Waste no time!
They are approaching.
Hurry now, we must protect ourselves and find some shelter
Strike by night!
They are defenceless
They all need the sun to photosensitize their venom.
Still they’re invincible,
Still they’re immune to all our herbicidal battering
I get a bit envious sometimes of all you North Americans, Australasians, Africans, Aquaphibians and, umm, Polararians because you have kick ass wildlife that can kill you; surely that has to add a frisson of danger every time you head for the mountains? go outside to put the bins out? I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to be assaulted by mambas, mauled by tigers, nipped by poisonous spiders, or indeed, buggered by bears*, but I do experience a tinge of jealousy because your wildlife sits there coiled like a spring, all mysterious and dangerous, whereas British wildlife – exquisite, heart-warming and beautiful as it may be, is so damn bucolic and safe. I mean our water-dwelling mammals really do wear trousers and live in little houses, when they’re not boating around – Wind In The Willows wasn’t a work of fiction, it was entirely factual. True story.
Anyway, the upshot of all this is that when burgeoning new kids on the prog block Genesis released Nursery Cryme in 1971, they had written a pretty heavy track and wanted a suitably fierce, menacing subject for it they turned to British wildlife. So would they write a song about a disgruntled, disenfranchised badger? the pain of accidentally stepping on a hedgehog barefoot? nope they wanted eviller. So they finally settled for ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’, or as they helpfully elucidate at the end, Heracleum Mantegazziani. Yup, the evil incarnate they found was a 7″ tall phototoxic noxious weed – okay so it could cause really nasty itching and potentially scars**, but it isn’t really up there with the fanged predators of this world is it?
The good news of course is that, all silliness aside (just like ‘Supper’s Ready’ from Foxtrot) it’s a really good track^, not quite as good but pretty darn good. This was Phil Collins and Steve Hackett’s debut with the band and they both really make their presence felt, particularly on the first side of the LP. Hackett adds layers of, umm, layers right from the off, he really is an incredibly talented guitarist and Phil Collins is a really good, astute, drummer – people forget that I think.
Opening with the best track Nursery Cryme, kicks off with ‘The Musical Box’, a real English 10 minute polite prog classic. It deals with that hoary old tale we’ve all heard a million times before in popular music: boy meets girl, girl decapitates boy with croquet mallet, boy possesses nursery musical box, boy ages rapidly develops adult feelings towards girl, girl hurls music box at disembodied bearded child’s head, causing the symbiotically linked items to mutually destruct. If I had a pound for every time I’d heard that old chestnut!^ Seriously though, if you can suspend all disbelief it’s a cracking track, right up there with the band’s very best if you ask me. It strikes a confident, otherworldly note right from the start with Tony Banks’ opening chords onwards and Peter Gabriel’s vocals sound clipped and venomous in places here, amidst the sprawling loveliness of the guitar setting. When it starts to rock out at about 4 minutes in, it gets even better and rougher around the edges, Hackett playing for all he’s worth and accompanied by Banks electric piano played through a fuzz pedal (which I think is intrinsically a very cool thing indeed). Like all good prog-tinged things I find you need to stop holding onto the side and just ease yourself downstream and float on off on a sea of time changes, false crescendos and preposterous conceits.
One track I really enjoyed this time around stands in stark contrast to the other two behemoths on the first side of Nursery Cryme, that is ‘For Absent Friends’ a rather, underplayed gentle 1:48 song about a widowed couple going to church. In the wrong mood I’d point to it and denounce it as an attempt to rewrite ‘Eleanor Rigby’, but I rather like it, it feels real. It was also Collins’ first lead vocal for the band. The mighty Opeth paid tribute to this track on Deliverance.
Unfortunately, in a mirror image of Foxtrot, it pains me to report that Side 2 is all a big load of nothing. I can’t hear anything particularly worthwhile in any of the four tracks, okay so none of them are bad per se. but they really don’t rise above the bland for me at any point. Actually, scrap that, I dislike ‘Harold The Barrel’ and its clumsy tale of a restauranteurs’ suicide intensely, musically it’s pants and, for me, not a topic you ever mess with.
A word about the cover too, it works as a bit of a metaphor for the LP as a whole. Paul Whitehead’s picture is what first attracted me to the album, it looks great when you open the gatefold right up (CD’s? pah!) but it’s also slightly amateurish and a bit rubbish (and I mean that affectionately, I really do!), he was no Roger Dean but I find that all a bit endearing – they were all doing their best.
Mighty Hogweed is avenged.
Human bodies soon will know our anger.
Kill them with your Hogweed hairs
Giant Hogweed lives
– ADVANCE –
P.S – additional Lego assistance tonight from the 1537-lings.
*definitely not that.
**even blindness if you get the sap in the eyes – so please don’t think I’m taking the p*ss too much here.
^okay so this is about the fifth time I’ve made this joke, but it amuses me every time, so deal with it.
^^not an easy rhyme that one, I can well see why they shirked it.
Bonus Literary Lego: