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Genesis - We Can't Dance  CD (album) cover

WE CAN'T DANCE

Genesis

 

Symphonic Prog

2.65 | 778 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
1 stars Over the years, I've observed that many people (especially Gabriel-era fans who speak dismissively of the Collins "sellout" era) tend to lump this album in together with its predecessor, as if they were basically the same album or two sides of the same coin. Years of listening to the Collins era of Genesis, though, has led me to believe that this is a major mistake, and while I'm nowhere near a huge fan of IT, I still consider it a far better album than this one could ever be. That one had some flaws, yes, but nothing as deep and as fundamental as the flaws that affect this album.

The single biggest problem with this album was the fact that it took five years for the band to come out with a followup to IT. This was a problem for three major (two related) reasons. The first is that, in those five years, it became painfully obvious that Phil Collins needed Genesis a whole lot less than Genesis needed Phil Collins. After achieving so much commercial success in his solo career, Phil had less of a reason than ever to go back into the studio as just one of the guys, with his ideas receiving equal weight with Mike's and Tony's. The only way that he could be lured back into the studio for another Genesis album was if his level of control was at least somewhat the same as what he could expect in making one of his own albums. The result, then, is that this album comes painfully close in many places to sounding like a Phil Collins solo album, with Mike and Tony as just featured musicians. There are exceptions to this, but they're just that: exceptions. Tony's influence is clearly muted a lot, and his synthesizers are mostly undistinctive (even when he was annoying in the past, you could still count on him to stand out!), while Mike seems like he could have been swapped out for just about anybody.

The second problem came from the five year gap itself. The band had regularly released albums every year or every other year since the early 70's, and even when the band took a break between Genesis and IT, the gap was only three years. One of the effects of creating new music on a regular basis was that the band had created a clear narrative for its historical development (one of the most interesting narratives in rock music history, I would argue), and there was a clear sense of momentum in its development. For better and worse, IT was a logical successor to Genesis, as Genesis was a logical sucessor to Abacab, as Abacab was a ... sorta logical successor to Duke, and so on. In taking so much time off, though, the band lost its creative momentum and broke the narrative thread: I really have a lot of trouble seeing how the tracks on IT, apart from In Too Deep, predict this album in any way. Instead, the band had to pretty much start from scratch, and the raw materials they used for their reboot were not ideal.

The third problem came from the deterioration of Phil's voice. I've always preferred Peter's singing to Phil's, but I also think that, starting in about 1980 (not much before then: I've heard a bootleg from the '78 tour and Phil's singing was still kinda non-descript), Phil became a pretty strong singer for the band (whenever he avoided excessive sap, of course). He figured out how to bring some serious power into his singing, as well as a neat rasp/roar in the higher registers that made him really stand out. Plus, as shown in songs like "Mama," he'd become an ace at singing pissed off love songs. Somewhere between IT and WCD, though, Phil's voice settled into its familiar 90's mode: extremely syruppy, and with a thin piercing quality that would jut into the pain regions of my brain. There are some elements of his previous best work, but they're few and far between. Maybe it was just him getting older (he turned 40 in this period!), but whatever it was, his vocal prime was gone.

So let's look at the songs, then. Three of the first four songs, three of the big hit singles from the album, are quite strong, and get the album off to a deceptive start. "No Son of Mine" is overlong, and it takes a little bit of time to get to the chorus (the best part of the song), but the lyrics are pretty moving, and overall the song is a good one. Even better is "Jesus He Knows Me," probably the only track on here that feels like a successor to the best IT material: its attack on televangelism is somewhat trite lyrically, but the lyrics are still fun, and it's a solid up-tempo pop song with a great chorus. The third song in the list is the best known of the album, and a lot of fans hate it, but I for one enjoy the living daylights out of "I Can't Dance." It's just a really great pop song, from the grumbly guitar riff to the silly lyrics to the really enjoyable chorus that features a throwback to Phil's really cool high-pitched rasp. It has nothing to do with anything Genesis had done to that point, and it's a ridiculous way to get introduced to the band (I have to confess this was my introduction; when I was on the cross-country team in 7th grade, the team's star runner would regularly be heard singing it in practice), but I enjoy well-written pop songs as much as anybody does.

