This is a chapter from the book “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis (Vintage Paperbacks, 1991). The protagonist of the story is a Wall Street yuppie, and he comments on various music groups in separate chapters strewn throughout the book. One of the chapters happens to be about Genesis in the 1980s. Transcribed by Warren Tutwiler.
[Paragraph breaks by the editor, it was horrendous to read as one huge block of justified text — bracketed comments in the body are the remarks of the transcriber, not the editor. This is not a factual account of anything, or a review — the editor is at a loss to figure out what it is. Most of the stuff in this is made up and should not be taken as the truth. Obviously none of the “facts” are verified in any way, and the opinions based on these “facts” are flawed. No attempt to annotate the text is made, the corrections would be longer than the text.]
I’ve been a big Genesis fan ever since the release of their 1980 album, Duke. Before that I didn’t really understand any of their work, though on theirlast album of the 1970s, the concept-laden And Then There Were Three (a reference to band member Peter Gabriel, who left the group to start a lame solo career) I *did* enjoy the lovely “Follow You, Follow Me.” Otherwise all the albums before Duke seemed too artsy, too intellectual.
It was Duke (Atlantic; 1980), where Phil Collins’ presence became more prevalent and the lyrics started getting less mystical and more specific (maybe because of Peter Gabriel’s departure), and complex, abmiguous studies of loss became, instead, smashing first-rate pop songs that I gratefully embraced. The songs themselves seemed arranged more around Collins’ drumming than Mike Rutherford’s bass lines or Tony Banks’ keyboard riffs. A classic example of this is “Misunderstanding,” which not only was the groups first big hit of the eighties but also seemed to set the tone for the rest of their albums as the decade progressed. The other standout on Duke is “Turn It On Again,” which is about the negative effects of television. On the other hand, “Heathaze” is a song I just don’t understand, while “Please Don’t Ask” is a touching love song written to a separated wife who regains custody of the couple’s child. Has the negative aspect of divorce ever been rendered in more intimate terms by a rock ‘n’ roll group? I don’t think so. “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End” might mean something but since the lyrics aren’t printed it’s hard to tell what Collins is singing about, though there *is* complex, gorgeous piano work by Tony Banks on the latter track. The only bummer about Duke is “Alone Tonight,” which is way too reminiscent of “Tonight Tonight Tonight” from the group’s later masterpiece Invisible Touch andthe only example, really, of where Collins has plagiarized himself.
Abacab (Atlantic; 1981) was released almost immediately after Duke and it benefits from a new producer, Hugh Padgham, who gives the band a more eighties sound and though the songs seem fairly generic, there are still great bits throughout: the extended jam in the middle of the title track and the horns by some group called Earth, Wind and Fire on “No Reply at All” are just two examples. Again the songs reflect dark emotions and are about people who feel lost or who are in conflict, but the production and sound are gleaming and up- beat (even if the titles aren’t: “No Reply at All,” “Keep It Dark,” “Who Dunnit?” “Like It or Not”). Mike Rutherford’s bass is obscured somewhat in the mix but otherwise the band sounds tight and is once again propelled by Collins’ truly amazing drumming.
Even at its most despairing (like the song “Dodo,” about extinction), Abacab musically is poppy and lighthearted. My favorite track is “Man on the Corner,” which is the only song credited solely to Collins, a moving ballad with a pretty synthesized melody plus a riveting drum machine in the background. Though it could easily come off any of Phil’s solo albums, because the themes of loneliness, paranoia and alienation are overly familiar to Genesis it evokes the band’s hopeful humanism. “Man on the Corner” profoundly equates a relationship with a solitary figure (a bum, perhaps a poor homeless person?), “that lonely man on the corner” who just stands around. “Who Dunnit?” profoundly expresses the theme of confusion against a funky groove, and what makes this song so exciting is that it ends with its narrator never finding anything out at all.
