A 1975 ‘The Lamb’ review – Phonograph Record Magazine February 1975
Written by meek on February 25, 1975
THE LAMB..which is a short story that comprises no fewer than 48 different plot movements, and a stage show with 3000 slides paralleling the action, both musical and conceptual. So what’s a fly dude of Spanish extraction got to do with five well-bred, highly educated and frequently esoteric you Englishmen, with a penchant for moody myths and subtiel self-satire?
Could it be that having flirted with seductive naiads and ancient hermaphrodites, Genesis are attempting to be trendy and up-to-the-minute by creating a contemporary Third World character? After all, with Bowie now a disco-dancin’ cha cha queen at a time when all the world seems unlimitedly in love with Barry White, who could balme this quaint quintet of scholarly surrealists for hoppin onto the sould train? If they chose to funk up there music(slightly) and allow Peter Gabriel’s image som room to wax aggro, it might well be just another pragmaticall conceived bit of playacting, what? But this particular P.R. persona is ultimatel more than a randomly selected expose on the psychology of race by a band on the make. Rael serves as a psychologically amnd morally alienated adolescent with whom Genesis’ audience can identify.
With Gabriel now affecting the leather jacket and jeans of a frustrated hitter, fans can more fully enter emotionally the group’s most extensive and complex fantasy ever. “The New York setting is a device for making the character more real, more extroverted and violent, as the kid goes through these fantastic changes”, Gabriel recently explaned. “Adolesence is the time you adjust yourself to the world, You either find a slot or reject a slot; your’re questioning most things around you. But this guy is slotless; his name is supposed to be raceless. He feels as if he’s a waste of material, part of the machinery. He doesn’t even think about his position in society. All he can do is escape or give up. He’s very aggressive. ” Hence, “Rael Imperail Aersol Kid,” as one of the lyrics would have it.
So, “The point of Rael being accessible, earthy and agressive is that he provides an earthy response to these fantasy situations,” Gabriel told Phonograph Record Magazine hopefully. Rael’s purpose being not so much to attract a larger integrated following by birtue of this ethnicity, but to lure Genesis’ existing audience more totally into the illusion and mood all five of the band have worked so carefully to project throughout their career. “Supper’s Ready” on FOXTROT (their fourth album) had proven Genesis’ ability to develop a musical mood for twent minutes at a stretch. Although there had been concept albums in profusion with Yes, ELP, etc. experimenting with side-long suites, only the Beatles, with side two of ABBEY ROAD and Genesis’ with “Supper’s Ready,” had managed to produce a bandless flow that blended a number of separate musical and lyrical ideas without resorting to lenghtly improvisations.
If Genesis were to carry their fables of sex, death, money, dominance and submission even further, they would need a character with whom audiences could relate a bit more closely than a wood nymph or a pre-Raphaelite prince. Guitarist Steve Hackett admitted, “We tend to keep away from the present. We’re very hesitant to make any commitment to how we feel about what’s happening now.”‘ but even before the current R&B; boom, Gabriel had expressed the hope that “spending time in America might well change our music for the better by making us seem less isolated in our opinions. Soul music excites me more than rock and roll. There’s more emotion and I like the rhythm better. A lot of rock and roll seems to be working at a high speed, but not a high intensity.”
So, while THE LAMB and Rael appear to be a major departure from Genesis’ past, especially give Gabriel’s radical change of image, the band’s motivation and method have remaind inherently the same. “Our albums should be in some ways like books in that you can dip into them whine you feel so inclined, instead of making them being fashionable things you can listen to a lot one month and then discard the next,” Gabriel stated unequivocally. So much for unfair accusations of trendy opportunism.
While THE LAMB seem more conventional on first listening for its divisons into distinct songs (a la Tommy), Genesis’ most abitious opus to date makes far more of the band’s impressive instrumental assets than their previous work. It also offers a realistic, built-in mise en scene by which the group can realize yet another of Gabriel’s most important goals. “I expect to see groups and artists get together,” he one saide with a visionary gleam in his eye. “I think the time is nearly ripe for the first visual artist to become a pop star. There will be situation in which the band itself becomes much less important and there will be less of an ego thing. They won’t be quite as alone as in an orchestra pit, but somewhere in between that and what exists now.” Thus, THE LAMB show is all the more engrossing for artist Geoffery Shaw’s 3-screen slide panorama which cuts from seamy scenes for New York streetlife to Magritte-like surreality in the blinking of an eye. Even when THE LAMB’s plot becoms obsucre and convoluted, Shaw’s slides sustain involvment in the mood of fantasy.
