Genesis's 1971 release Nursery Cryme was an important album in the history of Genesis. The musicianship was excellent, with their "proggiest" up to that point, and the songs were more cohesive than previous albums such as Trespass. But the album was important for another reason: the addition of Steve Hackett on guitar and Phil Collins on drums. The two added a great dynamic and became the "classic" line-up, with Peter Gabriel singing, Steve Hackett on guitar, Mike Rutherford on bass, Tony Banks on keyboards, and Phil Collins on drums. Although Genesis would become more mainstream with the later departure of Gabriel and Hackett, most progressive rock fans are most familiar with this line-up.
After the release of Nursery Cryme to a surprise success in Europe, particularly Italy, Genesis were ready to do their next album. This album would be their most ambitious one up to that point (and possibly throughout their whole career) and would become known as one of the band's best works.
Genesis recorded the album throughout 1972 after all of the promoting and touring of their previous album. Foxtrot was released in October of 1972 to acclaim throughout the whole, except the US where they were still behind the bigger names in prog such as Pink Floyd and Yes. This album is the very first Genesis album I heard, and I was hooked from the first few bars of the first track "Watcher of the Skies". I love Peter Gabriel's voice, and the whole band sound as it is completely different from the sound of other progressive rock bands of their time. This album remains as my second favorite Genesis album (second to the following album Selling England by the Pound) and as my third favorite album of all time!
The album opens with the incredible, and now infamous, chords played on Mellotron by Tony Banks. He plays a wonderful melody that lasts for about a minute and thirty seconds which fades out at the end into the slow build up of the band playing a single note to an incredible rhythm which is accentuated by Phil Collins' drumming. This rhythm builds up into the verse that features Gabriel's vocals at their best. He sings with power, but retains a soothing quality to his voice. Tony Banks' Mellotron stays prominent with the guitar mostly playing in the back with the rhythm of section. The bass playing reminds me of the bass in Yes, but not in a Chris Squire way. I mean that it sounds like Yes because the bass, although not out at the front, acts as a main part, just as Squire does in Yes, rather than just playing a few notes here and there and generally following the guitar lines. After a softer verse, Hackett gets a short solo which leads into another build up similar to the first, but rising in pitch, that leads into a powerful stanza with a thumping beat. This sequence of soft verse to guitar solo to thumping chorus is repeated, but ends the second time with what seems like a duel between the keyboards and the rest of the band as they take turn playing the main phrase, in a back and forth style. This all suddenly takes into a quick reprisal of the full band rhythm from the opening and ends with some minor, yet triumphant Mellotron notes that build up with a drum to the final major chord, which ends the song nicely. As this was the first Genesis song I heard, this has remained a favorite of mine ever since I first heard it because it was a brand new sound to me and I enjoyed it- a lot.
The second track on Foxtrot is "Time Table", a mellow tune in contrast to "Watcher of the Skies". The song opens up with a short piano solo by Tony Banks which transfers into the first verse with the full band. This piano introducing the full band mold would later be used on "Firth of Fifth" from Selling England By the Pound. The song has an interesting sound to it, unlike any other song in their catalog really, apart from "Seven Stones" from Nursery Cryme perhaps. Although it maintains a mellow sound throughout most of the song, the choruses get a bit louder as Gabriel sings fervently about how the purposes of the people of today are so much less moral now. He sings about "a time when honor meant much more to a man than life", signifying an increase of man's selfishness. The song, though mostly piano driven, features some wonderful acoustic guitar work from Steve Hackett, who plays a repeated guitar line throughout the song which is quite beautiful in addition to the rest of the song. In all honesty I don't listen to this song too much, but it really is a good one no matter how much I listen to it.
The third track is the "short" epic "Get 'Em Out By Friday". I say "short epic" not because it is a short song per say (its almost nine minutes, actually), but its length is dwarfed by the second side's "Supper's Ready". This song really shows the creativity of Peter Gabriel and the rest of the band in their lyric writing. It seems like Peter is singing full novels all within one song. Simply, the story is about people being evicted and charged way too much for their living arrangements because of a filthy, greedy real estate firm called Styx Enterprises. Gabriel takes on the rolls of several characters throughout, changing his voice in amazing voices as he goes person to person. The song, set in the present (of when it was written in 1972) at first, spans forty years, ending in 2012. Although the story is awesomely creative and the lyrics are sung with emotion by Gabriel, the best part of the song is the musical arrangement. Phil really beats the drums on this one, showing that he can be loud and soft, and he can go from time signature to time signature all within a single song. The tune opens up with a fast paced instrumental passage with lead guitar and keyboards taking turns out in front with a sort of call and response type of feel. This all finally leads into the main song, which doesn't follow a standard structure at all. After the first half of the song, the band goes into a slower instrumental section that indicates that time is passing over the years. This section is wonderfully created with Peter even getting a flute solo. This section eventually comes to a small climax and quickly and suddenly transfers back into the quick tune of the first half. This part always catches me by surprise as its such a weird transition as it goes from a nice second flute solo right into a quick section with Gabriel singing quickly over the top. This all comes to an end as the band ends on an odd note that ends with an interesting triumphant yet unnerving feeling. This song continues to amaze me and surprise me with things I never hear in previous listens.
