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Genesis: Sum of the Parts DVD

The Genesis classic lineup of the 1970s The Genesis classic lineup of the 1970s

Phil Collins concedes he’s one reason some people hate the Eighties.

The Genesis front man and "Sussudio" singer knows he became something of a pariah despite his commercial and creative successes; he had a hard time saying no to all the solo projects ("Easy Lover"), TV appearances (Miami Vice), and movie soundtracks (Against All Odds) that came his way after the band (by then reduced to a three-piece) began topping the pop charts.

"You want your friends to be successful, but not that successful!" says Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks of Collins’ omnipresence in the ‘80s.

"You couldn’t get away from him for fifteen years. It was a nightmare!"

Still, Collins had something to say about the integrity of Genesis music when the classic lineup reconvened for the documentary Genesis: Together and Apart, which aired on BBC Two back in October: The group’s creative ambition didn’t walk out the door with original singer Peter Gabriel after a trying The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour in 1974-75, thank you very much—nor were their creative juices drained when guitarist Steve Hackett absconded in ’77.

"Forget all that bullshit!" deadpans the drummer. "We’re entertainers. If we’ve entertained people, then we’ve done our job properly."

The trio of Collins, Banks, and Mike Rutherford insist they always made a point to flesh out extended album pieces (like "Home by the Sea" and "Domino") even as radio and MTV embraced the abbreviated, ear-friendly hits on Duke, Abacab, and Invisible Touch.

While the case for Genesis’ latter-day artistic purity may or may not be that simple, old-school and pop-era Genesis fans can agree we’re fortunate the English band gave us such a large, impressive body of work to enjoy and—as the case may be—debate, even forty-five years after its formation in Surrey.

The fascinating official history of the multi-platinum prog-rock group unfolds for the first time ever on the rechristened blue-ray / DVD Genesis: Sum of the Parts (Eagle Rock). Aficionados will relish in the disc’s firsthand account of the career trajectory of one of pop rock’s most memorable—and maligned—acts, and perhaps nitpick over perceived inaccuracies and innuendos that apparently still plague the band dynamic. Unlike most "rockumentaries," Sum is a fairly subjective history, given that the "Musical Box" musicians themselves are doing most the talking, and each brings his version of the "facts" to the table. So while the film may not be completely objective, it’s never not intriguing.

Kind of like Genesis music.

Directed by John Edginton (The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story), the movie project occasioned the long-awaited summit of Gabriel, Collins, Hackett, Banks, and Rutherford in 2014, and lets each and all of them—together and apart (thus the title)—discuss their unlikely ascent from boarding school obscurity to sports arena glory. We also get a few words of praise, critique, and evaluation from guest commentators Angie Greaves (London D.J. at 105.4 FM), David Roberts (author, Rock Chronicles), Al Murray (comedian, Horrible Histories), Kate Mossman (arts editor, New Statesman), Chris Roberts (journalist), and Mark Billingham (novelist, the Tom Thorne crime series).

Featuring crystal-clear Dolby Digital Stereo / Dolby 5.1 / DTS Surround Sound, the feature now boasts thirty extra minutes that never aired on TV (total running time 90 minutes), along with another half-hour’s worth of uncut interviews with the 2010 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

The journey begins with the band’s last foray into the public: On Jun 11, 2007, at a packed Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, where Collins rejoins his mates in concert for the first time since 1992. From there we’re escorted back in time, to the group’s very inception at Charterhouse, where Banks and Rutherford started jamming with guitarist Anthony Philips. Looking back, Banks cites "Ant" as being the most accomplished player among them ("He could actually do something with his instrument"), and says he agreed to do a demo tape with English pop star Jonathan King only if his friend, Peter, could sing a song.

"He had the most wonderful voice," remembers King. "I have that demo cassette to this very day. I named them Genesis, because it was the start of my production career."

The entrepreneurial King knew his limitations: He liked telling people what do to in order to affect his vision, but he wasn’t so good working with creative types who could write and perform their own compositions.

"In those days there were no real rules," says Rutherford, who learned his first guitar chords from Phillips.

"We were trying to be different, because the canvas in those days was pretty blank."