Peter Gabriel himself of course has always been a compelling theatrical presence. At first, Peter was the only member of the band who performed standing. Later, his foxhead, buttercup bonnet, bat’s wings and elaborate make-up tended to snatch the headlines away from the group’s songs, for which the various props were intended only as dramatic servants. The band’s deliberate anonymity had worked so well that few realized just how democratic their creative process really was. Although he is the focal point of a considerable Genesis cult on both side of the Atlantic, Gabriel makes every effort to avoid the rockstar limelite that more extroverted faces revel in. he has his artistic, as well as personal reasons: “With rock it seems a performer’s offstage persona is ofter more colorful than his onstage character,” Peter has complained, citing Mick Jagger as an artist limited by his image as THE Rolling Stone. Relative personal anonymity provides greater theatrical freedom Gabriel feels, and it’s been so effective that when he cut his hair this summer and combed it over his famous bald streak, even his friends failed to recognize him on the street. And Steve Hackett has suggessted seriously, “I’d like to feel that if we did have an impact on music, I’d like to change the star syndrome, which lacks self-criticism. Musicians should have more anonymity, so that there won’t be so many people trying so desparately to find star images.”
Not so much the sentiment of your standard seventies sensation, such as Kiss or Bow-wow hisself, eh? Genesis’ history is equally unique. Multi-instrumentalist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, Original guitarist Anthony Phillips, and lyricist/SINGER/flautist Gabriel all met at the exclusive British “public school” Charterhouse. Their efforts to write their own material met with apporval from hitmaker Jonathon King, no scion of U.K. Records and sponsor of 10cc. A public school lad himself, king gave them the name “Genesis” and got them a deal at British Decca, for whom they recorded one album, FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION, recently release here for the first time by London.
After a change in drummers, Genesis came under the management of Tony Stratton-Smith, who had managed Klaus Voorman’s first group the Nice. Stratton-Smith formed Charisma Records as a have for idiosyncratic and progressive artists such as Van der Graaf Generator and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Genesis’ first album, TRESPASS was issued in 1970 (in the States, by ABC impulse, of all people). Produced by John Anthony, who would go on to record any number of nouveau psychedelic groups as well as Queen, TRESPASS consists in large part of mellow, atmospheric tone poems featuring Phillips’ and Rutherford’s acoustic guitars and Gabriels reedy voice. Even more however, Banks’ mellotron was a distinctive element, employed more tastefully than one would imagine possible give the Moodies’ abuse of the instrument. The outstanding song is the ‘Knife,’ which remained in the Genesis concert repertoire as an encore until very recently. With lyrics like: “Now in this ugly world, it is time to destroy all this evil. Now, when I give you the word, are you ready to fight for your freedom?” and: “Some of you are going to die, marytrs of course to the freedom that I shall provide.” the ‘Knife” gallops dramatically toward a violent climax. This final track on their second album establishes several of Genesis’ most persistent themes so directly that they could come from the mouth of Rael five albums later. “Promise me all of your violent dreams/Light up your body with anger.” Gabriel’s persona demands. The ironic connection between violence, heroism, and freedom is one Genesis will explore humourously on NURSERY CRYME, socially on SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND and most comprehensively on THE LAMB. Meanwhile some time after TRESPASS, Phil Collins came in on drums and vocals, while Steve Hackett joined as guitarist.
The Band’s first tour of America coincided with Charisma’s release of NURSERY CRYME through Buddah,who made a strong attempt to break the group via FM airplay. While “The Musical Box” became an instant favorite, with its drooll Victorian vignette of murder and revenging rape, Genesis’ live act was greated by some concert-goers with vociferous skepticism and shouts of Boogie!!” during the quieter mood-building instrumental passages. Although Gabriel’s cat-like grace, expressive pantomimes and witty introductory monologues were exemplary, if esoteric, rock theater, Genesis’ sophisticated sence fo dynamics and pacing was hardly reminisect of high energy rock n’ roll. Peter’s bald streak and bass drumwere either irresistable or ridiculus, depending on how seriously one took them and how seriously one presumed Peter took them. Nevertheless, his mastery of stagecraft was functional as well as singular.
