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The Genesis Songbook

The Genesis Songbook The Genesis Songbook Cover
Before condescending to the commercial mainstream audience, Genesis was one of the most prominent of the British progressive rock groups in the 1970s, and had achieved a longevity unmatched with the possible exception of The Rolling Stones and The Kinks. In addition, the band served as a springboard to superstardom for members Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, who have secured for themselves lucrative critical and commercial solo careers, while fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford has also enjoyed success with his breakaway band, Mike & the Mechanics, with the singles Silent Running and The Living Years.
Genesis’ origins were laid when fifteen-year-olds Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks, members of a group named The Garden Wall, merged with two musicians, Michael Rutherford and Anthony Phillips, of another band, Anon, at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey in 1965. Whilst still attending school, the quartet recruited drummer Chris Stewart, founded The New Anon, and recorded a six-song demo featuring songs written by Rutherford and Phillips. An ex-student, recording artist and producer Jonathan King heard the tape and arranged for the group a series of studio sessions to encourage the development of their sound.

Renamed Genesis by King himself, the group released its debut single, The Silent Sun in February 1968 with little fanfare and it swiftly sank into commercial obscurity. It was followed with the band’s second single A Winter’s Tale, as King further enhanced Genesis’ sound by adding orchestral arrangements to their studio tracks in an effort to mimic their contemporaries, The Moody Blues, and the resulting album, From Genesis to Revelation, was released in March 1969. Becoming one of the first artists to be signed onto the Charisma label, the band recorded their second studio album Trespass within the same year.

However, the band’s exposure and rapidly growing cult following proved to the catalyst for Phillips’ decision to leave Genesis in July 1970, after he had developed crippling stage fright. Following a series of line-up changes - commencing with drummer Stewart, his replacement, John Silver, who featured on the group’s debut album, and accumulating in the defection of Silver’s successor, John Mayhew - Phil Collins, previously a child actor and drummer for the bands Hickory and Flaming Youth, was enlisted. With the inspired addition of guitarist Steve Hackett, the nucleus of Genesis had now been formed.

Possessing a sound reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Genesis’ next album, Nursery Cryme was released in 1971; in comparison to their pervious recordings, the album represented a dramatic shift in its theatrical themes and lyrics, as well as a more intricate and tougher sound. Combined with the 1972 follow-up Foxtrot, Genesis began to acquire an ambitious musical scope with songs that were not only long, but played with a depth and frenetic enthusiasm which resulted in scintillating live performances, enhanced to great effect by the bizarre theatrics of Gabriel, who often indulged in a variety of facial masks and feminine dress on stage.

In May 1975, following a performance in France, Gabriel announced his retirement from Genesis, citing his intention to pursue a solo career. His departure left the future of the band in serious doubt as it auditioned numerous potential replacements, before it was decided that Collins would be best suited for the position of lead vocalist. Dismissing the cynics who had believed that the group would flounder after Gabriel’s departure, the new line-up’s 1975 effort Trick of the Tail stormed to number three on the U.K. charts and number thirty-one on the U.S. Billboard Top 100.

Genesis, it seemed, were on the verge of greater success with the of 1977’s Wind and Wuthering. However, Hackett revealed his intention the leave the group on the eve of the official release of the live double LP, Seconds Out, enforcing the remaining band members to continue as a trio. Abandoning their progressive rock roots for a more commercial and, therefore, accessible pop sound, Genesis released And Then There Were Three in 1978, followed in 1980 by their first chart-topper in the English charts, Duke, which also reached number eleven in America.

Continuing their assault on the international music charts with a renewed vengeance, Genesis unleashed a volley of smash-hit albums and singles in the most lucrative period of their history: 1981’s Abacab devastated the charts, as did, too, the self-titled Genesis, which became their second million-selling album in the United States, producing their first U.S. top 10 single, That’s All. However, 1987’s Invisible Touch shattered all previous expectations; going multi-platinum in America, its release coincided with a monumental world tour which saw the band host a chain of sell-out performances, elevating them to supergroup status.

In 1991, the album We Can’t Dance debuted at number one in the U.K. and soared to number four on the U.S. Billboard charts, but proved to be Collins’ last collaboration with the band as he focused solely on his solo ventures. Genesis attempted to reinvigorate and reinvent itself by returning their progressive rock roots with the introduction of new vocalist Ray Wilson, formally of the group Stiltskin. Despite high-production values and deft musical lyricism, Genesis’s 1997 effort Calling All Stations was a critical and commercial disaster, with neither critics nor fans willing to grant the album a receptive audience.

