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Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.30 | 3202 ratings

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4 stars A Charterhouse Schoolboy on the Court of the New York Knicks

Having trawled the web hoping to pick up some background to the creation of this very ambitious record, I was struck by just how little consensus there is. Depending on which source you believe, it does seem plausible that either Peter Gabriel left this project for several months before it was completed or most of the music was composed by Banks, Rutherford, Hackett and Collins. It's probably a combination of the two and would go some way towards explaining why the material on the first part is of a significantly higher quality than that of the second.

Steve Hackett is unerringly tasteful on all the Genesis albums he played on and remains so here, but his contribution appears much smaller and less integral to the compositions than before. It seems he was lukewarm about the suitability of Gabriel's storyline for the album and would have preferred to pursue the original plan to adapt Antoine de Saint Exupéry's novella for children the Little Prince. (We should be grateful that Peter's stubbornness prevailed, as it begs the question of what was a compromise solution: Billy Bunter and the Tuckshop Mystery?)

CD 1

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - This is a much leaner and meaner Genesis than we have come to expect. Gone are the quaint pastoral landscapes of leafy England and replaced by the seamier and steamier sidewalks of the big apple. Retained in this new-found bristling acuity however, is their indelible faith in the craft of classic songwriting. As we have come to expect, there are hooks, nooks and tangential crannys galore which never fail to enthrall the listener.

Fly on a Windshield - Very dramatic and cinematic composition that was an avenue Gabriel was to explore at further length on his subsequent solo career. The gently strummed acoustic and vocal halt momentarily and punningly just before the band enter and the resultant 'thwack' from Collins, Banks and Rutherford evokes precisely the title of this piece.

Broadway Melody of 1974 - Rather aimless and flaccid slowly strummed guitar that has ceased long before I even typed the last word of me describing same.

Cuckoo Cocoon - Beautiful shimmering guitar sound from Hackett on arpeggios, joined by a superb melody and emotive delivery from Gabriel. A rare glimpse of Peter's flute is heard here as otherwise his breathy warblings are conspicuous by their absence on this album.

In the Cage - Quotes rather inexplicably from both My Girl and Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head? during the brooding opening before firing into an irresistible groove over which Gabriel gets into one of his endearing and inimitable flaps. Tempo and meter changes abound but are negotiated without ever appearing to break stride and such is the mastery of this band that you get the distinct impression they could cover 'Hickory Dickory Dock' and make the latter a surreal masterpiece. (and get the mouse to run down the clock)

The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging - Genesis at their most 'avant' sounding and full marks to them for an incredibly innovative melodic construction built from what at the outset seem extremely unlikely building blocks. I only wish they had deployed these more esoteric weapons from their secret arsenal more often.

Back In NYC - The unrelenting gravitational pull of the harmonic progression here tramples everything in its wake and rarely have Genesis sounded so implacable. Clever use of a short compensating delay on Bank's keyboard parts which makes them sound suitably enormous and foreboding. There is a real snarling bile in the throat of Gabriel's creation, who views his fellow creatures with nihilistic contempt. Confronted by an institutionalized corruption and dissolution wherever he rests his gaze, Rael vocalises the plight of those who believe they have no choices:

- "This is your mess I'm stuck in, I really don't belong" -

Let's do a trade here shall we? If Gabriel's accent for a Puerto Rican street punk is credible, then we Brits think Dick Van Dyke is a convincing cockney in Mary Poppins. Done deal.

Hairless Heart - mean like a normal heart guys? Gorgeous short instrumental with that trademark sobbing guitar sound from Hackett on a spectral quieter passage reinforced by the whole band in a sumptuous recapitulation of the main theme. Yumminess unbound.

Counting Out Time - In a genre where nothing is sacred, kudos are due to Gabriel for delivering a vulnerable first person narrative about rock's only lingering taboo (bad sex). Like the nihilist Bazarov in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons the protagonist comes unstuck when he takes a scientific empiricism into affairs of the heart with disastrous results. I think this song was written entirely by Peter and he deliberately chooses a nostalgic Tin Pan Ally format within which to relate his 'rites of passage' tale. The anticlimactic ending mimics perfectly the trauma that is being described. What would the Beatles have been doing if they were still together in 1974 ? This.

Carpet Crawlers - Eye brimming beauty from start to finish and no finer example surely exists in the canon of prog ballads. It is brilliantly paced and starts in Gabriel's lower register before slowly building in intensity until a cloaked but audible anguish is heard from the narrator who starts to identify with the pitiful and futile aspirations of these creatures he is witnessing. Hackett's weeping guitar and Collins plaintive backing vocals are exquisite.

The Chamber of 32 Doors - Huge cinematic tron string swells on a melancholic intro which transitions into a rapid linking narrative before settling down into a slow but ever changing song that lives long in the memory.

If only someone at this point had shouted "It's a wrap, cut it" we would be left with a document representing one of prog's greatest achievements. However, as my soccer coach used to say

- "They don't present the cup at half-time laddies"

CD 2

Lilywhite Lilith - No sign of tired legs at the start of the 2nd half on what is yet another sublime melody mounted on an ingeniously sly accompaniment. The little Fish that nibbled so voraciously on this music would be inspired sufficiently to spawn the neo prog genre. The only problem with the latter being they had deduced the ingredients, but couldn't find the recipe.