“i didn’t feel very at home on stage to begin with,” he’s confessed. “Audiences shocked us by not being very interested in the music at first. I started to wiggle about trying to personify the lyrics. I had my bass drum to hide behind.” (He had originally been a drummer). The monologues were an additional means of bring audiences into the fantasy while covering inexperience. “We started to use the monologues when we brought 12-string guitars into the act,” Peter explains. “There were long embarassed silences while the guitars were tuned. The monologues gave me anothe outlet by which to express the fantasy. The way they should work is to get the audience’s mind thinking of fantasy powers; to make the ordinary a bit more strange and vice versa.”
In this sense, the Gabriel-penned short story on THE LAMB sleeve may be viewed as simply a super-monologue. “The story is printed on the album sleeve because it was too all-encompassing for all the songs to contain the action,” says the author, ” Initially we were going to try to tell the story in lyrics, but it became too much a matter of narrative action.” So Gabriel’s whimsical monologues have grown from being a listeners aid to become an integral part of the overall scheme of any Genesis project. The monologues work hand in hand with the show’s lighting and the sildes to provide as complete an ambience as possible.
At any rate, without any pretentious claims that it was a concept album, NURSERY CRYME was a masterfully conceived and executed whole. Genesis did not attempt to recreate the musical style of the Victorian era, but to convey it obsessin with mythology, croquet, romanticism and repressed sexuality by building moods around fantastic stories. Along with “The Musical Box” were “Harold the Barrel,” a funny little tale of suicide; “The Return of the Giant Hogweed,” about a killer growth transplanted to England where it takes it revenge by ravaging the countryside; and “The Fountain of Salmacis,” in which Banks’ mesmerizing mellotron introduces a Greek myth whereby the demi-god Hermaphrodite becoms one with the water-nymph Salmacis. At the song’s climax he curses her “shimmering lake’ after he becomes the first man-woman. As trendy for 1971 as Bowie’s Hunky Dory, NURSERY CRYME’s dealing win sexual confusion were simultaneously more sensational and less sensationalistic.
Genesis Next album, FOXTROT, was universally acclaimed by the British critics and became the bans’s first substantial abest-seller there. Side one opened with “Watcher of the Skies,” a cosmically philosphical song in which Gabriel seemed to take on the persona of God Himself. Combining morality with melodrama, the number benefits from the sure interplay between Banks’ multiple keyboards and Hackett’s screaming guitar. The superiority of Phil Collins as a percussionist becomes more evident with each album. On FOXTROT, he is capable of bursts of lunatic ferocity that stop on a dime, changing tempo subtly yet constantly. Collin’s musicanship is typical of Genesis: none of them wastes energy on virtuosity that fails to contribute to the collective mood. “The most important thing to us is the song,” Tony Banks insists, “then the playing and only then the presentation. We’re not concerned with flaunting musicanship. Yes and ELP are more dependent on solos. I’m not a soloist as such. I think of myself more as an accompanist who colours the sound.”
FOXTROT’s “Get ‘Em Out by Friday” is one of Gabriel’s finest moments. Set at least as far in the future as “The Musical Box” was in the past, “Get ‘Em Out by Friday” is the story of Styx Enterprises’ fiendishly efficient plot to restrict “humanoid height” to four feet in order to create more flats in the same space. Gabriel impersonates any numaber of low or hmble types, from the villianous Winkler to Mrs. Barrow, the victim. In all, “Get ‘Em Out by Friday” is as fine a mini-opera as any the Who have ever written.
“Supper’s Ready” takes up almost all of side two of FOXTROT. Although it requires several concentrated listenings to follow the “plot,” “Supper’s Ready” reigns as perhaps Gensis’ most popular and highly regarded work. Its thematic preoccupations are noble: love, hate, religion,war, illusion, reality and apocalypse are all covered by a multitude of symbolic representations. “Supper’s Ready” is both “symphonic” and “classical” without sounding at all like symphonic classical music. Onstage, Peter pulled out all stops on “Supper’s Ready,” creating in the process his best know role, the flower-manof the “Willow Farm” segement, and his most breath taking stunt, his flight through the air at the finale.
Following FOXTROT ws a live set that did well enough in the British charts to confirm Genesis’ growing reputation as one of rock’s best stage acts, with a deeply loyal following. 1973 saw Charisma switch distribution in America from Buddah to Atlantic and with that switch came SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, Genesis’ best selling album in the States to date. While sex, money,and violence remain dominant themes, SELLING ENGLAND is comprised of separate songs. The ensemble playing is more spacious and the arragements make the most of Genesis’ more dramatic musical devices. Banks Piaon is technically flawless and melodically beautiful, while in “After the Ordeal,” Hackett’s solos have the authority and electric fluency of the best of Beck or Ronson.