Sandwiched between "Jesus He Knows Me" and "I Can't Dance," though, is a track that serves as an ill harbinger of the rest of the album to come. See, even though the style of the music was closer to solo Phil than to Genesis, the band clearly wanted the album to have some appeal to older fans. As on previous albums, this meant making quite a few of the songs pretty long, with a couple functioning as full-fledged "epics." "Driving the Last Spike," at ten minutes in length, was apparently supposed to serve somewhat the same function on this album that "Tonight x3" served on IT (a standard pop song stretched into pseudo- prog territory through the length), but this track doesn't hold a candle to that one. This track is basically a 3-minute standard Phil Collins song, with Phil singing about a "serious" topic (about people who worked on railroads in the western United States in the 19th century), stretched into ten minutes, and I find the effect amazingly bad. The arrangements are incredibly monotonous, full of standard heavenly guitars and moody synths (except for what sounds like an organ every so often), and except for when Phil sings the line, "As they waved goodbye to their fathers," I don't feel any resonance whatsoever from the singing. I could compare this song in quality to "One for the Vine" (which I don't especially like) but frankly I'd much rather listen to that one than to this. For all of the boredom coming out of the song, it at least had a few distinct parts, some clear variation in the keyboards used (both synths and piano), and most importantly a really creative, powerful Hackett solo stuck into the last minute. It's also definitely much worse than "Tonight x3": that track had some clear conflict and tension (in a good way) in the interaction of the ideas from the band members, whereas this track overly feels like Phil domination with some bones thrown to the others.

Following "I Can't Dance," we then hit a stretch that is easily the most disappointing seven song stretch in the entire (pre-CAS) Genesis catalogue. It is here that the Collins influence becomes utterly overpowering, and anybody with the least bit of allergy to such things should stay away from here. Three of the tracks could easily be swapped out for pretty much any generic Collins ballad: "Never a Time" is a pleasant enough throwaway, but "Hold On My Heart" is enough of an argument on its own for the destruction of every Adult Contemporary album ever made, and "Since I Lost You" is just tacky tacky tacky. "Tell Me Why" and "Way of the World" are slightly up-tempo, which helps, but short on strong hooks, and both of them go on awfully long given how little happens in them of note. "Living Forever" is another song with "meh" hooks, but the band throws a bone to fans of the band's longer instrumental bits, so that might please some (not me, though). "Dreaming While You Sleep" actually has a good amount going for it, from an intriguing lyrical topic (somebody killing a girl in a hit-and-run, getting away with it, and having to live with the guilt for the rest of his life) to some interesting instrumental interplay, to some actual strong variation in the melodies; it's too bad that it in no way deserves to last seven minutes. Still, I like the song more than not, and it's basically a keeper.

The album then ends with a track that's clearly more influenced by Banks than Collins. "Fading Lights" is clearly supposed to serve as the album's version of "Domino" or "Home by the Sea," as it's ten minutes long, features a lengthy instrumental passage, and features Collins singing lyrics that clearly came from somebody other than himself. Unfortunately, this comes nowhere close to meeting the standards of those two songs. The song begins and ends with the "regular" song, but this main song is just as generic Adult Contemporary in the melody as anything else on the album, and the lyrics are just Banks lamenting about getting old. And the instrumental passage, ugh: the band was clearly going for somewhat of a "majestic" vibe here, but keeping the mid-section at a constant mid-tempo pace while Banks plays various semi-inspired keyboard lines for five minutes was about the least inspired idea the band ever had for an instrumental passage. At least "Domino" had the good sense to have different songs within the suite, and to speed up the song in the second half: this is just boring through and through.

So all in all, this is just a pretty sad end to the Collins era of Genesis. I like some of the songs on here, and part of me wants to boost the rating a bit, but there's also a lot of REALLY BAD material here. If you really, really like the Collins era, you may like this, but even that's no guarantee. Get this if you can find it for a dollar (for the good hits, plus maybe "Dreaming While You Sleep"), but don't spend more than that.

tarkus1980 | 1/5 |

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