Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

News Flash: Genesis to Re-Form?

Not a joke. Not a rumor. Not a hoax. And no, we are not in the Matrix. Contact Music article!

Un-flipping-believable. If I had to make a list of bands I thought least likely to re-form, Genesis would be at the very top. But apparently there's going to be an announcement in Los Angeles some time today--today!--that Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and possibly Steve Hackett will be re-forming to record a new album and tour. This announcement comes just three months after the terse notice on the band's official website that not only is this not happening, but that nothing even remotely like it will be happening for at least twelve months.

So here's the real issue. Genesis reunion: good or bad ideamu?

Old prog-rockers don't have the best track record of recapturing the 1970s magic.

Yes had a very nice re-awakening in the 1980s with Trevor Rabin and "Owner of a Lonely Heart." 90125 is a great album by any standard, progressive or pop. But the efforts since then have been spotty, at best. Big Generator is largely forgettable, and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe and Union have a couple really nice moments. Everything since then is completely uninteresting to my ears. Open Your Eyes is 18 bucks I'll never get back, the studio material from Keys to Ascension just bores me to the point of pain, and The Ladder has exactly one song I like: the title track. And how many times has Rick Wakeman quit and re-joined the band? I swear, he's like a yo-yo with twelve fingers.

Rush have their devoted following, but I haven't bought an album since like 1991. "Show Don't Tell" was a good song, but I have no idea what happened to them afterward.

What the heck ever happened to Renaissance? Annie Haslam recorded a couple neat covers on some Magna Carta tribute albums in the 1990s (Yes' "Turn of the Century" and Genesis' "Ripples"), and her voice is still gorgeous, but where did she go?

Emerson, Lake and Palmer have been a shadow of their former selves since about 1977, and apparently Emerson's hands are so damaged that he can't play any more. That just breaks my heart in pieces. For the record, I really liked Black Moon.

King Crimson is, well, King Crimson. Their albums post-1980 are all vastly more interesting and listenable than anything of theirs from the 1960s or '70s, but their rebirths have been less about recapturing old-school magic than about pushing the envelope past the shredding point. Actually, they may be the most artistically honest and successful continuously-recording prog-rock band ever; they're so prog that it's not even rock anymore. But they're broken up. Again.

The one really notable exception is Kansas, who have not only retained a faithful cult following (particularly in Pittsburgh), but who reunited the entire original lineup for a magnificent Kerry Livgren-penned album called Somewhere to Elsewhere a few years ago. For the record, my brothers John and Peter, whom I was sure would love this album, absolutely hated it. I think it's the band's best album, and the one time a band from the '70s has actually been able to recapture the magic of their heyday while still showing that they've grown in the meantime.

(Incidentally, you want to hear some really good prog rock? Dream Theater are the heirs to everything you loved about Yes, Genesis, and ELP in the '70s, but they're even better musicians. Mike Portnoy may be the best drummer I've ever heard. Do yourself a favor: go out and get Octavarium and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence right now, today. Caution: it's very very loud and heavy.)

Which brings us back to Genesis, a band with one of the weirdest stories ever. After years of plugging away, they finally hit mega-stardom with 1974's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, only to have their frontman leave, resulting in... far greater mega-stardom, strangely enough. Peter Gabriel's solo career speaks for itself; album after album of innovation and brilliance culminating in 2002's long-awaited Up, which I consider to be his masterpiece. Guitarist Steve Hackett has evolved as well, releasing magnificent prog-guitar works and symphonic pieces, achieving UK fame that US audiences haven't a clue about.

Paralleling Gabriel's and Hackett's uncompromising nonconformism, Genesis became more and more mainstream, churning out multi-platinum albums like Genesis, Invisible Touch, and We Can't Dance, gleefully sacrificing the prog purists for new generations of pop fans--and more power to them; no judging here. While Mike Rutherford had modest success with Mike and the Mechanics and band MVP Tony Banks toiled in solo obscurity, Phil Collins became the biggest star of the five of them, releasing a series of drum-heavy pop albums ornamented with unasked-for closeups of his face on the covers. Actually, Face Value and No Jacket Required are as imaginative and progressive as anything Genesis was recording at the time, but it is often difficult to distinguish between Genesis and Collins solo tunes from the 1978-84 period. "The Roof is Leaking" sounds like it should be on Duke, and "Paperlate" is rather Hello, I Must Be Going.

It's very hard for me to imagine this reunion working at all. Gabriel and Collins have remained close friends, but their recent styles are very different. I'm not just talking about songwriting styles, I'm talking about Peter Gabriel taking ten years to record Up, much of which was spent "assembling sounds." (No fooling, that's a quote from PG's website around 1999: the album isn't close to being ready because they're still "assembling sounds." I think Collins released sixteen albums between 1992 and 2002. Gabriel was "assembling sounds.")

