Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Genesis - Selling England by the Pound CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 4292 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
4 stars 12/15P.: An essential album with three of the most important progressive rock songs, an album where Genesis' Victorian rock sound is on its peak, but also an example how prog can go wrong if it is overdone

Actually there are enough reviews for this album, but the reason why I still write a short review for it is that I don't understand the big hype around this album, especially regarding the fact that this record has to get 5/5 points simply because it's Selling England By The Pound.

So what I am going to do is try to write about this album critically (as I do see some points of criticism from my side) and probably also write a text which is perhaps enjoyable to read or maybe even a bit informative for the people who know this record already.

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight may be my favorite track on this record: everything fits well here, especially great is the Victorian feeling which the track creates by using masses of 12-string-guitars and distant electric guitars with the trademark swirling, distant Hackett sound: combined with Peter Gabriel's unique voice and in the later progress of the track soft Hammond organ swabs, majestic grand piano and Phil Collins's playful drums the track becomes a typical, or perhaps the typical progressive rock track. Rapid guitar tremolos accompany the third stanza, medieval Mellotron choirs enter and bombastify the mighty chorus-like part where Mr. Collins also shines with his perfect drum play. Still the most impressive part is Steve Hackett's guitar solo in which Genesis come closer to hard rock than ever while Mr. Hackett develops his tapping technique; I always wonder how he creates this percussive sound from 2:45 on in that melody which in its mercuriality reminds me of Bach or someone else from the Baroque epoch. A more enraged stanza follows - after a majestic mellotron choir section - and leads us into the ARP synthesizer solo with Hackett's electric sitar in the background which is so typical for Tony Banks (check the strange rhythms and nearly-as-strange synthesizer melodies which despite that sound great and nearly catchy) which then slowly unwinds with soft Hammond organ chords... You will see: when you love Progressive Rock and you listen to this track you will see that everything is at the right place and leads to sheer pleasure: the music is so perfect that malicious tongues could nearly call it expectable and 'cliche' - if Genesis hadn't invented this often-copied cliche with this song: it could be the most essential progressive rock song ever.

The interesting thing is that from 5:54 on Genesis finish the song with a 2:09 minutes long psychedelic soundscape part in the vein of Trespass (listen to White Mountain to see what I mean) with heavily echoed 12 string guitars, treated Mellotron sounds and - far away - Hackett's lovely electric guitar sounds: balm for the progressive rock listener's ears and a quite untypical, but superb way of ending a fulminant rock track. At the moment I can't think of any other epic which ends in a similar way.

Peter Gabriel's I Know What I Like turns the world of pop music upside down: catchy music, but lyrics about a lawnmower and corresponding sound effects ("There's a future for you in the fire escape trade."; this quote says everything). Like every single, as which the song climbed on rank twenty-one in the British single charts, the compositional focus should lie on the vocals melody and the lyrics, and it also does here: every time I am astonished by this cool 'flow'/groove of the lyrics of the stanza beginning at 1:40 that is rhythmically so exciting that I think about one of the better hip hop pieces. But the infectious catchyness doesn't change the complexity at all: everywhere you find the quirky elements of Genesis that make their simpler pieces that interesting. Dig that Phil Collins solo part from 1:25 where masses of percussion instruments accompany a scat vocalization melody by Collins, but merely as long as necessary, in this case for ten seconds or so - then the music goes on in its usual way. Mike Rutherford is also brilliant at his bass guitar, for example with a playful bass line in the chorus, and the electric sitar which plays the simple main riff/motif of the song. The song fades out with the characteristic hollow-sounding synthesizer melody in the end which finally is overlapped by the lawnmower sounds, essentially (I think) some kind of motor (of a hairdryer or a ventilator) recorded through the pickups of the electric guitar.

