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

SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND

Genesis

 

Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 3919 ratings

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Frankingsteins
4 stars A rising force in progressive rock, Genesis' increasing international popularity seems to have caused something of a nationalistic crisis for Peter Gabriel and his band of talented, experimental musicians. Taking their album title from a contemporary slogan of the Labour party, Genesis' focus here is largely, consciously on auld Blighty, a year before Gabriel penned the lyrics to the band's New York-set concept album 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' and gave in to the US audience after all.

'Selling England By the Pound' is perhaps Genesis' technical and creative peak, as well as their most commercially successful album of their early seventies output under Gabriel, before Phil Collins turned the band into a bland pop group. 'Selling England' features impressive guitar work from Steve Hackett, the distinctive style of which had a clear influence upon English heavy metal bands of the eighties, especially Iron Maiden. Tony Banks' keyboards are also fully fleshed out for the first time, after a trial period on the previous album 'Foxtrot.' This combination of melodic guitar and synthesiser creates a soothing, harmonious, proggy pastoral sound that lasts almost throughout, exempting the album's two less technical, poppy offerings.

Unusually long for the early seventies at 50 minutes, the album (almost) alternates between lengthy, near-epic songs and shorter, less complex pieces. The exception is 'After the Ordeal,' which is a seamless instrumental conclusion to its previous track. This structure works to satiate the two strands of Genesis fans; those who enjoy the pleasant, tender sound of their simpler, shorter songs. and prog fans. 'Selling England' satisfies both.

The pseudo-title track (in that the album title forms the chorus), 'Dancing With the Moonlit Knight' is a guitar-heavy piece that begins relaxed and a cappella, Gabriel fulfilling the role of the satirical travelling minstrel, and evolves into a speedy rock number. Along with 'Firth of Fifth,' this perfectly showcases the strength of the Hackett/Banks sound, and is extremely progressive in its shifting structure. The lyrics bemoan the capitalist society that England has become, and are thus still relevant today (the exception perhaps being the Wimpy reference). 'Firth of Fifth' remained part of the band's live repertoire for a considerable time, and is a classic song for keyboard fans, starting off with a simple piano hook and developing into engulfing ambience.

'I Know What I Like' and 'More Fool Me' are the album's attempt at pop music, and work fairly well. 'I Know What I Like' is the more successful and impressive of the two by far, the latter being an early, disappointing chance for drummer Phil Collins to handle vocals. 'I Know What I Like' is a lyrical improvisation upon the album cover, depicting mowers, and Gabriel's vocals in the chorus sound quite powerful, even despite issues with the album's production.

The second side of the album, on the original vinyl, is dominated by Gabriel's dramatic re-telling of an incident of London's East End gang warfare in 'The Battle of Epping Forest,' but the concept isn't stretched to the extent of the over-rated 'Supper's Ready' on the previous Genesis album. 'Epping Forest' and 'After the Ordeal,' an instrumental in the same vein, are the only point on this excellent album that the band's ambition perhaps overtakes their talent. The lyrics are nicely unusual, but the dramatisation and mock-acting of the vocals strives to construct a mini rock opera in the space of fifteen minutes, and doesn't really succeed, similar to Roger Waters' less restrained moments in his late Pink Floyd work, notably the melodramatic climax of 'The Wall' album.

The final stand-out song on the album is the excellent 'Cinema Show,' a great piece structurally that's less lyrically intense and complex than its predecessors, the lyrics being more repetitive and secondary to the melodic rock foreground. The song drags on a little towards the end, but the vocal melodies work much better in the small doses here than previously, and are the album's most infectious - try to avoid joining in with the 'take a little trip back.' and 'like a maaaaan.' reprises. 'Aisle of Plenty' is an unimpressive climax and somewhat unnecessary call-back to the first track, though saying that, the subtle return of the 'Dancing With the Moonlit Knight' piano melody is welcome. The lyrics comprise predominantly of a shopping list in a continued lament of the death of community retailers under the rising force of supermarkets.

'Selling England' is very nearly a concept album, and can be taken as such for its running theme of the death of old England under the rise of capitalism. 'Can you tell me where my country lies?' Gabriel asks as the album begins, before attention turns to the rise of fast food restaurants ('you are what you eat - eat well') and consumer fashion ('you are what you wear - wear well'). Genesis' early albums strive to combine the high-tech and the classical, evident in Hackett and Banks' reproduction of traditional folk melodies on electronic instruments, and the subject matter often runs parallel. The notion of class and privilege is explored in 'I Know What I Like,' in which a labourer knows his place. 'Firth of Fifth' and 'The Cinema Show' belong only to their own internal ideas, the latter being a twentieth-century rewriting of Romeo and Juliet, apparently based on something from T. S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land.'

This is certainly Genesis' peak under Gabriel, but won't necessarily be enjoyed by fans of the band's later direction. Gabriel's swansong, 'The Lamb.', would follow a much different style, abandoning the lengthy instrumental experimentation in favour of shorter, story-centric pieces and overt focus on a bizarre concept and lyrics. The previous Genesis albums, especially 'Foxtrot' and 'Nursery Cryme,' sound in retrospect as if they strived to achieve what was finally recorded for 'Selling England By the Pound,' an album as scathingly or subtly satirical as the listener cares for, that significantly developed the sound of melodic guitars and synthesisers in prog rock.

Released in 1973 at prog's commercial and creative peak, Genesis' patriotic, classically-inspired rock symphonies act as a perfect companion to the spaced-out world-weariness of Pink Floyd, the trippy hippy harmony of Yes and the dark, jazzy, 'anti-Genesis' alternative Englishness of King Crimson.

Frankingsteins | 4/5 |

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