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Genesis Back With New Album and Yet Another New Vocalist

His debut album with the group, Calling All Stations (Atlantic Records), was released in North America this week. It is the band's 20th album and its first studio release since We Can't Dance (1991).

Collins' departure was hardly unexpected. His seven solo albums have sold 60 million copies worldwide, Atlantic says, and he is now writing the score for Disney's upcoming animated feature, Tarzan .

"I sensed it was time that he wanted to move on," guitarist Mike Rutherford said. "People make changes in their life and it's a big challenge for us,which is quite good - all the fresh problems to deal with."

Indeed, when Collins split, Rutherford (46) and keyboardist Tony Banks (47) briefly considered folding the band they co-founded in 1966 with Peter Gabriel and Anthony Philips, both long-departed.

But when Rutherford and Banks started writing songs together in January 1996, they decided Genesis still had some life in it. They hired Wilson in July 1996 and he joined them last September.

Fans usually have mixed reactions when they see a new face at the microphone - witness the controversy over Van Halen or the apathy towards Motley Crue. Of course Collins himself succeeded Gabriel as vocalist in 1975, having joined the band as its fourth drummer in 1970. Despite frequent attacks from critics who accuse the band of making pretentious, meandering music, Genesis has racked up worldwide sales of about 80 million albums, Atlantic says. Albums such as Duke (1980) and Invisible Touch (1986) have catapulted the group to the ranks of rock royalty.

Collins' former colleagues are philosophical about the effect the latest personnel change will have on fans.

"At one stage Phil was the most popular man on the planet, so I'm sure that brought in some fans," Rutherford noted wryly. "Until the last couple of albums really we were a bigger live band than a record band. I'm sure the audience swelled with Phil's success but it was pretty solid before he even took over the singing and got his own solo success."

Wilson, an Edinburgh native who grew up on David Bowie and AC/DC, is not too worried about stepping into Collins' shoes. "I feel, quite frankly, that I'm as good a singer as Phil is," he said. "Vocally, I don't feel threatened at all, you know, never have."

Wilson has been singing since he was 14 and has played more than 2000 gigs in bars and clubs.

He was most recently in a band called Stiltskin, which played festivals throughout Europe on the strength of a hit song for a Levi's commercial.

"I haven't evolved from the unemployment office. When it comes to doing the thing, I know what I'm doing," he said.

Whereas Collins imbued the band with a light touch, Wilson complements the more complex sounds of Rutherford and Banks.

"Over the years, if we really felt we had a strong contender for a single, we tended to make Phil write the lyric," Banks said. "He had a great ear for the simplicity stuff and it came so easy to him. I was much happier writing for a much longer song like Domino or Down By the Sea , where I could let myself go nuts."

In what he admits "could be shooting ourselves in the foot," Banks wrote the lyrics for Congo , the first single off Calling All Stations . It is a relatively upbeat track on a generally gloomy album.

Wilson wrote lyrics for five songs, three of which made the 11-track album; the others will be released as b-sides. He is pleased with his strong start. "What it does for me is it shows that next time around I kind of know where I'm starting off. I know what I've gotta do. I know the process," he said.

But Banks and Rutherford are keeping their options open about the future. Even with a full-time vocalist, fans should not look for Genesis to be more prolific.

"I live very much in the present," Banks said. "So I'm interested in the new record now. We have the ability not to have to do them in quite such close succession and still maintain some momentum."

© Reuters

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