There’s no track on Genesis that I find weak.
It felt at times as though we were stretching the material as far as we could.
Hmmm. Both quotes come from the band’s official Chapter and Verse book. Both are attributed to Tony Banks. Although not directly contradictory, they point to a particular difficulty with appraising the album Genesis, the band’s follow-up to Abacab, released in October 1983. It consists (mainly) of well-crafted, radio-friendly pop-rock songs, but — ironically for an album called ‘Genesis’ by a band called ‘Genesis’ — is it really Genesis? Your answer will probably determine your view on the album and the subsequent Mama tour.
Mike Rutherford, in his 2014 autobiography, says that the original side one (ie the first three tracks, counting Home by the Sea and Second Home by the Sea as one track) is “pretty high on the list of the best things we’ve done”. Elsewhere he has described it as one of his favourite albums.
In my initial draft of this blog I wrote:
I would go along with Mike as far as saying that side one isn’t bad (rather like the Abacab album, in fact) but side two is a serious dip (again, like Abacab) and, overall, Genesis is, in my opinion, the band’s weakest — assuming that our album history begins with Trespass.
Today, well, I’m not so sure…
What is striking is how little coverage there is of the 1983–84 period. It merits maybe a single page in the Chapter and Verse book; the tour doesn’t even come up, if I remember correctly. When the Genesis era is discussed, the focus is usually on the making of the song Mama. My own view of Mama — indeed of the album as a whole — spins around like a weathervane in the wind. I was certainly intrigued by it at the time of its release, wondering whether (ie hoping that) Genesis were veering off in some wacky new direction. Nowadays I tend to dwell more on its structural similarity to In the Air Tonight.
Aah, Phil Collins. Like Chapter and Verse, Phil also gives the album roughly one page in his autobiography — part of a chapter called Hello I Must Be Busy. And therein, I suppose, lies the problem. By 1983 Phil’s solo career was starting to flourish on the back of a successful second album and another smash hit single, an excellent version of the Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love. This was a pop star treadmill that was only getting faster. His outsized personality — perfectly in tune with the brashness of the Eighties — inevitably came to overshadow everything else, especially as Genesis’ music (augmented by Phil’s trademark gated drum sound) headed for ever more commercial waters.
Genesis was the first album written and recorded entirely at The Farm, the band’s new studio in Surrey. Hugh Padgham, he of the gated drum sound, was again the engineer, as well as earning a ‘with Hugh Padgham’ part-production credit. The name — Genesis — was chosen to signify that this was an album developed from start to finish completely together in the studio. Nobody turned up with anything pre-written. Ideas developed organically through playing around, often with new technology such as sampling synths and electronic drums, and everything is credited equally to Banks – Collins – Rutherford. The emphasis was on spontaneity and on quickly capturing an idea. There is more than an hour of officially released home video available for anyone with the patience to sit through it.
Having hated it at first, I have come to appreciate how the cover art for Abacab represents the music within — bold, brash, stark. Alas, the Genesis outer and inner sleeve artwork continues to leave me cold. Okay, the use of basic geometric shapes reflects the simpler, more commercial sound, but the concept’s very blandness (not to mention the dominant vomit-yellow colour) merely brings to mind the ‘pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap’ advertising campaigns favoured by your local Eighties discount store. And the mixture of uninspiring black-and-white photographs and pop art illustrations on the inner sleeve seems ill thought out.
Most of the lyrics have a similarly throwaway quality. Though there is nothing (thankfully) as literally nonsensical as the words of the song Abacab, nor is there anything that comes close to the depth, lyricism, wit or playfulness of the Genesis of old. Vacuous and inane, argues the prosecution. Direct and accessible, the defence counters.
True, Home by the Sea has an agreeably creepy quality and Silver Rainbow just about passes muster as a lyrical nod of sorts to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. But lines like ‘Hold out, just keep on hoping against hope it’s gonna get better’ are just cringeworthy. The worst offender by far is Illegal Alien, a song (and video) whose tale of Mexican wannabe immigrants to the USA piles one unforgivable stereotype on top of another.
Genesis became the band’s biggest commercial success yet — Mike described it as the time being right for the band in the USA. And as the venues grew bigger and the live production expanded (with Tony’s keyboards moving stage centre, directly between the two drum kits), so the band’s sound and particularly Phil’s front-man persona became ever more assertive and direct.
This is the first tour since at least 1973 for which there is, to this writer’s knowledge, no high-quality bootleg of an entire show readily available. However, part of a Philadelphia show in November 1983 and an LA Forum show in January 1984 were subsequently broadcast on the radio, and there are several decent-quality audience recordings. There is also an officially released video — Genesis Live: The Mama Tour — which was recorded at the Birmingham NEC in February 1984 at the very end of the tour. Again, it is incomplete.
The setlist looked something like this:
Dodo/Lurker / Abacab / That’s All / Mama / Old Medley 1 / Illegal Alien / Man on the Corner / Who Dunnit? / Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea / Keep It Dark / It’s Gonna Get Better / Follow You Follow Me / Old Medley 2 / Drum Duet / Los Endos / Misunderstanding / Turn It On Again
Dodo/Lurker is a powerful opener — like Deep in the Motherlode, the stirring keyboard riff gives it a suitably epic feel — and is, as on the previous tour, immediately followed by Abacab. Two new songs follow, That’s All — “We’re called Genesis and we’re a country & western group” — and Mama. That’s All leads the way: it was a much bigger hit in the USA than Mama, reaching the Billboard top five. Most of the new album is included in the set, though not Just a Job to Do, the old side two’s best track.
The Mama tour also features not one but three medleys of older songs. The first — played early — appears to have been chopped and changed as the tour progressed. One of the first dates, Rosemont, Illinois, for example, begins with the introduction to Eleventh Earl of Mar, which then segues nicely to Squonk and then to Firth of Fifth. By the time we reach Oklahoma on 19 January 1984 Behind the Lines has replaced Squonk and the usual excerpt from The Musical Box has been added at the end. Other songs used at various stops along the way are Ripples and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Three things shout out about the Oklahoma medley: (i) the Eleventh Earl of Mar intro sounds as haunting as ever, but the transition from Mar to Behind the Lines is jarringly clunky (ii) even as recent a song as Behind the Lines is now relegated to medley status (iii) Daryl Stuermer’s solo on Firth of Fifth is awful.
A suitably dodgy jacket and a ghettoblaster are Phil’s props to set up Illegal Alien (see the comments above — though, it should be noted, the band were obviously still enamoured enough of the song in 2000 to include the LA Forum recording on Genesis Archive #2: 1976–1992). It is, to these ears, the start of an undoubted mid-set dip: the forgettable Man on the Corner and execrable Who Dunnit? follow — though at some point on the tour they appear to have been dropped. Elsewhere, Keep It Dark and Follow You Follow Me, both less effective on stage than in the studio, remain in the set.
Home by the Sea/Second Home by the Sea is preceded by some new audience interaction schtick from Phil, which also develops as the tour progresses. Initially (in New York in November, for example) it is as basic as getting the crowd to wave their arms and make silly noises to get the lights to descend towards the stage. Soon, however, it has become an attempt to connect with “the other world” — a routine that will remain in the set until 1992.
The second medley is the familiar one, beginning with In the Cage. For this tour the Cage medley has been augmented with a harsh-sounding Eighties reinterpretation of In That Quiet Earth. Oddly, it is placed before rather than after the Slippermen solo, so, unlike on Wind and Wuthering, it doesn’t itself segue into Afterglow.
Dance on a Volcano has danced itself out for the time being, though the drum duet remains, setting up Los Endos to close the show in the time-honoured way. Misunderstanding, a lightweight, medium hit at best, is a puzzling choice for first encore. Turn It On Again follows as a second encore, mutating into yet another medley, this time a selection of classic pop hits of yesteryear, from Everybody Needs Somebody to Love and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction to Twist and Shout and In the Midnight Hour.
This final medley is — like the show as a whole — all very smoothly and professionally done, designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. As documented on the official tour video, the final medley at the Birmingham shows even included snippets of mainstream chart hits of the day, Karma Chameleon by Culture Club and Every Breath You Take by the Police.
And, well, that’s all for the Mama tour. In the UK there were a mere five shows, all in Birmingham, and nothing at all in the rest of Europe, Japan or elsewhere. Someone’s diary was obviously full. As the Mama tour ended, Phil brought out his Against All Odds single — the date obviously determined by the release date of the film from which it came. It became his biggest worldwide hit to date. The phenomenal success of 1985’s No Jacket Required confirmed him as a global pop superstar in his own right, his stature and ubiquity underlined by his appearance in both London and Philadelphia at Live Aid in July 1985. Genesis, meanwhile, were not involved in Live Aid.
What would they have played, one wonders?
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
Tony, Mike and Phil, plus Hugh Padgham and that drum sound