The chapters unfold bit by bit, with album sleeve art (and release dates) demarking each step in the band’s evolution. Prog-rock fans who enjoyed Yes Years (the 1991 documentary on Genesis’ "Roundabout" contemporaries) will appreciate the chronological attention to detail as the chaps narrate the makings of now-classics like Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, and Selling England By the Pound and the writing and recording of iconic pieces like "The Knife," "Supper’s Ready," "Watcher of the Skies," and "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)."

The dreamy teens work-shopped early material like "She is Beautiful" and "Looking for Someone" at school, then later at a cottage owned by the family of road tech Richard Macphail. A pivotal gig at the Atomic Sunrise Festival at The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm (where they shared the bill with David Bowie) saw Phillips’s stage fright reach an ugly climax. Gabriel says there were more people on stage than in the audience, but Ant’s terror was palpable—and fatal to his future in Genesis.

"That could have been the end of the band," says Billingham of Ant’s post-Trespass departure. "And we wouldn’t be having this discussion."

"People don’t realize how important he was," Rutherford agrees. "He was the driving force."

That force shifted—and became divided—with the addition of two talented new members: Flaming Youth drummer Collins brought a quick wit and workingman’s ethic to the "precious" ensemble, and guitarist Hackett infused the music with mesmeric arpeggios and searing leads.

"Music was a restricted subject for them," reflects Collins. "You weren’t supposed to play guitar at Charterhouse, whereas for me it was already a way of making a living."

"It was a very competitive band," adds Hackett. "Very gifted, but with those gifts comes a certain price."

The classic combination gradually built its audience with each new record, traveling to the United States in 1973 to marvel at the big cities…and Holiday Inns. Tour manager Ed Goodgold admits he exaggerated the group’s popularity to the U.S. press based on his own experience at Genesis shows, where he witnessed crowds being "elevated and lifted out of the mundane" by the astounding musical virtuosity, grandiose lyrics, and visual theatrics.

His truth-stretching paid off.

"We’d been pushing this big thing up a hill, and suddenly it was downhill," recalls Gabriel. "We could smile."

"It was exciting because we were led to believe this was what rock stars did," chuckles Collins over their maiden voyage to America.

"These were the places that they banned you from! Whenever Spinal Tap is on and you see those moments, it’s ‘Oh, I’ve been in a band like that!’ That was us with the pod not opening!"

Along with Yes, Pink Floyd, and a handful of other (mostly British) acts, Genesis defined what came to be known as progressive rock, committing fantastical, album-side-long pieces of music to vinyl in the studio and recreating it all onstage with Hackett wailing while sitting in a chair, a perfect mild-mannered foil to Gabriel’s costumed and outrageous alter-egos.

Gabriel concedes he "ambushed" his mates with his makeup and elaborate disguises because he suspected (quite rightly, we discover) his ideas would’ve been vetoed (especially by Banks, with whom Peter shared an intimate, albeit on /off, creative partnership). We’re taken behind the scenes (via archival footage) as Gabriel shaves his hair into a "reverse Mohawk" and dons light-sensitive makeup and clothing, transforming into now-iconic characters like Britannia, The Flower, The Slipperman, Magog, and The Old Man.

"Peter wasn’t particularly at ease in front of an audience…until he became someone else," analyses Collins.

Gabriel believes it fell upon him to entertain audiences while the band tuned up, which (given its assortment of twelve-string and double-neck guitars) could sometimes take a while. The various outfits weren’t "intrusive" initially—they didn’t prevent Gabriel from singing into the microphone—but Collins shares a funny story about a gig one night when Peter was "flown" to the rafters on a wire and began spinning uncontrollably. The singer had to kick his legs to right himself.

Turns out Gabriel’s final onstage incarnation—the Puerto Rican refugee Rael—would cause more consternation than his more complex get-ups because at least one of his band mates (ahem, Banks again) wasn’t excited about telling the immigrant’s tale on the double-album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. To make matters worse, a picture projection system developed for the subsequent tour proved defective most nights, leaving the band to soldier on beneath flickering screens. Collins says he enjoyed the jaunt, ritually smoking a joint before each show before flailing away on drums, but the others were alternately sullen and stern. Gabriel’s desire to spend some quality downtime with his wife and newborn daughter only exacerbated growing tensions within in the camp.

During a tour stop in Cleveland, Peter told manager Tony Smith he’d had enough.

