The sophomore album Trespass, released on Oct. 23, 1970, offered the first hints at where Genesis would go, as they began to move away from their debut’s more pop-oriented feel.
In its place was growing a newfound focus on balancing bucolic, folk-based sounds with more direct rock attitude.
That would remain a part of Genesis’ central sound for much of the next decade, even as the group was riven by change. And yet Trespass remains largely forgotten.
The album also marked the arrival of cover artist Paul Whitehead, who slashed his own portrait in honor of "The Knife," a standout moment here. Whitehead would also handle the covers for 1971’s Nursery Cryme and 1972’s Foxtrot. By then, however, co-founding guitarist Anthony Phillips had departed, not long after drummer John Mayhew — adding to the sense that Trespass was nothing more than a transitional moment, a precursor.
That’s not the way it started out, however. Genesis entered the studio to record the project in the summer of 1970 having hammered themselves into shape with a merciless touring schedule. Playing almost nightly, a sound — something finally that was unique to the group, which also featured Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford — was beginning to emerge.
"There was a huge, lost world of material in between, as we went from our school-boy holiday song-based album through similar songs, but more mature, through to our first experiments with longer forms," Phillips tells us, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown. "Tony began using the organ, as we left [original Genesis producer] Jonathan King’s more commercial song-based stable. Then, there were long jams, with heavier riff ideas — like ‘Knife,’ etc. We had to raise the tempo and power to get noisy crowds to listen when we ventured out on the road! In short, we went from songwriters who played a bit on an album to a fully equipped, fighting-force live band."
Whatever they sounded like on stage, critics savaged Trespass. It struggled to No. 98 in the UK, and didn’t chart at all in America. (In fact, Genesis’ first Billboard placement wouldn’t arrive until 1973, when Gabriel’s penultimate album Selling England by the Pound reached No. 70.) The pressure began to settle onto Phillips, who was overcome with a crushing bout of stage fright.
He wasn’t actually in any official leadership role, as Genesis worked as a democracy. But Phillips and Rutherford to this point were emerging as the group’s principal songwriters — having handled all or part of the writing on every song but "The Knife," this album’s muscular closer. (Their collaborative relationship, in fact, went back to a childhood band called Anon.) Banks and Gabriel were the lead composers on "The Knife," and also contributed to "Looking for Someone" and (with Mayhew) "Stagnation."
Ultimately, he fled Genesis altogether — something that, in retrospect, gave Gabriel a chance to fulfill a role he already seemed to be growing toward.
"Genesis, in its inception, was very much two sets of composers — the keyboard lobby of Banks and Gabriel, and the guitar one — myself and Mike," Phillips says. "All were equals, though Peter eventually probably dictated band directions more — because he was, oddly enough, the more practical, realistic one who would sit for hours on the phone, calling to agents and getting gigs whilst the rest of us were totally absorbed in our art."
Genesis emerged radically different than it had been before. Steve Hackett stepped in for Phillips while Phil Collins replaced Mayhew, setting Genesis on a trajectory toward the top of the charts. Gabriel, who left in 1974, likewise rose to international pop stardom. Meanwhile, Rutherford collaborated on Phillips’ initial solo offering, 1977’s The Geese and the Ghost, kicking off a more solo idiosyncratic career.
In time, much of Genesis’ work from Gabriel period became belatedly celebrated. The group even earned induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame> But Trespass hasn’t enjoyed that kind of critical reevaluation. It remains, in many ways, an album without an audience — more famous for what it mapped out than for anything it actually accomplished.
Phillips, in a very English way, takes that in stride: "I guess, because it’s so early, there’s no Phil — and it not really quite as good."
© Something Else!, by Nick DeRiso
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