Firth Of Fifth is the next classic progressive rock piece on the album which everybody should know. And as everyone probably knows it I probably don't need to write that much about it. Fortunately, Tony Banks plays the famous one-minute piano introduction on a real grand piano and not on this awful electric piano which he used live for these purposes. The odd metres (how about four bars of 13/16 followed by four bars of 15/16 leading into one bar of 2/4 and then returning to 13/16 again?) make the intro not only a real treat due to the nice harmonic progressions but also for rhythmical reasons that are as progressive as they can be. I also do adore the dynamic way of playing: sensitive and restrained passages contrast with more powerful and self-assured ones and the sustain pedal of the piano isn't used for undefinable sound carpets, but for (in my book) fitting articulation. Shorter said: this intro is big fun listening to, especially when you are a keyboarder yourself. The stanzas which follow are often criticized for the lyrics which are seen as 'cheesy', but as English isn't my native language I don't care too much about that; in fact, I believe the sound of the words ("To see reflected there, the trees, the sky, the lilyfair.", for instance) to be quite harmonious and nice. Musically, I enjoy the changes between the sedate stanzas and the wishful, bright ones (2:05) in which Steve Hackett's guitar that just plays a nice counterpoint in the stanzas' background is applied as well - with the Mellotron strings, of course, which are used here the first time on this record (or probably the second, if the sounds at the end of the opener are Mellotron strings). A late-romanticism-piano bridge with etherial cymbal sounds leads into Peter Gabriel's flute solo which is merely backed by a piano and the bass guitar which creates quite a classical feeling like, for example, in a symphony. Afterwards, the grand piano guides the band in a typical upbeat progressive rock instrumental part with odd rhythms and many keyboards swirling around. The following guitar solo uses the melody of the flute solo again, and both - something which astonished me very much - were written neither by Hackett or Gabriel, but by Tony Banks. So, Hackett didn't invent the part of the solo, but interpreted it; and this is a thing in which he succeeded very well. Still there are many parts which sound much like Hackett, but anyway: this solo is marvellous and probably Hackett's best moment ever. And as repeating the solo one more time is probably the only thing that one can do to make it better, Hackett does it exactly the same way; especially live this must be a great experience with full sound volume and subwoofers. A last stanza then segues into the outroduction, a piano motif taken from the introductory piano solo and working as some kind of 'frame' or bookend of the piece.

More Fool Me, the second Genesis track where Phil Collins sings, in fact falls off a bit. But this is not due to the composition, but to the production. Actually, this song is made for being played live. Everytime I listen to this one live, for example on the bonus disc of the live box set, I can't help but calling this an outstanding ballad. Imagine you are sitting in a big concert, for example by the Rolling Stones in the early 1970s, and the band starts off with fast, groovy rock pieces and bright stage illumination, the guitarist plays the electric guitar. Then the band leaves the stage, and only the singer and the guitarist are staying (with the latter switching to the acoustic guitar), the light gets dim. Then they both play a ballad, in my Stones example probably No Expectations. And this change from bombastic grandeur or powerful rock to acoustic ballad-style intimacy is - at least to me - emotionally touching and a great feeling (as far as I know, Genesis played Firth of Fifth before More Fool Me in 1973). But, goodness knows why, this only works when you are sitting (or standing) in a concert hall listening to a band live: not only the music, but also the mood and the atmosphere count and help the song become really good. The studio version therefore pales severely in contrast to the live version due to small details: Collins produces some bad sniveling tones somewhere in the piece, there are vocal overdubs at the most inadequate places and in the chorus Collins pants the word "way", maybe in order to sound emotional, but I am bothered by that. Probably it's really the ambition to make the song sound grand, but in the end it is rather too grand, nearly oversize: the reduced arrangement with Collins on lead vocals and Rutherford on the backing vocal works out much finer, although in my opinion the song itself is well composed. To all those who think that Mike Rutherford is a bad guitarist: he's a bad lead guitarist, but a damn fine fingerpicker.

The Battle Of Epping Forest is the real let-down to me - and unfortunately with nearly 12 minutes the longest piece on this record. A short summary of the writing process the way I reconstruct it: Peter Gabriel writes 795 words about a newspaper article and makes the band put them into music. The bad and sad thing is that this number of 795 is not a rhetorical exaggeration of mine, but the real number of words that my word processing program has counted one minute ago. Even sadder is that the words aren't really bad: they are the typical Gabriel opera dialogues with many rhymes and puns. But turning them into music requires at least 20 minutes of composition. Now the 12 minutes are full of lyrics, the music is unmemorable and lacks the fresh freewheelingness of, for example, Get 'em out by Friday or The Return of the Giant Hogweed. However; there are at least some highlights in the track, but frankly I do not often make it attaining to them because I skip that track after the introduction that with the Mellotron flutes and a nice march rhythm actually is relatively tasteful. Where are these passages which I call highlights now? Ironically, the first kind of highlight is at the places where Gabriel stops singing: the part from 4:04 with the clavinet and Hammond organ arpeggios is very well done, just like the ARP synthesizer melody which the persevering listener may enjoy several times after the Here come the cavalry parts. The second kind of highlight are the parts which always remind me of Jethro Tull and which just consist of 12 string guitar strumming and vocals (like 5:28). But unfortunately, these passages are quite rare, but if they come they won't leave your ears fast: a portion with earworm qualities. I see the rest of the track, including the exerted guitar solo in the end, as rather dull.

