Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Genesis Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

From Genesis to Revelation (1969; first released in U.S. in 1974 on London)        

C   

Fair warning: Peter Gabriel is already in place as the band’s frontman, and Tony Banks and Michael Rutherford are in the lineup as well, but this album sounds absolutely nothing like Genesis whatsoever and is less informed by mainstream or progressive rock than it is by folk and baroque pop, the album having an uncanny resemblance to the BeeGees’ albums of the ‘60s like Horizontal, Idea, or Odessa. That having been said, however, it’s a fascinating listen, if only because they never made another album quite like it, and for a baroque-pop album, it’s semi-decent. Some of the songs sound a little too similar, and the album might have benefited from a more varied mix of tempos or styles, but some of the songs are unusually catchy for early-era-Genesis songs, especially “The Conqueror” and “Where the Sour Turns to Sweet.”  The band is still too much in its embryonic stages here for this to qualify as an essential purchase, but it’s a much more listenable disc than most critics would have you believe. 

Trespass (1970, Impulse!)                                                                                         

B –

The band is slowly transitioning from the concise, wistful BeeGees-esque prog-pop of its debut to an artier, more prog-rock-oriented, if still largely acoustic, sound, and you can hear hints of the direction the band would move in on its next few discs. This transitional disc is not only an improvement on the debut album, but it’s actually arguably much better than the album that would follow it, Nursery Cryme, for the simple reason that the songs are simply a lot more accessible and not so self-consciously arty and are consequently a lot easier to remember, particularly “The Knife” and “Looking for Someone.” 

Nursery Cryme (1971, Charisma)                                                                       

C

The band’s third disc, its first with Phil Collins behind the drumkit and Steve Hackett on guitar, is their most instrumentally accomplished yet. The new band sounds great, and the band, much like King Crimson before it, has traded in the softer, more wistful elements of old for a more avant-garde, complex, and harder-rocking brand of prog-rock. It’s a much stranger and less approachable album than Trespass. (Even the most famous track here, “The Musical Box,” has what is easily one of the strangest and creepiest storylines to be found in any progressive-rock song and is certainly a far cry from the more accessible and less theatrical prog-rock of Yes.) That wouldn’t be so bad if there were at least some hooks here to make the melodies a bit more memorable, but absolutely nothing on here jumps out at you the same way that “The Knife” did on Trespass, and it takes quite a few listens of this album before anything actually starts sinking in, although it’s hard not to admire the musical showmanship on display throughout the disc. 

Foxtrot (1972, Charisma)                                                                                      

B + 

Much-revered by prog-rock buffs, Foxtrot is still an awfully uncommercial album – its most famous song, the impenetrable and seemingly nonsensical “Supper’s Ready,” takes up the entire second side of the record and doesn’t include any individual sections that could conceivably work as stand-alone singles – but it’s a huge improvement on Nursery Cryme and the band’s best and most confident disc up to this point. “Supper’s Ready” is an acquired taste but is certainly an endlessly fascinating listen regardless of whether you prefer prog-rock-style Genesis or more concise, poppy Genesis, and the album’s first side is a bit more easily penetrable, containing two fine – and thankfully much shorter – gems in “Watcher of the Skies” (where the band finally figures out how to weld its new prog style to a melody that sticks with you) and “Get ‘em Out by Friday.” 

Selling England By the Pound (1973, Charisma)                                              

A +

A much less pretentious album than either of the previous two discs, Selling England finds the band noticeably trying a bit harder to make its prog-rock a bit more accessible to the masses, and they succeed in that regard, the songs here being much easily memorable than on previous efforts, and they even managed to deservedly score a major British hit single in the concise art-pop of “I Know What I Like (in Your Wardrobe),” easily the catchiest song the Gabriel-era incarnation of the band ever produced. Even the lengthier prog-rock pieces are noticeably a bit easier to remember this time as well, and “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” and “The Cinema Show” are both standouts.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974, Atco)               

A

An ever-so-slightly overrated album, Lamb – Gabriel’s final album with the band before going solo – is a fairly over-the-top double-disc concept album. The band does an admirable job of keeping the storyline going over the course of the record, so it’s not as clumsy as your average concept album, but there’s also not a whole lot of pop hooks here to catch and keep your attention, so it’s a slightly tricky album to listen to in its entirety without occasionally getting bored, particularly during its second half. Despite the lack of strong hooks, it’s a very coherent and fascinating art piece overall and one of the more successful concept albums ever made by a prog-rock band. It works much better as an album than as individual tracks, though the album still boasts a few memorable songs in “Counting Out Time,” “Cuckoo Cocoon,” the title cut, and, best of all, “The Carpet Crawlers.”  

A Trick of the Tail (1976, Atco)                                                                           

A +

Longtime drummer Phil Collins takes over the lead vocalist role on the band’s first post-Gabriel outing, and the band noticeably commercializes its brand of prog-rock just enough to allow more hooks to seep into the mix, and the result was the band’s highest-charting album yet on either side of the Atlantic and a disc that impressed critics everywhere who assumed Gabriel’s departure would be a fatal blow to the band.  Highlights include the excellent pop-tinged title track (the band’s catchiest song since “I Know What I Like,”) the epics “Entangled” and “Robbery, Assault & Battery,” and the explosive “Dance on a Volcano.”

Wind and Wuthering (1976, Atco)  

B    

Steve Hackett’s final album with the band, the musicianship here is just as impressive as ever and the album isn’t noticeably all that stylistically different from its excellent predecessor, but the melodies just aren’t nearly as memorable this time around, and it takes several spins for most of the songs to sink in, with the exception of the glorious, wistful ballad “Your Own Special Way,” which would rightfully become the band’s first single to crack the Hot 100 in America.