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Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.31 | 3057 ratings

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5 stars 'The Lamb' - without a doubt, the ultimate Genesis album, and simply one of the best albums of all time. Equally without doubt, an album that demands serious commitment from the listener if it is to be fully appreciated. With previous albums, though they are excellent of course, Genesis still stood with one foot in the realm of accessibility - they were fairly short, with distinct standalone tracks to get to grips with individually, offering a relatively easy way into their world of complex symphonies and twisted imagery. But 'The Lamb', seeing their one previous extended piece 'Supper's Ready' as a green light, presents a double concept album of near-continuous music - a complete story told through ninety-five minutes of rich progressive rock by five outstanding musicians at their most energetic and experimental. Just like Yes with 'Tales From Topographic Oceans', you have to accept that the band mean business.

The story that sews the album together, written by Peter Gabriel, appears in prose form in the album's sleeve as a more literal guide for audients, and then of course as the lyrics themselves. Along with most Genesis material of the Gabriel era, the complicated and often fiendishly humorous lyrics have been much maligned over the years, by the journalists determined to label anything prog 'pretentious nonsense' and even by actual fans of the band who nevertheless consider them silly and incomprehensible. While I sympathise with both views, I agree with neither of them and would say it only takes a fundamental grasp of metaphor and the epic allegory to start appreciating just what Gabriel was doing. Much more difficult is the dense catalogue of references to American history and popular culture early in the album, which Gabriel uses masterfully to paint a rich backdrop and help him invest his unsettling, abstract notions with the familiarity of iconic figures and events. Daunting as they may seem at first, understanding the subtle meaning in each of the references proves to be less important than the overall effect of their busy procession, symbols of an era. My one slight niggle here is that the liner notes really are essential in providing a full context for the story, since the presence of instrumental sections and the lyrics (being completely entrenched in Rael's own perspective) leave gaps in the continuity when standing alone. Nevertheless, Genesis do offer this as a complete package after all, and I for one am prepared to take it as such.

One typical bustling night on Broadway, New York City, Puerto-Rican punk Rael (representing the everyman, if a little rough around the edges) is roaming the streets when he suddenly observes a lamb emerging from the steam by the side of the road. Right there on the pavement, amidst the clamour of modern city life, the animal just lies down. The image has an undertone of the loss of innocence, even death - but more importantly it's a creepy, out-of-place herald that something's about to begin... In moments, a vast solid wall materialises in Times Square and starts to sweep across the city, freezing in place and absorbing everyone and everything in its path - Rael watches in horror, but nobody else around him seems to notice or care about the danger (ever feel this way?) As Rael himself is caught in the wall, he is thrust into a surreal journey of self-discovery, through a nightmare world composed of bizarre landscapes, hideous caricatured personifications of common human attachments and dispositions, and memories of his own past. It's a 20th century purgatory where he must come to terms with himself while also seeking escape from the pitfalls of modernity: the growing artificiality and commercialisation of human lifestyle in 'The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging'; absent-minded social inertia in 'Carpet Crawlers'; the tendency to take up a stereotypical role in order to give life some direction in 'The Chamber Of 32 Doors'; seduction and insincerity in 'The Lamia', followed by slavery to one's own sexual desires in 'The Colony Of Slippermen'. How many other manifestations can you interpret?

Musically, 'The Lamb' is as broad and complex as the band would ever go, with each musician really pushing the expressive capabilities of their respective instruments - Gabriel's voice included - to create a restless fusion of complementary forces. It is often said that ideas are spread too thin on this album, but nothing could be further from the truth - 'The Lamb' is brimming with ideas, painstaking composition, and polish. Rock band format it may be, but the tradition of combining styles and aiming for a grander, timeless sound is very much present, and as with all the greats it's impossible to tag this as any genre other than progressive - this is deeply emotional, fiercely cerebral, and truly cinematic music. Totally four-dimensional, there is plenty of dynamic variety along the way, from the full band blowouts of the title track and 'In The Cage', to gentle contemplations like 'Hairless Heart' and 'In The Rapids', to open ambiences such as 'The Waiting Room' and 'Ravine'. It can generally be seen as a much more electric album than before: the 12-string acoustic guitar passages prevalent in the band's earlier works feature only rarely, as effects-laden electric guitars and newer synthesiser tones come to the fore (there are still hefty doses of acoustic piano, though, forming the foundations of 'Anyway' and 'The Lamia'). However, not an ounce of Genesis' classic delicacy is lost in the shift - no walls of sound can stop the searching melodies and powerful chord sequences from shining through, and every part that every instrument plays is tailored for maximum effect.

To match the warped, introspective nature of the story, the music evokes a range of atmospheres from the eerily inviting to the downright unsettling, some of my favourites being the ghostly intro to 'Fly On A Windshield' and the captivating grief of 'Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats'. There are also rare flashes of more accessible hooks, as in 'Counting Out Time', 'Carpet Crawlers' and 'it'. Most difficult to explain in a review is the album's overarching mood... a cloying blend of recognition, layered meanings and close-to-the-edge madness unique to this kind of immersion into a persistent, self-contained, Alice In Wonderland-type world... in many ways it is this which makes 'The Lamb' so special. Some examples of the disturbing images captured would be: imaginary creatures trapped on film at the moment of their birth; Rael's desperate consumption of the Lamia when they appear to die before his eyes; and the eleventh hour where he is finally able to look at the face of the brother he has followed at great cost, only to find that it's his own face staring back at him.

To attempt to counter a few common criticisms of the album:

'The first disc is great on its own, but the second is weaker and has lots of filler': Well, bearing in mind that there is consistently challenging music across both discs, I wonder if most listeners are just more used to the single album format and start struggling to pay attention after the first 45 minutes. Personally I'd find it hard to choose a favourite disc out of the two, and if the length is a problem I think the next fairest way to experience 'The Lamb' is to treat it as two separate albums and make sure each one gets equal, listen-from-fresh airtime.

'The band was breaking up at this point, so the album is rushed and uneven': As has now become well documented, the composition and recording of 'The Lamb' proved quite difficult for Genesis, with most of the band putting the music together in isolation from Gabriel, who insisted on writing all the lyrics whilst also coping with the ill-health of his first child. However, as Gabriel has said himself, sometimes your best creative work can be born in times of unusual circumstances and stress, and I'd say this is definitely true of this album - it sounds confident and exciting throughout, and the lyrics marry so perfectly with the music that it's hard to imagine the two elements were ever dreamed up separately. It is possible for the quality of music to surpass the intention and understanding of its creators, it seems... especially in prog!

'There is no proper ending to the story': Read up on existentialism, then come back.

While by no means the easiest album to get into, being too large-scale to work without significant open-eared investment from the listener, have no doubt that this is a masterpiece of narrative-driven progressive rock music, and a triumphant farewell from the band's first, best and most charismatic frontman.

ThulŽatan | 5/5 |


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