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Genesis - Selling England By The Pound CD (album) cover

SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND

Genesis

 

Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 4082 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
4 stars For Genesis, following up their 1972 album Foxtrot couldn't've been easy. Trespass (1970) had improved upon the group's 1969 debut; then Nursery Cryme (1971) far exceeded Trespass; and Foxtrot was even better, boasting the masterpiece "Supper's Ready." Foxtrot has a few flaws, and surpassing it, while possible, represented a challenge. Spoiler alert: Selling England by the Pound (1973) does not outshine Foxtrot, at least in my opinion. But it accomplishes the next best thing: it maintains the standard set by Foxtrot.

The album is comprised of four long songs (ranging from eight minutes to nearly twelve), three single- length songs, and a reprise of the opening track. Two of the longer-form pieces, "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight" and "The Battle of Epping Forest," are solid, serviceable tracks which fit well within the structure of the album - - but neither approaches "classic" status. Each lacks the structure of the group's best work, and neither has a standout melody. The same, however, cannot be said of the other two long songs. "The Cinema Show" consolidates all of the significant musical elements of their best prior work (e.g., "The Musical Box," "Watcher of the Skies," "Supper's Ready") and combines it with some of the group's best lyrics. The song begins by setting up a girl-boy romance, but drops it entirely in favor for a bit of Greek mythology (the sex-changing oracle Tiresias). The listener is left to decide whether there's any connection, and if so, what it might be.

As great as "The Cinema Show" is, the high point of Selling England by the Pound is the nine-and-a- half-minute "Firth of Fifth," which, like "Supper's Ready," is one of Genesis's masterpieces - - and, I would argue, one of the masterpieces of symphonic rock. It goes beyond simple consolidation of prior triumphs; I'd liken it more to extrapolating from prior triumphs. Although all five band members turn in great performances, the VIP is keyboardist Tony Banks who opens the song with the iconic piano solo - - and who was the song's primary composer and lyricist. Interestingly, Banks has been quoted as regarding the lyrics as dreadful; while they are a bit overdramatic (e.g., "Now, as the river dissolves in sea / So Neptune has claimed another soul"), I've heard far worse. Steve Hackett also deserves special praise for his guitar work on "Firth of Fifth," which some regard as his finest work with Genesis.

Among the shorter songs, the only standout is "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)," although what a standout it is - - it's among the group's best singles, and certainly their best with singer Peter Gabriel, who left in 1974. It's as fun and catchy - - and as unprogressive - - as "Follow You Follow Me," "Turn It On Again," or "Paperlate," an serves as a reminder that Genesis sought pop-chart success well before Phil Collins took over for Gabriel.

It may be a bit unkind to call the remaining songs afterthoughts, but the nice-enough, yet nothing-special instrumental "After the Ordeal" is essentially a four-minute coda to "The Battle of Epping Forest," while the brief "Aisle of Plenty" ends the album by reprising parts of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight." And the Phil-Collins vehicle "More Fool Me" is proof that Collins's schlockyness predated "Separate Lives" by more than a decade.

Selling England by the Pound is one of just four albums which has been reviewed at least 4000 times on progarchives.com. Its average rating of 4.6/5 stars is the second-highest of all albums on the site regardless of subgenre. While I don't class it in the very top echelon of prog-rock albums, I will say that among Genesis's fifteen studio albums, Selling England by the Pound is matched in quality only by Foxtrot and A Trick of the Tail. Although it has some filler, it tends to be decent filler - - "More Fool Me" excepted. The inclusion of its three standards - - "I Know What I Like," "The Cinema Show," and most notably "Firth of Fifth" - - secures for Selling England by the Pound a place among the best symphonic-prog albums.

patrickq | 4/5 |

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