Genesis – Foxtrot

Part 2 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

I wasn’t completely honest with you in last weeks column. Although by the age of 19 I had sworn off mainstream music (mainstream in the USA, anyway) I had a very dark secret. I tried to bring up this secret with friends at parties or over heated discussions  about music whilst we all drank coffee. All to no avail. You see dear reader…I love Genesis. Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins – it doesn’t matter who is on vox (though I prefer Peter Gabriel). Heck, I am reduced to tears by the performance of “Against all Odds” by solo Phil Collins at Live Aid. I’m not sure how it started or why, but I do suspect my dad’s record collection had something to do with it.

In the mid to late 80’s it was hard to listen to the radio for a sustained hour without hearing Peter Gabriel, Genesis, or Phil Collins. I could never tell which was Genesis and which was Phil Collins to be honest. Peter Gabriel was playing on the boombox in one of the most famous scenes in cinema history. Yet…I never made the connection. Peter Gabriel was the original lead singer of Genesis. 

Talk about progressive music (or prog for those in the know) with musically inclined folks and you will hear about the brilliance of Yes, King Crimson, or even Rush (though there tends to be a debate over whether Rush is metal or prog). Not a lot of people will say that Genesis (prior to their updated sound in the 80’s) were the best prog band of all time. Every album from the progressive stage of Genesis yielded songs that I can sing over and over – “The Knife”, “Harold the Barrel”, “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” to name just a few.  The one album I always return to, that seems to have the perfect blend of eccentric lyrics with mind-blowing music is Foxtrot. I think this album is overlooked quite unfairly when the Genesis discography is discussed and it is a shame – it is brilliant.

The first thing you notice with this album (my 1st copy was a cassette purchased at the old Hatboro Music Shop) is the cover. A fox standing out in sea (or Peter Gabriel wearing his fox head costume that he became famous for) looking directly at the purchaser of the record, while the album name is hovering over the English countryside. The art of album covers is not what it used to be these days, I wish they still made them like this.

At first glance the tracklisting appears to be slight. 6 songs would hardly count as an EP in 2012 (no matter how long the tracks were), but these 6 tracks consist of the most stunning progressive music ever laid to tape. Here’s why I love  this album:

1. Watcher of the Skies – The album opens up with an almost orchestral, Mellotron enhanced piece, welcoming us to the world of Foxtrot. A darker keyboard line pervades the atmosphere until the music breaks down in a military percussion feel with Peter Gabriel coming in to sing “Watcher of the skies watcher of all / He is a world alone no world is his own / He whom life can longer surprise / Raising his eyes beholds a planet unknown” The music continues to build around these abstract, strange, and at times scary lyrics. The music keeps coming back to a rolling Mellotron line. Perfect start to this album. On a Facebook group I saw the question posed – best drummer of all time, Ringo Starr (The Beatles) or John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)?? Listen to the drums on this song exploding out of my speakers! The answer to the question is obvious – Phil Collins.

2. Time Table – Song opens with a bit of a pastoral English folk feel to it (hinting at the direction of the next record, Selling England By the Pound) Peter Gabriel sings in his well-known way of emotional longing (think “In Your Eyes” with a very, very different musical background / lyrical topic). The music builds to an apex as Peter almost screams “Why, why do we suffer for each race to believe / That no race has been grander / It seems through time and space / Though names may change / Each face retains the mask it wore” Pretty heavy stuff. And yet – timeless. It could be talking about the political climate of 1972 or 2012.

3. Get ‘Em Out by Friday – Song starts with a driving guitar tone interlacing with keyboards until the music breaks down and Peter Gabriel screams ” Get ’em out by Friday! / You don’t get paid till the last ones well on his way / Get ’em out by Friday! / It’s important that we keep to schedule, there must be no delay!” The song at times employs Gabriel’s famous method of singing from the characters point of view – but it always comes back to the ruthless landlord. Absolutely brilliant. Again, with all the attention focused on Peter Gabriel (vocals) and Steve Hackett (guitar), it HAS to be said – the drums are perfect.

4. Can-Utility And the Coastliners – This song somewhat ties the sound of early 70’s Genesis to late 70’s / early 80’s Genesis (prog with Phil Collins on vocals). Song starts off as another folk number before being overtaken by intertwined guitar / keyboard. Drums really hold the song down, again exploding out of my speakers. A song that is absolute perfection – each break down is carried by a nicely timed guitar fill, with the music breaking down into a full jam at the end.

5. Horizons – A solo guitar instrumental by Steve Hackett. Pleasant on the ears, yet not slight. Leads me to the centerpiece of the album (and the greatest Genesis song of all time)

6. Supper’s Ready – At around 23 minutes, this is the longest song that can hold my attention (no mean feat if you have ever met me in person). I usually tend to ask “Why is this song so long” or “Just play me the good bits”. The amazing thing about this song – the entire thing is a masterpiece. There are a few different parts / segues throughout the song.It begins with a gentle part called “Lovers Leap” – key lyrics “I’ve been so far from here / Far from your warm arms / It’s good to feel you again” as it then fades into another section called “The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man” which is slightly more aggressive. Peter’s vox (as they have been for the entire album) are very affecting as he sings “I know a farmer who looks after the farm / With water clear, he cares for all his harvest /I know a fireman who looks after the fire”. A brilliant section of this song – it then fades into “Ikhnaton And Itsacon And Their Band Of Merry Men” with well placed keyboards tying the sections together. Peter’s vocals are again nothing short of stunning. Phil Collin’s drumming again holds it all together as Peter screams “WAITING FOR BATTLE!!” On to the next section “How Dare I Be So Beautiful?” – which is a very mournful, slow piece focused on Peter’s voice with pleasant washes of keyboards in the background leading up to the line “We watch in reverence, as Narcissus is turned to a flower /A flower?”. The next section “Willow Farm” – begins, much more aggressive than we have heard in this song before. Builds to a demented chorus “There’s Winston Churchill dressed in drag / He used to be a British flag, plastic bag, what a drag” Song slows down / segues into the next section “ALL CHANGE!” – This portion is really fun, seems to feature Peter Gabriel singing under the influence of helium. “Feel your body melt / Mum to mud to mad to dad / Dad diddley office, Dad diddley office /You’re all full of ball” segues into the next section with a well-timed Peter Gabriel flute solo. Builds into the scariest thing Genesis have ever laid to tape (and my favorite piece of music not surprisingly) “Apocalypse In 9/8 (Co-Starring the delicious talents of Gabble Ratchet)” – music is a bit metal as reinterpreted by Genesis. Initial lyric “With the guards of Magog, swarming around / The Pied Piper takes his children underground / Dragons coming out of the sea / Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me” as the music continues to build and grow in its menacing evil until finally Peter screams “666 is no longer alone / He’s getting out the marrow in your back bone / And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll / Gonna blow right down inside your soul / Pythagoras with the looking-glass reflects the full moon / In blood, he’s writing the lyrics of a HIP brand new tune” The music slows down from this emotional apex, a catharsis of sound, leads into the last section “As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs (Aching Men’s Feet)” – with the music becoming hopeful with warm guitar solos and rock solid drums. Peter fades out singing There’s an angel standing in the sun, and he’s crying with a loud voice /”This is the supper of the mighty One” /The Lord of Lords, King of Kings, / Has returned to lead His children home / To take them to the new Jerusalem” Wah Wah guitars and heavy drums carry the music long after Peter has left us. Perfection in 23 minutes.

What a stunning record! Though I have loved aspects of every Genesis record, this one is by far my favorite. I highly recommend you give it a chance if you have written off Genesis in the past.

Visit me next week as I discuss DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper 

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