The Waiting Room - Reputedly rehearsed and recorded in the dark as an aid to the creation of the intended malevolent atmosphere. Despite their best intentions, this is about as terrifying as unattended milk. Surely not comfortable territory for Genesis, as divorced from the realm of song craft, the lads just sound more scared than we are.

Anyway - Back behind friendly lines on a quietly authoritative tune that carried sufficiently to be subsequently echoed by UK's distinguished Rendezvous. Lovely arpeggiated piano backing from Banks on a number that might presage the death of the protagonist?:

- "Back to Ash now" -

Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist - A brief duet for Peter and Phil that mutates without any discernible transition into a Hackett led instrumental foray. As accomplished as the individual sections are, this smacks of an unconvincing linear arrangement of unrelated parts. It is widely speculated that this episode denotes death, but I personally think it closer to a depiction of the dangers of recreational drugs ?

The Lamia - Very stately and memorable tune strangely at odds with the sensual abandon and seductive charms of the creatures it describes. Delicious portamento synth motif stated by Banks in isolation towards the end. If there are groupies in the afterlife, then they must be very similar to these mythical scrubbers. After some debauched group sex, our hero Rael promptly devours his lovers (Yuch, you are what you eat)

Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats - You know those sandwiches they sell with a filler that looks like plastic cheese but has no taste, texture or smell? This is what one of them sounds like.

The Colony of Slippermen - The pseudo oriental intro once again exposes their limitations in the creation of authentic moods with the culprit twanging a sitar like an old banjo probably never having ventured further east than a curry house in Essex. Thankfully a very strong song section follows split into Arrival/Visit to the Doktor/Raven and the separate parts are very skilfully arranged and seamlessly negotiated. Tony Banks has always been a very underrated keyboard player and when given a window within which to stretch out a bit more, never fails to steer the music to an attractive destination and always with admirable restraint. Although his chops are not on a virtuoso level like Emerson or Wakeman, he is a perfect fit for the 'team player' required by Genesis. Peter Gabriel has played a blinder up to now, but is starting to 'push my buttons' with his convoluted tale threatening to lapse into smirking and knowing pastiche.

So Peter let me get this straight: the hero and his brother John (hideously disfigured by venereal disease) are both voluntarily castrated by a surgeon but thereafter a large bird carries off their genitalia in its beak, whereupon they pursue this 'Phallus hoarding Magpie' to reclaim said 'shoobedoos' yes ?

Ravine - You know what a piano tuner sounds like right?, well this is what an oscillator tuner sounds like.

The Light Dies Down on Broadway - Banks and Rutherford are thought to have written the lyrics to this one and the music is simply a reprise of an earlier instrumental fragment plus the title track albeit at a slower tempo. Rather redundant but it does provide this sprawling epic with a vestige of structural symmetry.

Riding the Scree - Bustling and bubbling groove that seems to be in either 5 or 10 meter ? Genesis confirm here that even in their instrumental writing, the defining characteristics are the same as their more conventional song compositions i.e lyrical themes over traditional harmonic territory. This track carries strong hints that it was intended to be solely instrumental as the minimal tonsilry from Gabriel appears to have been tacked on at the end as an afterthought and possibly more for the purposes of plot development than anything else.

In the Rapids - A real let-down considering this is the denouement of the narrative. It reeks of desperation by an author in bringing his story to a satisfying conclusion but has neither the method or means to do so. Rael's leap of faith in deciding to save a brother who has forsaken him twice already, is clumsily solved by fusing the two entities into one and is banal in the extreme. Anyone who remembers Patrick McGoohan's portrayal of Number 6 in the Prisoner TV series will recognise this same kitsch device from the final episode where he unmasks Number 1 only to see his own face staring back at him. I suspect the backing track here was recorded long before the vocals, as Gabriel's wretched delivery betrays the contortions of a singer stuck with accompaniment that he knows his collaborators are either unwilling or unable to change.

It - Would have been better as an instrumental as both Gabriel's superfluous melody and sidelong swipe at rock journalists

- "its only knock and know-all but I like it" -

really just plays into their hands. (He protests too much) Once again I suspect that the original musical parts would have been laid down oblivious to the track's subsequent vocal overdub.

There are more interpretations of the 'Lamb' than there are quills on a porcupine, so what are we to make of all this and does it really matter with music this good?

What does seem clear is that it is written in an allegorical style which makes interpretation particularly difficult. I think Peter's agenda is a covert one as it is no accident that authors in repressive regimes utilised a similar technique to avoid their output being censored by the authorities it was cryptically targeting. Judeo-Christian imagery is littered throughout Gabriel's work but we must avoid any messianic conclusions as his hero is certainly a graffiti artist but sure as hell ain't no paint salesman. The references I can detect are Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (a soul's journey to paradise) Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 (Billy Pilgrim is dissociated from linear time and experiences his life in random sequence) Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (where a thug who chooses to be so is preferable to a programmed and brainwashed conformist) El Topo (Alejandro Jodorowsky's hallucinogenic/surreal 'western' and RD Laing's the Divided Self (an existential view on schizophrenia) Yep, tales of simple fisher folk one and all.

Irrespective of your beliefs, 'Lamb' is unequivocally a moral fable about atonement, forgiveness and redemption and if you think that none of the foregoing relates to you, better check your pulse pilgrim.

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |


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