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CD Review: Turn It On Again: The Hits

tioa© The Star Online, by Chua Chern Toong

Genesis is perhaps a textbook example of how a once-important, pioneering prog-rock unit can turn into a slick, money-making pop machine. When they started in 1967, the group had Peter Gabriel on board as captain. He proceeded to outfit the band’s repertoire with theatrical progressive-rock epics that invariably sent drugged-out hippies into fits of ecstasy.

As their works grew increasingly proficient and sophisticated, the general public and music critics alike began to hail Genesis as prog legends, alongside contemporaries like Pink Floyd, Yes and Jethro Tull.

Landmark albums like 1973's Selling England by the Pound and 1974's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (arguably the most artistically realised record of Genesis Mach One) occupy assured places in the hallowed annals of modern rock.

However, Gabriel decided to exit the mothership in 1976, citing creative differences, going on to a highly successful solo career.

Instead of calling it quits as many expected, the rest of the group decided to close ranks, calling up drummer Phil Collins to handle vocal duties, and simultaneously, the weighty role of band frontman.

Collins also took over the band's artistic reins from the departing Gabriel, and slowly but surely ironed out the more idiosyncratic, arty-farty quirks from the main blueprint. By the time of 1980's Duke, Genesis had made a complete transformation into commercial-rock giants, leaving the prog leanings of the Gabriel years far behind.

Genesis' lengthy history makes something like Turn It On Again: The Hits a hugely useful proposition: for those who are only familiar with the Collins-led, chart-friendly incarnation of the band, this is a golden opportunity to get acquainted with their more experimental and adventurous early phase, without shelling out for the individual albums.

The primary phases of the group are generously canvassed here, with a generous 34 tracks leisurely spread over two discs and spanning a period of 30 years. Throw in a remastering job that spruces up the proceedings, and even the longtime Genesis follower who already has all the studio albums would willingly cough up the cash for this purchase.

Everything the novice needs is covered here, which includes a smattering of the band’s embryonic, fertile days with Gabriel. These include the mind-bending, theatrical The Knife and the whimsical sing-along I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), a sad-sack tale told from the viewpoint of a lawnmower.

A particular highlight from this era of excess is the warped showtune The Carpet Crawlers, which would be one of Gabriel's last offerings with the band. However, more tunes from this period of creative melodrama could have been included to give a better sense of the group’s dynamics under Gabriel.

The gradual transition of the group under Collins' guidance into something more chart-inclined is also canvassed. Your Own Special Way was an auspicious opening salvo of this new-look Genesis, a pseudo-country tune that was a minor commercial hit.

The schmaltzy Afterglow was a portent of Collins' eventual solo stint as one of the most beloved (and despised) romantic balladeers of our time, while the sprightly Follow You Follow Me was the group's first significant chart entry.

Other late-70s Genesis gems found here include the hard-rocking Duchess, the lover's lament Misunderstanding, and the simple but effective one-chord stomper Turn It On Again, ostensibly about the evils of the idiot box.

And finally, Genesis’ incarnation as a hugely successful corporate-rock establishment, with nary a trace of their primeval prog propensities, gets the most representation here.

Eighties chart staples like the bouncy Invisible Touch, the treacly ballad In Too Deep, the Rolling Stones pastiche I Can't Dance, and the break-up theme Throwing It All Away all confirmed Genesis' standing as a highly profitable enterprise.

The only indications of any musical adventurism came through in tracks like the child-abuse narrative No Son of Mine, the political commentary Land of Confusion, the urban-desolation anecdote Tonight Tonight Tonight, and perhaps most of all, in the sarcastic-but-hilarious televangelist-bashing groover Jesus He Knows Me.

There is something for Genesis aficionados of every stripe on Turn It On Again: The Hits, and it easily ranks as a terrific introduction to the various shades of the band.

Like it or not, it does an unparalleled job of educating greenhorns on the long history of Genesis, and the best thing is, it does so in a wholly accessible manner, without the inclusion of any filler. It’s a comprehensive overview of one of the most artistically consequential and commercially successful rock institutions of the second half of the 20th century.

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