10 November 2013

Genesis - Selling England By The Pound


One of the most important albums of the early 1970s was this fifth album release of Genesis. By then, in my opinion, these Art Rockers were more or less at their creative zenith and at full strength with the group voice Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett forming what was then a formidable five piece. Even if I only had an opportunity to listen to hear one or two of their early material once, it left a lasting impression on me, wishing then in those days I could listen to it again and again.

Nursery Cryme from two years earlier was probably the first indicator that the band should be taken seriously, about the same time that Prog Rock began to flourish. And some of the themes that Gabriel sang about were rather hard to fathom, like references to sheep, Superman and cancers which somehow slotted in the song structure comfortably. There was also signs of product placement references which I'll explain a little later on in this blog.

The album cover is called The Dream depicting a Victorian garden scene although the impressionist Betty Swanwick was later persuaded by Genesis to include a lawnmower for their cover. And it's a good bet it was inspired by one of the tracks I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), bearing in mind Gabriel singing "keep those mowing blades sharp." You might also want to know that it had minor chart success itself and has been used as a running gag in BBC's Top Gear a few times. The opening track Dancing With The Moonlight Knight is the first evidence of cookily marrying a medieval tale with a few modern day snippets, eg Green Shield stamps, starting with an acapella, then a hurried guitar and mellotron duel until some solo strings closes the track.


Firth of Fifth is yet another play on words, this time as you've probably guessed now referring to the Forth river, at the forefront Tony Banks has some excellent piano work with Hackett's solid leads in the middle of the song, its grandiosity is worth all of the ten minutes played though it's hard not to hold attention with all the various changes in tempo throughout. We see for the first time a Phil Collins led ballad in More Fool Me, with only a nylon string accompaniment and probably one of the not quite as strong numbers in SEBTP but a hint of what was to come from the act in the future.

Side two of the album (or at least in the vinyl days) begins with The Battle Of Epping Forest charting a grim story of rival gangs fighting their territory, it's a heavily laden lyrical song with Banks again in good keyboard form. However, I admit that the two don't gel together too well. I think the wording is too detailed and with Gabriel putting on various voices as a storyteller, it all feels discordant. After The Ordeal is an instrumental with all five members contributing, Peter Gabriel comes in late with his leads on the flute. The Cinema Show continues the side two narrative while the brief track Aisle Of Plenty is really a reprise of the opening track. I'll leave it up to you to a good listen to the product placement references in the wording because it's a lot more blatant than you might think.

On hearing Selling England for the first time recently, I don't know what I was expecting but I'm sure it was more, hmm, not too sure but maybe a cacophonous sound and more emphasis on the Tony Banks ivory tinkering. But I'm probably missing the point given the strengths that Genesis had in their earlier discography. And I still maintain that as a creative entity, they were at their peak in the Peter Gabriel days. Personally, and I know some of you won't agree with me, it's a pity that they chose to forge a path towards a more radio friendly and mainstream as their prog roots began to dissipate.

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart.

Buy Selling England By The Pound here on Amazon
Genesis have had an impressive lineup of musicians, so this is a link to all of their websites
Genesis official facebook page is here I believe
Listen to the album here on Deezer

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