Genesis is something of an ugly duckling to rock 'n' roll's more well-regarded swans. It's the sort of band that some reflexively sneer at, while others feel the need to defensively explain their appreciation. I'm squarely in the second camp. I wasn't old enough (or British enough) to be around when they first broke, so my introduction was through my mom's well-worn copy of their live album Seconds Out (which is, incidentally, one of the finest live recordings just about ever). I was utterly awestruck when those first notes from Tony Banks' Moog hit my tender ears. Their music was engaging on just about every possible level, notably the technical, the melodic and the cerebral.
Most people born after 1985's knowledge of Genesis only extends as far as American Psycho, and that's unfortunate, because it's one of the greatest bands in rock history. But fate may yet smile on them with news that they're contenders for a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor they more than deserve.
Genesis was the first band to give non-blues rock a wide appeal with its uniquely and peculiarly British take on narrative and melody. The band was conceived in Surrey, England at the Charterhouse school, and frontman Peter Gabriel went on to gather an ensemble that operated with Voltron-like precision. Gabriel (vocals), Phil Collins (drums), Tony Banks (keyboard), Mike Rutherford (bass) and Steve Hackett (guitar) were all masters of their craft. Each member shared in songrwriting duties, a workmanlike approach that was doubly reflected in rich musical narratives and genre-fusions.
They didn't invent progressive rock (King Crimson officially broke that ground in 1969 with In the Court of the Crimson King), but they did it better than anyone who came before or followed. The early to mid 1970s saw Genesis release a raft of weird and wonderful prog masterpieces: the dark and melodic Trespass and Nursery Cryme, their fiery breakout Foxtrot, the whimsical and tuneful Selling England By the Pound, and Gabriel's magnum opus The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Each of these albums were wholly unique beasts, bringing an appreciation for mythology, history and literature to a genre that was more about copulation than contemplation. Their wild disregard for traditional song structure and melody were impossible to ignore in the mostly-homogenous musical landscape of the time; could bands really make music like this, and succeed?
Unfortunately, artistic tension led to Gabriel's departure just as the band was beginning to blow up, but Genesis soldiered on with Collins assuming the frontman slot. After a run of three understated but no less solid rock albums, they released Duke in 1980, a near-flawless synthesis of their prog flair with a newly-discovered synth-pop aesthetic. It proved to be a clear bellwether for the musical styles of the decade to come, and a template for the Collins-Banks-Rutherford formation that transformed them into an arena-rocking superstar act.
Opinions on Genesis' massive discography are as diverse as the number of tempo changes in "Supper's Ready." Some refuse to listen to any of the band's post-Gabriel work, some mark their departure as fans around Duke or Abacab, and others enjoy (or even prefer) the unabashed pop they released in the '80s and early '90s. One thing we can all agree on: Ray Wilson sucks hard.
There's no denying either that Genesis' founding members went on to release some inspired and genre-defining solo material. Peter Gabriel parlayed his ear for instrumentation into some art-rock standards,afro-pop anthemsand pop masterpieces, and gave us the soundtrack to one of the best moments in any romantic comedy. Mike Rutherford's Smallcreep's Day was a solid electro-epic, and Steve Hackett's 1975 solo debut Voyage of the Acolyte did one better on the prog sensibilities Genesis jettisoned with Gabriel's departure.
And Phil Collins, the bête noire of "serious" music fans, redefined the pop landscape of the 1980s, bringing gated drum reverb and a host of synthesizer techniques into the mainstream. Yeah, he's done the occasional shill for Disney, but for every questionable artistic decision or divorce notice sent via fax, he's done something awesome like collaborating with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. And he's still one of the most underrated drummers of all time.
So, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the ball is in your court now. Forget the fox masks, the stage theatrics and Phil Collins' movie career, and give Genesis their due. Underneath all that weirdness is one of the most important and influential acts of the last four decades.
© Pastemagazine, by Michael Saba