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Genesis - Calling All Stations CD (album) cover

CALLING ALL STATIONS

Genesis

 

Symphonic Prog

2.53 | 711 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
1 stars The story of this album began when Phil, finally realizing that he really had no reason to keep up his involvement in Genesis, formally announced his departure in 1996, though he left the door open to work in the context of the band in future projects. He probably assumed that Mike and Tony would just let the band go and not do something like, say, hire a younger replacement and go back into the studio. But, I guess Mike and Tony felt they had something to prove: after all, they had been the core of Genesis since the very beginning, and between them they'd written the bulk of the music in the band's history. Just for that, they certainly had as much right to do what they wanted under the banner of Genesis as Phil did. Plus, Mike and Tony had clearly developed some remorse for the direction the band had taken the last while, because CAS is a much more serious, art-rock- based album (though with a good amount of pop elements thrown in) than the band had done in a very long time. The new vocalist mentioned from before, Ray Wilson, came from a neo-prog band called Stiltskin, and both of the drummers used on the album had prog-rock pedigrees of their own (supposedly Chester Thompson wanted to finally become the band's studio drummer, but he was turned down, much to his chagrin). The path was now clear for Mike and Tony to make the kind of album that they really wanted to make, without having to bend their wills to Phil's increasingly schlocky ideas.

At first glance, on paper, this situation doesn't seem like it should be the breeding ground for such a terrible album as this one turned out to be, but closer inspection makes it seem like this should have been expected all along. Tony and Mike might have had a long history as the core of the band, but by 1997, Invisible Touch was more than a decade old, and that had been the last time they'd been dominant contributors to Genesis. Plus, for all of the random artsy-fartsy trappings they'd thrown into their albums, how long had it been since they'd made an album that was predominantly art-rock? You'd have to go back at least to And Then There Were Three, and probably to Wind and Wuthering, to find a Genesis album that has as much of an art-rock base as this one does, and that had basically been two decades. They probably really thought that they could just pick things back up again from where they left off, but that's an awfully long period for artistic muscles to atrophy, and it probably wasn't reasonable on their parts to assume that they could get back into the swing of things this easily.

When you come down to it, this album has three significant problems: it's unfortunate that those three problems are the vocals, the lyrics, and the music. An elaboration of each now follows:

The vocals: In prepping the world for this album, Tony Banks made a comment that Ray Wilson, in terms of vocal style, reminded him a bit of Peter Gabriel, and I do admit that I can hear it a bit in that Ray has a bit of the same hoarse "smokiness" that Peter did. I've actually heard recordings of Ray doing some of Genesis' older material, and he doesn't sound terrible, so I know that just calling him a bad vocalist is probably an overstatement. On this album, though, he shows a crippling inability or unwillingness to vary the tone and mood of his voice, and it gets on my nerves pretty quickly. I've said it many times in my life, and I'll say it again: Genesis music (especially music written by Tony and Mike) is very dependent on effective vocal performance, requiring interesting shifts in mood and tone, and the kind of singing done on most of this album is simply not going to cut it for music written by them. Plus, there are some moments where I really have to wonder if the part I'm listening to was really the best available take: listen to the way Ray's voice weakens at the end of the verses, before the chorus, in "If That's What You Need," and tell me you don't come away unimpressed.

The lyrics: I get that Tony and Mike wanted to write lyrics that were more mature and more serious than what had dominated the last albums, I do. My issue is that the "maturity" of this album takes a form that I find incredibly obvious and hackish. Pretty much every song on this album is about regret at decisions made in life (basically continuations of "Fading Lights"), or about failed relationships, or of unhappiness at the passage of time and the loss of youth, or similar things. It further hurts that these topics are mostly handled in straightforward, didactic manners, with only limited use of metaphor of lighthearted moments to spice things up a bit. I'm fine with creating a centralized mood through a consistent lyrical theme, but I don't want to feel like I'm listening to the middle-age equivalent of bad teenage poetry when I put on an album. For all of the faults of WCD, that album had "Jesus He Knows Me" and "I Can't Dance" to throw off the monotony, and such diversions are badly wanted here.

