1972 was truly an important year for progressive music. There were several artists that undeniably pushed the barriers of music and raised the bar really high.
The most popular releases back then were 'Close to the Edge' by Yes and 'Thick as a Brick' by Jethro Tull. These albums were artistic statements whose influential impact on art rock cannot be denied. These bands were labeled as progressive. Most of the bands that belonged to the progressive scene were known for composing music that had several intricacies; whether it was odd-time signatures, more technical use of the instruments, or 15+ minutes suites, these bands showed very respectable musicianship skills. Genesis definitely falls into this progressive category, and 'Foxtrot' was the first album where they actually fulfilled this progressive approach towards music.
First of all, this album has every element one would expect from a progressive album; crafty use of time signatures, extended instrumental passages, symphonic keyboards, intricate guitar and bass lines, unconventional use of vocals, and highly poetic lyrics. However, something that distinguished Genesis from fellow progressive acts is the fact that they were the ones that mastered the subtle art of restraint. Every element is thrown in such a delicate way, musicianship never becomes overbearing or exceedingly pretentious. Now, pretentiousness is often associated with progressive music, and it's not hard to see why. Most of progressive music is more often thought-out and calculated than actually heartfelt, since creativity is something that has no real limits. But Genesis' compositions were more organic and heartfelt than most of their contemporaries.
Genesis' sound, however, is not easy to categorize. It's mellow and sophisticated, but at the same time it's quirky and colorful. They used 12-string acoustic guitars, mellotrons, organs, and keyboards. These elements were usually used to craft quirky, somewhat cartoonish verses connected by soothing atmospheric passages. Peter Gabriel had a very theatrical way of using his vocals, singing with many different accents and varying levels of intensity. When there are keyboards or guitar solos, they aren't thrown in a flashy way. They are more melodic and often convey some imagery that relates to the topic of the lyrics. However, that doesn't mean they aren't highlights of the music. Tony Banks is a very skilled keyboardist and classically trained piano player. And guitar player Steve Hackett was one of the first guitarists (Not Eddie Van Halen) that used the tapping technique to speed up melodic patterns in solos. The rhythmic section is also really solid, Phil Collins is a very powerful drummer with a very delicate touch. And Mike Rutherford's bass lines are perfect in the task of gluing everything together, sometimes becoming more than just a rhythmic instrument. It's also important to state that most of their songs are stories that successfully achieve the goal of creating visual imagery in one's mind.
'Foxtrot' is Genesis at their finest: songs like "Get 'em Out by Friday" and "Supper's Ready" show what Genesis is all about; subtly versus seriousness. "Get 'em Out by Friday" is a story about the rudeness and cruelty that the government shows towards people whose economy is so limited, they can hardly keep up with the payments of the home they're renting. It shows Peter Gabriel taking the role of every character involved in the story, and the intensity of his vocals varies depending on what character he's representing. The rest of the band also follow this dynamic of shifting between mellow and intense to support Gabriel's performance. Most progressive acts were also known for overbearing lyrics. Yes had a very stream-of-consciousness approach towards lyrics, and King Crimson's lyrics were dark and haunting. Peter Gabriel's lyrics are grandiose, articulate, sophisticated and theatrical. It's easy to notice that Gabriel was a very educated young man who was highly influenced by old English literature. His lyrics were sometimes hard to decipher, but they flowed smoothly and elegantly while still conveying fantastic imagery.
The highlight of the album is it's closing suite "Supper's Ready". This song is a 23 minute monster that showcases the entire band's best performances in the whole album. Peter Gabriel's vocals are truly unique, especially in the "Willow Farm" middle section, where he sounds incredibly odd by mocking different accents, sounding clinical and almost bipolar. The acoustic passages of this song are just beautiful, excellent use of 12-string guitar. The keyboards takes the role of being an atmospheric element in the beginning of the song, and towards the end takes the role of being in the lead, with Tony Banks's most impressive keyboard solo of his entire career. The guitar solo in the second quarter of the song is also a highlight of the song, Steve Hackett uses his tapping technique and other different techniques to create an odd sounding but still epic solo. This song is not just Genesis's best song, but also a landmark in progressive music right next to Yes's "Gates of Delirium" and Jethro Tull's 'Thick as a Brick'.
The production values are a little rough around the edges, but this was perfected in their upcoming album 'Selling England by the Pound' which may be the reason it's often considered Genesis's best album (though that's a debatable subject).
All in all, 'Foxtrot' is a hugely influential album, and one of the genre's best. Whether it's for "Watcher of the Skies's" commanding 6/4 beat, "Get 'em Out by Friday's" catchy and complex verses linked by atmospheric passages, or "Supper's Ready's" vocal triumph; 'Foxtrot' is an album that is hard to forget. I would seriously recommend it not just to prog fans, but to every person who considers himself as a music aficionado. This album was one of the first that showed what progressive music is all about without the necessity of being self-indulgent and super pretentious.
By Roosevelt Roy Jr.
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