I blame Peter.
Or maybe Hugh.
No. Perhaps it’s all Phil’s fault.
That’s Peter Gabriel, Hugh Padgham and Phil Collins.
Blaming them for what exactly? Well, that drum sound for starters, known as a ‘gated’ or ‘gated reverb’ sound, apparently. It was a big (in more than one sense) part of the transformation of Genesis as they followed a new chart-friendly formula at the start of the new decade. And it wasn’t just the Genesis sound that radically changed. The writer Stuart Maconie (quoted on Wikipedia) described Phil’s use of the gated drum sound on his first solo single as “setting the template”; another writer (also via Wikipedia) called it “the sound of the ’80s”.
And all, it seems, a happy accident. Phil was helping Peter with his third album (‘Melt’). Peter didn’t want to use any cymbals at all. Hugh, the engineer, was therefore able to place the mics much closer to the drums than normal. A few tweaks of various knobs and, hey presto, the booming drums of Intruder kicked off Peter’s highly acclaimed album (the first one of his I bought, on the back of a great review in Sounds, and still a favourite). Fast-forward a few months, and Hugh and Phil try to recreate the sound for Phil’s solo song In the Air Tonight. Forty years, and the occasional gorilla, later and it still packs a mighty punch.
Hugh was also on board as engineer for the new Genesis album. The Duke sessions had already seen a fresh approach to writing — more collaborative, more spontaneous. This method was taken further with the new album. Tony, Phil and Mike contributed just one individually written song each; the others were all studio creations.
With Padgham on board, it wasn’t just the drums that sounded different. I hated the Abacab artwork at the time, but there’s no doubt that it neatly encapsulated the music it housed: bold, brash, stark. It was also abstract — as abstract as the title track, a gibberish word made up of letters representing an early arrangement of the song. As Tony said, this is not an album with lyrics about goblins and fairies.
To say that I loathed the music as well as the cover would be going too far. Genesis were certainly not the only ’70s band to be modernising their sound at the start of the new decade, and the first 30 minutes of Abacab are enjoyable enough.
The title track bursts in like a surprise guest and, like many good album openers, sets the mood for what is to come; the second half of the song, meanwhile, is more of a leisurely (if somewhat unadventurous) jam, with plenty of space in the soundscape for instruments to breathe.
Keep It Dark has an experimental quirkiness about it. No Reply at All — with its Earth Wind and Fire horns — is distinctly un-Genesis and, as such, bound to divide opinion, but it’s catchy and has a great middle eight. Me and Sarah Jane (Tony’s song) is probably the closest thing to ‘typical’ Genesis and perhaps the best track on the album, along with Dodo/Lurker which opens the original side two.
At this point, however, there is a startling drop-off in quality. The final third of the album lacks sparkle and ends, with Another Record, on a decidedly downbeat note. Of Who Dunnit?, more below.
The album was released in September 1981. Looking back, Tony, Mike and Phil seem to emphasise the album’s importance (Phil, in Chapter and Verse: “This gave us a genuine reason to carry on…”) rather than its quality. Tellingly, none of its songs featured on the 2007 reunion tour. And it certainly divided fans at the time: at their show at Leiden in Holland, for example, the new songs were loudly booed. But whatever the views of long-time Genesis fans, the wider public seemed to like the new direction, at least judging by record sales — it was Number One in the UK and sold more than two million copies in the USA. The commercial success of both single and album cemented Genesis’s place in the big league.
Concerts in mainland Europe to coincide with the album’s release were followed by a tour of North America and then shows at Wembley Arena and Birmingham NEC just prior to Christmas. A live double album was released six months later.
I have written elsewhere that Seconds Out, recorded primarily on the Wind and Wuthering tour in 1977, is one of the great live albums. It is safe to say that Three Sides Live isn’t. The album did much at the time to strengthen my misgivings about this ‘new’ Genesis, in part perhaps because it is such a difficult album to categorise and ends up trying to offer something for everyone. It suggests that the band themselves were unsure about how far to push their new sound and still wrestling with the ongoing conflict between what Phil was now regularly referring to as “old shit” and “new shit”.
The original sides one and two are a somewhat random and randomly organised selection of highlights from the Duke and Abacab albums. The combination of Behind the Lines and Duchess was an effective show opener on the Duke tour, though here relegated to side two. Similarly, Dodo/Lurker and Abacab were live highlights from the current tour.
Turn It On Again, a big audience-widening hit, opens side one, even though it actually featured towards the end of the main set. Misunderstanding and Follow You Follow Me (the latter from the Duke tour, as it was dropped for the Abacab tour) ratchet up the singles quotient. The outlier is Me and Sarah Jane, a standout track from the Abacab album but hardly a live showstopper. Much of side three is given over to the medley of old songs, ending with Afterglow, the only song also to feature on Seconds Out.
And then the bizarre side four. The UK iteration of Three Sides Live featured three apparently randomly chosen classics, as played in 1976, 1978 and 1980 — a pattern of sorts there at least. The closing it. / Watcher of the Skies, the encore on the Trick of the Tail tour, thus features both Steve Hackett and Bill Bruford. The rest of the world, meanwhile, got a compilation of the recent single Paperlate and some non-album b-sides — hence the album’s title.
