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fromheadtoheart flag England - Full Moon 198 - 10/29/12

From head to heart
Genesis' Foxtrot

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar time traveling shuttle takes us - yet again - 40 years back in time. I recall one time back in my young (innocent) teen years, when I visited Oslo's legendary record store Electric Circus, and within a few minutes I had bought a handful of British pop-prog LPs fronted by twisted angel Gabriel; Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Selling England By The Pound, and of course Foxtrot.


Charisma Records

I'll admit it at once. Genesis once was my favourite band, in the latter half of the 1970s. I guess I discovered the group around the time Peter Gabriel was about to leave. It culminated with a concert in 1978, the first time some friends and I went really out of town to witness a band. It was grrrreat, but, of course, in retrospect, by then it was too late. The magic of the progressive rock band had gone when the line-up was reduced to just three. It's hard to pin a favourite Genesis album. It might be Nursery Cryme (1971) that has several great grand songs and some nice small acoustic folk-tinged ones in addition. Also, Selling England By The Pound (1973) includes several grand eposes and a few nice odd ditties. Those mighty bass pedals that kicks in during the guitar solo "Firth Of Fifth" still give me thrills. Of course there also is the rock-opera, so to speak, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974), but for me that album is a bit unfulfilled. It seems the band ran out of creativity or time during the last quarter of the album; weaker songs and the story of the street punk Rael gets blurred. I also have a soft spot for Wind And Wuthering. It includes one lame song ("Your Own Special Way") that points forwards towards the pop trio of the 1980s. The rest is excellent, not least due to Steve Hackett's sublime guitar efforts; his swan song with the band.

And then there is Foxtrot. It includes two of progressive Genesis' signature songs, also two of the greatest prototype 1970s progressive rock numbers as such, the majestic "Watcher Of The Skies" and the Magnus opus "Supper's Ready". The former has a Mellotron intro that really demonstrates what the instrument was about. I also still, some 37 years since first I heard the song, particularly enjoy the variations between the hushed organ riff and the machine gun ditto with the entire band in full frontal attack towards the end of the song. Generally and musically, Genesis probably was a bit boring live band, aiming the best they could to copy the studio versions of the songs, that is if you don't count Peter Gabriel's more or less hilarious costumes, ditto stories between the songs, lights and slides. There is one substantial exception as far as I know. A radio broadcast of songs from the Shrine Auditorium in L.A. on the American leg of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway-tour in the winter of 1975. The band starts with "Watcher", a really powerful version; the entire band seems to be pushed forward by a very receptive audience. I'm still in awe, neck hair on end and feel like an enthusiastic teenager listening to it. It leaves the original studio version as a wet spot on the stage. "Supper Is Ready" on the other hand is Genesis' attempt at one (almost) LP-side long composition in different parts, the closest they ever got to Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" (1970), label mates Van der Graaf Generator's "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" (1971) or Yes' "Close To The Edge" (from September 1972, less than a month prior to Foxtrot). "Supper" is a mishmash of quiet acoustic moments, funny marching interludes, symphonic full band outbursts and lots more. Listening to the first part of the epos "Lovers Leap" now, it strikes me that the early Genesis is underestimated as an acoustic outlet. The band had a very distinct sound by two or three acoustic six and twelve string guitars, not far from what is labelled acid folk nowadays. And adding Mellotron to the acoustic guitars, like in "Can-Utility And The Coastliners", never hurts. On the contrary.

Speaking of the latter song, it's one of the often overlooked gems of the album along with "Time Table". They're both rather calm, almost ballads, with acoustic guitars and piano as the main instrument respectively, pointing backwards toward some of the mythical songs of Nursery Cryme. The former in particular with a bit heavier organ and full band involvement eventually. It deals with King Knut (Canute) of Denmark and conqueror of England, Norway and parts of Sweden towards the end of the Viking era. He allegedly commanded the tide to halt and not wet his feet. He didn't succeed and realized the king of kings (God) was more almighty than the kings of this world.

Speaking of the lyrics of Foxtrot, they are far from the revolutionary destroy all-attitude of rock'n'roll a little earlier and later. The band members where far too polite and well behaved for that, of course. Here are reminisces of old times 'when honour meant much more to a man than life', romance, fairy-tale, mythology, biblical motifs and harsh social reality set in a futuristic environment. The latter stems from "Get'em Out By Friday", an ironic look at dwelling problems where the ministry (or something) of Genetic Control in a TV-announcement on 18 September 2012 (no less!) informs 'of a 4 feet restriction on humanoid height'. That way, when 'people will be shorter of height, they can fit twice as many in the same building site (they say it's alright)'! The song fits nicely with other slightly cabaret-tinged song stories of the band starting with "Harold The Barrel" (who cut off his toes and served them all for tea...) on Nursery Cryme, continuing on Selling England... with the gang-war-epos "The Battle Of Epping Forest" and pointing forward to The Lamb Lies Down....

There are no weak songs on Foxtrot. All of them are quite hummable, and most leave me in a rather good mood. The instrumental craft of course is excellent. Tony Banks knows how to handle his pianos, Mellotron and Hammond. There are no synthesizers involved, which is good news as the synthesized sounds of the early 1970s often sound out-dated today compared to the keyboards mentioned above. Steve Hackett demonstrates his skills both as an inventive exploding electric and exquisite acoustic guitarist, probably the strongest instrumentalist of the band. He even has a solo spot, one and a half minutes of classical acoustic guitar called "Horizons", an instrumental always featured in his concerts after he quit the band, I guess. A lot can be said about Phil Collins. But his way of drumming is unbeatable, so to speak, very characteristic. And his backing voice fits nicely with Peter Gabriel's lead. The bass of Mike Rutherford is also worth mentioning. It has a very typical sound on those early Genesis albums, and occasionally he plays it in a sort of funky white man's way. Let's not forget Peter Gabriel's flute that sadly seemed to be lost as soon as he left Genesis.

I'm not sure if it's a weakness or strength, but Foxtrot is not a cohesive album. The different songs or parts of songs point in quite different directions. Which means one song is not followed by a next in the same vein. On the other hand, it demonstrates several and rather different sides of the band. Another thing about Genesis, not least Foxtrot, compared to some of their more pretentious contemporaries, is doses of humour and playful use of sounds and words. '... there's Winston Churchill dressed in drag, he used to be a British flag, plastic bag...' and 'if you go down to Willow Farm, to look for butterflies, gutterflies, flutterbies...' are just two examples. The band members don't seem to take themselves too seriously despite frequent time signature changes and song titles such as "Can-Utility And The Coastliners" and "Ikhnaton and Itsacon And Their Band of Merry Men". Other titles like "How Dare I Be So Beautiful?" or "Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring The Delicious Talents Of Gabble Ratchet)" (the latter three are titles of parts of "Supper's Ready") prove different. All in all, I guess Foxtrot is a classic of its kind and can serve as a great introduction for the uninitiated to the progressive era Genesis or to British progressive rock of the first half of the 1970s for that matter.

Copyright © 2012 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Genesis article/review: Wind & Wuthering.

© 2012 Luna Kafé