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Genesis - Nursery Cryme CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

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5 stars A pandora's box of prog delicacies; Mother Goose laid the Golden Egg

Third time for Genesis and they finally got it right. Everything that was great about "Trespass", namely their classic album closer 'The Knife' was captured on every track. "Nursery Cryme" is the first Genesis masterpiece and what an incredible improvement it is from the first two albums; the band hit their peak with amazing compositions such as 'Musical Box' and 'Seven Stones' or 'Fountain of Samalcis'. The Genesis lineup here is the most revered with Gabriel, Rutherford, Banks, Collins and Hackett. The production is wonderful with intricate mixing of instrumentation and Gabriel's vocals are kept back blended in with the music rather than overbearing as on "Trespass". Each track tends to create an atmosphere and tell a story that is captured by the beautiful iconic cover illustration that is an enigmatic collage of all things Genesis.

'Musical Box' is a marathon of dark and light shades, a consistent pulling of tension and release, with musical virtuoso as never before heard by the band. 'Musical Box' is a dynamic exploration of symphonic pomp prog. They are undisputed on this track and it remains one of the all time treasured masterpieces of Genesis and indeed prog history. The chord progressions are intricately executed with a dozen or so melodies and time sigs pastiched over one another to create a soundscape montage. Gabriel pleads, "Play me Old King Cole, That I may join with you, All your hearts now seem so far from me, It hardly seems to matter now.... Play me my song, here it comes again". The references to Lewis Carroll echo the album artwork, and there are huge dollops of black humour and an enchanting Gothic mystical fragility. The flute is sweet and beautiful, and it plays over a dark tirade of Rutherford's heavy bass and Hackett's guitar. Gabriel is pastoral with flute and gentle vocals for the first section and then it builds to the dramatic blast of fire that explodes and rains down over shadowy volcanoes of molten mellotron. The time sig changes as a swell of organs and Hackett shines in the lead break, the sound cascades down from speaker to speaker teasing the ears, like an aural torture device. Then it settles as the 'Old King Cole' nursery rhyme is sung. It could be pretentious but it sounds moody and serious. Gabriel gets intimate on, "The clock tick tock on the mantelpiece and I want you to feel... and I know how to touch the wall." The music detonates into huge bombastic phased organ waves that crash down on the beach as a thunderclap of drums and bass blast the hemispheres. It lulls into an unnerving quiet guitar picking as the vocals state, "she's a lady and she's got time, brush back your hair, and let me get to know your flesh." The church pipe organ presents a religious feel and the drums tend to build and then a huge swell of pipe organ drowns out Gabriel begging us to touch him now. This completes an absolute blitz of song structures within songs and it coincides with the final paroxysm of energy from Hackett and Banks trading off perfectly with stop start ruptures of sound. This track is, in a word, unparalleled.

'For Absent Friends' is a short ballad or transition between two brilliant tracks. Phil Collins takes the driver's seat with warm vocals as lead singer in a prophecy of his later involvement when he would transform the sound of Genesis. The lyrics are full of religiosity, and obscure twisted dogma; "Inside the archway the priest greets them with a courteous nod. He's close to God. Looking back at days of four instead of two. Years seem so few. Heads bent in prayer for friends not there." It makes a nice resting place for tranquillity and a stream of calm waters before the storm rages.

The clouds of thunder roll as 'Return of the Giant Hogweed' crashes in. It begins with a mesmirising angular riff and then the wondrous chord structure to signal in the verse; "Turn and run, Nothing can stop them, Around every river and canal their power is growing. Stamp them out, We must destroy them. They infiltrate each city with their thick dark warning odour" . Gabriel is passionate and sneering as he belts out the verses and utters chilling warnings such as, "Waste no time, They are approaching. Hurry now, we must protect ourselves and find some shelter, Strike by night, They are defenceless. They all need the sun to photosensitize their venom." Only Genesis could include words like 'photosynthesize' in their lyrics. The Hammond sounds are articulated by bursts of energy ignited from Hackett's blazing guitar. It lulls in to a quiet passage that builds gradually into a heavy riff. The time sigs are all over the place and consistently change in this exploration of progression. There is a repeated pattern of song structure verse to verse and the instrumentation finally drives into a break with some complex patterns with flute, organ, corrosive fuzz bass and striking guitar in a fractured musicscape. The piano chimes in as all goes quiet and the threat of more chaos is imminent. There is a lovely keyboard solo here with a quirky rhythm and distorted lead guitar. The melody is transformed into dark textures and the sound becomes aggressive and more intense. The threat of the music is echoed by the threat of the Giant Hogweed on it's spiteful quest for revenge against the human race. The nightmarish imagery taken from a B grade sci fi movie perhaps, is perfect fodder for Gabriel to showcase his theatrical abilities; "Botanical creature stirs, seeking revenge. Royal beast did not forget. Soon they escaped, spreading their seed, preparing for an onslaught, threatening the human race." In concert of course he would have a ball dressing up as botanical semi-crustaceous metamorphosed lunatic creature and he revelled in the unreality of his psychotic altered universe. The music mimicks the horror tale alarmingly, even to the point of retelling its own story with funeral marches and music hall waltzes, a sound of ridiculed terror. Looming metrical changes make dark clouds cover the landscape with shadowy clouds as we draw to a close this masterful piece of music.