“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was Genesis’ first hit single in England. “What I like about that song ,” Gabriel has commented, “is the fact that here’s a character in a rural situation where he’s being dominated by the people around him. He’s lacking an identity of his own. He lives a life that is preconceived by the people around him and the only time that his own identity comes out is when he’s acutally on the lawn, mowing the grass. I mean, I get this tremendous, physical buzz by the sensation of cutters slicing through a whole layer of grass, There’s really sort of a therapeutic ultra-violence in the act of mowing the lawn.” Gabriel’s pantominme depicition of this “ttherapeutic ultra-violence” was as spine-tingling as any of Alice Cooper’s baby brusing atrocities of the same period and perhaps more sounldy conceived.
If “I Know What I Like” uncovers the violent underside of the underdog, “The Battle of Epping Forest” concerns the brutal explotation of the timid. Unleashing a crew of thugs as colorfully crass and cockney as the cast of “Get ‘Em Out,” “Epping” anticipates Godfather II by being taken “from a new story concerning two rival gangs fighting over East-End protection rights.” The nearly twelve minute long cut is boldly ambitious as it move from a graphic description of the two gangs to a minister who is blackmailed by the organization in promoting “pin-up gurus” as a “karamacanic” for “Love, Peace and Truth Incorporated.” The Social comment is scathing and Swiftian; the music is spirited and dances lightly through an amazing array of time changes. Though is some ways less bleak than FOXTROT, SELLING ENGLAND, has a more morally satrical bent, and the expanded arrangementsare among Genesis’most inspired and accessible. Produced by the group with John Burns, Selling England also has a strikingly clear and present sould that lends the album even greater impact.
Viewed in retrospect, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND was a transitinal album for Genesis. Its songs run the gamut from the specifically British satire of “Epping Forest” to the medieval mysticism of the “Firth of Fifth,” working consistengly with symbols fo greed, hunger, power and passivity. The album’s emphasis on these symbols fairly sums up the band’s lyrical concerns before THE LAMB.
Musically, however, SELLING ENGLAND pointed to Genesis’ future. While the band had alway conscientiously composed bridges between peaks, “After the Ordeal” was Genesis’ first extended instrumental. The interweaving textures of Hackett and Rutherford’s guitars were given much freer play, and the result is a refreshing feeling of musical release after the tension of “Epping Forest.” This structuring of tense lyrical moments, followed by more relaxed instrumental passages, would prove crucial to the pacing of a much longer work such as THE LAMB.
Because Rael was Gabriel’s boy so to speak, Peter ended up writing almost all of the lyrics, a major departure from Genesis’ former “all titles by all” policy. “if the lyrical story was to be continuous, one person had to write all the lyrics and that was Pete,” reasoned Banks. The rest of the band concentrated on putting together more music than they had ever before attempted to compose for one album. “If you think in terms of a gigantic jig-saw puzzle, musical bits and pieces that were written months apart by different members of the group just seemed to fit together.” Hackett revealed about Genesis’approach to compositon. “I think you can join any two pieces of music, provide you find the right bridge passage.”
Steve continues, “Peter took more of a back seat in the early stages and just let us get on with it. He was much more concerned with the lyrical side. We did half the music before we decided that Peter should write a story to go with it. We’d been working with the vague lyrical idea of ‘the lamb lie down on broadway.’ That line seemed to stay with us. A great deal of music was written in the studio, which we’d never done before, because time was running out on us. Previous to that late stage in THE LAMB’s development, much of the instrumentation was written in a house in the country and recorded with a mobile unit outside of a formal studio.”
While the band was allowing for greater improvisional potential within THE LAMB, Gabriel was consciously changing his lyrical attitude. In Hackett’s opinion, “I think with this album, Peter felt a need to put himself outside himself more than he had in the past. He’s felt that Genesis did ‘fenmine’ music quite well; this time he wanted to sound more masculine, to be big and butch.”
“Big and Butch” may not exactly describe the LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY, but an edge of frustrated teen energy does render the plot’s twists and turns more psychologically consistent. As for the unprecedentedly vivid visuals, Gabriel feels, “For any act to work fully, the audience has to be envolved. We’re not an audience participation group in the traditional sense. If you can make the visual images stronger, you can make the fantasy more real and involve the audience that way. I hope we make the best use of dramatic lighting and shadows. If you suddenly fo from footlights to silhouettes, the whole feeling the audience gets can be changed by a switch.” Thus, music lyrics, slides and costumes all clearly inter-relate to allow THE LAMB show to shift suddenly from realistic to the fantastic and back again. The visual either reinforce the mood of the music and the meaning of the lyrics or counter them. Peter prefaces each of THE LAMB’s fur sections with a paraphrase of his short story, whichis a remarkably intricate and many-leveled parable itself.