Next up is the 6 minute epic "Can-Utility and the Coastliners", which sounds the most like a tune of Nursery Cryme off of this album, besides the intro to "Supper's Ready" that is. This song is cool, although it is one that I don't listen to that often. The song is very dynamic, starting with a very soft and major tune played on acoustic guitars, but gradually getting louder in preparation for the middle instrumental section. During this section, the bass really comes out loud in the rhythm section as well as Tony Banks getting out front with his synthesized orchestration. This part is very heavy compared to previous sections even though the guitar is still acoustic. After a minute or two of this, Peter comes back in, singing over the, now minor, musical tune. However, the minor tune quickly becomes major once again as Peter Gabriel sings the final verse after an epic keyboard solo by Tony Banks. This album really is full of keyboard excellence. The keyboard solo is followed by a slightly shorter guitar solo by Hackett. After Pete sings the final verse, the song comes to a close. This is another example of how each Genesis song seems to be an epic novel story. This is followed by a short instrumental song called "Horizons", which is a solo acoustic piece by Hackett. It truly gives him the opportunity to show his mastery of not only electric lead guitar, but classical acoustic guitar as well. This piece is beautiful and intricate, and it really implants it into my head that this guy is incredible! Hackett and Howe (from Yes) are my two favorite progressive guitarists of all time, and it's easy (I hope) to see why, especially with this tune.
And last, but certainly not least, is the epic "Supper's Ready". I can't even begin to tell about how many times I have listened to this song, but I can say that it still strikes me today. The great musicianship is there, the epic song length is there, Gabriel's interesting lyrics are there- what else could you ask for?? This 23 minute tune has become one the most well known Genesis songs in their repertoire, and for good reason! Now, if you would turn on the song and read along (hey that rhymed!) to my analysis, let us begin.
The song is divided into seven sections which all flow seamlessly together. These sections are fairly independent of each other, and clearly identifiable, as apposed to parts of Yes's "Close to the Edge" and "Relayer". Throughout the song, Peter Gabriel would don various outfits during the instrumental sections and while singing. Several of his most well known costumes were featured during this song, such as the Flower and Magog. Needless to say, Gabriel, as well as the rest of the group, would be very tired by the end of this song, so, in order to make it easier on him, the song was tuned down a few steps so Gabriel wouldn't need to stretch his voice every night. I will go by the sections of the song in my writing about it in order for you to stay on track.
I. "Lover's Leap"
This first section is very reminiscent of something from the Tresspass and Nursery Cryme era. Rutherford and Hackett both play twelve strings while Gabriel's double tracked vocals (the second vocal was sung by Collins live) sing of two people in love embarking on a journey. "Hello babe, with your guardian eyes so blue/Hey my baby, don't you know our love is true," he sings in typical Gabriel fashion. Throughout the first 2 and a half minutes, Banks plays strings on his piano to add tension to the song. After two verses, Banks plays an incredible piano solo. The piano solo is very wonderful, and Gabriel even adds flute to accent the piano. This whole section would have made a great song of its own, as it contains a great mix of the whole band. Even though it is mostly acoustic, everybody gets something to do.
II. "The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man"
The song takes a dynamic change as it transfers into the next section. At the end of Banks' solo, he switches to a hammond organ, and Mike Rutherford returns to bass. The whole band comes in with a chord sequence written by Banks himself years before. Peter's words fit the music amazingly well, but it would take 100 scientists billions of years to decipher what on earth he is trying to say. The whole band unites well here, as Phil keeps a simple, but steady beat, and Hackett noodling on the higher strings of his guitar. The piano seems to form a rhythm and lead section at the same time, which compliments the other instruments well. The section ends abruptly as Gabriel sings "He's a guaranteed eternal sanctuary-", being cut off on the last word along with the rest of the band. A single organ note is sustained as a short little song by school children is played, segueing into the third section.
