Friday, November 7, 2008

Gabriel's Angels

It has been hard times. A long, troubled, bleak time. A time of confusion. A time of drought, a time of want. But now is the time for change. Now is the time of enlightenment. A time of adventures, a time of discovery. For, finally... the third and final installment in the Genesis reissue series is here.

At last, Genesis have seen fit to give the world what it wants - a sexy box set covering its golden period with Peter Gabriel and Charisma records (1970-1975). Crammed with audio and video goodies and inevitable deluxe packaging, this completely remixed/remastered set has given Genesis fans like me a reason to live of late.

PART ONE The enigma of the Lamb

To kick off, I want to talk about my favourite (sic) Genesis LP. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the multi-hued sheep of the Genesis family, i.e. something of an oddity. A Labyrinthine tale told through a murky, psychedelic haze, some clever people say The Lamb is the Genesis masterpiece, and the pundits may be correct on this one. It is also starkly different from every other Genesis release; gone is the very English whimsy of the early albums, the Victoriana, the fairy tale macabre, the sweetness. Like much of the Gabriel-era Genesis stuff, these are surrealist tales, but this time they are fed through a vile, twisted metropolis instead of the English countryside. The Lamb is a striking mélange, full of forboding, street talk, the supernatural and the grotesque, and even, gasp...short hair. Yes! The reverse mohawk, giant flower and foxhead of yesteryear have, by the time the Lamb hit Broadway, morphed into a shorn Puerto Rican street tough with cabalistic tendencies.

As a story (like most concept albums), things get pretty baffling by the 4th or 5th track, but the steady flow of provocative ideas engages and enthralls throughout. The Homeric journey of the protagonist Rael (think: Gab-Rael) is simply the method actor frontman's own cod-schizophrenia played out in a nightmarish Gotham wonderland. Only contemporary Bowie in his ambitious Diamond Dogs period can hold a candle to Gabriel in his role of a lifetime.

There are no weak moments on this LP. The Lamb is a double album of great pop songs ("Counting Out Time," "It," "Lilywhite Lilith"), prog epics ("The Cage," "Colony of Slippermen"), gorgeous ballads ("The Lamia," "Carpet Crawlers") and sublime slices of classic rock ("Back in NYC," "Chamber of 32 Doors," "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway"). There are also several tracks of great experimental music; quasi-musique concrete and free jamming that still sounds superb. Although he doesn't play on the LP, Brian Eno is credited for assisting with effects and general mood. This is most evident on instrumental tracks like "The Waiting Room" and "Hairless Heart." All in all, The Lamb ought to appeal to any fan of quirky 70s rock.

Genesis deserve to be rated among the finest art-rock acts of the 70s, y'know- Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, Bowie, The Pistols. As a musical unit, they were endlessly melodic and creative, and with Phil Collins on board, Genesis were a major powerhouse. The kick drum on this record is a rival to Zep IV as best ever. For Phil, believe it or not, is Prog's greatest drummer. You heard me, Mr. Bruford.

The Lamb is enigmatic not only because of the strangeness of the recording, but also because of the filmic images that accompany it. The cover (a Hipgnosis gem), liner notes, costumes and stage show all have an otherworldly vibe, and because the original tour was never filmed (do I need to say that again?), we can only imagine the power of the original, and so the enigma grows. Listen on headphones, and gaze at 1974 tour photographs and you too will feel a sense of wonder.

With the release of this tremendous box the world ought to realize how cool Genesis were.

- Ben Sumner

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