For many Genesis fans, the final box set of the progressive rock group's series of remixed and remastered studio albums is the one they've been waiting for the most. 1970-1975
documents the period when Peter Gabriel was the band's lead singer, before the group began a gradual move away from its art rock beginnings towards a more pop-oriented, radio-friendly sound.
The previous two boxes1976-1982
(Rhino, 2007) and 1983-1998
(Rhino, 2007)while perhaps musically controversial to longtime fans for the apparent desertion of the music that garnered the group its early reputation, were nevertheless welcome for the unequaled sonic upgrades to discs that, when first released, often suffered from poor sound quality. While the five albums covered in this box set, originally released on CharismaTrespass
(1970), Nursery Cryme
(1972), Selling England By the Pound
(1973) and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
(1974)did demonstrate gradually improving production values, the versions in this box set are so rich and full of depth that it's difficult to believe that some of the music is nearly 40 years old.
Like the previous boxes, each album is a double-disc set (with the exception of The Lamb
originally a double album, it's now a three-disc set)a CD with the remixed and remastered stereo upgrade, and a DVD that contains a 5.1 surround sound mix as well as a number of bonus video features. The benefit of going beyond mere remastering from the original master tapes to performing complete remixes has provided an opportunity to create far more three-dimensional soundscapes. The music, at its most powerful, bursts out of the speakers on both the CD and DVD-Audio versions, while at its most subtle, reveals nuances that have never before been heard. While all five albums are also available separately, the box set contains a bonus CD/DVD of rare materialsome previously available on the Genesis Archive 1967-75
(Atlantic, 1998) box, some never before available on CD. It's an early glimpse and contains three songs, in particular, that foreshadow later Genesis tunes and prove the group to be already surprisingly mature, even in 1970.
There will undoubtedly be purists who feel the idea of remixing the original recordings is tantamount to blasphemyas was the case when Bob Belden remixed Miles Davis' Bitches Brew
(Columbia, 1969) for the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions
(Legacy, 1998)and there's a plenty of controversy about the current use of compression during the remastering process to make music sound better on MP3 players. It would, however, be difficult to argue such a case here. The depth of the stereo field and room-filling surround sound mixes are incredibly vivid, and the acute attention to detail paid to the remix, especially the vocals, leaves little doubt that, sonically speaking, 1970-1975
is one of the finest reissue sets ever released.
In addition to the DVD-Audio mixes, there's hours of video interview footage describing the group, in the artists' own words, from Genesis' earliest days through to Gabriel's departure after The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
tour, with everyone except Trespass
drummer John Mayhew involved. There's also hours of video concert footage dating from 1972-'74, making 1970-1975
the definitive document of Genesis' early years, as it gained the confidence and acclaim that would lead to its later mega-success. Trespass
wasn't Genesis' first albumthat would be From Genesis to Revelation
(Decca, 1969)but it was the first to possess the compositional and stylistic markers that can be heard, to varying degrees, throughout the group's history. Listening to the interview on the DVD, it's not all that surprising to hear that Fairport Convention was a significant influence on the band. Despite harder-edged tunes like the concert favorite "The Knife," Trespass
is Genesis' most folkloric album, with a pastoral ambience that imbues tracks including "Vision of Angels" and the 12-string guitar-heavy "Dusk."
surprising is to hear Gabriel speak with fondness for The Nice, keyboardist Keith Emerson's first group before moving on to the hugely successful Emerson, Lake and Palmer. There's little denying the confluence of classical influences and Emerson's inimitable style on Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks, and he's always been a fine player; but early on, Genesis differentiated itself from many of its progressive rock cousins by being more about the song and less about the playing. Its progressive tendencies meant, as was the case with groups like Yes and ELP, that the songs were episodic and featured long instrumental passages. But Genesis always managed to avoid the trappings of excess and bombast that torpedoed some of the best progressive rock groups. The instrumental sections were still fundamentally parts of the songs; Genesis was not a solo-heavy band; instead, many of Banks' feature spots were scripted, and performed faithfully in concert rather than acting as jumping-off points for extended and often superfluous displays of technical virtuosity.