III. "Ikhnaton and Itsacon and Their Band of Merry Men"
This whole section seems like a song of its own. It begins with a reprise of the tune from the opening lines of the song "Walking across the sitting room...", but soon transfers into a short, soft verse. This verse describes the main characters seeing an army before them, ready to attack. At the end of the verse, Gabriel shouts "Waiting for battle!", which leads into a much louder section. The keyboard takes a quick solo before Gabriel comes in with another verse over some electric guitar and a rolling drum beat. At the end of the verse, Hackett gets his time to shine with a phenomenal solo. He begins with standard soloing, but soon gets faster and more intense, all leading up to the solo's climax with his tapping technique. Yes, in 1972 (actually, even in '71 with their album Nursery Cryme) Hackett was already tapping. That's still several years before Van Halen showed up. In fact, Steve Hackett is often quoted as saying that he showed Eddie Van Halen how to tap. Back to the point, though, the tapping at the climax of the solo is awesome, and Tony Banks even plays a harmony on his keyboards, adding to the sound. This lets up into another softer, twelve string acoustic section that still retains the drums. Peter sings another verse as Banks plays a constant lead line that reinforces the melody sung by Gabriel. The rhythm section in this part is, in my opinion, one of the coolest in the song. Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins match up perfectly, yet subtly. The bass drum hits and the bass note hits work well to create a different approach for the 4/4 sections, which you don't find that often. In between Gabriel's singing, Hackett plays his guitar like a bowed instrument by fading in each note, something that Steve Howe did as well at the time, and Alex Lifeson would make popular in the Rush song "La Villa Strangiato" in 1978. This section quietly crossfades into the shortest and quietest section, "How Dare I Be So Beautiful?".
IV. "How Dare I Be So Beautiful"
Tony Banks is a genius. It shows in this section especially. Instead of using a standard church organ, or even a Hammond, he creates an even more unique sound by fading in the notes of just the acoustic piano, similar to what Hackett did with his guitar. Banks fades in the notes throughout, creating a very atmospheric feel as Peter Gabriel sings over the piano. As I said before, the section is quite short and simple in structure, but the genius behind it all is pretty extraordinary. At the end of Gabriel's singing, a voice can be heard inquiring, "A flower?", and from here on, all hell breaks loose.
V. "Willow Farm"
This section is certainly one of the most diverse in terms of structure. Featuring Peter Gabriel yelling about nonsense as if he's insane as well as little snippets of people talking, what else could someone want from a Genesis piece? In fact, this whole section could have stood on its own easily, although it is a nice addition to the whole 23-minute epic. Several different verses come and go as Gabriel somehow manages to keep up with the rhythm changes and key changes. This all ends with a short mellotron interlude that leads into the next section. This interlude features Gabriel on the flute, accenting the guitar and mellotron in the background. This all builds up as Phil Collins comes in with a drum roll, bringing everyone up to speed for the next, very exciting section.
VI. "Apocalypse in 9/8"
As the title suggests, this whole section is performed in the unusual 9/8 time signature. It opens and closes with frantic Peter Gabriel lyrics, but has an incredible middle section, featuring an incredible keyboard solo by Tony Banks. As Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, and Phil Collins keep the back beat steady in 9/8, Banks rips it up with an insane keyboard solo that defies the odd time signature by using his own. Indeed, this creates an odd effect as Banks plays in 4/4 7/8 and 6/8 even overtop of the 9/8 back beat. Finally, this all comes to a head as Phil amplifies his drumming, getting more and more intense until Peter Gabriel finally comes in with one last verse in 9/8. He shouts, "The seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll. Gonna blow right down inside your soul." After this short verse, the band's beat collapses away as a short few bars of Peter Gabriel's flute comes in, after which is a long drum roll.
VII. "As Sure as Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)"
The soft little interlude brings a reprise of Gabriel's opening theme, "Hey my baby, don't you know our love is true?" This time, though, the band climbs into a triumphant ending sequence. Gabriel sings overtop a medium speed beat as Hackett gets a little time to shine in the background, as he fades in his guitar solo notes, something he would do later on "Firth of Fifth" from Selling England. Gabriel sings lyrics that sound like they're from the book of Revelation, which Gabriel has said was his influence for this final section. Finally, the band fades out triumphantly, having just played a 23 minute epic that remains as one of their best songs.
All together, this album is a masterpiece. Having been the first Genesis album I heard, this one left a considerable impression on me that has remained ever since. I give this album a full 5 out of 5.
What do you call an alligator in a vest? An investigator.