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

THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY

Genesis

 

Symphonic Prog

4.30 | 3004 ratings

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thief
4 stars And one full year after "Selling England by the Pound" hit the stores, GENESIS arrived with this monster, 95 minutes long concept double album named "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway", soon to become a dartboard for punk rockers, new wavers and hip critics ready to announce the definite downfall of 70s western rock utopia.

But I didn't know any of that in my childhood days, sometime in mid-90s. At that point in time Genesis were already heroes of the past, acolytes of long gone musical genre, fading into obscurity, but forever enshrined in the eyes of prog fans. At least that's how the story went according to my father, who still cherished recordings of 1970s with youthful enthusiasm and played them loud on a daily basis. I think he still holds "Lamb" to the highest regard. It seems opinions on this LP differ wildly and it's pretty much the same story with every double/convoluted progressive stuff of the period, be it "A Passion Play", "Tales from Topographic Oceans" or even "The Wall".

But before I reach my own conclusion, let me start with the concept. Young Rael, the protagonist and anti-hero, is hit by a truck and embarks on spiritual journey inside his mind, while his body struggles to survive. The road leads him to imaginary tunnels beneath New York City, where he finds all sorts of fantastical creatures, inconceivable corridors and chambers and his recently deceased brother John. Although the logic behind all these events resembles a dream, it's actually a near-death experience, adventure right at the gates of afterlife. Rael gets to make numerous moral choices along the way, and the final one - made at the very end of underworld odyssey - will be crucial to his fate.

I don't usually care much for stories told in concept albums and this one is no exception. Certain passages are really imaginary and vivid lyrically, the most obvious being "Carpet Crawlers" and "The Lamia", but in general I don't find Rael's journey too interesting. Pacing is poor, Gabriel goes through a few thousand words so it's hard to keep up AND enjoy the music in the same time, plus some of his lines are needlessly cryptic.

The other problem for this reviewer is the atmosphere of Genesis biggest work. Twelve strings guitar tapestries are largely gone, mellotron isn't as prominent as it used to be and general feel is more 'modern' than fantasy-like ventures of the past. Previous albums generally dealt with mythical themes in an intrinsically English way, being influenced by William Blake's prophetism and Lewis Carroll's pecularity, "Lamb" seemingly abandons some of these elements. Certainly, many of Rael's findings are eccentric and vague, but the feel of present day America, leather jackets and foreign influences make it much different from predecessors. Maybe it isn't a bad thing in itself, but as a fan of infinite croquet courts and shrouded men in the backyard I just wish that "Lamb" had gone the same route.

Going track by track would result in an enormous review, so I'll just focus on most important points. First, the album is uneven musically because the story demands it, pure and simple. After every stretch of intensive plot progression (usually 2-3 songs) we get a relaxed piece or soundscapes to cool down a bit. In the meantime, Rael moves from one chamber to another, runs away from bad guys or reflects on deaths he brought. "The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging" and "Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats" are the most obvious cases of such redundancy.

On the flip side, good melodies are aplenty and surely outweigh less inspiring moments. Even the most iffy songs have some of them, for instance latter half of "The Waiting Room". Other times the proportions are reversed: fine songs are polluted with a minute or two of messy ambient or musique concrete stuff. "The Colony of Slippermen", centerpiece of Side D, starts just terribly, while fantastic "In the Cage" ends with a very underwhelming coda, maybe recorded in post-production phase to fill some space. Finally, some compositions just beg for more development, especially "Hairless Heart".

Thankfully there is a dozen of songs that work beautifully as they are; no interludes, no misplaced transitions, no weak points. Sometimes the band even manages to invoke musical euphoria in shorter pieces, such as "Fly on a Windshield" (just wait for that mellotron entrance) or melodious "Riding the Scree". The best moments will stay in your head forever, although they might be harder to find than highlights on SEBTP or Foxtrot.

"Lamb" often changes mood and direction, going through a full palette of feelings. So we have ballsy and positive rockers (title track, "Back in N.Y.C."), silly lil' tunes ("Cuckoo Cocoon", "Counting Out Time"), times of misery ("The Lamia") and tenderness ("Carpet Crawlers", "Anyway"). Now I'm rewinding this album on 8x speed in my head and it's really darn good, much better than what I suggested in previous paragraphs.

You see, it's just so big of a record that it's hard to wrap my mind around it all at once. I feel that without the story constraints Genesis had enough ideas to pull off a FANTASTIC 70 minutes long album (not really viable in 1974), and perhaps the GOAT progressive rock effort if they just heavily reworked the strongest themes. So, as a part of my summary, I'd like to put all songs in three-four separate groups qualitywise, keeping in mind how many good compostions have some filler attached (aforementioned 'pollutions').

LEGENDARY: The Lamia

WINNERS: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, In the Cage, Back in N.Y.C., Counting Out Time, Carpet Crawlers, Lilywhite Lilith, Anyway, The Light Lies Down on Broadway, Riding the Scree, In the Rapids, It

(MOSTLY) GOOD EFFORTS: Fly on a Windshield, Broadway Melody of 1974, Cuckoo Cocoon, Hairless Heart, Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist, The Colony of Slippermen

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging, The Chamber of 32 Doors, The Waiting Room, Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats, Ravine

I can't stress enough how great "The Lamia" is. Such a pretty, nocturnal, fairy-like tune with TOP3 Hackett solo ever, that I guarantee! So refined and tasty, it really deserves more recognition as true Genesis classic - maybe less complex than "Can-Utilities" or "Cinema Shows", but very rich emotionally.

"The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" deserves your listens. It stumbles a bit, it departs slightly from Victorian oddities, but it doesn't take away from beautiful compositions found throughout. Labirynthine plot results in moments less than inspiring, but for every inconvenience there are twice as many solid tunes, some of them being pure gold. Kudos to Genesis for getting such enjoyable results, given how hard it was to cooperate with Peter Gabriel and follow his robust imagination with quality music. Perhaps it's not enough for max rating - standards set by predecessors are ridiculously high - but four stars are well deserved.

In the world of double-album conceptual monsters you might never find a better one.

thief | 4/5 |

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