Drummer John Mayhew and guitarist Anthony Phillips would leave soon after the release of Trespass
, and their replacementsguitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collinswere such powerful musical personalities that these two early members would quickly become footnotes in the band's history. Still, their roles have been sadly undervalued. Phillips' subsequent solo albums would suggest that he was one of the responsible parties for Genesis' early folksy flavor; he was, in fact, one of the members pushing for a harder edge, alongside bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford. He'll not go down in history as one of rock's great electric guitarists, but his solo on "The Knife" is still an example of a player equally capable of gentle acoustic interaction and
more visceral edge.
Genesis would gradually evolve away from Trespass
' pastoral feel, but the carefully crafted interaction of up to three guitars created a unique sound that was a group's signature straight through to Wind and Wuthering
(Atco, 1977). "The Knife" may have become the most popular concert song from Trespass
, but it's "Stagnation" that represented an early pinnacle and album highlight; a marvelous mix of soft, acoustic passages, propulsive rock sections, and the distinctive sound of Gabriel's rough-hued voice and lyrical flute.
What's perhaps most remarkable about Trespass
especially now that its finer details can be heard with crystal clarityis how advanced the group already was at this early stage. This was a group of players that absorbed everything from folk music to R&B, and who composed collectively to create a truly democratic sound that reflected, in its own very personal way, those many interests. But from the very first notes of "Looking for Someone" Genesis had a distinct identity, and while its later pop-friendly songs would leave some of its markers behind, it retained many of them, simply honed, reduced and refined into more bite-sized portions.
With Phillips and Mayhew gone, the addition of Hackett and Collins created a stable line-up for the balance of the albums in 1970-1975
. Hackett brought a greater virtuosity to the band, one of the first guitaristsin rock, perhaps the
firstto utilize two-handed tapping, but that didn't change the group's emphasis on writing. Collins was a powerhouse drummer capable of navigating more complex arrangements while bringing a more firm sense of groove. He also brought a strong second voice to the group, and one that resembled Gabriel's so much that few even recognized it when he took a lead spot on the brief "For Absent Friends," on his Genesis debut Nursery Cryme
. More importantly, he gave Genesis' background vocals greater personality.
The rapid evolution of the group, from album to album, can be found from the outset on Nursery Cryme
, with its openeranother tune that would enter the Genesis canon as an in performance classic, "The Musical Box." It signaled an even more concerted shift toward storytelling than heard on Trespass
, but this time, with a more immediately potent Victorian-flavored story about a young girl who removes the head of her childhood friend with a croquet mallet. Opening the boy's musical box, she frees his soul in a body that quickly begins to age while still retaining the mind of a child. Alternating between soft, pastoral passages reminiscent of Trespass
, where Rutherford, Banks and Hackett create an even richer guitar trifecta, and music more aggressive and complex than anything heard on Trespass
, this was also the beginning of Gabriel turning more theatrical in performance. Using masks and costumes, Gabriel began to bring Genesis' stories to life onstage, although a 1972 Belgian Rock of the 70s
performance on the Foxtrot
DVD still finds him a more conventional front manthough there were no other front men at the time with a bass drum that they'd kick with abandon, as Gabriel did during some of the group's instrumental sectionsa response, along with his flute, to wanting to have something to do while the group performed its long instrumental passages.
