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Genesis - Selling England by the Pound CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 4292 ratings

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5 stars In spite of my exalted status as one third of the legendary Symphonic Prog team, I hadn't really got round to reviewing this album yet - perhaps because I thought I would just add some irrelevant information to the hundreds of mostly rave reviews already present on the site. However, even though I will readily admit to not being a big Genesis fan, "Selling England by the Pound" has ranked for years among my all-time favourite albums, so I think it's only fair for me to add my voice to this enthusiastic chorus.

Before gaining fame and fortune in their native Britain and in the rest of the world, Genesis were warmly welcomed and embraced by my homeland of Italy. Their elegant, sweeping, pastoral soundscapes instantly appealed to the optimistic, romantic side of the Italian temperament - much in the same way as Van Der Graaf Generator's left-field, skewed version of prog appealed to its darker, more introspective side - so that the band gained a strong following almost overnight. Peter Gabriel's strong theatrical bent was no stranger to this enormous success either: after all, Italy has one of the strongest theatrical traditions in the world, and could not fail to appreciate Gabriel's stage performances, as well as his unconventionally beautiful, deeply expressive vocals.

Although this statement will certainly earn me the disapproval of many Genesis longtime fans, I've always found this album to be the band's only real masterpiece - having admittedly never been able to get into its predecessor, the equally idolised "Foxtrot". However, in much the same way as ELP's monumental "Brain Salad Surgery", SEbtP is a sort of flawed masterpiece: intensely moving and powerful, with peaks of utter brilliance, but not perfect in the true sense of the word. As a matter of fact, not all its tracks are equally successful, the nadir being reached with the somewhat slushy ballad "More Fool Me" (the song prog fans love to hate, possibly because it is sung by bete noire Phil Collins - a case of the shape of things to come?).

On the other hand, the highlights of this record can easily be numbered among the few real landmarks of Seventies prog, those tracks no self-respecting fan of the genre should miss: this being the case of opener "Dancing With the Moonlight Knight" (my personal favourite), spectacular keyboard-fest "Firth of Fifth", and epic "The Cinema Show" with its instrumental coda, "Aisle of Plenty". The other songs range from the quirky yet pleasant ("I Know What I Like") to the slightly ponderous (lengthy, keyboard-driven "The Battle of Epping Forest"), to the disposable (the aforementioned "More Fool Me"). Instrumental "After the Ordeal" is rather laid-back and easy on the ear, unlike sweeping, tempestuous album closer "Aisle of Plenty", which in its final section reprises the main theme of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight", having the album (a concept of sorts, though not explicitly so) come full circle.

The three standout tracks are as different as they come. "Dancing...", opened by an almost legendary accapella Gabriel vocal that can give the listener goosebumps, is somewhat brooding, darker and heavier than the other songs, with its subtle indictment of Britain's consumer society. In my very humble opinion, this is possibly Gabriel's finest hour as a vocalist. Majestic "Firth of Fifth" features jaw-dropping performances by both Tony Banks (the piano intro is particularly beautiful) and Steve Hackett - his dazzling solo being rightfully considered a yardstick for prog guitar playing. Banks gets another opportunity to shine on "The Cinema Show", a gentle, erudite piece ispired by an episode of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" (another favourite of mine, literature buff that I am). It gathers momentum in the instrumental section called "Aisle of Plenty", culminating with an another impassioned Gabriel vocal fading away into nothing. Raff | 5/5 |


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