Fans and critics alike pretty much ripped Genesis’ final album Calling All Stations to shreds when it arrived on September 1, 1997, as it seemed to please no one in particular.
The old fans didn’t quite get the full-on prog-revival Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks promised, and newer fans wouldn’t touch it without Phil Collins, Disney’s go-to guy, fronting the band. In the considerable shoes of former vocalists Collins and Peter Gabriel, how was a stranger like Ray Wilson to make an impact?
Wilson’s warm, throaty delivery departed from the characteristic and often downright odd vocals (at least in the early, non-pop years of the band) of Gabriel and Collins, being neither quite as defining nor as charismatic. The music too suffered from a lack of identity.
Was this the pop-powerhouse Genesis of the 1980s and ’90s, or the genre-defining prog Genesis of the 1970s? The album attempted to tread a thin line between the two, going further into heavy prog territory with long songs and complex instrumental passages than Genesis had since Abacab, but it also contained a fair number of the radio-friendly, simpler songs that the band focused on in the years following that quirky album.
And, so, no one really responded, leaving record stores and the label with batch after batch of this commercial dud. I, however, applied my usual critical stance: If it didn’t have the "Genesis" legacy to live up to, would I have enjoyed it anyway? Yes, I likely would have, and so I did.
There are some awkward moments, like the purposely eclectic "Alien Afternoon," schmaltzy "If That’s What You Needed," and the completely out-of-place, dated and unnecessary "Small Talk." But there are enough solid moments — like Genesis’ dramatic title track, or the velvety ballads "Shipwrecked" and "Not About Us" — and enough non-offensive filler that Calling All Stations remains a surprisingly intriguing listen.
Not to mention that I, at least, particularly enjoy Ray Wilson’s smooth-as-gravel voice.
© Something Else Reviews, by Tom Johnson
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