Genesis had the uncanny ability of announcing significant change within the first few notes of every album, and "The Musical Box" was no different, with the intertwining acoustic and electric guitars of its opening section sounding especially beautiful with this new remix. Epic as that song is, however, Nursery Cryme
also featuring the absurd and dense "The Return of the Giant Hogweed," and more mythical "The Fountain of Salmacis," which tells the story of the child of Greek gods Hermes and Aphrodite and a lake that would turn any who bathed in it into hermaphroditeswas also notable for four shorter songs, ranging from the gentle "For Absent Friends" and pastoral "Harlequin" to the darker, Beatles-esque "Harold the Barrel" and more despair-laden "Seven Stones." For a group of musicians just into their twenties, more than being musically sophisticated they demonstrated a distinctive lyrical slant as well. While Yes was struggling with Jon Anderson's oblique lyrics, Gentle Giant was, in its early days, battling with self-indulgence and King Crimson was working with the flowery verse of Peter Sinfield, Genesis differentiated itself with an ability to write lyrics that were both poetic and
But for many progressive fans, it's the move towards a more symphonic approach (Banks' mellotron figured far more prominently here), and the emergence of a consistent line-up that now possessed five distinct and strong musical personalities, that made Nursery Cryme
a watershed for the group.
From the opening mellotron intro to "Watcher of the Skies," Genesis announced yet another leap forward with Foxtrot
. Still considered by many to be a pinnacle of the early group, retrospectively it's both hard to argueand hard to agree. With the more straightforward "Time Table" the album's only possible weak spot (and it's still a strong tune), the album introduced two of the group's most enduring and classic tunes"Watchers" and the sweepingly ambitious, side-long "Supper's Ready." But with each album possessing its own strengths, it's more a case of yet another career high point amongst many.
With greater compositional confidence, Genesis was beginning to gain commercial ground as well, with Foxtrot
the group's first album to enter the UK pop charts (peaking at #12). It's hard not to see why. "Watcher of the Skies," once the group enters, becomes a potent rocker with plenty of dramatic twists and turns (and an equally dramatic costume for Gabriel that, while looking a little low-tech and even hokey now in concert footage from the 1973 Shepperton Studio, Italian TV
performance, was still captivating and thrilling in the day). "Get 'Em Out By Friday" was another episodic classic, this time addressing social concerns with a hint of science fiction thrown into the mix, another early concert favorite.
The benefit of the remix can be heard to great effect, with the vocals clearer, and transitions like the entry of the group on "Watchers" more smooth and seamless. Like "Musical Box," it featured Gabriel playing a number of characters, moving the group further into theatrical territory. Unlike most progressive bands of the day, and in clear view on the DVD video performances, Genesis did everything to de-emphasize attention on the individual players, and more on the visualslights, later slides, and always Gabriel and his "in character" approach to relaying the group's stories in song.
Despite the greater virtuosity of Hackett and Collins, and the increasing strength of Rutherford and Banks, Genesis remained a band that avoided lengthy solo posturing. It wasn't necessarily intended as such, but Hackett's solo spot, the Bach-like "Horizons," which shone a spotlight while avoiding all suggestions of excess, set the tone perfectly for the 23-minute "Supper's Ready." The suite would quickly became the high point of Genesis' live sets with Gabriel's numerous costume changes, and a gradual build to one of the most orgiastic releases in the history of progressive rock, paralleled only, perhaps, by Van Der Graaf Generator's "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers," from its career-defining Pawn Hearts
(Charisma, 1971). The first fifteen minutes of the suite are filled with vivid lyrics, strong melodies and challenging arrangements, but it's the suite's final minutes, with the instrumental, riff-driven "Apocalypse in 9/8," segueing into the climactic "As Sure as Eggs is Eggs (Aching Men's Feet)," where Genesis make the leap from being a strong group to an important one that would, had it dissolved immediately after this record, still gone down in the history books as one of progressive rock's seminal acts.
It's a career-defining moment. In the 30-minute interview on the Foxtrot
DVD, Rutherford talks about the first time the group heard the entire piece start to finish, realizing they'd created something powerful and special. The three video performances of "Supper's Ready"two full versions, one from 1973 and the other from 1974, and an abbreviated one from a 1973 French performanceagain demonstrate an almost innocent naivete to Gabriel's emerging theatrics that look dated today. Still, when the magnesium flares went off at the end of "Apocalypse in 9/8" and Gabriel seemed to magically appear in a white sequin suit, it became an iconic performance still remembered clearly by those fortunate enough to have seen the group back in the day.
