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Genesis - Duke CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.50 | 1495 ratings

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3 stars Apologies in advance for this long-winded look at an already familiar artifact. But sometimes a belated review needs some sort of context to make any sense.

Like a lot of fans of early Genesis I lost touch with the band during the 1980s, at a time of rapidly evolving musical priorities (both theirs and mine). 1978's "And Then There Were Three.", their first LP without guitarist STEVE HACKETT, was not coincidentally the last Genesis album I ever heard...until a few weeks ago, when curiosity (and a nagging twinge of nostalgia) led me to finally catch up with this popular 1980 follow up.

In retrospect it's curious how the albums of Genesis always seemed to arrive in complimentary pairs. Think of "Nursery Cryme" and "Foxtrot", pearls of the early PETER GABRIEL era, or the post-Gabriel "A Trick of the Tale" and "Wind and Wuthering". And of course "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" was itself a double disc.

So it shouldn't have been surprising to discover how snugly "Duke" fits alongside "And Then There Were Three." That earlier LP was never the strongest album in the greater Genesis catalogue, but it at least kept the group afloat after losing yet another irreplaceable talent. Two years later, having circled their remaining wagons and consolidated the band's position in an unforgiving post-Prog landscape, the surviving trio of Collins, Banks and Rutherford were able to produce, for better or worse, probably their most confident and cohesive musical statement since The Lamb.

Mind you, that doesn't automatically make it any good. The band's target audience was of course changing, but die-hard Genesis partisans (like myself, dating back to their 1973 "Live" LP: the first Progressive Rock album I ever owned) couldn't fail to notice the discouraging lack of instrumental delicacy, always a hallmark of the classic Genesis sound. Here, it was replaced by enough Arena Rock bombast to rattle the largest stadiums on Earth, and I speak from experience: the last time I saw the band in concert, in April 1978, was at the massive Oakland Coliseum, tiny specks on a distant stage from my view in the nosebleed seats.

But I have to give the lads a little credit. Without the guiding vision of PETER GABRIEL, without the signature sound of STEVE HACKETT's guitar, the music was still recognizably Genesis. You can hear echoes of the old magic in the opening fanfare of "Behind the Lines", and (notably) in the dynamic complexity of the climactic "Duke's Travels/Duke's End" medley, clocking in at close to 11 minutes (almost all of them instrumental, by the way).

Heck, even the verses of their radio-friendly rocker "Turn It On Again" are arranged in what sounds like an unexpected 13/8 time signature. And, flying in the face of 80's fashion, there even appears to be a narrative concept behind it all, but don't quote me on that: my borrowed CD was missing its booklet.

Too bad the balance of the album is only progressive in the narrow sense that it anticipated the dumbed-down simplicity of the next decade. I certainly don't begrudge the band any of the world-wide success that followed: after all, Prog Rock had all-but exhausted its commercial potential by the tail end of the '70s, and to have continued plowing the same barren fields would have been suicidal at the time.

Even so, the plodding anti-Prog rhythm and ersatz R&B backing vocals of the hit single "Misunderstanding" must have been the final straw to discriminating listeners, despite the silver lining of a stronger beat than the anemic AM radio fodder of "Follow You, Follow Me", or the sappy "Your Own Special Way".

So, with more than twenty-six years of accumulated hindsight, what's the belated knee-jerk verdict? Not half bad I suppose, which of course is only another way of saying it's not half good either. The album is certainly a valuable slice of Genesis history, but having heard it at long last I don't see myself in any rush to catch up with "Abacab" now. Maybe after another quarter-century..?

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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