'Seven Stones' has lovely melodic passages with Gabriel taking control over the thickly layered organ and guitars. The music is allowed to breathe as instruments die down and a piccolo sound is heard and Gabriel on flute. His story telling qualities are exemplary on this track; "Tinker, alone within a storm, And losing hope he clears the leaves beneath a tree, Seven stones Lay on the ground." As the song progresses Gabriel tells the strange tale of the "Sailors, in peril on the sea" and "The Captain turns the boat" and the "Farmer, who knows not when to sow" . It is a nursery style again in line with the thematic title. This song truly grows on you with each listen, especially the wordless chorus sections. The way the vocals augment the music is incredible and the instrumental break here is alight with sweeping mellotron creating an uplifting atmosphere that dominates and builds higher into the clouds to meet the sun rays of very emotional string orchestrated sounds. It is a majestic quality that only Genesis can maintain. The mellotron ends this and the final product is one of the most beautiful Genesis classics.

There is still a tongue in cheek thread on songs such as 'Harold The Barrel' which paved the way for such storytelling epics as 'Supper's Ready'. The honky tonk piano will remind one of ELP's 'The Sheriff', equally out of place as this. Gabriel is delightful as he shoves it up the suits of an organised criminal inquest. A "Bognor restaurant-owner disappeared early this morning" and the hunt is on giving Gabriel license to channel all sorts of whimsical characters, such as the Man-in-the-street who suggests "it's disgusting, Such a horrible thing to do, Harold the Barrel cut off his toes and he served them all for tea..." It would be crude if not for the biting satirical delivery. Gabriel is truly sardonic on lines such as "You can't last long, Said you could'nt trust him, his brother was just the same." Gabriel continues to mock the stereotypes of autocracy and Harold's demise is never determined but we hear from his wife, the man on the spot, man on the council, lord mayor and the ridiculous Harold who states "If I was many miles from here, I'd be sailing in an open boat on the sea, Instead I'm on this window ledge..." Will he jump? We never find out. This is reminiscent of all the Gabriel fuelled parodies on the English idyll, no longer a pastoral pastiche but a worldly attack on how the English behave; even with mocking phrases, "we can help you... you must be joking, take a running jump" , Gabriel sneers. It reminds me of 'Willow Farm' section of 'Supper's Ready' or especially 'Get 'em Out by Friday'.

'Harlequin' is more like the pastoral folky feel of "Trespass", a style that would be shed completely as the band matured thankfully as they were always better heavy and bombastic with Gabriel unleashing his fury and antagonism. Here Gabriel is withdrawn and gentle and harmonious with other voices blending in a dreamy way. The lyrics are sugar sweet and balladic but there is an edge that things are surreal and dreamlike. "harlequin, harlequin, Dancing round three children fill the glade, Theirs was the laughter in the winding stream, and in between. From the flames in the firelight." If this were not so short I would have thought it would feel like a filler or throwaway but it is a nice change in direction. I would not rate it as a highlight but there is nothing wrong with some acoustic picking and harmonies from Genesis occasionally in small doses.

'Fountain of Samalcis' is another outstanding track and begins with a beautiful volume swell of mellotron ominously building like a jet plane swooping past, perhaps like a fountain rising and falling. Gabriel tells the weird surreal story and the track builds with glorious mellotron orchestrated in a symphonic crescendo by Banks. The story is a retelling of the Greek myth about an Hermaphrodite and yet it is captivating to reinvent the age old tale, a musical theatrical powerhouse. Gabriel brings the story to life with his excellent vocal prowess, perfection of intonation and pronounced tone that is stirring and evocative; "As the dawn creeps up the sky, The hunter caught sight of a doe. In desire for conquest, He found himself, within a glade he'd not beheld before... Where are you my father, Then he could go no farther, Give wisdom to your son, Now lost, the boy was guided by the sun". The violining of Hackett's guitar is masterful and he plays some angular riffs in this that are repeated as a hypnotic motif camouflaged by Banks soft key pads. Gabriel chimes in with "as he rushed to quench his thirst... A fountain spring appeared before him And as his heated breath brushed through the cool mist, A liquid voice called Son of gods, drink from my spring" . The bassline is notable of Rutherford. An interlude of soaring guitar ensues, with strong rhythmic shapes from Collins on percussion, a strange brew of bombastic glory. The bassline pulses stronger and some cathedral pipe organ is heard. I love this part and it continues to build to the next verse and the music answers Gabriel in turn. Pipe organ flourishes follow and a staccato organ that sweeps across a layer of frenetic bass and chaotic drumming. It fades for a time and builds with the huge organ swells like sunlight bursting through dark clouds, rays of light across the horizon. There is a grand finale with simmering elegance that shoots rays of light at the end to culminate in an apocalyptic crescendo. Masterpiece track to complete a masterpiece album.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen this is a classic legendary album that raised the bar for 70s prog, and subsequently this led to "Foxtrot" and "Selling England By the Pound" which are even better by comparison. Genesis were at the peak of their powers with this lineup and they were to enjoy some incredibly prolific years in the music scene until the final decision for Gabriel to seek out greener pastures. The grass has never been greener though with the 70s Genesis sound; an indelible trademark style and a lineup that could be termed as lightning in a bottle.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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