Genesis - Wind And Wuthering
- Blah. You know, I'm all for bands evolving over time. After all, if you use the same style again and again, eventually it's going to grow stale. BUT, I also firmly believe that changing is not enough - you have to change into something that, at the very least, displays relative advantages over the style you're discarding. Alas, with this album, Genesis threw away large parts of their classic style in cold blood, only to replace them with genericism and dullness. Now, instead of taking a song-by-song approach with this fact, I decided it would be better to run down the list of traits that made classic Genesis so great in my eyes (and ears), and then to compare them with the inferior doppelganger in this incarnation of Genesis.
- Good Genesis: Lengthy compositions with a clear sense of purpose and direction, as well as a solid melodical base. The song-structures were complex, but they always resolved themselves eventually, helping the listener not feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of the pieces. Or, alternatively, compositions of short or medium length, complex yet overwhelmingly interesting at times.
- Bad Genesis: Lengthy compositions that, in the first few listens, can seem to be long and complex solely for their own sakes (One for the Vine). The melodies in these are only occasionally memorable even after repeated listens, and they lack any obvious sense of direction or purpose (One for the Vine). One also discovers a fairly large number of instrumental tracks (3 out of 9 songs) that, on the whole, don't make a tremendous amount of impact (not to mention that one of them, Wot Gorilla?, is a shameless rewrite of Riding the Scree, and another one strikes me as a shameless rewrite of Ravine). The only one that consistently keeps my interest at all is In That Quiet Earth, and that's because it has a decent Hackett-led passage and a stretch where the rhythm section becomes inexplicably heavy; whenever it becomes dominated by Banks, though, it becomes less much less interesting.
- Good Genesis: Fairly diverse instrumentation, with at worst an acceptable balance between Hackett's guitars and the Banksynths (which showed an acceptably diverse pallette of tones), as well as a healthy amount of acoustic guitar. Hackett was regularly (if not frequently) given a chance to shine, while Banks would occasionally have some blisteringly good moments. In addition, Banks could also achieve a high level of spiritual catharsis with his keys when he wanted to, not to mention the images he painted on The Lamb.
- Bad Genesis: The balance between the guitars and keyboards isn't nearly as off-kilter as I used to think, but there are still problems in this regard. Hackett has a number of standout moments, but uncovering those only emphasizes the sense that, when he's not doing something to stand out, he completely disappears from the mix. Banks dominates as always, and this is a problem given that he really seems pretty uninspired most of the time (yup, I mean that), except for some decent keyboard riffs. There's some piano, which is sometimes used to good effect, but he relies strongly on some awfully monotonous sounding synths most of the time. I get that the point of the synths is to create some atmosphere, but egads, anybody can create atmosphere - it's the KIND of atmosphere you make that matters, not to mention that you need to vary it at least a bit from song to song. Nope, the arrangements on this album, on the whole, are just not that good; I end up spending my time waiting for an interesting Hackett part (like the great solo at the end of One for the Vine that's by far the best part of the track), and feeling bored most of the rest of the time. There are a lot keyboard parts on here that just SCREAM out "emotionally manipulative" to me, and I mean that in the worst meaning of the term.
- Good Genesis: Often bombastic, often humorous and usually clever lyrics (depending on the author). Though Banks could certainly contribute a lamer here and there, Gabriel could come up with clever, non-cliched texts to counteract whatever stinkiness Banks or Mike might produce.
- Bad Genesis: There are a LOT of lyrics on this album that fall between mediocre and horrible, and few that ascend to good (Blood on the Rooftops is rather nice here). In particular, I really dislike the lyrics to One for the Vine. This "alternative" perspective of Christ has no interesting philosophical ideas and no clever individual lines, and sounds to me like Tony thought that writing about a Messiah in a non-mainstream way would be enough to make it worthwhile. I just feel like it's full of cliches, and full of preachiness, and I hate it completely. As for other songs, there are decent lyrics here and there, but not much I'd find as interesting as Squonk or Ripples.
- Good Genesis: Peter Gabriel as lead vocalist. I know that it may seem obvious or, depending on your perspective, the cry of a deranged fan, but you have to remember - Peter had the uncanny ability to make even the most obscure and ludicrous tales and lines come to life by the sheer power of his voice. Even Banks lyrics could come close to enjoyability (e.g. Watcher of the Skies).
