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‘Genesis After Gabriel – How Will They Survive?’

Written by on March 25, 1976

From Circus Magazine, 1976.
by Mick Houghton.
Mike Rutherford: “There was no animosity in the split, but people couldn’t resist translating the lyrics to ‘Squonk’ as being about bad feelings between us and Pete.”

“The vehicle we had built as a co-op to serve our songwriting became our master and had cooped us up inside the success we had wanted. It affected the spirit and attitudes of the whole band. The music had not dried up and I still respect the other musicians, but our roles had set in hard. For any band, transferring the heart from idealistic enthusiasm to professionalism is a difficult operation.”

With that splendidly high falutin’ statement to the press, Peter Gabriel, lead singer and visual focal point of Genesis, packed up his trunk of costumes, masks and makeup and quietly retired to the countryside last year. The rest of the group went into similar bucolic retirement. Only drummer Phil Collins remained at large, filling his with sessions and organizing his free-blowing jazz outfit, Brand X. Meanwhile, he reapedly assured journalists that Genesis would continue without Peter. Now those assurances have been confirmed by the release of their eighth album, ‘A Trick of the Tail’ (on Atlantic).

The band where never really that certain of the future, though, as keyboardsman Tony Banks and bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford revealed recently to CIRCUS. After a few furtive glances to Tony following a request to rake over the ashes, Mike explained that Peter’s departure last August came as no surprise. “Pete was actually going to leave the summer before ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ was completed, but we persuaded him to stay on. He decided finally last January so we had a whole six-month period on tour to get used to the idea. We thought about how we’d continue, but we were working so hard it was never uppermost in our minds. It was a gradual process so when it finally happened it was no dramatic shock.”

Tony took up the story: “At the end of the tour we took two months out to write and reassess the situation. Afterwords, we very nearly decided not to carry on. But once we started rehearsals, we realized that it was worth it. The music, even in that primitive form, was really nice.”

PETE’S PRESSURE DROP: Peter’s leaving may in a curious way have released the band from certain pressures that might have followed the impressive ‘Lamb’ album and the startling stage presentation that wowed audiences throughout Europe and America. Earlier, when we spoke to Phil Collins, he felt that it would have been impossible for Peter to continue after ‘The Lamb’. It was, for him, the culmination of Genesis’ achievements. He’d put everything into ‘Lamb’ – and it had taken everything out of him.

Genesis: “It was actually a less friction-filled album. It’s pulled the four of us closer together.”

Mike didn’t see it in quite the same way and, with the satisfaction that Genesis-minus-Gabriel had produced ‘Trick’, an album that lives up to all expectations, he could safely comment: “We had been going on for some years making album after album, and a change like this is refreshing. It’s different forces at play. Making this album brought out different sides of ourselves. It’s pulled the four of us closer together. It was actually a less friction-filled album. With Phil doing the singing we worked closely with him, whereas Pete used to like to record the vocals by himself before he played them to us. The whole thing was far more democratic.”

Originally Genesis had intended replacing Peter, but none of the hundreds of would-be Gabriels sounded as comfortable as Phil singing Genesis material. Phil had always done a fair amount of back up singing to Peter, and unlike the hopefuls they tried out, was totally in sympathy with the structure of Genesis’ melodies, and the shape of their songs. And, listening to Phil’s singing on ‘A Trick of the Tail’, it’s remarkable how like Peter he sometimes sounds.

Where Peter is most sorely missed in the writing department. The songs on ‘Trick’ just don’t have the power of Genesis’ previous work. Gabriel breathed life into his lyrics. There was always a definite point to his striking word play, disguised behind his deft wit and effective use of overpunning. That subtlety and spirit is lacking throughout much of ‘Trick’. The songs, mostly written by a combination of Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and guitarist Steve Hackett, are often too mannered; despite fitting in marvelously with the ambience of the music.

Surprisingly, ‘Trick’ is a word heavy album. It’s a bold step, since Peter had been responsible for the brunt of the lyrics. It would have been a lot easier for Genesis to have copped out and recorded a musically dominant album. “That was probably our original intention,” Tony readily agreed, “but it just goes to show that you can’t make these sort of decisions in advance. It probably is the most word heavy album we’ve done.”

