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Genesis - Calling All Stations CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

2.49 | 1014 ratings

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2 stars I suspect that when it came time to name this album it was extremely tempting to go with "And then there were two" but fortunately good taste ruled the day and they steered clear of the obvious. Having said that, I would've opted for the more appropriate moniker of "Where the f*** did everyone go?" but then that's just one of a myriad of reasons why I'm just a fan of the group and not a member. While I was late getting to the Genesis party back in '76 I caught up quickly, accumulating the albums I'd missed in short order. They then established for themselves a secure place in the top five list of my favorite bands and, despite several missteps on their part, stayed there for a decade until the blatant commercialism of their "Invisible Touch" LP finally convinced me that the prog monster who'd once possessed them was dead and wasn't coming back to visit. I finally got around to listening to "We Can't Dance" from '91 about 16 years after its release and I found it to be better than expected but it was still a far throw from the jaw-dropping grandeur of records such as "Selling England by the Pound," confirming that I hadn't missed much by ignoring it all that time. I took much the same attitude towards "Calling All Stations" except that it only took me 14 years to give it a hearing.

Say what you will about Phil Collins but after the group bled "We Can't Dance" for all it was worth and his pals Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks started preparing for the manufacture of studio album #15 he politely but firmly said "enough's enough already," curtsied and exited stage left. With that turn of events most folks in Mike and Tony's patent leathers would read the writing on the wall and humbly succumb to the inevitable without resistance. But evidently these two cockeyed optimists were convinced that the golden goose known as Genesis had at least one more viable egg to lay so they took on the arduous task of finding more replacement parts. There were studio drummers aplenty (in this instance Nick D'Virgilio of Spock's Beard and a capable stickman named Nir Zidkyahu) who'd gladly help out but lassoing a front man/vocalist was a much trickier proposition. After approaching almost every available male singer on planet earth (including the likes of Fish and Paul Carrack) with the presumptive carrot that consisted of the "privilege" to audition for the open spot they at last settled on a handsome Scottish lad by the name of Ray Wilson, had some new T-shirts made up and set about making a fresh start as the 2nd three-man version of Genesis.

A heavy beat reminiscent of what Collins laid down for "Mama" establishes a strong, familiar foundation beneath the title cut but when the vocal comes in it immediately ceases to sound like Genesis. It's not that Ray stinks; he's just below average in comparison with those who preceded him, two of rock's most inimitable singers. Rutherford's guitar work is fluid and Banks' keyboards are, as usual, broad and filling but the song never takes off to take you anywhere. "Can anybody tell me/tell me exactly where I am/I've lost all sense of direction," Ray cries (and we now have reason to worry). "Congo" is next, a catchy pop rock tune that avoids being condescending yet, on the other hand, exceptional is not an adjective I would ever attach to it. Strangely, as if the song had an expiration date, the fade out is more like a time-sensitive, abrupt edit than a natural ending. "Shipwrecked" is a ballad sporting a very predictable structure. It comfortably fits into the same mold that produced the band's string of mellow hit singles throughout the 80s and into the early 90s (a trend that constantly eroded their reputation as risk-takers). "Alien Afternoon" is a specimen of their unique but corny quirkiness that popped up from time to time in their post-Hackett catalogue of work. That tactic isn't off-putting in small doses but still decidedly less than satisfying when one considers their rich prog pedigree. "Not About Us" is an acoustic guitar-based ballad that further pushes the album into the dubious category of contemporary rock. Not that there's anything so horrible about that particular genre but progressive it most assuredly ain't. The lyrics of "Nevermore to go wandering/never leaving my world behind" may be a tell-tale glimpse into Mike and Tony's conservative viewpoint for this project. No pain, no gain, fellas.

"If That's What You Need" is a case of the same, only different. It's fair romantic fare and all but sitting through it makes me pine for brighter days when Genesis could charm the corduroys off me with love songs like "Your Own Special Way" that didn't make me feel like a schmuck for liking them. Nir's rolling toms and Mike's gritty guitar dominate the intro to "The Dividing Line," a number that at least owns a pinch of unpredictability in a pseudo-prog way. Speaking of drums, Zidkyahu turns in a fine performance and his tubs are well-tuned for the job assigned to him. The apex of the album is "Uncertain Weather." Tony's silky-smooth synths provide a deep backdrop for this stately composition that showcases some of the revamped group's more admirable traits. Its grand, melodic progression harkens this Genesis fanatic back to their last great record, the excellent "Duke." They follow that with "Small Talk," an example of a trio of Brits trying their damndest to write something funky. Their hearts were in the right place, no doubt, but they inevitably overlooked the crucial ingredient of a solid groove to give it life. In their favor they do inject some interesting dynamics that add color but the tune's just too plain to shine. "There Must be Some Other Way" is more descriptive of this effort than they intended, I'm sure, but it's remarkably representative. The number's cavernous aura is commendable but by now the absence of Phil's creative third opinion and influence becomes a factor as the tunes start to run together sound-wise. It's not helped by Banks' extended instrumental segment that meanders without focus, either. "There's nothing much left to say/we have said it once and said it all again/this time we have gone too far/it could never be the same," Ray sings. Can I get an amen? Yet another subtle, moody beginning is too familiar at this point to make the closer, "One Man's Fool," special. Punchy drums cause it to evolve into a faux rocker yet the central problem is that they never leave the confines of their comfort zone and that's unfortunate. Mike and Tony were in an enviable position. They could've done something radical and/or exploratory but they took the low road and played it safe. Too bad.

"Calling All Stations" climbed to the #2 spot in the UK but consumers stateside weren't impressed at all and it failed to break into the top 50 LPs over here. It was so overlooked, in fact, the band's scheduled US tour had to be scrapped due to wholesale indifference. Albums of this nature that have all the earmarks of being a last-ditch attempt at patching a gaping hole in a once-proud ocean liner's hull rarely achieve significant success and this record was not the exception. Yet there are two things Rutherford, Banks and Wilson can take away from this album. (A) Mediocre as it is, it's still superior to the bottom-feeding, eponymous turd the group squeezed out in '83 and (B) kudos for trying their best to perform CPR on the pulse-deficient body of Genesis, efforts that proved to be in vain. No amount of slick, shiny paint could make this old clunker run again when what it needed most was a tank full of high octane, experimental fuel. Two stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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