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Genesis - Nursery Cryme CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.42 | 3250 ratings

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If someone were to ask you that old chestnut "What is Prog?", well, here's the perfect answer.

No other album so succinctly gathers together all of the "elements" and packages them into such a cohesive and genre-defining form as this. As a whole, it's darker than "Trespass" right from the cover - a young girl in Victorian dress playing croquet with human heads.

While "Trespass" came almost as a bolt out of the blue, with King Crimsons' and Genesis' own debut offerings as the only real precedents, "Nursery Cryme" is the full-on realisation of the potential of "Trespass" - it fills in the blanks, dots the i's and crosses the t's.

Much of this is thanks to the drumming and vocal contributions of Phil Collins - and yes, his vocal contributions really do make a difference for the better here. The addition of Steve Hackett brings a new "bite" to the music - although it's on later albums that he produced guitar work that stands out as innovative and technically thrilling, his leads here range from the achingly sublime to the snarling and intense, and his rhythm work adds a heavier and darker edge than "Trespass" ever had. As a consequence, the music rocks as hard as "The Knife" more often.

Everything else is down to the development of the three remaining founder members; Mike Rutherford's rhythm and bass section drive like never before, Tony Bank's restrained and melodic keyboards verge on the wizardly - yet still showing the massive potential that would be realised on later albums - and Peter Gabriel takes his already masterful style to the next level, with a greater range of vocal styles and characterisations.

But above this, above the individual skills of the players, lies something far greater.

In Barbershop quartet singing, there is the concept of the "Ringer", otherwise known as the fifth voice. This is produced when the 4 vocal parts combine successfully - the music that is produced takes on a character all of its own, dependent on the feeling and teamwork of the singers.

And THAT is what makes Nursery Cryme so great.

It's like Genesis took big lumps of music, as a tangible material, moulded it all together, then each pulled and stretched their own invidual mouldings and created an ensemble that comprises a perfect whole. Nothing is there for its own sake, as filler, or an excercise in ego - it's all an essential part of a greater cause.

It's a real pity about the production, which is little better than on "Trespass", and some might find the occasionally ragged execution annoying BUT, what really stands out, is that the 5 musicians produce this "Ringer" - a 6th voice, if you will, that IS Genesis.

As a concept, the album works really well - you can see it as simply a collection of somewhat adult nursery rhymes, you can explore the intricate lyrical relationships between the songs, or you can analyse the individual songs to see their parts in the overall suite - it's all there, but, for a change, I won't do that for you :O)

One of the most striking thing about the music as a whole is its purely organic nature - one tends not to hear the individual sections, but an unfolding musical journey that makes some mysterious kind of sense.

"Musical Box" is, perhaps the pinnacle of this style of writing, everything else on the album paling very slightly in its wake.

The wonderful, impressionistic musical painting of the underlying story that relates exactly to the cover is simply gripping - if you've bothered to take the time to familiarise yourself with the grisly yet tenderly emotional details of this story - and the musical transitions showing passage of time and intensification of feeling are virtually perfect for what they are - not a note to change. Maybe I'd be a bit more restrained with the panning of the lead guitar, and quite a few other production details, but never mind the production, listen to the MUSIC.

After the sheer intensity of "Musical Box", "For Absent Friends" fits the overall musical scheme as a gentle transistion. Lyrically, we are taken away from the domestic drama in a single household to a village community at large. Of course, like the layers of the onion, there's more to it than that, so I won't spoil your fun!

Kinda like a symphony structure, the slow 2nd movement is followed by a much faster and heavier 3rd movement that closes side 1 of the vinyl. Continuing the lyrical perspective, "Return of the Giant Hogweed" pans out again to a more global story. In case you were wondering, Heracleum mantegazziani is the latin name for the plant of the title...

"Seven Stones" is a slower respite from the intensity of "Hogweed", but is crammed full of subtleties and nuances, and simply packed with beautiful, arcing melodies with a strongly nostalgic feel. Things tend to happen slowly in this song, so if you're looking for an adrenaline-fuelled ride, look elsewhere. For those who are prepared to invest the patience and just relax, this song opens up like a flower (a flower?).

"Harold the Barrel" is the oft-commented on melodrama, a very, very clever piece of writing, with pseudo-leitmotifs musically interpreting the characters and their states of mind perfectly. It's a mini-masterpiece in itself - I've heard many albums with fewer musical ideas than this song.

"Harlequin" would seem, on the surface to be insubstantial - but again, it fits the overall structure; We've had a mellow introduction to the 4-part suite on side 2, followed by a hectic rush of drama, and now we chill for a few minutes before the big event. This song carries echoes of some of the "From Genesis to Revelation" material, and is a song of hope.

We finish with "The Fountain of Salmacis", whose domain lies, appropriately and ultimately with the Gods. A fitting conclusion to such a great album, the instrumental section is a marvel of musical engineering.

Trouble is, once it's finished, you just want to hear "The Musical Box" again...

Truly great, should be #1 all the time. Even though it's not the best produced, executed - or even the best Prog Rock album ever made, it's still the best composed Prog Rock album, and the most representative of the genre.

If you don't already own it, what are you waiting for?

Certif1ed | 5/5 |


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