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CD/DVD: Genesis - And Then There Were Three and Duke

I base this prediction on the fact that even though this version of the band unquestionably sold a buttload of albums, the fanbase itself was more casual in nature. There was never the sort of intense fan devotion that was involved in earlier incarnations of Genesis.

The following that this band had during its early, so-called "progressive rock" years may have been smaller than the millions who gobbled up albums like Invisible Touch and We Can't Dance. But they were a rabidly devoted lot. Much more so I would say, than what I would call the more transient fans who picked up albums by the Phil Collins-led Genesis of the "pop years," right alongside their purchases of Journey, Loverboy and REO Speedwagon.

But I digress.

I guess that I just don't see the memory spans of those fans matching that of those queueing up for the other big ticket reunion tour this year by the Police. Now if this reunion was with the band featuring Hackett and Gabriel doing The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway for example? Different story entirely. But only time will tell if I was right or wrong on this.

But anyway, like I said it's looking to be a big year for these guys either way.

As part of the Genesis reunion hoopla, Rhino/WEA has released Genesis: 1976 - 1982, a boxed set covering the albums released during that period in new remastered and enhanced CD/DVD versions. They have also reissued each individual album by itself as a double remastered and enhanced CD/DVD.

These albums are interesting mostly because they serve as a bridge between the old, prog-rock version of the band, and the hit machine they became in the eighties. They are bookended by Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering -- the first two post-Gabriel albums in which the band simply continued doing the prog-rock they were then best known for — and Abacab, the album which completed the band's transition to more commercial fare.

Landing right in the middle of that are these two albums, and for that reason alone they may be the most noteworthy of this entire period. On And Then There Were Three and Duke, Genesis were a band caught between directions, seeming unable to decide which way it wanted to go. On these albums, what you hear is a clear case of a band with one foot in and one foot out. It's fascinating to be able to re-explore them in their newly remastered and enhanced context, knowing what has now come to light historically.

With Steve Hackett out of the band on the appropriately titled And Then There Were Three, you can hear Phil Collins begining to really assert creative control. The drums are mixed a lot higher for one thing - and on this remastered version they sound pretty amazing.

And let's face it, Phil Collins was and is one hell of a drummer. It's just too bad that what he really seemed to want to be was more of a song and dance man. Here, this first manifests itself in "Follow You, Follow Me," which despite it's nice, sugary enough pop sensibilities, sticks out like something of a sore thumb on this album.

Fortunately, Rutherford and Banks still made up the other two thirds of this band at this juncture, creatively speaking as well as in name. And for that, you get the soaring keyboard swells of "Snowbound" and the romantic textures of "Many Too Many." The band also flexes it's progressive rock muscles on tracks like "Down And Out," "Deep In The Motherlode," and even "Say It's Alright Joe" which builds from a slow rock ballad to a nicely layered crescendo of crashing keyboards and guitars.

But on the seven-minute "Burning Rope," Genesis really remind you just why they were considered one of progressive rock's greatest bands. Banks and Rutherford build a virtual wall of layered sound on this track, and Collins just plain drums his ass off here. On this new remastered version it sounds even better than I remembered it.

By the time of Duke, Collins — by now, a commercial success as a solo artist — was well on his way to taking over the drivers seat completely in this band. Duke stands as the last gasp of the band's former progressive sound. By the time of the next album, Abacab, it would be replaced pretty much entirely by the fusion jazz and big drum leanings of Collins. Which wasn't so bad, because the full-on schlocky pop/R&B of later albums hadn't yet completely reared it's ugly head. However, it was still lying in wait and lurking just around the corner.

On Duke, there are for the first time two bonafide pop singles - the bouncy "Turn It On Again" and the more romantic sounding "Misunderstanding." Again, two great songs from a band by now nonetheless moving further and further away from it's former self. The best remaining evidence of the band's prog-rock sensibilities captured here lies in the grand sweep of "Duchess/Guide Vocal" and the closing drum driven jazz-rock of "Duke's Travels/Duke's End." Again, the remastered sound here does both great justice, especially on the grandly layered keyboard swells of "Duchess."

The remastered versions of these two albums each include some great extras on the bonus DVD. Duke, most noteworthily, features a decent-sized chunk of video from a 1980 live concert in London. And Then There Were Three also has live footage, plus new interviews with band members — including Steve Hackett, who explains his departure — conducted just this year.

Taken together, both of these records close one chapter of Genesis history. They capture the final moments of a band clinging to its legacy as one of progressive rock's most innovative and original sounding bands, right before they rode a wave of hits to become, well, that "other band" in the eighties.

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