Meanwhile, Banks and Rutherford seem to be the spine of Genesis, but they tried releasing an album without Collins in the mid-'90s called Calling All Stations which was the biggest flop since Hudson Hawk. (A movie I really liked, by the way. What does that say about me?) Hey, guys: calling all stations! two-fifths of Genesis isn't really very much of Genesis. Maybe they should have called it And Then There Were Two, and had Rutherford sing.

Hackett may be the most enigmatic of the bunch, and his releases have been the most classic-Genesis-like of all. He even recorded a "Genesis Revisited" album in 1996 called Watcher of the Skies, featuring an unrecorded Hackett-Gabriel song from 1973, two new instrumentals, and loads of old Genesis stuff seen through fresh eyes. Some of the recordings on Watcher approach or even surpass the originals, in my opinion, including the definitive recording of "The Fountain of Salmacis" and a moving pure-pop "Your Own Special Way" sung by the amazing Paul Carrack.

While I love the idea of Hackett and Gabriel re-connecting, I'm having a really hard time getting a mental picture of what a 2006 Genesis reunion album would sound like. And I'm having an even harder time imagining Peter and Steve, so accustomed to the complete control of solo stardom and so unaccustomed to being in a band, being effective collaborators. Collins, Rutherford, and Banks haven't worked together in a few years, but at least it's been somewhat recently. Maybe I'm excessively pessimistic, but the sonic image in my head is much closer to the bad songs on The White Album than a unified piece like Selling England by the Pound.

Of course, I'm still going to buy it the day it comes out, and I'm already putting money aside for concert tickets...

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  • At 3/14/2006 11:34 AM , Blogger peter hamm said...

    Ange writes "magnificent Kerry Livgren-penned album called Somewhere to Elsewhere"

    Yeah, I still think you were smoking some illegal substance when you bought and listened to that album, you freak!

  • At 3/14/2006 11:43 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Ange stands by his judgment. Four years later, it's still his favorite Kansas album.

    So there. Punk.

  • At 3/14/2006 12:45 PM , Blogger peter hamm said...

    Peter doesn't understand why Ange speaks about himself in the third person. Peter is very perplexed by this. He thinks it's related to a mental instability that is perhaps untreatable.

    He thinks Ange is pretty cool, though, even though he thinks Ange is deranged.

    Deranged = Cool?

  • At 3/15/2006 10:39 AM , Blogger Wayne Conners said...

    Deranged can equal cool (Zappa, Zevon), but sometimes it's just plain crazy (Joe Walsh, Ozzy).

    I'm dating myself, but the last Genesis album I bought was The Lamb Lies Down, and the last Kansas album was probably Point of Know Return (I got distracted by Talking Heads not long after that). I don't know Somewhere to Elsewhere well enough to comment, but my favorite Kansas album was probably Song for America. I'll also say that the one time I saw them (around 1980) it was one of the most well orchestrated rock shows I've ever seen.

    I thought Genesis, Mike Rutherford, etc made some finely crafted pop music through the years, but the interesting, somewhat twisted...*challenging* music came from Peter Gabriel.

    Up is a great accomplishment, but Security is the high-water mark, I think.

  • At 3/15/2006 2:21 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    "Up" edges "Security" by the tiniest nose for me. I may think differently in a year or two; "Security" has been among my favorite albums since I first heard it 20 years ago.

    Both albums have songs I don't love ("The Family and the Fishing Net," "The Barry Williams Show"), but the melodies on "Up" just grab me like few on "Security" do. That said, "San Jacinto" is still my favorite PG song ever, but "Sky Blue" is up there.

  • At 3/15/2006 2:21 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    And Ange can talk about himself in the third person whenever he wants to.

    So there.

  • At 3/15/2006 2:24 PM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Still no word from Genesis 24+ hours later. Could be a hoax after all...

  • At 3/15/2006 4:01 PM , Blogger Wayne Conners said...

    "Sky Blue" me away the first time I heard it, and still does.

  • At 3/22/2006 1:40 PM , Blogger peter hamm said...

    Well, Peter is with Ange on this one. He thinks that Up edges Security by a nose, even though he agrees that Barry Williams is kinda weak, but he LOVES The Family and the Fishing Net.

    In fact, Peter is wondering why he's still on this third person kick.

    I think he needs therapy right away...

  • At 3/24/2006 9:52 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Andrew thinks Peter needs a butt-whoopin'.

  • At 4/02/2006 10:13 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    I have officially given up on this news story, and were it not for the funny conversation after it I would delete it.

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