The Genesis Songbook is an intriguing feature length documentary examining the origins of the band, its illustrious but turbulent history, and the impact that the group has made on both the progressive rock scene and the commercial charts. In addition to delving into the development of Genesis’ most significant songs, such as Supper’s Ready and Mama, the program focuses on interviews with band members, Collins, Rutherford, Banks, Hackett, Phillips, Stuermer, Silver and Wilson. Also featured are insightful conversations with their manager of many years, Tony Smith and music journalist Chris Welch.

The Genesis Songbook is presented in a screen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphic. Due to the fact that the program’s presentation is comprised of recent interviews with the band’s members, interspersed with archival concert footage and promo cuts, visual quality tends to be quite variable.

Black levels are solid, providing great sense of depth; however, they are inclined to be rather opaque during footage of Genesis’ early live performances, particularly with Gabriel’s renditions of The Musical Box and Supper’s Ready. Throughout the interviews, details are very sharp and allow for excellent definition; shadow detail, too, is quite superb. Because of the limitations of the original source material, both the live performances and video clips can be considered to be well-defined, although the visual quality of the more recent material is on an equitable level with the interviews.

There are no evident MPEG artefacts. Despite the fact that there appears to be no discernible film-to-video artefacts associated with the interview content itself, some of the archival material exhibit linear blips, but this was expected. Noticeable film artefacts are present in the earlier concert footage and promo cuts, with perhaps the worst being the excerpt for the video of Misunderstanding from 1980’s Duke; in this instance, the screen image is also inundated with severe grain. Small granules are also seen in the interview with Genesis touring guitarist Daryl Stuermer.

There is evidence of oversaturation and colour bleeding associated with the presentation's archival live footage, the most prominent examples occurring at 9:24 and 19:25, during the performances of The Musical Box and The Cage respectively. Despite these instances and others like them, The Genesis Songbook’s overall saturation in its interview content is superb, providing flesh tones which are wonderfully natural.

There are two audio selections available, that of the English Dolby Digital 5.1 and the English Dolby Digital 2.0.

The sound mix is multi-directional and is present in all five channels, while the subwoofer provides great reinforcement to the numerous musical cuts with a nicely balanced bass reverberation, which is neither overbearing or too subtle; Invisible Touch, Land of Confusion, and I Can’t Dance are particularly noteworthy. Dialogue is cleanly separated between the front and rear soundstages, and displays excellent depth and clarity; needless to say, it is easy to understand.

Naturally, frequency range is marginally compressed in some of the earlier concert footage and more obscure film clips, but this is a by-product of the limitations inherent in the original source material, and is not indicative of the transfer itself or the rest of the program.

In addition to the hour-long main feature, The Genesis Songbook contains approximately 39 minutes of bonus material, which includes more interviews with Phil Collins, Steve Hackett and Daryl Stuermer. However, the real gems here is the chapter devoted to the creation of perhaps their greatest song, Supper’s Ready from the Foxtrot album, and the three acoustic renditions of Follow You, Follow Me, Afterglow, and No Son of Mine, filmed at the Fisher Lane Farm studio in Autumn 2000. With the option to access the chapters individually or separately, the additional material is featured in a screen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphic.

The Genesis Songbook is a valuable addition to the collection of any Genesis fan. The group’s history is told in a succinct manner, with footage that is sure to be a revelation; the most resonant piece of film involves the bewildering spectacle of Peter Gabriel, cloaked in a red dress, his face obscured with a fox-head mask, performing a dynamic version of Stagnation at the Dublin Stadium in the early 1970s. This high-calibre documentary is an illuminating insight into a band which, until 1987 and its breakthrough into the international mainstream market, was an enigma to audiences outside the progressive rock scene.

Without a doubt, this is an essential purchase for Genesis fans; for those interested in the group’s contribution to the realm of both progressive and popular music, and whose taste include such high-profile concept bands as King Crimson, Alan Parsons Project, Soft Machine, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Genesis Songbook certainly warrants a rental.

By Shaun Bennett

Additional Info

  • Actors: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Jonathan Silver, Daryl Stuermer, Ray Wilson, Anthony Phillips
  • Directors: Bob Smeaton
  • Producers: Martin R. Smith
  • Format: Color
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Release Date: Tuesday, 25 September 2001
  • Run Time: 100 minutes


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