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Genesis - Foxtrot CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.60 | 3331 ratings

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4 stars There are some albums that simply defy belief. When you listen to them, you are forced to wonder how anyone could sit down and write something that good. Take, for example, Thick as a Brick. In less than 20 days, Ian Anderson produced a staple of progressive rock. Or take Fragile and Close to the Edge. How could a band release a masterpiece early in the year, and then come back, by the end of the year, with one of the best songs ever recorded on their next album. Foxtrot falls in this category. It is Genesis's defining moment, and for good reason. Every note here is impeccably place, the lyrics are incredible, and it blends wit and humor with amazing power effortlessly, even within one song.

Before I get too deep into this album, let me give you a brief history of how the band got here. As you have probably read by now, Genesis released From Genesis To Revelation in 1969, which I have not heard, but which I've read was a disjointed effort that went essentially nowhere. Well, things changed entirely within the next year with the release of Trespass, which featured wonderful progressive rock pieces and of course, the concert staple The Knife. In 1971, Genesis released their first masterpiece (of two), Nursery Cryme. The album alternated between longer songs (The Musical Box, The Return of the Giant Hogweed, and The Fountain of Salmacis) and shorter songs (For Absent Friends, Seven Stones, Harold the Barrel, Harlequin). The Musical Box was and still is a defining song of progressive rock, building up from quiet symphonic rock to - count them - three, yes three, climaxes, each one incredible. So then comes along 1972, one of the greatest years prog would know, featuring Thick as a Brick, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Darwin!, Storia Di Un Minuto, Per Un Amico, Octopus, Argus, Trilogy, Uomo Di Pezza, Grave New World, and many, many more. But what must not be forgotten here is Foxtrot, Genesis's contribution to progressive rock in 1972.

On Foxtrot, there is a level of consistency not found on the Genesis albums surrounding it. Both Nursery Cryme and Selling England By the Pound featured Collins sung numbers, which, in Nursery Cryme's case, was unimpressive, and, on Selling England by the Pound, downright embarrassing. On Foxtrot, however, Gabriel takes all the vocals, which is an improvement on a scale that is simply hard to express in words. Suffice it to say that he is more dynamic a vocalist, more skilled a vocalist, and he wrote the lyrics, and so is better able to convey them with the proper emotions at the proper times, which adds to the effect of the songs.

Musically, this is one of the best sounding albums released at any time in any genre. It is straight symphonic progressive rock, which is, for me, the best kind (whether Italian or normal symphonic progressive rock) of music. It is complex without sounding complex for complexity's sake (a la Gentle Giant). It is at times witty, but it never reaches a point where you cannot take it seriously. It makes you feel, it evokes images in your mind. In short, it does everything progressive rock is supposed to do for you.

The album opens with the extended intro of Watcher of the Skies. The first two minutes of the song are devoted to this intro, which slowly builds in speed, bass and organ interplaying perfectly until the excellent vocals come in, giving life both to the song and to Gabriel's excellent lyrics. The lyrics tell of an extra-terrestrial (ET) being that comes to the earth, finding only lizards and other such animals, as the human race has destroyed itself. It is in 6/4 time, giving it a very nice feel. The keyboard and bass carry this track (and Gabriel's wonderful voice). It is unfortunate, though, that many people forget about every other track except for Supper's Ready off of this album, as, while Watcher of the Skies may be great, an excellent intro to the album, every track that comes later on the album (Horizon's doesn't count for reasons I'll explain later) is better. Which says a lot about those later tracks. On that note, I will move on to the second track on the album, Time Table.

Time Table is one of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear. The piano intro really gets to me (in a good way. no, in an indescribably excellent way). Then the lyrics/vocals start to come in, and they're somehow even better than the great intro. This song talks about an antique table that has survived the course of human history. While kings and queens come into power, then fall from power, this table remains unchanged. And when the kings and queens die off, leaving "tarnished silver" to lie "discarded upon the floor" in their wake, still the table remains. The way Gabriel uses a simple table to model human history is a feat of poetry that simply baffles me with its brilliance every time I listen to this song. His use of irony is also a strong point, as he says, "and the weak must die, according to nature's law, as old as they," immediately after he finishes talking about the demise of the human race. The strong have fallen, while it is the weak, the "rats" being Gabriel's specific example, that have survived the test of time. And then there's the chorus. The chorus of this song is, and this is coming from a person who hates choruses with a passion, one of the most incredibly intelligent lyrical works I've ever heard, especially the second bit of it, the "why, why, do we suffer each race to believe that no race has been grander." The implied connotations of this line is that of great civilizations, and how each one feels that it is the best history has produced. It is this sort of arrogance, Gabriel implies, that leads to the destruction he describes. Everything about this track oozes perfection, and while it may not be particularly progressive (though it is symphonic), it stands as one of the greatest short songs to have ever been written.

