Genesis - Duke
With this album, Genesis took another sizable step away from the dregs of Wind, and hence from their progressive past, and that helps explain why so many people dislike this album. There are still some artistic elements, sure - the album is supposedly conceptual, there are lots of the traditional Banksynths, as well as some energetic drumming from Phil, and there are ten minutes of instrumental jamming at the end - but this is certainly the band's first major move towards becoming the "pop" Genesis. Regardless of some of the cool instrumental parts, drum machines and various elements of synth pop (including simpler songs with more mundane lyrical topics) can be found in abundance throughout.
The thing is, this album gets hammered by even devoted fans of the pop-era of Genesis for a number of reasons (though I can share their chagrin with the fact that, since it hit the top #10 on both sides of the Atlantic, it helped launch Phil's solo career). Supposedly, all of these songs are totally non-descript and lacking anything that makes them stand out in any positive way. Well, there are exactly two songs on here I don't like, so I can't say I agree with this. Like most people, I strongly dislike the mega-hit Misunderstanding, Collins' first solo credit since Peter left: what can I say, it's horrendously bland and has an utterly moronic melody. I'm also not really fond of Bank's Cul-de-sac: it's too clumsy to work as a pop song, and it just sees too dippy to work as art-rock (though I will admit that I kinda like the big goofy keyboard riff that pops up here and there). Not to mention that the lyrics are of his usual quality.
HOWEVER, I cannot share these negative sentiments past those two songs. EVERY one of the other songs has at least a couple of good things going for it, and some are just terrific. For one thing, I must tell you that, for the first time since Lamb, I am not bothered by the Banksynths. Some see his tone as horribly cheezy on this album, and there may be something to that. However, there is one major advantage they have here over the past two albums - they're much, much brighter and more cheerful than before. Maybe that's why the base color of Duke's cover is white, while the last two were so drab.
As for the songs themselves, the major highlight comes from track seven, Turn it on Again. Absolutely blatant pop, definitely disco-influenced, but how can I help it if the song is so friggin' good??!! The main melody is amazingly catchy, the bridge is fabulous ("I I get so lonely when she's not there, I ... I ... I ...."), and the chord progressions are nothing short of genial. Needless to say, it's one of the finest pop songs the band ever did, and even haters of Duke rarely fail to tip their hats to it.
But while none of the others provide quite the same wallop, they're all enjoyable. The opening Behind the Lines is a peculiar number that I keep liking more with each listen, opening with a couple of minutes of jamming in an "overture" of sorts, before settling into a neat pop song with a pretty verse melody (sung with lots of passion). Even better, though, is the following Duchess. Yes, it has drum machines, the first instance of them used on a Genesis track. But SO WHAT??!! The introduction is mellow in a creepy sort of way, and the melody is just wonderful. In particular, I love the ".. all she had to do was step into the light" parts, but the rest could stick in my brain for as long as it wanted for all I care. I actually really like the lyrics, too.
There are also a pair of Banks numbers on side one that cause me to take note. The one-minute Guide Vocal may seem like blatant filler at first glance, but one should note that it does a good job of creating the impression of Duke as a pseudo-conceptual album, not to mention that it has a lovely ethereal beauty in the pleasant vocal melody. This same ethereal beauty also helps lift Heathaze from the doldrums of the verse melodies. The counter-melody, the one that has the "The trees and I are shaken ..." lyrics, is positively gorgeous, fully making up for the fact that I couldn't remember the rest of the song with a gun to my head.
Mike also contributes a pair of solo numbers, and both times comes up a winner. Well, ok, neither one reaches the heights of Ripples or Snowbound, and both numbers are based on the same idea (unconventional verse melody, bombastic heavenly chorus) as before, but I still appreciate them. Man of our Times, in particular, is a standout on the album. The main melody, for lack of a better term, is very twisted, with Phil contorting his voice to match up with this fact, while the synth approach is in the "ugly" vein of Back in NYC, which means I can't help but enjoy it. Not to mention that I greatly appreciate the way Phil sings the chorus. Likewise with Alone Tonight, which is perfectly pleasant in the verses and beautifully memorable in the chorus.
Heck, I even like Collins' other solo credit, the piano-based ballad Please Don't Ask. I used to find it overly rambling, but it's got a ton of emotional power, driven by his recent divorce, and I'd never dream of skipping it.
And, of course, we have the jamming at the end, consisting of two tracks (Duke's Travels and Duke's End). The former, while not really structured in an immediately discernable way, has the benefit of having a lot of the energy that was sorely lacking on the instrumentals on Wind, and it also has an added surprise in a vocal reprise of Guide Vocal in the middle. And as for Duke's End, it's just a "capstone" to the themes of the album, bringing full circle the ideas first shown in Behind the Lines, but it's still very good, leaving a pleasant taste in your mouth at album's end.
Now don't get me wrong - I'm not about to call this a peak of Genesis' pop career or anything like that. It has several weaknesses, many of which would be corrected on subsequent albums. But I honestly cannot figure out why this album is regarded as one of Genesis' biggest blackeyes or embarrassments - it's just a very good album, which means I like it quite a bit.
Behind The Lines
Man Of Our Times
Turn It On Again
Please Don't Ask