The remix brings the entire album to life, but it also provided the group an opportunity to fix a significant flaw. With parts of "Supper's Ready" recorded separately and then literally spliced together (this was, after all, pre-digital and ProTools days), there were two segments that were slightly out of tune with each other. With today's more advanced studio technology, this was a relatively simple fix to make, and yet another reason why there's nothing sacrilegious about doing a remix, when the end result far surpasses the original.
With three strong epics, it's no surprise that "Can-Utility and the Coastliners," which closed side one of the original album, was overlooked. But it's a hidden gem in the Genesis songbook, a song that, over the course of just six minutes, encapsulates everything this era of Genesis was aboutmythic storytelling, rich acoustic textures, powerful rock rhythms and increasing complexity that never feels over-considered or simply there for its own sakecombined with an avoidance of the usual rock posturing to make instrumental virtuosity an end in itself, instead always using it in service of the song.
Following up a classic like Foxtrot
and a definitive piece like "Supper's Ready" would be a challenge for any group, but Genesis simply moved forward with a number of new songs on Selling England By the Pound
that, again, embodied its core values while, at the same time, demonstrating creative progression. With four of the album's eight tracks (seven, really; the closing "Aisle of Plenty" is more a coda to "The Cinema Show" that brought the album full circle to the themes of the opening "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.") in excess of eight minutes, the group continued to weave compelling tales while also making Selling England
its most instrumentally-focused album to date.
Real solos become a key part of the songs, but as unmistakably impressive as Hackett's tapped solo is during the middle, high energy section of "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight," Genesis still avoids the self-indulgences of other progressive rock groups. In performance, Hackett would take some liberties with this solo and his other lengthy feature on the majestic "Firth of Fifth," but he never deserted the core lyricism and melodic signatures. The same can be said about Banks, whose lengthy solos on "Firth of Fifth" and the 7/4-driven "Cinema Show" are, like Hackett's, considered some of progressive rocks most memorable solo moments.
In addition to its longer instrumental passages Selling England
also featured "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" which, despite its absurd lyrics, was the most pop-oriented song the group had recorded to date. While a 1972 single, "Happy the Man," included on the bonus CD/DVD that comes with the 1970-1975
box, came close, it lacked "I Know"'s memorable hook, which peaked at #21 in the UK charts, while the album made it to #3, Gabriel-era Genesis' most commercially successful album in the UK. It was also the group's first album to make the Billboard
chart in the US, reaching #70 and going gold.
Genesis' increasing strength was an ability to create accessible music that would appeal to a broader pop public, while still retaining the earmarks of progressive rock that attracted an audience in the first place. Banks' mellotron has never sounded better (more so here, with the remix/remaster), the choir part at the end of Hackett's solo on "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" still capable of sending chills up the spine, the orchestral strings on "Firth of Fifth" and "The Cinema Show" as boldly dramatic as ever. Selling England
was also Banks' first significant foray into synthesizers, using them to great textural effect on "I Know What I Like" and creating a personal tone for his lengthy solo on "The Cinema Show" that manages to still sound good (and not cheesy) 35 years later. He also delivers some of his best acoustic piano work to date on his solo intro to "Firth of Fifth."
Being the bassist and rhythm guitarist for Genesis, Rutherford's significance has often been overlooked. But effortlessly moving from bass to twelve-string guitar on his custom-built Rickenbacker double-neck guitar while, at the same time, creating a distinctive, deep bottom end with his bass pedals, Rutherford was a virtual one-man rhythm section. He locked in hand-in-glove with Collins, whose ability to mix impressive chops and solid groove is even more impressive on Selling England
. Collins also gets another brief lead vocal spot on the folksy "More Fool Me," a concert respite, in duet with Rutherford, from the group's more powerful theatrical presentation.