In stark contrast to Time Table is the stage-play Get 'Em Out By Friday, in which Gabriel plays all the parts, from the landlord to the worried woman to everyone in between. It is a social commentary on both Big Brother and the hypocrisy of CEOs and their capitalistic selves. The basic plot of the story is that several tenants are forced out of their homes by two members of a company known as Styx enterprises, which wants to force all humans to be smaller so that more people can fit into one building, potentially doubling their profits. This is the Big Brother aspect of the song. At the very end of the song, however, a "saint" with some shady connections to Styx Enterprises exploits the weakened state of these tenants who have just been forced out of their homes, asking them to invest in the Church so that they can go to Heaven. Everything, even the holiest, is subject to the laws of capitalism, which Gabriel sums up perfectly in the following line, "I've always said that cash cash cash can do anything well." Musically, it alternates between faster parts and slower parts, the slower parts generally featuring excellent flute work from Gabriel, and the fast parts featuring lyrics, which are, of course, excellent. It's often bombastic, but that's not at all bad. If your music holds up, it's okay to be bombastic, and Genesis's music here holds up in every respect. This is the third amazing song out of three so far, a rollicking good start for an album that somehow only manages to get better.

I like to think that this album has two 20-minute epics on it. There is, of course, Supper's Ready. And then there's also Can-Utility and the Coastliners, a five-minute track with enough tempo changes to be a 20-minute, full-blown prog rock epic. Lyrically, it tells the tale of King Canute (from which I am sure Can-Utility derives) who orders the sea to retreat in order to impress his followers (the coastliners). Rather than the sea retreating, however, a storm comes, which causes a flood that "drowns" his throne, killing him, rather than glorifying him. Musically, it starts softly for a short while, a subtle beauty in simplicity. Then, with the lyrics "far from the north," the song adds a level of complexity with some especially symphonic touches added, creating a perfect feel for what the music is conveying. Soon after, yet another layer is added, and this layer alone builds up beautifully to become an incredibly beautiful instrumental symphonic passage. The lyrics "but he forced a smile" bring this layer to a head, giving meaning to the name progressive rock. Tony Banks' keyboards come in marvelously to create a very nice semi-solo, which leads into a beautifully sung vocal portion, followed immediately by an aggressively sung portion, and then a brief closing section (not more than five seconds), and it's over. As far as I am concerned, Can-Utility and the Coastliners is quite simply the best track there is under 10 minutes in length, a truly stellar song that has no rivals.

Next up is Horizon's, an acoustic guitar number that is quite beautiful, and mostly serves as the introduction to Supper's Ready. Now, Supper's Ready is widely considered to be Genesis's defining song, and for good reason. This song perfectly blends wit and seriousness, along with one of the most powerful (emotionally) endings there is. It has a little bit of everything without a single boring moment, a single misplaced note. Gabriel's lyrics are top notch, and are some of his best. It is loosely based on the book of Revelation, I believe, but the concept isn't very important here. Rather, the method in which this song carries itself is the star, the very essence of what makes this one of progressive rock's finest epics.

Supper's Ready opens with some calming acoustic guitar and lovely singing by Peter Gabriel. This part, known as Lover's Leap, sets the stage for the song, and really strikes me as being similar to the intro to Thick as a Brick in that it is a classic soft intro that gives only a taste of what good fun is to come, but still somehow stands on its own. I admit that I was turned off at first by the lines "hey babe, with your guardian eyes to blue, hey my baby, don't you know our love is true" (I have a thing against love songs), but once I really started listening to the song I realize that it is all a part of the magic, and that magic is really something to behold.

Things only get better with The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man, which starts about 3: 45 in with the lines, "I know a farmer, who looks after the farm." It features some absolutely classic lyrics, such as, "I know a fireman, who looks after the fire." This part is slower (not a bad thing), building up perfectly to the excellent keyboard work that comes in immediately after the fireman line. At this point, the song is dripping with energy, simply unrestrained symphonic progressive rock at its very finest.