After The Ordeal is Steve Hackett's more or less solo track whose structure I actually like very much although it itself is 'only' good and not great, simply because it is short; I am also quite sure that the piece wasn't meant to be great, but rather beautiful. And in achieving this aim the band, or Steve Hackett, has succeeded really well. The first part is completely acoustic and classically influenced and played solely on the acoustic guitar and the piano whilst the second part features the whole band and is essentially an instrumental slow pop/rock song with the electric guitar taking over the lead. The first, joyful part would also fit well on Hackett's Spectral Mornings with delicate melodies and strong influences of classical guitar music, probably Rodrigo or Tarrega; that could also be why Hackett uses a nylon string guitar here. The second part with the slow rhythm, the Hammond organ, two wishful electric guitars and counterpointing flute melodies sounds like a mixture of Focus, Sky and maybe even Procol Harum, but mainly the first two mentioned bands. I always wonder if the track with its title has been placed after The Battle of Epping Forest deliberately; this would give this innocuous and beautiful track quite a cynical tongue-in-cheek meaning.

The Cinema Show is the third classic progressive rock piece on this record and the striking thing for me are especially the keyboard sounds used here. The first, sung part of this epic is completely keyboard-free: several acoustic guitars with several numbers of strings again create this Victorian feel of the album's opener, this time with a strong tension and a close-mesh blanket of different sounds and tones from which Gabriel's lyrics enshroud the listener cosily; when one regards the content of the lyrics, my incidental carpet comparison also gets another dimension because in fact the whole piece deals with romance and sex, employing the archetypal couple Romeo and Juliet. Here, Gabriel's and Collins's vocals harmonize beautifully with each other and the whole first part until 2:00 could be one of Genesis's best 'musifications' of warmth and intimacy. From the third minute on the whole band enters, especially Hackett's swirling guitar melodies are worth to notice. Afterwards, flute and oboe melodies - again only accompanied by acoustic guitars and sparingly used cymbals - return to the Victorian Trespass feeling of the beginning, later also adding wordless vocalizations by Gabriel and Collins, temporarily also in two voices (I don't know if this is by chance, but the melody is quite similar to the beginning of Crosby Stills Nash & Young's Our House). Another stanza follows, reprised instrumentally afterwards by the ARP synthesizer which halfway in the piece leads us into the instrumental part which is the same perfect progressive rock like the instrumental part of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. Here the several keyboards come into the foreground: the warm sound of the ARP Pro Soloist, Hammond organs and Mellotrons; especially the melody at 6:59 is of extraordinary beauty, and even more beautiful when repeated with great Mellotron choirs afterwards.

The final melody of this nearly five minutes long keyboard solo transforms to the chords of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight and with that to the beginning of Aisle of Plenty which is the bookend or the counterpart to the album's opener: musically very similar to the first stanzas, albeit replacing the piano and several acoustic guitars with Hammond organ arpeggi and one single nylon string acoustic guitar. After this "sixth stanza" of the opener the band takes over one chord progression from this song and Gabriel chants food advertisements until the fade-out over this symphonic background with his voice treated electrically: quite an ironic way of ending this album, but it fits the sociocritical contents of the moonlit knight's lyrics well. And it's an ending which cleverly placates me after some dull minutes, or - to express it more critically - which tricks me into thinking that the album is better than I thought it to be when I was listening it.

All in all I will give a weak 4 star rating for an album with three of the most important progressive rock songs, but also an example where prog is overdone, or where less would simply have been more. In fact, this record is quite long with over 50 minutes and throwing out The Battle of Epping Forest and replacing it by Twilight Alehouse, the b-side of the I Know What I Like single, this could have become an uncanny masterpiece of progressive rock music. But now, this is 'only' an album with three real masterpieces on it - and let down by pieces which simply cannot catch up with side one of "Foxtrot". Nonetheless this record is a highly recommendable and nearly necessary experience for the progressive rock listener.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password

Share this GENESIS review

Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.