With Classic Rock Through The Ages

Classic Album Reviews - Genesis & Van der Graaf Generator

Genesis – Duke – 1980

In 1970 through to around 1973, the five piece Genesis fronted by Peter Gabriel were a fledgling act, just signed on to the Charisma label, by the charismatic Tony Stratton-Smith (or ‘Strat’ for short).

Genesis’ main duties of the day were performing (almost constantly) live at music festivals and other concerts, and at that time they were generally the opening, or ‘warm up’ act for Van der Graaf Generator.  Indeed both bands were stable mates under the watchful eye of Strat, and both bands were required to perform at the famous Ronnie Scott’s Club in London’s Soho District on numerous occasions. On one of these outings, Genesis played to a ‘crowd’ of only two people, where Peter Gabriel cheekily asked if they had any requests.

Fast-forward ten years to the 28th March 1980, and the album Duke was released. Gone were the fancy dress-ups and theatrics of Peter Gabriel, and indeed Peter Gabriel himself.  Also gone was Steve Hackett, which left the trio of Genesis, which is now the most famous line up.  Sadly, almost gone, but not quite was the progressive music of Genesis.  The album Duke draws a clear line in the sand between the heady progressive days of the band, and the newer, more commercial direction that the band would ultimately take.  So this album could be viewed as the perfect segue between old and new.  Tracks such as ‘Behind the Lines’, ‘Duchess’, ‘Cul-De-Sac’, ‘Duke’s Travels’ and ‘Duke’s End’ clearly draw inspiration from the early days, while ‘Misunderstanding’, ‘Please Don’t Ask’ and ‘Alone Tonight’ demonstrate the rising confidence of Phil Collins as a song writer in the band, and it shows how Collins’ future would move from this point.

The band had actually had a short hiatus prior to the recording of Duke, with Tony Banks releasing his first solo album ‘A Curious Feeling’, and Mike Rutherford also releasing his, ‘Smallcreeps Day’.  Phil’s first marriage was failing, and so he took this time to try to repair the damage.  After these attempts failed, Phil found he had some time on his hands awaiting his band mates to be ready to return for the Duke sessions, so he began trying his hand at writing music.  Indeed, ‘Please Don’t Ask’ and ‘Misunderstanding’ were written during this period, and were selected for inclusion on the album.  ‘Misunderstanding’ went on to reach the top 20 in the US.

Also written by Collins during this period was a little track called ‘In the Air Tonight’, which Collins claims he put up for selection for Duke, however Tony Banks rejected it (Banks has since denied this).  This makes one wonder then, had the track been included, would Genesis have become a smash hit then and there instead of 6 years later with ‘Invisible Touch’? Would Phil Collins the solo performer ever been has big as he ultimately became? After all, ‘In the Air Tonight’ was his springboard to success, and it is still one of the biggest hits in the history of music.

The album is incredibly strong, with song writing contributions from all members for the first time. There is perhaps only one weak track in ‘Man of our Times’, and the track ‘Duchess’ is regarded as one of the best the band has ever performed, although it is sadly prophetic (listen closely to the words).  The album closes on the proggy-almost-instrumental ‘Duke’s Travels/Duke’s End’, which is a fitting closure to the progressive past of Genesis, and a warm embrace of the more commercial sound that became the future of this great rock band.

Todd’s Rating: 5 Mellotrons

Pawn Hearts – Van der Graaf Generator – 1971

In 1971 the Vietnam War was in full swing, and while there were many musical artists protesting about war and extolling the virtues of peace and love, Van der Graaf Generator was making their protest in a very different way.

The line up consisted of Peter Hammill on vocals keyboards and guitar, Hugh Banton on keyboards and mellotron, David Jackson on saxophone and flute and Guy Evans on drums and percussion.

Pawn Hearts is the VDGG’s fourth studio album. It is still regarded as one of the masterpieces of progressive rock. It opens with a track called Lemmings (including Cog). As with much of the band’s material it can be interpreted in many ways. For me, this is an in your face statement of truth surrounding the conflict at that time. For example:

And as the Elders beat their brows
they know that it is really far too late now to stop us,
for if the sky is seeded death
what is the point in catching breath? Expel it.
What cause is there left but to die
in searching of something we're really not too sure of?

Perhaps facing dark truth is why so many find VDGG’s music so inaccessible. Perhaps Peter Hammill and I have a similar view of the world and that’s the reason I connect with it so well.

The anti-war theme is left behind after the first track and Man-Erg begins some serious introspection. But that too translates to an entire world-view that brings the whole world back to the size of the individual. Trippy stuff. Man-erg also features a guest appearance by Robert Fripp from King Crimson on guitar. So fitting this track was in being placed as a vinyl side closer, that when I finished listening I forgot I was listening to a CD and stood up to turn it over to side 2!

The second side of the album is taken up by the 10-part epic suite A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers. This could be to music what the final episode of The Prisoner was to television. Just as The Prisoner was completely confusing at first viewing and never really makes perfect sense anyway, the same is true with A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. It’s meant to be interpreted any way you want it to be. That's the amazing thing about this suite. It’s not simply nonsensical like Yes’s Close To The Edge. The lyrics actually mean many things and as the listener, you can interpret the meaning any way you choose.

Porcupine Tree sampled A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers on their single “Voyage 34”.

The album was remastered and released in 2005 with some bonus tracks including the George Martin penned “Theme One”. This track was placed between Lemming and Man-Erg on the North American release in 1971.

This is an essential album for the serious prog fan.

Dwayne’s Rating – 4.5 Mellotrons


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