There are times when I find myself liking Genesis despite myself. It’s disconcerting. Here I am with a healthy self-image as the slinky doyen of cutting edge rock and punk sleekness, a street walking cheetah with a hindfoot in napalm*, a skinny leather-clad dude who wouldn’t look like a total dick wearing shades in a club at night – and what am I listening to? Genesis, post-Gabriel Genesis no less! Oh woe.
A Trick of the Tail, it’s pretty fair to say, wasn’t the toast of all the music press when it came out back in funky punky 1976. Genesis having dropped the brilliant, baffling The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway^ then suffered the loss of that funny posh fella in the flower suit and just couldn’t find a replacement singer they liked. They were under pressure and in a lot of debt. Enter the singing drummer, enter a whole load of blandness and mega hits. Well, that’s what I used to think anyway. Now?
Well, it’s a bit mixed. Genesis took a while to find the keys to the Dispassionate Huge Hit-a-tron^^ and until they got there they kept as close to their quirky English pastoral progressive origins as they could, which makes perfect sense – when all around you is in flux, stick with what you know. A Trick of the Tail is testimony to this and it is the bits that echo their older albums I like better, as well as the passages of instrumental excellence that shine through occasionally.
I can never get to grips with the opening ‘Dance on a Volcano’ despite the opening 30 seconds being the foundation stones of more beloved Marillion songs than I can count, the staccato glitching beat discombobulates me and I can do without all that speeding up bollocks in the middle. But it segues into probably my favourite Genesis track of all time, ever ‘Entangled’. This is a gorgeous, shimmering song about psychiatry and associated therapy, it soars and swoons all over the place with the most gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s a real treat of a track and I rather like the bathos of the last verse which neatly undercuts all the dreamlike journeying of the song:
Well, thanks to our kindness and skill
You’ll have no trouble until
You catch your breath
And the nurse will present you the bill!
‘Squonk’ cuts in straight afterwards, that guitar and bass impact is really quite something. A squonk, for anyone who missed that day in school, is a North american creature of legend that dissolves into tears if captured and I’m sure there’s one of those deep metaphorical profound things going on right there, but no matter this is where we can rock out, or at least sway a bit faster. The sweeping ‘Mad Man Moon’ a suite of dreamy progressive pop is lit up by some beautiful Tony Banks piano work’; it is one of his songs after all. Ditto the purposeful ‘Ripples’, which if it catches me in the right mood carries me off down stream, borne along on waves of melody.
That said, Genesis can stick ‘Robbery, Assault & Battery’ up their collective Khyber Passses. It’s stage school Phil Collins at its absolute worst, think Buster and you’re halfway there – this is the sort of abomination that makes me reach for my, entirely metaphorical, revolver^*. The title track is a bit of a nothing for me too once you look past its’ ELO-style perkiness; I’m not really very keen on perkiness. I know ‘Los Endos’ is a bit of a sacred cow for Genesis fans but, after analyzing all the data, listening carefully to all the iambic paradiddles and enjoying the bits where it slows down for a stately bit before speeding back up agin, I can objectively report that it is half bollocks.
A Trick of the Tail is milk almost on the turn for me, it’s just about palatable. I was airing my wisdom on this to a chum at work today, who said in an exasperated fashion ‘but you weren’t there at the Royal Court when we saw them in 1976!’ when defending ‘Los Endos’ to me and I do understand the importance of all that context. And I’m certainly not too cool for Genesis, despite what I may like to think occasionally, ah well maybe that’s the trick of the tale.
So here is some proper context on a beautiful song. Warning: contains scenes of Phil Collins in a vest shaking an entirely silent maraca*^:
PS: it would be entirely remiss of me not to mention the great Hypgnosis cover art by Colin Elgie. That frieze of characters and the way they develop over the inner sleeve too is really engaging and clever, I’ve spent hours studying them all. It was also one of the LP covers I played with putting Lego on the very first night I hatched the 1537 idea.
(Okay so this is a 1980 version, but it rocks. Nice clothes on the fellas too!)
*sensor that Zuckerberg! **
**PS. I know it is really ‘a heart full of napalm’ but that’s how I first misheard the lyrics and it’s what I still sing today.
^the biggest LP I can think of that was recorded within 15 miles of where I grew up.
^^that is a real thing.
^*I don’t often get to (mis)quote Mussolini here.
*^Silent maracas seem to have fallen out of favour in the music scene these days, bit of a shame I say.