2 British Groups
But there's another side to the new English "Genius." Genesis has to rank in the top five groups in England. Their reputation began with "Trespass and ..Nursery Cryme." If anybody was wondering if Genesis was going to fulfill the promise of the first two albums, their doubts were put to rest by Foxtrot. When Genesis came out with Selling England by the Pound, as well as performing~ a concert at the Auditorium Theater, they only improved their reputation.
Concerning the group as whole, the style is unique yet epitomizes those traits of science fiction-horror-magic l mentioned earlier. With time, the original "straight" cosmic approach has been polished and modified till their music has adopted the elegant sleekness of lucite sculpture. Its still twenty first century, but in an urbane and self assured and aware manner. They know exactly what they're doing. Wit and irony are used in place of a sense of profundity while the music takes on the airiness of a view from the ninety fifth floor of some mega monolith of a skyscraper. Yet, they're saying many of the same things as Hawkwind. Both groups seem one as far as their attitude towards the creeping orderliness of Western civilisation, both groups seek to embody myths of man being something more then series of holes in a punch card. But where llawkwind seeks to transmit a sense of wonder, (;Genesis uses The techniques of ridicule and mockery. But this is ridicule used with real finesse.
First lets examine how this is communicated with the album. "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" sets the mood. The images oscillate between lyrically trite, and somewhat saccharine, images of honor and glory and images of intense mediocrity. The irony generated by the play of the promise with the reality is painful and perfect. Two musical themes are developed. One is the theme of wonder (an atonal yet melodic and vaguely medieval clarion call) and the other is a quick, brooding series of minor chords instilled with a sense of menace.
This pattern of schizophrenic mirror reflections is maintained throughout the: album. The two musical themes reoccur continuously throughout, tying the entire production in a single unified statement from a number of different views. We are continually treated to paradoxes and contradictions. Urban image alternates with country view, male alternates with female, humorous alternates with horrific, violent with bland. All of this almost Wagnerian structure is pulled off with such poetry and perfect timing that for the first two or three listens to the album, you don't even bother trying to analyse why they do what they do, you just lean back and enjoy the flow.
But what about the concert? The same attention and meticulous arrangement are apparent, but a somewhat different level, and with a very different intent. They don't forget to bogey! The show is a very effective synthesis of lock concert and theatre. The visual focus of this is the lead vocalist, Peter Gabriel. A number of people I know were turned off by a not too long ago appearance by Genesis on one of the late Friday night television rock concert programs. The image conveyed was of a rather Alice Cooperish freak show. I happily discovered that this was totally inaccurate. The costuming, makeup, and the rest are perfectly integrated into the act as a whole. Gabriel has obviously had some time training somewhere and moves with great force of expression. Essentially, his role is to illustrate the song through the use of mask and costume and to occasionally belie or intensify the effect (like some futuristic version of the early Greek theater or some science fiction masquerade and for many of the same reasons I suspect). The result is a dramatic illustration of the simple elegance of Beardesley drawing. Some of the force of the statement of the album was lost since rather than being a coherent whole, the concert was a selection of old popular works (such as Watchers of the Skies) as well as the newer creations. Then again, the album is something you can listen to over and over and gradually glean all the information encoded within as well as part of a total repertoire of albums. The concert is obviously a "give them something to remember" situation. Consequently, the restrained and careful music of the album is transformed into a really effective tool for knocking your senses over backward. A number of times I unsuspectingly peered down the tubes of one of the songs only to have my head blown off by a maxi-decibel blast of virtuosity. This is all to their credit as adaptable and intelligent musicians.
If the structure of the album reflects in the concert, then the needs of the concert are also reflected in some idiosyncracies in the album. For instance the instrumentals are long enough for Gabriel to change into and out of his various masks and costumes, and mid-way through the album is a highly melodic ballad sung by the drummer Phil Collins. True, it puts into even sharper relief the intricate construction of their music as whole but it also serves as an intermission of sorts to allow the band as well as the audience to get their breaths back and be ready to again impress and be impressed. A very nice move. '
There was some friction between the older work which seemed more oriented towards the visuals and the new material which was written with the idea of the needs of the album as a whole. One piece which seemed to share the best of both worlds and overcome this problem was Battle in Epping Forest. Not only was it pointed and amusing, the choreographed and mimed violence succeeded in being both ludicrous and frightening at the same time. A really superb piece which outdoes the scene in Clockwork Orange without any of the crudeness in effectiveness and art.
For the "big finale" they returned to their more stage oriented earlier material and not only electrified the audience with the grandeur, sweep, and timing of their sound, but in blinding the people in the forward rows and setting the stage on fire in what has to be one of the most absurd and memorable conclusions I have almost seen (the acrid smoke of burning electrical insulation was quite thick!)
Two groups, two totally different styles techniques, with almost opposite strengths and-weaknesses and yet, a single expression of the culture, and a promise that the pillars of the temple of civilisation are in for a bigger shaking up then they've yet seen.