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




Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 4419 ratings

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4 stars Chicks are suckers for a man in unifaun

This was one of the first Prog albums I ever bought, and having relocated it pressed into service as a cat mat in the garage, (with the LP cover reduced to a pungent and hairy cardboard Frisbee) must say its contents have aged considerably better than the packaging, (which mirrors uncannily its owner). This was perhaps the last album where Gabriel and his collaborators were on the same page in the hymn book.

And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green?

'Dancing With the Moonlit Knight' - Gabriel's voice has an unmistakable texture, that when heard in isolation as it is here on this memorable intro, reveals a cherubic huskiness, like a chain smoking dove. The melody swoops and dives unpredictably during this forlorn spell cast by that most self consciously zealous of all shy magicians.

(You mean you like this bit then?) Yep.

The deliberate use of an English folk song setting is significant as it sets up a nostalgic smokescreen, not for a past he pretends was preferable, but for a stealth raid on the iniquities that Gabriel sees have befallen a once green and pleasant land. There is some real 'bile' in his delivery here which I didn't pick up on 19 years ago, couched in a caustic disdain for the crass and venal aspects of modernity that he perceives will erode all that is venerable.

(You mean he's angry then?) Yep.

Easy now, sit you down Chewing through your Wimpy dreams They eat without a sound Digesting England by the pound (The consolation offered by 'leisure' as a new brand of 'freedom', with the consumer's silence being all the approval that marketing will ever need to foist more and more of this unquenchable junk on us).

It's impossible to fault a creation as well crafted and tightly woven as this. Were we to throw the parts up in the air I'm sure they would land in exactly the same order and carry the same weight. As a social satire of the British Isles in the early 70's it is unmatched in Prog. Perfection.

'I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)' - A glorious and unashamedly simple pop song that Genesis milk for all it's worth on a classic 'camp-fire' sing along chorus. Here alas, PG slips occasionally into that irritating 'method school eccentric' mode of his and should know by having studied closely Arthur Brown, that you ain't ever gonna get 'surreal' out of 'nonsensical' no matter how hard you batter it or who's listening.

'Firth of Fifth' - Contains one of Tony Bank's finest moments on piano in a stunningly inventive and beautifully played lengthy introduction to this track. As for the remainder, we should simply lobby the makers of dictionaries to amend their next versions to include an entry: 'Majestic' - see Firth of Fifth

'More Fool Me' - Can't say I ever signed up for the Revolutionary Workers Party after hearing this track. Phil Collins is undoubtedly a very fine singer, but I could never figure out why he chose to debut a lead vocal on a tune that is obviously out of his comfortable range?. Good acoustic song but the one with the soft center that everyone passes over in the box of chocolates. Pleasant, but so is gluttony.

'The Battle of Epping Forest' - Perhaps the least successful of all the larger scale Genesis compositions. This one suffers from some underdeveloped and arid patches that wobble precariously under the load and let's face it, east end gangsters definitely ain't Peter Gabriel's milieu.

The intro gets precisely zero 'mood setting' points for just sounding like a sloppy and unmemorable marching flute band. (Although I confess to having never heard a tight and memorable marching flute band either)

Some of the sections are really good but you wish they were considerably closer together eg They call me the Reverend etc which has both a memorable tune and displays PG's fine grasp of story telling and embellishing a character by 'speaking on pitch.' The same vocal technique is utterly wretched however, when attempted on the 'thug' accents (which originate from much lower down the social pecking order than the singer), so these bits drag and irritate in equal measure.

'After the Ordeal' - Beautiful instrumental track that displays just what an unerring knack Banks has for playing just enough and no more with which to support perfectly the musical materials at hand. Delightful electric piano arpeggios bubble their way all through this tune and the lead guitars have a sumptuously understated quality enhanced by some slinky snaking flute towards the end by PG.

(You mean you like this one then?) Yep.

'Cinema Show' - Rather appropriately, this utilizes the dual perspective/split screen device of film on the brilliant opening section where the two protagonists are united in intent but divided in motive. What follows is a couple of minutes of those cascading acoustic guitar arpeggios and meandering flute exercises so beloved of Genesis and they seem to lose a bit of focus. But things perk up significantly afterwards and from this point onwards the instrumental writing and interplay is tear wellingly beautiful.

Genesis were one of the most democratic of bands both in their compositional credits and their instrumental writing. This is abundantly illustrated on this track where no single individual dominates as the 'spotlight soloist' over the rest. All the band are employed in the creation of a multi layered and ever changing dynamic 'whole' and this set them apart from so many of their contemporaries. The overriding priority here is always melodic whether in statement or enhancement and of all the prog giants it was perhaps Genesis who were least guilty of virtuosity as a end in itself.

(You mean they don't disappear up their own backsides on the solos?) Yep.

'Aisle of Plenty' - In time honored Prog protocol a little 'tail ender' linking back to the opening. It's purpose is more for structural symmetry than anything else and those Anglophiles amongst you with an affection for clever puns are in for a treat hereabouts. (but the rest of you may be left scratching your heads at the British references)

The production on this record represents a quantum leap from its predecessors. Suddenly there is a clarity on a Genesis record where before they sounded so hard up they recorded in the dark.

BTW if someone can tell me what a 'unifaun' might actually be, please drop me a line.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |


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