Random, indeed. One thing Three Sides Live did have in common with Seconds Out: it misrepresented the Genesis show. The set list for the 1981 legs of the Abacab tour was as follows:
Behind the Lines / Duchess /The songs shown crossed through were not included on Three Sides Live
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway/ Dodo/Lurker /Abacab / Carpet Crawlers/ Me and Sarah Jane / Misunderstanding / No Reply at All/ Firth of Fifth/ Man on the Corner/ Who Dunnit?/ In the Cage / The Cinema Show [excerpt] / The Colony of Slippermen [excerpt] / Afterglow / Turn It On Again / Dance on a Volcano/ Los Endos/ I Know What I Like
The outstanding bootleg from the Abacab tour is from Frankfurt on 30 October. It is astonishingly good, an absolute must-have for any Genesis fan’s collection. It demonstrates that Genesis hadn’t suddenly become a crap band, even for those of the opinion that the new album was very much heading in the wrong direction, and that the show as a whole retained a reasonable balance between older and newer material, a fact that wasn’t obvious from Three Sides Live.
Long-time favourites such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (restored to the set after a four-year hiatus) and Carpet Crawlers still sound great. Firth of Fifth also returns, this time of course with Daryl in the spotlight rather than Steve. Fans of ’70s Genesis are unlikely to bemoan a set list liberally studded with gems of old; on the other hand, despite a back catalogue bulging with crown jewels, much of it remains locked away in the vaults. The In the Cage medley, augmented for this tour with the keyboard solo from The Colony of Slippermen, is now on its third journey round the world. The close of the show — Dance on a Volcano, the drum duet and Los Endos, ending with an encore of I Know What I Like — also feels more than a little familiar.
Unsurprisingly, there is more of an ’80s vibe or sensibility about all of these revisited classics. There’s Phil’s ad lib during The Lamb, for example: “I’m not your kind, bitch — I’m Rael!” And then there’s the shoutier, more aggressive vocal during songs like Man on the Corner and I Know What I Like. Or perhaps it’s just that Phil’s singing voice, like his on-stage persona, has simply become harsher and raspier after years of touring.
Phil’s monologues seem to be getting longer, and maybe it’s to do with the larger venues on this tour but the between-song chatter generally feels less playful; the introduction to Man on the Corner at Frankfurt — “Everybody thinks he’s a bit stupid” — isn’t funny at all. There’s plenty of the usual Carry On-style slapstick but, as noted in the reviews of the earlier tours, some of it hasn’t aged at all well, like the description (at the final show at Birmingham) of Cindy Lou as a “beautiful young tart” and comments like “the good things in life — necrophilia, bestiality, incest, rape.”
The new album features heavily — six tracks. As noted above, the standout live tracks are probably Dodo/Lurker and Abacab, played back to back in one fifteen-minute burst. Less successful are No Reply at All, minus the horn section, and to a lesser extent Me and Sarah Jane, neither of which was retained for the following tour.
The low point, however, comes mid-show — a mediocre Man on the Corner, whose mysterious subject is not so much standing around as wandering aimlessly towards a downbeat drum-machine destination, abruptly morphs into Who Dunnit? Watching Tony Banks, a naughty gleam in his eye, discuss the song is to imagine him back at Charterhouse, refusing to apologise to the house master for some minor act of teenage rebellion, like drawing a willy on a textbook or turning up for class with a shaved head. Who Dunnit? is awful but Tony doesn’t care. It’s his punk moment.
Following the release of the Three Sides Live album in June 1982 (and an accompanying film), the band toured again with a revamped set.
Dance on a Volcano / Behind the Lines / Follow You Follow Me / Dodo/Lurker / Abacab / Supper’s Ready / Misunderstanding / Man on the Corner / Who Dunnit? / In the Cage / The Cinema Show [excerpt] / The Colony of Slippermen [excerpt] / Afterglow / Turn It On Again / Los Endos / The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway / Watcher of the Skies / I Know What I Like
Dance on a Volcano is back opening the set for the first time since 1976. Another highlight is an extended bridge between The Lamb and Watcher of the Skies. The most eye-catching change, however, is the return of Supper’s Ready (along with the two virgins, Romeo and Juliet), played for the first time since 1977. It features on a very good bootleg of part of the Saratoga Springs show on 26 August. The performance itself is terrific too, in spite of Phil’s silly Mexican/Spanish ad libs during the Willow Farm section. One wonders whether this was the origins of (the now rather cringe-inducing) Illegal Alien on their next album, in the same way that Paperlate is said to have emerged out of soundchecks of Dancing with the Moonlit Knight.
In early October the five touring members of Genesis joined with Peter Gabriel for the one-off Six of the Best concert at Milton Keynes to raise money following the commercial failure of the first WOMAD festival which left Peter facing financial ruin. Steve Hackett joined them on stage for the encores. It was a nostalgic — and final — reprise of ‘old’ Genesis. The following year was to see even greater commercial success for the band and the beginnings of global superstardom for Phil as a solo artist.
A selection of classic Genesis concerts on the Wind and Wuthering tour
And then there were three … plus two: the first tour without Steve Hackett
Genesis, 1980 — and this time it’s personal. Reflections on the Duke era.