FEW ALIEN INFLUENCES: Musically, the album picks up from where ‘Selling England by the Pound’ left off, reversing the harder rock approach of ‘Lamb’. There are a few alien influences creeping in: a Latin feel to the final track, ‘Los Endos’; a direct, attacking lyrical approach on ‘Robbery, Assault and Battery’; and a very Beatlish sound, not unlke ‘Your Mother Should Know’, on the title track. Mostly, though, it’s vintage and unmistakable Genesis, with the delightful intermeshing melodic patterns coloured in by Steve Hackett and Tony Banks. Genesis music may be 100 percent worked out, but it’s worth noting that much of it is built on an improvised framework, taking the best moments from jam sessions that have taken place earlier.

Tony likes to compare their approach to construction and production on ‘Trick’ to the Beach Boys. There’s also a strong Beatlish air running throughout, in more than the obvious ways, too: the group couldn’t resist at least one obscurantist reference to Peter: “There was,” Mike reasserted, “no animosity in the split, yet Melody Maker, for example, couldn’t resist translating the lyrics to ‘Squonk’ as being about bad feeling between us and Pete. The day that came out we were actually cutting some demos, me and Phil, with Pete, and it’s weird reading all those conjunctures. There was only one bit we put in about Pete which no one gets because it’s so subtle. It’s right near the end of the album and so mixed down it’s hard to pick out. It doesn’t really mean very much on its own anyway. On one track, the one we didn’t use in fact, we were doing some backwards vocals on which we were taking the piss out of those ‘Paul is dead’ rumours by doing funny things about Pete. We also started messing around lines from a Yes song as well.”

With ‘Trick’ Genesis are well on the way to picking up the pieces. The next challenge rears its uglier head as the group take to the road again. They open up in America this month for six weeks, then take a break before keeping British fans happy by playing some U.K. dates in the summer. British dates have been kept to a minimum because Genesis hope to go back into the studios before the end of the year to record another album.

LIVE SHOWDOWN: Are the band more apprehensive about playing live that they were about cutting the album? Mike, feigning an attack of nerves, answered. “The live show was getting very slick. We could play very badly and people would still enjoy it whereas we will have to work hard on the road now. Nothing will be taken for granted.” Tony was well aware of the real problem: “People are expecting a lot of us in measuring up to standards of the past without someone who was obviously a key member of the group. We’ve proved ourselves with the album and now we have to with the show. The show may be more of a difficult hurdle to overcome because Peter was obviously more a stage feature than an LP feature. He was more unobtrusive on album than on stage.”

In the past, the group had suggested they were unhappy about the dominance of the visual display on stage over the music. Mike felt they’d been slightly misrepresented over this: “We never thought that ourselves, but often when we read the press after we’d played a good set there was no mention of the music. The visuals were easier to write about so that used ti rile us a bit. We always felt that from our end the balance was correct. We don’t even think about visual interpretations until after the albums are finished and that’s what we’re working on at the moment. I doubt whether the balance of visuals to music will be any different this time but I think we’ll come across more as a band.”

The group are highly excited by the expansion of visuals and and projection ideas and are working diligently to tie these in with the new material. There are plenty of olf favorites in the set, even numbers from as far back as the ‘Trespass’ album, which Steve and Phil, both late arrivals, never learnt while Peter was in the group.

It’s Phil who takes the singing honors on stage, as he did on the album. Genesis are no longer seeking a singer to replace Peter. They may well augment their sound with other musicians while on tour, and almost certainly will bring in a drummer to free Phil to step forward some of the time.

The anti-ego group of all time, Genesis have always taken everything in their own stride, shrugging off the ecstatic praise for their artistic triumphs as readily as they tolerated early criticism and, worse, total neglect by critics. Now, with the same passive ease, they’ve recovered from the piece of major internal surgery that removed a most extraordinary individual from their midst.

By a series of twists and turns Genesis have been re-born. The seeming death wish has given rise to a strong desire among the remaining individuals in the group to actively continue. If anything, they are revitalized by the challenge. ‘A Trick of the Tail’ is a more than worthy album to showcase their talents – not flawless, but still a remarkable achievment under the circumstances. Far from being submerged by setbacks Genesis seems to have found a new level on which to operate. For that we can all be grateful.

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