Ikhnaton and His Band of Merry Men comes in next, around the 6:15 mark. The lyrics are classic ("even though I'm feeling good, something tells me I'd better activate my prayer capsule" is one of my favorite lyrics from any song), and this part never fails to amaze, no matter how many times I listen to it. After the prayer capsule line, we get a wonderful instrumental period that is majestic, frenetic, and perfect. There are a couple lines of lyrics that follow, and a short instrumental that transforms this section into the next.

How Dare I Be So Beautiful, the forth part of this song, comes in around the 9:45 mark, and contains perhaps the very best lyrics of the song. "Wandering through the chaos that battle has left/We climbed up the mountain of human flesh/To a plateau of green grass, and green trees full of life/A young figure sits still by a pool/He's been stamped 'human bacon' by some butchery tool/ Social security took care of his lad." As you can see, this section beautifully talks about the problems with war and social security. Musically, this part is very soft, toned down, in order to create a grand effect.

What is that grand effect, you ask? Well, after the line, "we watched in reverence as Narcissus is turned to a flower," someone questioningly asks, "a flower?" and then there is an abrupt and quite invigorating change in music into the fifth part, Willow Farm, which happens to be my favorite (though As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs - the last part - is quite good as well). This part seems to go out of its way to be completely ridiculous lyrically. For example, here are some lines you'll find in here: "Open your eyes, it's full of surprise, everyone lies, like the focks on the rocks, oh, and the musical box," or "The frog was a prince, the prince was a brick, the brick was an egg, the egg was a bird, fly away you sweet little thing, they're hot on your tale," or "Mum to mud to mad to dad, dad diddley office, dad diddley office, you are full of ball." But my very favorite has to be "There's Winston Churchill, dressed in drag." But, despite the silliness (amazing, awe-inspiring, top-notch, first rate silliness, that is) of the lyrics, this doesn't come across as one big joke. Well, actually, the whole song is one big joke, which is part of the allure, but it is still possible to take it seriously. Musically, this part is as bombastic and over the top as the lyrics, and like the lyrics, is top notch, first rate, amazing, and awe-inspiring. Some parts of it sound like the Knife (from Trespass), others simply sound like nothing you've ever heard before. In the middle of this part, with the line "feel your body melt," the music changes, becoming more keyboard dominated, but still upbeat and bombastic (I cannot stress enough that bombasticity backed up by musical talent and good songwriting skills is a GOOD thing). After the line, "and all of us fit in our places," there is a soft instrumental bit with some wonderful flute courtesy of Gabriel, which leads into the next part of the song.

Apocalypes (in 9/8) is, of course, in 9/8 time, and it begins with the lyrics, "with the Gods of Magog swarming around." This section is incredibly upbeat, and the use of 9/8 time is simply enthralling for someone with as little musical knowledge as me. One thing I did notice is that the 9 from 9/8 is carried in the following manner (if you can follow this): 3-1-2-1-1-1. What this means is that there are three beats, then two beats, the one beat, all separated by single beats. The keyboards here are wonderful, and while the lyrics aren't quite as fun as those from Willow Farm, they do have their moments, such as, "666 is no longer alone." This is yet another of my favorite parts (I have seven from this song that really strike me as standing high).

With about 2:45 left to go in the song, the final part, As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet) comes in. This part begins with a short reprise of "hey babe, with your guardian eyes so blue, hey my baby, don't you know our love is true," and then it really kicks off. This is probably the best ending to ANY song that I know, above even the power of Close To the Edge's final three minutes or The Hangman and the Papist's (Strawbs) last 30 seconds. Gabriel's singing here is timeless, and the overall power of this section is unmatched. This is a perfect way to close a perfect song. And I mean perfect. There are no weaknesses to this song. There is no way it could be made better. And for that, it is among my favorite songs, a lesson in the essence of perfection.

On that note, the album ends, and a sad time it is when that happens. I personally believe that cd players have repeat buttons for the sole purpose of not having to experience this album end. But end it must, and end it does. A clear masterpiece. Chances are that if you are on this site, you already own this album, but just in case you don't, I cannot recommend this album highly enough. Everything about it is just right, whether you prefer the radio hit, the softer ballad, the song that is really a stage play, the epic five minute song, the brief acoustic interlude, or the most magnificent of all songs. Whatever your cup of tea, you can find it here, and this stands as one of progressive rock's defining moments, a masterpiece through and through. 4.5 Stars.

Pnoom! | 4/5 |


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