Saturday, November 26, 2011

Play Me Old King Cole

Genesis Trespass
Genesis Nursery Cryme

I made a recent trip out to my parents' house to retrieve these two Prog Rock classics from the vinyl records I have out there.
I've been thinking a bit about Prog Rock recently. These are 1970s Genesis records from the period when the band was still being fronted by Peter Gabriel. Trespass is astonishingly early, the band's second or third album, so early that non-public schoolboys Phil Collins and Steve Hackett have not joined on drums and lead guitar respectively. Listening to it again I have the same feelings I had on first acquiring it in a death-of-vinyl sale in the later 1980s – it is pleasant enough to listen to, but nothing about it really grabs me. Maybe it is the sound of a band still struggling to find their sound, or that of a band that will only really shift into high-gear when the arrival of new musical members kicks things off (which is not to knock the people they replaced, with many being great admirers of Anthony Phillips' guitar playing, both in the music he made with Genesis and after he left).

Nursery Cryme, though, this is still an amazing record. In the past it was the two long tracks on side one ('The Musical Box' and 'The Return of the Giant Hogweed') that most excited my attention, and they are still stunning pieces. 'The Musical Box' is sung from the point of view of a rapidly ageing homunculus reincarnation of a boy killed in an unfortunate croquet accident, said männchen emerging from the titular musical box. Peter Gabriel's lyrics capture the unfortunate boy-man as he moves in the length of the song from being a child to having the desires of a man and a desperate attempt to procreate himself before his death. The epic music manages to do justice to the bizarre lyrical theme.

'The Return of the Giant Hogweed', meanwhile, is the apocalyptic tale of an England invaded by the terrifying and poisonous weed, only this giant hogweed is sentient and consumed by a malevolent desire to extirpate the human race. Again, the music (which is largely led by Tony Banks on mellotron and various funny keyboard instruments) is able to do justice to the lyrical theme, sounding sufficiently apocalyptic until the coda, where the giant hogweeds themselves sing about how happy they are to have wiped out humanity.

The second side previously made relatively little impact on me, but this time I found myself enjoying it a good bit more. 'Harold the Barrel' (a song about someone called Harold who is not actually a barrel, as Wikipedia helpfully informs us) bops along in an easygoing manner that you would not really expect from an album of prog rock mentalism like this, and 'The Fountain of Salmacis' is also rather entertaining. But for me this is still primarily about the first side. I suppose the one real problem with the album, though, is that you have to engage a bit too much with the lyrics to enjoy the music. That is not so true of the second side, so I could see why someone might prefer those pieces.

My rediscovery of Nursery Cryme has led me to acquire a copy of Foxtrot, about which I will write something in due course.

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