Friday, April 11, 2014

Genesis 3: Nursery Cryme

This is where Genesis becomes the band of legend, with Steve Hackett on guitar and Phil Collins on drums to complete the picture. Both were also songwriters, and were able to help create foundations upon which Peter Gabriel could weave tales of increasing weirdness and sexual preoccupation.
Besides being a clever pun, Nursery Cryme has cover art that neatly depicts the events leading up to the epic opening. As the lyric sheet helpfully points out, “The Musical Box” is a cry from the heart of a recently decapitated eight-year-old boy brought back from the netherworld when his nine-year-old murderess opens the eponymous toy. Filled with “a lifetime’s desires”, his hopes to play doctor and more with her accelerate to an uncomfortable level. Onstage, Peter would don an old man’s mask and gait, thrusting in rhythm; musically, the tension and foreboding suggested on the last album in “The Knife” improve here, leading to a glorious, neo-classical end. Phil makes his presence known on the second track, singing lead on “For Absent Friends”, but his voice sounds so much like Peter’s that it’s not immediately apparent. It’s a fairly brief duet for voice and guitar, soon taken over by “The Return Of The Giant Hogweed”. Where their contemporaries may have been lamenting the ecological damage done to trees, here Genesis chooses instead to sing of a plant threatening to destroy everything and everyone in its path. The music is more interesting than the lyrics, Tony Banks layering piano and organ, while the guitar and flute play precisely in unison. A change of pace with a heavily arpeggiated piano (ostensibly illustrating “the dance of the giant hogweed”, according to the notes) is nicely balanced too.
“Seven Stones” recalls the progressive folk where they started, but escalates to convey an awful lot of seriousness by the end. It’s hard to maintain, especially when followed by “Harold The Barrel”. Sung breathlessly in unison by Peter and Phil, this is a dark comedy about a guy on a ledge, from the points of view of various spectators. Their close harmonies are particular effective on “Harlequin”, another short trifle making way for another epic to takes out the album. “The Fountain Of Salmacis” gets another descriptive note on the lyric sheet, explaining how Hermaphroditus ended up with both male and female characteristics. While supposedly a standard tale in Greek mythology, it’s much improved by the musical elements. Beginning with a rush of organ and Mellotron, another world is immediately created, filled in expertly by the new guys and pointing the way to the next handful of albums.
They weren’t quite there yet, but Nursery Cryme at least sounds like a Genesis album. While its rating isn’t any higher than their first two, it’s certainly a better place to dive into the band.

Genesis Nursery Cryme (1971)—3

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