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Genesis - Abacab CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.61 | 1351 ratings

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4 stars Even though I consider 'Duke' the beginning of Genesis' decline, 'Abacab' is the bright spike of hope in their slow downhill slide. This is clearly a minority view. To be sure, there were radical alterations made on this album. It favors a brighter sound than before, one full of open spaces and subtle playing. There's a maxim I've heard quoted before, unfortunately I can't recall who said it first, but it goes "True artists always change". And the members of Genesis are true artists. Whether or not you enjoy the changes rests on your tastes and musical values. But to judge 'Abacab' by 'Foxtrot' standards is unfair. Did you look and feel the same at age 25 as you did at 16?

Opener "Abacab" has been called many things; I know I'm in the minority when I say it's one of the band's best-ever songs. There might be a kind of soul vibe to it, but I've always heard a sinister element lurking underneath its 7 minutes. Tony Banks plays less on this than usual, which ends up giving it more. His dominating accents in the final half play on the song's lurching pulse. Another remarkable thing about this song is Phil Collins' vocals, which are more confident and assertive than anything he'd done before. Whether that's a result of his happiness with the material, or the success of his first solo album, or whatever, it's nice to hear him at the top of his vocal form on this and many of 'Abacab''s other songs.

The hypnotic trance of "Abacab" abruptly shifts gears once the first notes of "No Reply At All" kick in. This should be a song to hate: blaring horns (yuck) and a happy pop bounce (double-yuck) are its foundation, but there's something clever about it. It features excellent bass work from Mike Rutherford which I find infectious, and the rhythms laid down by Collins are a joy to hone in on.

Third track "Me And Sarah Jane" is an interesting pastiche of moods, from the pastoral opening, which subtly shifts to a more pop/jazz melodic sequence, into the opening-up at 1:50, which is somewhere between Rush's experiments with reggae and a kind of ragtime rhythm. After this we get a more familiar Genesis, circa 'Wind And Wuthering' perhaps, with some beautiful keyboard and vocal layers. Gorgeous, one of the most intriguing songs from their '80s era.

"Keep It Dark" is one that bears no real resemblance to the Genesis of old, but its machine-like strut maintains the quirkiness and eccentricity of some of their Gabriel-era material. It rest on a bass-driven bounce that weaves in and out of Banks' repetitive keyboard line, but I've always found the moment when Phil breaks into "I wish that I could really tell you." as one of the best moments on the album. A fantastic moment in a pleasant but otherwise average song.

"Dodo/Lurker": What's the problem with this one? Nothing! It's the kind of approach I wish the band would have toyed with more, rather than the crappy pop and sugary ballads that would infect forthcoming albums. This 7-and-a-half minute song successfully reinvents the Genesis epic, moving between jazz-infected rhythms, emotionally moving vocals, weird and wonderful keyboard sounds, dark funk, and an overall excitement where you never know what's around the next corner. Great movement between dark depths and bright highs. Best song on the album (along with the title track).

"Who Dunnit?" is one of the most reviled songs of the entire Genesis catalog. And why not? It's not good. It's annoying. It's almost knowingly stupid. But it does see the boys cutting loose with some really strange rhythms, and that's a reason to give it a listen or two. The part of me that enjoys oddity and eccentricity will always give it a few points. Short enough to sit through before the next song briefly redeems the album.

I don't know if "Man On The Corner" can be considered a ballad, and it doesn't really matter. Its melancholy tale of loneliness is haunting, featuring another remarkably affective vocal performance from Phil. Immensely beautiful in an almost "Heathaze" kind of way. Maybe I savor it more than I should, because this is the end of the album as far as I'm concerned.

The final two tracks, "Like It Or Not" and "Another Record", are bland and forgettable, filler tracks that pad the end of the album. I can't find any redeeming qualities in these songs. A lousy way to end an otherwise remarkable album.

For an album often accused as a "sell out", Genesis certainly took a lot of chances and managed one of the widest varieties of songcraft on any of their albums. I think it (mostly) succeeds, but was never capitalized upon with future recordings. As much as I like it, I always wished they would've substituted the final two duds with "Submarine" (the answer to the "Dodo/Lurker" riddle) and "Naminanu". A lot of songs were recorded for the 'Abacab' sessions, and these are left-field ("Naminanu") and soundtrack-ish ("Submarine"), which would've widened the 'Abacab' scope considerably. Had that actually happened, you would fear the high marks I'd give this album! In the same way Rush's 'Signals' and Voivod's 'Angel Rat' are more respected now than when they were released, I hope someday the Genesis fanbase will listen to 'Abacab' with less prejudiced ears.for what it is, and not what they want it to be.

P.S. In my 'Duke' review, I wondered if cover art could get any uglier. The 'Abacab' cover answers that with a resounding "Yes".

slipperman | 4/5 |


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