It's curious, indeed, that Genesis keyboardist/co-founder Tony Banks never achieved the fame that Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel and Mike Rutherford did as solo artists. As one of the group's primary writers, his distinctive melodies and voicings have defined the Genesis sound since its inception. Still, based on the majority of Banks' extracurricular solo activities, it's easy to conclude that he needed Genesis to fully realize his own ideas.
Were it not for his 1979 debut as a leader, A Curious Feeling, that is. Firmly planted in the progressive rock camp at a time when Genesis was in transition, morphing from its progressive rock roots into a stadium megastar, it's an overlooked gem that deserved far more than it received when first released. Having completed remixing and remastering the Genesis catalogue into box sets including 1970-1975 (Rhino, 2008) and Live 1973-2007 (Rhino, 2008), Nick Davis has sonically revitalized Banks' albuma solo project, perhaps, but one that retains the key characteristic distancing Genesis from its progressive rock cousins: the song comes first, instrumental virtuosity second.
Recorded while Genesis was taking a break to let Collins work out some personal problems, it reflects the group's transitioning, but is closer to the compositional expansiveness of Wind & Wuthering (Rhino, 1977) than the concise songs of ...And Then There Were Three... (Rhino, 1978). Banks plays all the instruments with the exception of drums, handled by Genesis touring mate Chester Thompson
, and singer Kim Beacon.
Starting life as an adaptation of Daniel Keyes' 1959 novella Flowers for Algernon, but ultimately altered into the story of an everyman who is losing his mind while completely aware of it, A Curious Feeling's greatest strength is its avoidance of progressive rock's tendency to excess and pomposity. A concept album at a time when that, in itself, was reason enough for a good lambasting, it's a 55-minute suite that feels continuous, even though it isn't. Banks' neoclassical leanings are most dominant on "From the Undertow," "Forever Morning" and "The Waters of Lethe"three instrumentals performed by the keyboardist alone, built from the ground up with layers of piano and synthsbut with his inherent melodicism definitive throughout.
Beaconwho sadly passed away a couple years ago and was, other than his work here and with String Driven Thing, largely relegated to anonymityhas an attractive voice, but lacks the personality of either Gabriel or Collins. Banks' songs (no surprise) could easily fit into the Genesis repertoire, with enough synth-laden instrumental passages to be considered progressive, while leaning away from irregular meters towards a more accessible sound.
And yet, there's a difference. Comparing A Curious Feeling to Genesis songs like "Mad Man Moon," from Trick of the Tail (Rhino, 1976), and much of Wind & Wuthering, what becomes clear is what made Genesis Genesis. Completely liberated to go where his muse will, Banks' pastoral romanticism and lyrical bent come completely to the fore on A Curious Feeling, an album that, 30 years later, sounds the way it always should have, and finally has the chance to reach the audience it deserves.
Personnel: Kim Beacon: vocals; Tony Banks: keyboards, guitars, basses, percussion; Chester Thompson: drums, percussion.