"If you want to make a great painting, you’ve got to let the one painter do it," explains Gabriel of his Lamb saga. "There aren’t many great novels written by committee."

"It was incestuous, because we did nothing but this," Collins says of the day-to-day rigors of life on the road. "People get irritated."

The third act walks us through the New Wave and "pop" albums released by the three-man Genesis from 1978 through 1992, reassessing the merits of Duke, Abacab, Genesis, and Invisible Touch, and We Can’t Dance. We discover how ballad "Follow You, Follow Me" finally brought female listeners to the group, how Collins copped a Grandmaster Flash cackle for the sinister "Mama," how Rutherford developed the bluesy riff for "I Can’t Dance" in short order, and how puppeteers at Spitting Image turned out a memorable video clip for "Land of Confusion."

"I have my head at home," says Collins of his foam-made counterpart.

"Someone in Texas bought mine on Ebay," reports Rutherford. "I hate to think what they’re doing with it!"

The engaging DVD isn’t flawless, however: Some of these "parts" are either missing, or are substantively deficient enough that viewers will crave further exploration. Hackett made the pages of Rolling Stone after complaining that the documentary gave his solo career short-shrift, and thus didn’t live up to its together-and-apart premise. The guitarist isn’t wrong; the film spotlights his entrance and exit from the band but doesn’t address Hackett’s key contributions or touch on his subsequent works the way it does everyone else’s. Not even his solo debut Voyage of the Acolyte (recorded in 1975, while still in Genesis) or his team up with Yes six-stringer Steve Howe in GTR ("When the Heart Rules the Mind") receives mention. In fact, Phillips gets almost as much screen time as the Bay of Kings composer, despite appearing on less than half the number of Genesis records as Hackett.

Original drummers John Mayhew and John Silver aren’t named at all; fair enough given they each contributed to only one LP before taking (or being given) his leave. Likewise, no mention is made of Bill Bruford’s sitting in on the 1976 tour; the King Crimson drummer’s involvement enabled Collins to transition smoothly from drum stool to center stage.

Still, the longest-tenured members give Hackett his due ("He was a very accomplished guitarist without wanting to be a flash guitarist," notes Banks), and the filmmakers are otherwise cautious to devote equal time to the players without favoring any one of them, either within or without Genesis. We’re guided through synopses of both Gabriel’s and Collins’ seminal early works (like "Biko" and "In the Air Tonight"), but Edington and company refrain from lingering too long on either singers’ biggest albums (So and No Jacket Required, respectively), perhaps from fear of highlighting their cultural impact (which was huge on both counts, to be sure) at the expense of others’ solo efforts. Indeed, we hear more about Collins’ acrimonious divorce and the resulting piano-powered catharsis of Face Value, and of Gabriel’s cymbal-free world music excursions, more than we do blockbuster hits "Don’t Lose My Number" and "Sledgehammer." Which is fine; but the filmmakers are keen to note how well the liberated vocalists used music video to further express (and promote) themselves.

Rutherford takes us through his time with Mike + The Mechanics ("Silent Running," "The Living Years") and stipulates his need for constant collaboration with talented vocalists:

"When you write a great song, you need a great singer to sing it," he postulates. "I’m not that guy!"

As for Banks, we’re teased with a slideshow of the keyboardists’ cover sleeves (A Curious Feeling, The Fugitive, Bankstatement, etc.) but aren’t ushered too deeply into his canon—notwithstanding a little exposition on his more recent classical work with the London Philharmonic and City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestras (Seven: A Suite for Orchestra and Six Pieces for Orchestra).

Honorary Genesis members Daryl Stuermer (guitar) and Chester Thompson (drums) chime in on their years (1977-2007) of playing live with Collins and company. Where some listeners find the band’s diversity—or movement from audacious long-form, classically-influenced pastorals to drum-machine-laden lite rock—too much, Stuermer reveled in the hodgepodge of musical styles:

"It’s not country, it’s not jazz, it’s not rock," says the guitarist. "It’s Genesis."

Gabriel concurs that the shuffling of styles over the years and across the albums was one of the band’s strengths:

"When we got it right, we had something none of us could do on our own," surmises the "Solsbury Hill" singer.

Genesis: Sum of the Parts is available now at Amazon and other retailers.

Video

Genesis - Sum of The Parts ~ Trailer Eagle Rock

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