- Bad Genesis: Wind and Wuthering, for large stretches, pulls off an absolutely amazing feat. See, there are many, many albums where the lyrics take a back seat to the music, and where one can successfully hear and enjoy the vocals without hearing the lyrics. W&W, on the other hand, has the distinction of being the only album in my collection where I hear the lyrics but do not hear the vocals. A paradox? Hardly. Throughout the album, it becomes painfully obvious that Phil, who isn't that talented a singer in the first place, hasn't the slightest clue what to do with the lyrics Tony presents to him to sing. Hence, if you thought his singing on Trick was a bit flat and emotionless, you need to hear Wind to hear what it's like for a singer to be totally afraid to try any expressivness for fear of "getting it wrong." The song where this hurts the most, actually, is the middle track, All in a Mouse's Night. The lyrics are actually somewhat cute (though a bit too dry to be as humorous as they could be), and in the hands of Gabriel, it could have become a minor classic (just imagine him squeaking as the mouse or screeching as the wife or hissing as the cat). But alas, Phil doesn't change his tone one iota through the track, and the result is pure, unadulterated filler, albeit with another nice Hackett passage buried in the last minute of the song..
- As you can tell, I'm not too fond of the stylistics of this album. Since I haven't done much but bash it so far, though, I should explain why it gets a 6 instead of a lower grade. First of all, with regards to the last problem (the vocals) - because three of the songs are pop songs (or, at the least, songs with a relatively clear direction and with easily discernable hooks) instead of Banks prog-ravings, Phil is able to contribute fully solid vocals on each one of them. The first, the hit Your Own Special Way, is a decent Rutherford acoustic ballad, and although it's certainly way too long (and the midsection way too soft and mellow), it also features a fully memorable chorus and a pleasant verse melody. Much better, though, is a classic in the Collins/Hackett collaboration Blood on the Rooftops. In addition to the aforementioned pretty acoustic intro, it also (a) features a well placed mellotron that sounds better than any of the other synths on the album, and (b) contains a beautifully romantic melody with some well-timed emotional climaxes. It's EASILY Collins' best vocal performance of the album, and if anything, makes me glad the band would start to shift towards pop from the next year onwards.
- I've also developed some fondness over time for the closing Afterglow. I don't think Collins' vocal part is great here, and I don't think it has as much power as was probably intended (especially with it following two instrumentals). In fact, truth be told, I don't think it's an amazing studio song ... and yet, I've heard it and enjoyed it so many times as the closing part of live medleys that some of that fondness can't help but wear off onto this version.
- I should also give props to the album opener, Eleventh Earl of Mar, which has grown on me a lot through the years. I find the intro and outro a little annoyingly over-the-top overblown, but there are some neat Hackett effects that break through the synths, and these give a deceptive sense of how much Hackett to expect on the album. I also think the vocals are pretty unremarkable (I feel like the song is better when I'm singing along to it), and I find it a little irritating that the vocal melody seems more than a bit borrowed from The Battle of Epping Forest. Still, it has some great organ riffs, more energy than the rest of the album combined, some powerhouse drumming and bass work, some decent lyrics (even if they don't come through well), and a good balance between the intended beauty of Tony's keys and the power of Steve's guitar.
- But again, there's not much else positive to be found on this album, at least not to my ears. It's not quite as horrendous as I initially thought, but egads, it's definitely NOT deserving of being called a fan-favorite. I mean, if you like 70's Genesis just because they were progressive, you could like this album. But if you like 70's Genesis because they were a special kind of progressive, chances are good that you'll be disappointed as hell in this.
- Slight addendum: Many years after writing this review, while I still think that Unquiet Slumber for the Sleepers is distressingly similar to Ravine, I do kinda like the slow unwinding of the quiet melody in the background. To be honest, while I don't find any of the last three tracks (Unquiet, Quiet Earth, Afterglow) individually very great, put together they make for a pretty decent 10-minute album-closing suite (nothing amazing, but definitely decent). This is enough to prompt me to bump the grade of the album up a notch.
Eleventh Earl of Mar
One for the Vine
Your Own Special Way
All In A Mouse's Night
Blood On The Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers
In That Quiet Earth