The music: Monotonous vocals and dull, oppressive lyrics are one thing, but they're made all the worse when combined with dull, oppressive music. As expected, the dominant instrument on this album is Tony's keyboards, and they're much more focused on setting a big important mood than on doing anything especially interesting. There are a lot of passages that are based around keyboard solos, but those solos are generally duller than anything Tony had done before, and they don't do the album any favors. Mike's guitars vary between uninspired acoustic playing, bits of playing reminsicient of his 80's style, and even some horrific moments where he decides to try and pull off something resembling grunge (grungey guitars and BANKSYNTHS??!!!). Except for parts of the last couple of minutes of the last track, the tempos never take a step beyond mid-tempo, and this goes a long way to making the album a pain to listen to. And finally, the drums mostly plod along in a simplistic way, except for a few "artsier" moments where they clang aggressively and make a racket, without much good effect.

Amidst all of the badness of the album, I have to admit there's a three-track bit near the beginning that, had it been released as a separate EP, would have at least mustered a mediocre grade. "Congo," if nothing else, has that 40-second introduction, featuring a Latin- style instrumental passage that differs from everything else on the album. Plus, it has a chorus that's memorable without being gross, and those two features combined are enough to make me forgive the fact that the rest of the song has the same arrangement problems as the rest of the album (that rising synth line in the chorus is just really tacky). "Shipwrecked" wouldn't have been one of the best tracks on WCD, but wouldn't have been one of the worst either, and there's something kinda sweet about the chorus and the accompanying synth line (the verses are forgettable, but hey, I"m trying to be positive here). And finally, "Alien Afternoon" is really the one instance on the album where a lengthy piece follows the Genesis tradition of lengthy songs that actually have multiple decent ideas and that bother to go somewhere. It's nothing spectactular, but I genuinely enjoy moments like the "gotta get to work on time" lines in the first half (with a decently busy bass-and-drum pattern chugging in the background), and the encoded "we are home" backing vocals in the second half actually work as a nice enough emotional climax. It might not be a diamond in the rough, but it sure isn't dirt, either.

The other eight songs, though, are abysmal. A few of them have decent enough ideas, but the main problem is that they all feel like they'd do better belonging to other songs. "Uncertain Weather," for instance, has a nice enough emotional climax in the "long agoooooooooooo ...." vocal lines, but there's not really any kind of build up to it to justify it, and certainly nothing especially interesting in the rest of the song. "Dividing Line" has a decent enough synth-line (similar to the kind of synth line you'd find on Abacab), but it's certainly not enough to carry the overblown, noisy tunelessness of a track that lasts almost eight minutes. Oh, and the very end of "One Man's Fool," the aforementioned last track, does have a nice bit of exhiliration to it; too bad the rest of the track doesn't.

The rest of the album is irredeemable. The title track is so bad that I find it fascinating: the combination of the synths (set on "shock and awe" mode), and the metallic guitar sounds, and the plodding drums, and the rambling, virtually non-existent vocal melody, and the uninteresting vocal tone, and the whiny lyrics about regretting decisions made in life, make it almost seem like an experiment in creating the kind of song I'd be guaranteed to hate. "If That's What You Need" would have been on the bottom-rung of the WCD ballads, while "Not About Us" would have better belonged to any one of a thousand generic "alternative" bands. "Small Talk" almost sounds like Genesis trying to make a song in the mode of something the Backstreet Boys would have attempted, except with terrible keyboard parts splattered everywhere, and it's probably the worst Genesis song ever. And finally, "There Must Be Some Other Way" is just a giant eight-minute bombastic bore.

So ok, this isn't the worst album ever made, and I can name more than a few parts I like. The bad parts are so overpowering, though, that I really can't get myself to care about the good ones much. Some Genesis fans have bought into this, but I really don't see myself joining that school of thought any time soon.

tarkus1980 | 1/5 |

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