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




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5 stars A perfect balance of elements; lyrical sketches, virtuosic instrumentation and theatrical vocals.

Review #966. On "Selling England By The Pound" Genesis prove themselves to be creative visionaries. The entire musical arrangement is tighter and structured with instrumental breaks that are virtuoso on their own merits. There seems to be a stronger cohesion and unification of melodic musical ideas, with each member having a chance to shine as never before. Banks in particular flourishes on classical piano pieces and lengthy synthesizer breaks. There are no lengthy epics but there are long songs clocking around 10 minutes, such as "The Cinema Show", The Battle of Epping Forest" and "Firth of Fifth" that have become classic Genesis tracks, highly memorable due to lengthy instrumental passages, odd time signatures, key changes and mood shifts along with quirky thematic content.

The magical and most loved lineup of Genesis is here: Peter Gabriel, a tour de force on lead vocals, flute, oboe; Phil Collins, magnificent on drums, percussion, and vocals (he takes the lead vocals on "More Fool Me" signifying his eventual ability to be the Genesis front man on Gabriel's departure); Steve Hackett, a master of lead guitar, acoustics, vocals and electric coral sitar (on "I Know What I like"); Mike Rutherford, extraordinary on bass guitar, bass pedals, rhythm guitar, and cello (on "Dancing With The Moonlight Knight"); and the incomparable Tony Banks, on vocals, piano, keyboards, and acoustic guitar (on "The Cinema Show"). Together they are perhaps the definitive Genesis, never to be surpassed for sheer musical excellence and creativity. Every track is fresh, ferociously original and first class.

The lyrics of "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" typify the high strangeness of the album; "Off we go with, You play the hobbyhorse, I'll play the fool, We'll tease the bull, ringing round & loud, loud & round, Follow on, With a twist of the world we go." It features extreme time sig changes and theatrical vocals; Genesis takes the storytelling qualities of previous albums and gives it a vibrant injection of polished instrumental prowess.

The single from the album came in the unlikely form of a song about a lawnmower. That's right the mundane act of mowing a lawn became part of the staple radio diet, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)". The drone of the lawnmower makes an appearance at the end of the track and it is very effective in making a statement that lawnmowing is part of the English past time, maintaining a healthy lawn is the key. The lyrics are pure whimsy; "When the sun beats down and I lie on the bench, I can always hear them talk, Me, I'm just a lawnmower, you can tell me by the way I walk." The theme is therefore that the inanimate object of the mower is speaking about it's existence, it's life on a farm and it's life in a suburban backyard; "Keep them mowing blades sharp." The track ends on Gabriel's fluttering flute solo and an odd jazz rock beat, but radio stations adored playing this as it was such a curiosity.

"Cinema Show" features a bombastic refrain and some incredible passages of synth and jazz drumming. It has a catchy melody that grabs hold and creates an ethereal atmosphere. Rutherford and Hackett's acoustic guitars begin the piece and the natural progression to fully loaded synthesizer dominates. It has become one of the Genesis masterpieces that are quintessential to the group's long career. Gabriel's infatuation over T. S. Eliot is apparent in the lyrics; "I will make my bed, She said, but turned to go, Can she be late for her cinema show? Romeo locks his basement flat, And scurries up the stair." The Shakespeare references are a nice touch and give the track a mediaeval historical relevance. In the reunion tour the song made an appearance to an enraptured crowd, as did many other songs from the album such as "Firth of Fifth".

In the virtuosic "Firth of Fifth", the piano intro signifies England's greener fields, a similar feel to Emerson Lake & Palmer's "The Gates of Kiev" from "Pictures of an Exhibition". The tempo is a strong rhythm full of grandeur and majestic Hammond; a religious cathedral like atmosphere ensues. Gabriel is at his theatrical best; "Urge the sailors on, till lured by the sirens' cry", and the medieval theme of beautiful sirens luring sailors is mimicked with alluring music. The interlude of synth and guitar embellishments with augmented keys are very emotive. There are tranquil melodies in one of the most celebrated passages of music generated from Genesis. The melody is played live on the DVD "Genesis in Rome" without lyrics and is as powerful and majestic as ever. "Now as the river dissolves in sea, So Neptune has claimed another soul. And so with gods and men" the lyrics continue, presenting a typical mythological theme. The melancholy piano is accompanied by an up tempo synth with a sombre guitar and these tend to blend together to build a solid block of sound. It is a mesmirising track and certainly a definitive Genesis classic.

The epitome of the progressive side of the band is captured in the way the tracks vary so diversely from track to track. There is even a Collins ballad, his first lead vocal for the group, in the song "More Fool Me". Perhaps this prophesises the impact of Collins upon the group in the 1980s and indeed his solo career that was replete with power ballads.

"The Battle Of Epping Forest" is an 11 minute 43 seconds romp through the tale of two rival gangs and the violence of the slaughter is sent up rather than taken seriously. Yet the darkness of the battle royale is embedded in the lyrics; "In with a left hook is the bethnal green butcher, But he's countered on the right by Mick's chain-gang fight, And liquid len, with his smashed bottle men, Is lobbing Bob the Nob across the gob. With his kisser in a mess, Bob seems under stress, But Jones the Jug hits Len right in the mug, And Harold Demure, who's still not quite sure, Fires acorns from out of his sling, here come the cavalry!" It is all over done with a lot of theatrical Gabrielisms but it works as a memorable lyrical sketch of fired up nonsense.

"After The Ordeal" and "Aisle of Plenty" are less memorable but still pack a wallop as part of the overall soundscape. The album ends with the reprise of musical motifs that began the album, a kind of cycle of musical ideas, returning to the past.

Overall "Selling England By The Pound" stands the test of time as a bonafide Genesis masterpeice, undoubtedly among the best the band would create. It is hailed as a treasure among the prog community today, specifically for the three showpieces "Dancing With The Moonlight Knight", "Firth of Fifth" and "The Cinema Show". The single released in 1974 certainly didn't do any harm either as it peaked at #21 in the UK, spending 7 weeks in the charts. The album is quite simply a masterpiece with Genesis at the peak of their powers before they crash landed in the 80s. The album is one of my favourite prog albums due to the consistency of quality and I will always revere "Firth of Fifth" especially due to that amazing instrumental break where Banks takes off into full flight on keyboards. The album is an example of how music can sound when all the elements are balanced perfectly; when everything was working right, Genesis were untouchable.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 5/5 |


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