Hugh Padgham produced next an even less conceptual effort, simply called Genesis (Atlantic; 1983), and though it’s a fine album a lot of it now seems too derivative for my tastes. “That’s All” sounds like “Misunderstanding,” “Taking It All Too Hard” reminds me of “Throwing It All Away.” It also seems less jazzy than its predecessors and more of an eighties pop album, more rock ‘n’ roll. Padgham does a brilliant job of producing, but the material is weaker than usual and you can sense the strain. It opens with the autobiographical “Mama,” that’s both strange and touching, though I couldn’t tell if the singer was talking about his actual mother or to a girl he likes to call “Mama.” “That’s All” is a lover’s lament about being ignored and beaten down by an unreceptive partner; despite the despairing tone it’s got a bright sing-along melody that makes the song less depressing than it probably needed to be. “That’s All” is the bestt tune on the album, but Phil’s voice is strongest on “House [sic] by the Sea,” whose lyrics are, however, to stream-of-consciousness to make much sense. It might be about growing up and accepting adulthood but it’s unclear; at any rate, its second instrumental part puts the song more in focus for me and Mike Banks [I think this, and the next, mistake is deliberate] gets to show off his virtuosic guitar skills while Tom [what?] Rutherford washes the tracks over with dreamy synthesizers, and when Phil repeats the song’s third verse at the end it can give you chills.
“Illegal Alien” is the most explicitly political song the group has yet recorded and their funniest. The subject is supposed to be sad — a wetback trying to get across the border into the United States — but the details are highly comical: the bottle of tequila the Mexican holds, the new pair of shoes he’s wearing (probably stolen); and it all seems totally accurate. Phil sings it in a brash, whiny pseudo-Mexican voice that makes it even funnier, and the rhyme of “fun” with “illegal alien” is inspired. “Just a Job to Do” is the album’s funkiest song, with a killer bass line by Banks [sic], and though it seems to be about a detective chasing a criminal, I think it could also be about a jealous lover tracking someone down. “Silver Rainbow” is the album’s most lyrical song. The words are intense, complex and gorgeous. The album ends on a positive, upbeat note with “It’s Gonna Get Better.” Even if the lyrics seem a tiny bit generic to some, Phil’s voice is so confident (heavily influenced by Peter Gabriel, who never made an album this polished and heartfelt himself) that he makes us believe in glorious possibilities.
“Invisible Touch” (Atlantic; 1986) is the group’s undisputed [huh!] masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility, at the same time it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding three albums. It has a resonance that keeps coming back at the listener, and the music is so beautiful that it’s almost impossible to shake off because every song makes some connection about the unknown or the spaces between people (“Invisible Touch”), questioning authoritative control whether by domineering lovers or by government (“Land of Confusion”) or by meaningless repetition (“Tonight Tonight Tonight”).
All in all it ranks with the finest rock ‘n’ roll achievements of the decade and the mastermind behind this album, along of course with the brilliant ensemble playing of Banks, Collins and Rutherford, is Hugh Padgham, who has never found as clear and crisp and modern a song as this. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship and sheer songwriting skills this album hits a new peak of professionalism. Take the lyrics to “Land of Confusion,” in which a singer addresses the problem of abusive political authority. This is laid down with a groove funkier and blacker than anything Prince or Michael Jackson — or any other black artist of recent years, for that matter — has come up with. Yet as danceable as the album is, it also has a stripped-down urgency that not even the overrated Bruce Springsteen can equal. As an observer of love’s failings Collins beats out the Boss again and again, reaching new heights of emotional honesty on “In Too Deep”; yet it also show- cases Collins’ clowny, prankish, unpredictable side. It’s the most moving pop song of the 1980s about monogamy and commitment.
“Anything She Does” (which echoes the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” but is more spirited and energetic) starts off side two and after that the album reaches its peak with “Domino,” a two-part song. Part one, “In the Heat [sic] of the Night,” is full of sharp, finely drawn images of despair and it’s paired with “The Last Domino,” which fights it with an expression of hope. This song is extremely uplifting. The lyrics are as positive and affirmative as anything I’ve heard in rock. Phil Collins’ solo efforts seem to be more commercial and therefore more satisfying in a narrower way, especially _No Jacket Required_ and songs like “In the Air Tonight” and “Against All Odds” (though that song was overshadowed by the masterful movie from which it came) and “Take Me Home” and “Sussudio” (great, great song; a personal favorite) and his remake of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” which I’m not alone in thinking is better than the Supremes’ original. But I also think that Phil Collins works better within the confines of the group than as a solo artist — and I stress the word *artist*. In fact it applies to all three of the guys, because Genesis is still the best, most exciting band to come out of England in the 1980s [sic].