurgitate information (as opposed to processing it). Along with this came an inbuilt, inherited snobbery. The A classes were tailored for those supposedly destined to run things. The B classes were for office or factory fodder. The C classes were perhaps beyond hope.
Such a situation necessarily dictated one’s social musical tastes. Genesis were deemed “intelligent” music – conservative with a small “c” and modestly exploratory rather than really radical – to which kids with brains listened (see also Supertramp and the Moody Blues; if you rocked, it would have been to Status Quo or Thin Lizzy). That punk rock? Why, it was trash for the thickoes in the B stream. This is how uncertain young people, still forming themselves as sentient human beings, get fucked up at far too early an age.
Punk, of course, did not abolish Genesis – quite the reverse – but the band’s appeal, I would speculate, lies in satisfying the needs of anxious young or middle-aged conservatives, averagely solvent but worried about too many (and mostly the wrong) things. By attaching themselves to the band’s music, they remain able to point to themselves as separate from the “masses,” that they are still a draw above what they benignly view as the common herd. This perspective was supported by the band’s incrementally increasing musical conservatism as they shrunk to a trio and prepared to enter the eighties.
There was, naturally, a Volume One of this souvenir of the band’s We Can’t Dance tour, and of course it was entitled The Shorts (all hits, none older than 1983, with an average running time of some five-and-a-half minutes); it was released in November 1992 and peaked at number three. The Longs followed, and while Phil Collins’ reluctance to engage in long prog rock workouts by this point is well-documented, the band presumably still felt that they owed it to their stalwart fans of old, who had stood by them in their duffel coats at soaking-wet festivals in the early seventies when the band had not two bob to rub together between them, etc., etc.
Even here, the only material predating 1983 (unless you count the tangential relationship which 1975’s “Ripples” enjoys with “Fading Lights”) is all bundled up in the opening “Old Medley,” which unsurprisingly provides most of the most satisfying and intriguing musical moments to be found here, even though performing the old songs without Gabriel or Steve Hackett seems to me to be missing a key point. As if to rub this in, the climactic “I Know What I Like” is punctuated by a number of quotes from their post-Gabriel hits, including “That’s All,” “Illegal Alien” and 1978’s “Follow You, Follow Me,” while Collins repeatedly proclaims to the audience that “it’s your show…your show.”
Elsewhere I struggle to glean the purpose. In fairness, the two setpieces from We Can’t Dance (“Driving The Last Spike” and “Fading Lights”) are handled in a rather livelier and more purposeful manner than the studio originals. I kept listening and didn’t fall asleep, though did conclude at the end of “Last Spike” that they sounded like a pretty decent Marillion tribute act. The trouble is, the storyline of “Last Spike” notwithstanding, there is little to hold onto with latterday long-form Genesis; “what are they trying to say or communicate?” is the primary question, and since Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks are not improvisers of any meaningful kind, there is little space for fluidity, interaction or development. Collins does vocally sound very angry in places – but, again, what is the cause of his anger?
Furthermore, I am unsure that separating the pop from the prog so squarely affords a realistic understanding of how Genesis as a band work on stage. One could be listening to two entirely different groups with little to connect them; a 2-CD set incorporating both, in concert order, would have been welcome. Nowhere on the sleeve does it even say where these performances were recorded – for the record, they were all performed at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover, Germany, in early July 1992 – and of touring guitarist Daryl Steurmer there is only a blurred photograph of his silhouette (and no actual credit), while Chester Thompson, who was largely there to do most of the actual drumming, thus allowing Collins to come to the front of the stage and sing, is given a similarly indistinct photograph and is only mentioned in passing as co-author of the record’s bizarre closer, “Drum Duet,” in which he and Collins amiably swap Sandy Nelson fills for six minutes or so (actually this sequence constitutes, by some distance, the album’s most interesting music). I’m not sure even David Baddiel would have been especially convinced by The Longs, and indeed the group in that form did not tour again; in March 1996, Collins bailed out of Genesis to concentrate on his solo career (with which latter Then Play Long is far from finished). A strange beginning to a rather strange 1993.