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Genesis - We Can't Dance CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.66 | 1353 ratings

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4 stars In 1986 when one of my favorite bands released their newest album I faithfully bought it, played it, got angry and then washed my hands of them and vowed that I'd never spend another shiny penny on anything they put out in the future. While admittedly not as despicable as 1983's "Genesis" fiasco, I had expected them to make unconditional amends with a triumphant return to great music on the highly-hyped "Invisible Touch" but it was only a slight improvement and I felt insulted by its slick mediocrity to the point of outrage. So when five years later they released "We Can't Dance" I made it my mission to avoid and ignore it as much as possible. I succeeded.

Sixteen years later I'm rooting through my wife's sizeable, scrambled pile of old cassettes and I come across this album. I figure that I've held a grudge long enough and decide to pop it into the player and listen to it without bias. Lo and behold, I'm taken aback. It's a whole lot better than I expected and I now consider it to be the best material they recorded since 1980's brilliant masterpiece, "Duke."

It was definitely a bold move on their part to start things off with a song that tackles a subject as profound as seeking acceptance and love from one's estranged father but that's what they do with the intriguing "No Son of Mine." Right off the bat I notice the ultra-clean audio quality and the fact that the drums are real this time. Phil Collins' vocal chops are strong and confident and the song has the kind of dynamics that made them a true juggernaut of progressive rock in the 70s. The crisp tempo of "Jesus He Knows Me" is next and again they fearlessly take on another hot topic, shameless television evangelists who immorally fleece the meek and the gullible. It has a terrific arrangement and a clever, reggae-styled breakdown in the middle that works like a charm to keep the song from getting stale. Any tune that helps to expose brazen false prophets and self- anointed holy men for the charlatans they really are is okay by me.

"Driving the Last Spike" shows Genesis returning to their prog roots. Tony Banks' deep, atmospheric keyboard work provides a calm beginning and Phil's singing is strikingly pure. This involved tune about a humble but dignified survivor of the hard-laboring, dedicated crews that built the English railway system in the early 19th century is a gem and when Collins' huge drums come kicking in the whole song expands into epic proportions and it never lags for a second. Bravo, boys. Unfortunately, the dull "I Can't Dance" follows and it's a big letdown to say the least. Its vapid lyrics and goofy sound effects reduce it to little more than a novelty tune. "Never a Time" is a decent pop number and Mike Rutherford's words describing the somber end of a relationship are honest and mature but the song would have worked better on one of Phil's solo albums. The good news is that the lull these two tracks establish is temporary and things get better with the next cut.

"Dreaming while you Sleep" is a dark tune about a hit and run driver's unrelenting guilt that is quite haunting. It starts with an interesting rhythm pattern pulsing under the verse and chorus but it's Tony's expansive keyboards and Phil's arresting drums on the bridge that really make the song come alive. "Tell Me Why" wrestles with difficult philosophical questions about existence without becoming too heavy for its own good. It's a contemporary tune for sure but it never turns trite and the electric 12-string guitar provided by Mike gives it a different color, setting it apart from the other numbers. A mean guitar tone introduces "Living Forever," a song about being obsessed with striving to prolong one's life instead of just enjoying the ride but the real surprise here is Collins' inventive use of brushes instead of drumsticks. Very cool. Banks shines brightly during the instrumental mid- section that is a clever combo of funk and prog sensibilities.

Genesis' bread and butter in the 80s consisted of their seemingly inexhaustible stream of sappy love songs and that's what "Hold on my Heart" is. It's not a horrible piece of work but it's old ground they covered ad nauseum back in their MTV days and here it only serves to retard the momentum of the album. Next up is "Way of the World" and it begins with a happy, up-tempo shuffle that is deceiving because the tune is about the futility of the human condition. It's not what I'd call prog but it's a well-written song, nonetheless, and there's a lot to be said for that considering the miserable stuff these guys were spewing out in the "me" decade. "Since I Lost You" follows and it's one of the weakest tunes included. The piano has a warm sound like an old upright sitting in a living room somewhere and the poignant lyrics written with pal Eric Clapton's tragic loss of his son in mind are very touching but it can't make this tepid song avoid being instantly forgettable.

I get the feeling these three amigos knew this would in all probability be the last studio album from Mike, Phil & Tony together and the final track, "Fading Lights" supports my theory. I even detect the nostalgic inclusion of a melody lifted straight out of "Stagnation" (from the "Trespass" LP in 1970) to give it an ironic aura. In the extended instrumental segment we are treated to a fantastic "live" drum sound from Collins, Banks' phenomenal keyboard artistry, Rutherford's understated guitar performance and the kind of stirring accents and powerful peaks that characterize the very best of this legendary prog band. The epic ends with Phil wistfully singing "Far away, away/fading distant lights/leaving us all behind/lost in a changing world." For Genesis the world had changed into one they didn't belong in. Sad but true.

There may be others of you who, like me, were so disgusted by their uninspired 80s drivel like "Another Record," "Illegal Alien" and "Anything She Does" (just to name a few zingers) that you swore off this group and considered them too deeply immersed in commerciality to fool with ever again. I understand. Yet I encourage you to indulge an hour of your time with this album sometime and give it a fair hearing. You might be impressed. It's no masterpiece by a long shot but there are more than a few musical creations here that make this aging Genesis fan proud. 3.6 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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