Originally shown on BBC Television, though not without controversy from one of its subjects (more on that later), Sum of the Parts is a comprehensive, detailed look at the story of Genesis: a 47-year journey of a band whose evolution in musical styles and lineup has buoyed rather than destroyed it.
More importantly, the filming brought together the five members of the group's classic lineup: Peter Gabriel (vocals); Phil Collins (vocals, drums); Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford (guitars); and Tony Banks (keyboards, guitars) together in the same place at the same time for the first time since 1975.
And, like the band's story, that interaction isn't always pretty or comfortable in their combined interview segments. They are freer with the tongue when filmed individually.
"It's a very competitive band, very gifted," Hackett offers. "But with those gifts, there's a certain price."
Collins offers a more blunt summation: "We were always beating each other into submission."
Like most music writers do, the DVD divides the band's story into "The Peter Gabriel Era" and "The Phil Collins Era" as front man denotation.
There couldn't be a wider gap between Gabriel's intricate and expansive prog-rock era with 23-minute songs ("Supper's Ready," "The Knife," "Watcher of the Skies") sung by a man in a wide variety of bizarre costumes. And then the happy-go-lucky rock pop songs -- "Follow You, Follow Me," "Invisible Touch," "Land of Confusion," "That's All," "I Can't Dance" -- that assaulted charts and filled stadiums of the Collins years.
Filled with contemporary interviews, vintage concert footage, and snippets of the band's videos (seemingly inescapable on early MTV), it has plenty to appeal to both the diehard and casual fan. Often with a Rashomon difference of opinion among band members even today.
When Gabriel appears onstage during one concert in his first costume, wearing a fox head's mask and his wife's red dress, it was shocking. Especially since he hadn't told any of his bandmates for fear of them saying a collective "No way!"
Gabriel's increasingly elaborate costumes, singling out by the press, and ambitious idea for the band to record a double LP concept record - then perform the whole thing in concert before most of the audience had a chance to hear it (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) - led to his departure. And later, Hackett's.
Collins was originally not even thought of (even by himself) as a candidate for new vocalist. But after dozens of auditions failed to turn up the right singer, Collins -- who would sing to coach the auditionees -- ended by with the job almost by default.
Fun fact: The maniacal "A-ha-HA" laughing that Collins does in the song "Mama" was a joke response inspired by rapper Grandmaster Flash's own chuckling in "The Message."
This version of Genesis would have huge chart and venue-filling success with a series of records like Abacab, Genesis, Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance. Critics called the shift in music well-oiled but sort of soulless.
But no one could argue with the popularity. Collins notes that the success of radio-friendly ballad "Follow You, Follow Me" simply "doubled our audience overnight" with a female-heavy infusion.
Genesis in the mid-'70s: Collins, Hackett, Rutherford, Gabriel (in stage costume), and Banks.
Interestingly, the band would compete on the charts with Gabriel, who was having his own solo success. as well as Collins' own massively successful "side job."
This aspect is one of the documentary's more interesting angles, that each member maintained a solo career when the mother group was not working (Rutherford has success with Mike + the Mechanics). Though no one expected Collins' - which began as he wrote softer material in the wake of a painful divorce - to take off so much.
"He was our friend and we wanted him to do well...but not too well, initially," Banks offers. "He was ubiquitous for about 15 years."
The pair also face off onscreen about whether or not Collins offered what would become his first massive solo hit, "In the Air Tonight," to the band first (Collins says yes, Banks says no).
And while far and away the band's most prominent and publicly known member, Collins - not an original member of Genesis - adds that he "still feels third in line" in terms of musical ideas and input.
Collins left Genesis in 1996 and the band remained dormant until a 2007 reunion tour with Rutherford and Banks. Gabriel was apparently approached about joining, but demurred. It's not clear if Hackett was as well.
Of course, fans of both eras of Genesis have been clamoring for that full-on reunion in studio or on the stage. And while no member in the documentary rules it out, Collins expressed some reluctance based on his physical condition (nerve damage in his hand and arm has made it difficult to drum) or the desire to start that maelstrom up again.
The five classic members came together one more time for the premiere screening of this documentary, broadcast as Genesis: Together and Apart. However, Hackett was hacked off and felt that discussion of his solo career was not given proper screen time, calling it "biased."
Also interviewed are a host of music journalists, band associates; original member Anthony Phillips (who left in 1970 due to stage fright); and two longtime touring members, drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist/bassist Daryl Stuermer. Bonus features include more interview footage from members.
So while Sum of the Parts definitely feels like a coda to the story of the band named for the beginning of the Bible, it may not be the end...after all. Though no one is getting any younger.
© Houston Press, by Bob Ruggiero