Basically, having lead a life of gratuitous violence committed for his alienated ego’s sake, Rael emergesone day from a graffiti binge on the subway only to be mysteriously abosrbed into a ‘half-world’ on the other side of an ominous wall, which settles on Broadway just as the lamb lies down (never to be heard from again). Once on the othe side, he loses control of his destiny, but for his strong will to survive. In the course of the narrative, Rael is buried or trapped several times, and encounters his brother John repeatedly, as well as a strange assortment of frightening creatures, including seductive snake women; Lilywhite Lillith, a blind guide who leads him out of one dilemma in to another; the hideous Slippermen; the Supernatural Anesthetist (Death, “in a light disguise he made himself”); and Doktor Dyper, whose speciality is castration. One of THE LAMB’s most complete multi-media moments comes during the ‘Cuckoo Cocon’/’In the Cage’ sequence. Rael come out of a coma to become aware that a bizarre cage of stalagtites and stalagmites is trapping him. As Gabriel sings, “I’m drowning in a liquid fear,” Rael see the face of his brother John outside of the cage. The slides depict, in a almost animated form, John’s face in two dimensions with red blood dripping down his black and white features. Gabriel himself has temporarily shed his jacket and jeans to berform half nude on a set that provides several different levels from which he can hold forth. As Rael peerceives a series “of cages joined to form a star,” a spidery web of pale light engulfs the players. So ethereal is the music that is seems to emanate out of the air. No amplifiers are visible.
The staging of “Counting Out Time” provides a cleverly satrical counterpoint to the plot’s heavier moods. As Gabriel warbles a tune “conceived as a light hearted look at the insertation of male organs into female organs,” the slide screen offers various views of the female anatomy complete with arrows and guide numbers. “The Carpet Crawlers” sequence that follows is a montage of Shaw’s design that reflects his familiarity with surrealist painting in plastic fantasy fashion.
Yet the burden of visual representation is not completely on the slide show. Although Gabriel intentionally chose conventional garb in which to portray Rael, he also takes on the character of the mutant Slipperman, with his inflatable dong and “lips that slide across each chin.” Completely enveloped by the most revolting costume ever, Gabriel as Slipperman crawls our of a glowing pink plastic tube and proceeds to hop around like a birth defective toddler.
At other points the lyrics and/or the slides refer to Marlene Dietrich, Caryl Chessman, Martin Luther King, Lenny Bruce and Timothy Leary, all in connection with Rael’s plight. There are feferenced to the Drifters’ “On Broadway” and Del Shannon’s “Runaway”. Though THE LAMB is an many ways as idiomatically American a work as SELLING ENGLAND was British, these references are not meant to be token allusions to rock and roll history or pop culture. “Most of us were too young to catch the ’50s era and have a certain reverence for rock and roll,” Gabriel say realistically. “There’s a hell of a lot of bad music in rock and roll. I felt that the Beatles and the Stones weren’t identified in my mind with rock and roll. When I was fifteen I didn’t want hand-me-down music. I wanted something new.”
For a growing legion of fans Genesis are that ‘something new.’ As Peter himself has pointed out about the ‘competition’ “Alice Cooper’s show seems to dominate everything. Everything,.including music is subservient to the impression he tries to make on the audience. Bowie creates a fantasy situation and plays his songs from it, rather than building situations out of the songs, which is what want to do. We are a band that tells stories with our material, with visual effects helping extend the mood. Genesis are the fantasies we set up.” And what, after all did Elvis and the Beatles have to offer, if not the fantasy of power, potent sexuality and teen unity? These are not ideas foreign to Genesis, but Gabriel and company are expressing them in terms at once mre lyrically conceptual and visually visceral. Genesis’ pecuilarly British aptitude for satire compares favorably with that of the Who or the Kinks, their musical approach is on a par with King Crimson or Yes, and Gabriel is easily one of the best actors in rock, along with Alice and Bowie.
Solo albums and perhaps film work for Gabriel appear to be in Genesis’ future. Yet Gabriel remains commiteed to the positive synergism that Genesis as a band embodies. “Our creative process is a democratic one.” he asserts. “Many roads lead to the same end. As long as the group has an audience, I won’t worry about which aspects seem to stand out to different people.”
(Gabriel left Genesis six months later)