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




Symphonic Prog

4.64 | 4292 ratings

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Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars No introduction needs to be made for this album. We all know it's a concept album and it's by Genesis and it's called Selling England by The Pound and 1973 and yadda yadda ya whatever other content you've read from the past thousand reviews this album has. So I'll cut to the chase and get to my rating and my rationale. Note: I have edited my review since it was originally posted. At first I gave the album 4 stars, but in the time since then, the album has lost a lot of its magic, hence my reason for revisiting.

This is a flawed album. There's no doubt about it. At first, it sweeps you off your feet, bringing you into a twisted-yet-idyllic English fantasy, with standout instrumental performances. It seems almost like the perfect symphonic prog album...until you've heard it a few dozen times and the shtick begins to wear thin. "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" is the opener, and for the first 2 minutes or so, I can really believe why this is deemed a prog classic. Peter Gabriel is a fantastic writer. The lyrics are brilliant, witty, and the imagery is so immersive. And the way it builds from a moving a capella to its erupting chorus is fantastic. That's how you start an album. But then when the uptempo solo section starts, it starts to lose a bit of its effect. I can't help but feel how awkward the whole section is. It may be because of the production quality, which is a notable step down from "Foxtrot", but Steve Hackett's guitar solo, while well-played, sounds very cheesy. That isn't even getting into Tony Banks' synth solo later on. The tone that he uses wouldn't sound out of place on a second-rate fusion album from the late 70's, but it completely kills the Victorian mood when used here. Following a minimalistic 2-minute coda that firmly plants the listener back on English soil, "I Know What I Like" brings four more minutes of clever lyrics, but forgettable melodies.

If this was any of the other reviews that have been posted so far, it would be right around now that I'd start to hype up the album's legendary, 11/10 veritable masterpiece third track, "Firth of Fifth". And if I was writing this a few months ago, I'd continue to do so. But after hearing the song for the n-dozenth time, it really started to fall apart and now I realize that, with the rest of the album, it has its own inconsistencies. The piano intro, of course, is brilliant and it always will be. Picturesque, majestic, eloquent, like a lakeside chalet with May-time flowers blooming all around, this stately piano piece will always stand as a testament to how brilliant Genesis were at incorporating time signature changes into their music while still retaining musicality. Not a lot of other bands were capable of doing this without sounding contrived; only Yes really springs to mind and I might argue that Genesis were even better at it. Of course, what follows one of the smoothest passages of music the band laid down is one of the most awkward, flopping all over itself. The verses.

The organ accompaniment is bland and uninspired, and really has very little to do with the rest of the musical motifs of the song. And the lyrics, compared to the clever ones we heard earlier, are frankly awful. It's not just the fact that they're meaningless that I have a problem with. After all, most of my favourite lyrics don't necessarily have any meaning at all, such as those by Jon Anderson or the ones Peter Sinfield wrote for early King Crimson. However, what separates the lyrics of "Firth of Fifth" from those heard in, say, "In The Wake of Poseidon" or "Starship Trooper" is that Jon Anderson, what he lacks in clarity, makes up for in delivery. It's so incredibly clear that, even if he doesn't necessarily know what he means when he sings a line like "And I heard a million voices singing, Acting to the story that they had heard about", he can deliver it so powerfully that we can belive it has profound depth. Peter Gabriel, in this song, though, sounds bored singing the lines (which I believe were written by Tony Banks). And Peter Sinfield, while he was working with Crimson, at least, was a poet above all. He has a brilliant sense of selecting words that not only create vivid imagery, but flow together in a way that sounds fluid, while the words Gabriel has been made to sing here sound very forced, stumbling over each other, with unpleasant syllables fighting each other and nattering aggressively.

But what the verses lack, the instrumental sections make up for. Peter Gabriel's flute solo, Tony Banks' revisitation of his opening solo with the whole band behind him and Steve Hackett's defining solo as a guitarist are all among the strongest instrumental performances in the entire Genesis catalogue. Unfortunately, though, the otherworldly mood created by Hackett's breathtaking performance is completely shattered by the unforgivable mistake to end the song with another verse. "Firth of Fifth" had the potential to stand as a masterpiece, even with the first few verses, but this ending more or less seals the deal; this is a good track, no more, no less.

Moving on, "More Fool Me" is not nearly as bad as many would have you think. It's an inoffensive love/breakup song that actually leaves you aching a little if you really focus on it. Phil Collins sings quite well here. And then after a shaky side one, side two opens with the bloated, stinking behemoth of "The Battle of Epping Forest". The beached whale of the album, I won't say much more about this one than this: imagine "Harold The Barrel" on repeat for 12 minutes straight, only without the endearing qualities or catchy melodies. Fortunately side two is vastly improved by "After The Ordeal", which shows off the talents of both Banks and Hackett and "The Cinema Show", which I have grown to appreciate as the true jewel of this album.

The first half of "Cinema Show" brings back more of that strong Gabriel lyricism as well as some delectable guitar harmonies. A lengthy synth solo closes up the second half. Even though it's the most replayable song on the album, I still wouldn't consider it a masterpiece, though, as it leaves me a little cold emotionally and Banks' solo at the end overstays its welcome a tad. "Aisle of Plenty" revisits a motif established in "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" and bookends the whole affair quite well with more clever lyrics.

So all in all we have an album with very shaky, inconsistent quality that makes a great introduction, but has very limited replay-ability. I can't call this album much more than a good introduction to Genesis. Along with "Nursery Cryme", this is Genesis 101, and will hopefully keep new fans reeled in for as long as it takes to get to material with more staying power, like "Trespass", because this one won't be perfect forever. It pains me a little to give this album such a low rating, since it really is one of the most influential symphonic releases around. Of course, I would actually recommend any of the countless neo-prog spin-offs that plagiarized "Selling England" over the original. If you want to hear what this blueprint can sound like when it's propelled by actual instrumental firepower, put on some IQ. As it stands, I'll give a rating of 3 stars. Good (at times), but certainly not essential.

Magnum Vaeltaja | 3/5 |


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