The two overlooked tracks on Selling England
the episodic "The Battle of Epping Forest" and instrumental "After the Ordeal," that provides a balladic, lyrical interlude between "Battle" and "Cinema Show"have always deserved more attention than they received at the time. "Epping," in particular, is an engaging story that expands the narrative approach of Foxtrot
's "Get 'Em Out By Friday." But neither would become the concert favorites that "Cinema Show" and "Firth of Firth" not only were at the time, but continued to be throughout the group's post-Gabriel years, with a portion of "Cinema Show" appearing as recently as Live Over Europe 2007
(Atlantic, 2008), from the group's 2007 reunion tour (without Hackett and Gabriel).
In addition to the same improvements in sound, depth and detail that the remix of Selling England
provides, there are small things peppered throughout that are heard for the first time, making this remix/remaster, like the rest of the releases in this box, the definitive edition.
Following up the group's most commercially (and, some might argue, artistically) successful record to date with a two-disc concept album may well have been a tactical mistake. While other groups had done so, by the time The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
was released in 1974, progressive rock was already in trouble. The punk movement had yet to emerge, but concept albums from Yes and Jethro TullTales from Topographic Oceans
(Atlantic, 1973) and A Passion Play
(Chrysalis, 1973)had been met with critical accusations of excess and self-indulgence. In that climate, The Lamb
was almost doomed from the start, despite Genesis' ongoing and steadfast avoidance of the qualities (or, some might say, flaws) that caused its peer groups to begin falling out of favor with both the press and public. The Lamb
may not have been as successful as its preceding two releases, but it still managed to go gold in the US, Canada and UK, reaching #41 on the Billboard
pop charts and #10 on the UK charts. And while there are plenty of instrumentals on this oblique tale of the fictitious Rael and his journeys, The Lamb
was, in fact, the most pop-friendly disc of Genesis' career to date. The propulsive title track, "In the Cage," harder-edged "Back in N.Y.C." and soft "The Carpet Crawlers" were all songs that could have achieved significant radio play. While there are recurring themes and motifs, The Lamb
is more a collection of songs linked by a lyrical narrativecontroversial in itself, as Gabriel was largely absent from the writing process for personal reasons, though he did insist on writing the lyrics in their entirety, which was met with no small resistance from the rest of the group. That said, it's that very fact that makes The Lamb
, despite its length and musical diversityundeniably the most stylistically broad-scoped album the group ever releasedsuch a cohesive work, and one that has gained more critical and popular acclaim over the years.
It's also the most urban
album the group had released to date. Gone were the pastoral British-isms, replaced by a harder edge that makes songs like the synth-laden, 7/4-driven "Back in N.Y.C." a foreshadowing of the kind of music Gabriel would make early in his career as a solo artist, starting with Peter Gabriel
(Atlantic, 1977). "Lillywhite Lilith" is the closest thing to a flat-out rocker that the group had in its repertoire, and the album's closer, "It," is another vigorous tune that pointed towards the group's later radio-friendly mix of progressive sounds and accessible pop melodies.
It was the last album Gabriel would record with Genesis, and his voice was never better. While he possesses one of the most instantly recognizable voices in rock, at the time he lacked the stamina to maintain power and range in performance. Still, by this time, he was beginning to correct the problem, and his delivery on the poignant "Chamber of 32 Doors," visceral screams on "Back in N.Y.C." and strength and range on the largely instrumental "Riding the Scree" represent some of his best singing on any Genesis album.
With ex-Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno providing "Enossification"his term for sound effects and processingthe textures of The Lamb
are rich indeed. With the benefit of the remix, what was once nothing more than an instrumental interlude"Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats"becomes a sonically rich transition point that harkens to Eno's later ambient music works like Music for Airports
(EG, 1978), while his treatments of Gabriel's voice throughout the disc sound more alive than ever. With The Lamb
Genesis' best produced album of that era, the remix/remaster only broadens the aural landscape, making the two-minute instrumental intro to "The Colony of Slippermen" a miniature that commands attention rather than being something to simply get through in order to reach the core of the song.
