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Genesis - Selling England by the Pound CD (album) cover

SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND

Genesis

 

Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 4261 ratings

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Necrotica
Prog Reviewer
5 stars I've been revisiting the entire Genesis discography recently, and in doing so, I think I've finally realized exactly what made them truly stand out from the other 70s progressive rock bands: the unmistakable atmosphere. Yes, Peter Gabriel was an incredible force of personality and blurred the line between "madman" and "genius" (and was a damn good frontman and flautist to boot). Yes, the technical proficiency of the members was off the charts, keeping in line with several other bands of the time. But if you asked me what truly cemented Genesis as one of the greats of the genre, it's the beautiful and often haunting storybook atmosphere that permeates those old records they crafted with Gabriel and Steve Hackett in the ranks. It's no wonder to me that several neo-prog bands basically ripped off this sound, as it's a perfect way of expressing more emotive and sentimental vibes while still being rooted to what people love about progressive rock on a base level. And, having said all of that, I don't think any Genesis record embodies the word "atmosphere" quite like Selling England by the Pound.

Looking at the tracklist, you'll notice that the band decided to ditch the format used by Foxtrot - having one epic song dwarf most of the record - in favor of splitting the album up into four mini-epics, with more concise tracks to fill in the gaps. As much as I loved Foxtrot I can't help but admit that this format was the right move for the band. Having short accessible tracks to separate each complex behemoth really contributes to how easily digestible Selling England can be, as it offers a nice breather between each main event. Plus, hey, those short songs are pretty great too! "More Fool Me" is easily my favorite ballad from the Peter Gabriel era of Genesis, even though it was actually sung and penned by drummer-turned-singer and future (disputed) "most hated man in pop" Phil Collins. "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" is probably the trippiest song on the album with a strange psychedelic feel, and yet it was also significant for being the band's first real taste of commercial success single-wise. Finally (excluding "Aisle of Plenty," which is just a reprise of the opener), we've got the stunning guitar work Steve Hackett brings on "After the Ordeal." Playing out as sort of an aftermath to "Battle of Epping Forest," it could be seen as the logical conclusion of the promise heard in "Horizons" from the prior album. The classical guitar work has been further, the solemn atmosphere more effective, and this time Tony Banks even joins in with his own piano parts!

But let's be real, the longer tracks are what this album's all about. "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" might be one of the best openers in progressive rock history (and Genesis already has a fair share of those - look at "Musical Box" or "Watcher of the Skies"). Gabriel's voice is crucial here, as he provides much-needed humanity to the majestic and bombastic instrumental bits. It's important to note that the album's overarching theme is the loss of British culture to Americanization, which is delivered very effectively in the opening lines of "...Moonlit Knight":

"Can you tell me where my country lies?" Said the uni faun to his true love's eyes "It lies with me!" cried the Queen of Maybe For her merchandise, he traded in his prize

Of course, it all becomes even more effective once we're treated to a much faster section in the middle with rapid-fire tapping from Hackett. The song in general goes through so many different moods and cycles but somehow never loses compositional or lyrical focus, which is something that becomes apparent with the rest of the longer tracks on the album. With that in mind, "Firth of Fifth" is primarily dominated by two people: Banks and Hackett. The former gets an incredible piano intro with heavy classical leanings and crazy time shifts, and the latter gets one of the most emotional guitar solos in rock history. The solo is also an example to aspiring musicians that virtuosity isn't everything in guitar playing; just ask David Gilmour. It's also worth noting that Mike Rutherford pulls out some nice bass lines here, especially on the soft break in the middle of the song.

Still, nothing can really prepare the listener for the other two epics, which are probably the most complex and long-winded pieces on the entire album. "The Battle of Epping Forest" is an incredibly wacky and whimsical take on? well, gang violence. Turns out that Peter Gabriel heard about some fight between two gangs in the east end of London, but didn't really know any details outside of that. So what did he do? Create his own characters and scenarios to fill in the blanks! And when you read/hear the lyrics, which are practically a damn novella, it really shows what an imaginative lyricist and storyteller Gabriel was in his Genesis days. It helps, too, that the music is still top notch. It does get incredibly busy and possibly overbearing at times, but the real treat is the band's knack for using their music to aid the visuals Gabriel creates in his lyrics . I also have to mention that this song has my favorite drum performance of all time; it baffles me how Phil Collins can keep such a comfortable and catchy groove out of a 7/4 time signature, as well as how he weaves in and out of the other instruments with such ease. Then there's "The Cinema Show" which is essentially a tale of two songs: one is a beautiful folk-rock ballad, and the other is the highly complex instrumental piece that follows. Think of it as a precursor to the "Home/Second Home by the Sea" suite we got years later on the self titled album, just pulled off with more imagination and finesse. The real thing to listen for on this song is the incredible vocal interplay between Gabriel and Collins; it really doesn't surprise that Collins would eventually be the next vocalist to take center-stage for Genesis.

Pulling the entire experience together is the production work of John Burns, which is a sizeable leap forward from the sound quality found on previous Genesis efforts. There's much more room for the atmosphere to breathe here, and the more rock-oriented moments don't sound as muddy or one-dimensional as before. In the end, I'm still not entirely sure whether I prefer Selling England by the Pound or Foxtrot, as both albums represent the very best that Genesis has to offer. But in saying that, I can at least say that no future Genesis record was ever able to top this one? not even The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. This one is truly top-shelf progressive rock music. Hell, just top-shelf music in general.

Necrotica | 5/5 |

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