There are plenty of strong solos throughoutBanks' synth on "Riding the Scree" and "In the Cage," and Hackett's brief but letter-perfect solo on "Anyway" and his humorous, effects-laden turn on the Beatles-esque "Counting Out Time." The group even enters some free territory on "The Waiting Room," though there's still an underlying structure. But individual aspects of the music aren't what The Lamb
is about. Despite friction during its writing, and Gabriel's decision to leave the band early into the 102-date tour that began in the fall of 1974 (though Gabriel kept his decision to leave out of the press until after the tour was completed), The Lamb
may be the Genesis album that's weathered the best over time. It may not have been a classic in the day, but it's achieved that status in the intervening years. The biggest shame is that while there's a live audio recording of The Lamb
, available in its entirety on Genesis Archive 1967-75
, it was never filmed, and those who saw the show know it was the culmination of Genesis' early, theatrically focused years. For those who didn't get to see the show, Genesis tribute band The Musical Box managed to acquire all the props and projection slides from Genesis a number of years ago, along with the permission to use them in launching full-scale performances.
The bonus CD/DVD that comes with 1970-1975
, while crossing over some of the material on Genesis Archive 1967-75
, also has a number of tracks that reveal just how advanced the group was from its earliest days. "Happy the Man" and Twilight Alehouse" are worth having as early attempts by the group at a more radio-friendly sound, and a handful of tracks from a BBC Nightride
radio show are further examples of the group's early pastoral days, with the Fairport Convention influence even more pervasive.
But it's the four tracks from an aborted project called Genesis Plays Jackson
, an abandoned documentary about painter Mick Jackson, that are the real gold of this bonus disc, as they reveal a number of themes that would reappear in more well-known Genesis tunes. "Provocation" opens with themes that would become part of Nursery Cryme
's "The Fountain of Salacmis," as well as an instrumental section that would be reused on Trespass
' opener, "Looking for Someone." "Frustration" directly foreshadows "Anyway," from The Lamb
, right down to the instrumental break that would lead into Hackett's solo in the later version.
"Manipulation" possesses many of the passages that would ultimately be expanded on Nursery Cryme
's "The Musical Box," including an intro that's almost identical. Only the instrumental "Resignation" has no reference to later songs, though it fits comfortably within the musical context that Genesis was already beginning to shape.
The accompanying DVD includes a final interview, as well as a 45-minute VH1 television documentary originally aired at the time Genesis Archive 1967-75
was released, and two 1973 performances from the American The Midnight Special
showthe clearest video of "Watcher of the Skies" in 1970-1975
as well as "The Musical Box."
While the video performances on the six DVDs accompanying the seven CDs of 1970-1975
are clearly a case of working with what was availableoften taken from videotapes that may not have been first generationthey provide an opportunity for Gabriel-era Genesis fans who missed the opportunity to see the band at the time a chance to see what they missed. And taken together, the three hours of brand new interview footage shed considerable light on a group that has never truly been heard properly...until now. The remix/remaster work is absolutely top-notch, bringing clarity and depth, detail and transparency to music that still holds up nearly 40 years later.
With the entire Genesis studio discography now reissued and sounding as good as it likely ever will, the only question is: will there be an accompanying box set that includes remixed and remastered versions of Live
(Charisma, 1973), Seconds Out
(Atlantic, 1977) and Three Sides Live
(Atlantic, 1982), Live: The Way We Walk Vol. 1 (The Shorts)
(Atlantic, 1992) and Live: The Way We Walk Vol. 2 (The Longs)
(Atlantic, 1993)? Given the live material released on Genesis Archive 1967-75
and its accompanying follow-up, Genesis Archive 2: 1976-1992
(Atlantic, 2000), it's almost certain that there's plenty more live material in the archives, so perhaps there will be more to come. In the meantime, 1970-1975
fulfills a significant need, and is the best of the three Genesis studio box sets. Taken together with 1976-1982
, however, these three boxes not only document, in the best possible way, the entire studio career of one of rock's most important and influential bands, but represent, without question, the best reissue series ever undertaken to date.