“Dance On A Volcano” wisely begins with a lengthy intro before Phil starts singing. Being the first track, the listener will wonder “how would Peter have tackled this?”; the effect at 4:17 on “let the dance begin” is reassuring. “Entangled” is very much like Phil’s spotlights in the past, a deceptive lullaby in waltz time with a sinister undertone. In the end it appears to be nothing more than a portrait of an aged hospital resident. “Squonk” is the first great song on the album, nicely bridging the two “eras” by celebrating the mythology of the titular creature. It’s recorded best, too, with the bass pedal underpinning the chiming guitars nicely. “Mad Man Moon” recalls the ballads from the Trespass era, but is a leap forward, Tony Banks having learned how to suspend chords for emotional pull. The upbeat middle section, unfortunately, is recalled in the next track.
“Robbery, Assault And Battery” follows in the tradition of Epping Forest, but while Peter could do several characters, and did, Phil only has the Cockney voice at his disposal for more than a line at a time. It now forebodes of some of the more unfortunate “character” songs the band would perpetuate a decade on. Thankfully, the rest of this already long album is better. “Ripples” has a yearning chorus only slightly derailed by, again, a seemingly unrelated mid-section, and its eight-minute length can be daunting, but ultimately, it’s wonderful. The title track is another seemingly straightforward track with a shifty meter, and a fable with a sympathetic hero of sorts. “Los Endos” preserves the band as a unit, as opposed to people backing up the ego of a singer. Phil stays behind the kit to anchor several themes, some familiar from earlier in the album, before everything winds up on a reprise of “Sqounk”. And from the back of the room, there’s a hint of a melody taken to be a benediction for their former frontman.
Without Gabriel’s surreal touch the songs aren’t as vivid, and the vocals are often mixed so low as to be unintelligible—a nice way to protect the “new guy”—but overall A Trick Of The Tail is a lot better than it could have been. Those who missed Peter would have been pleased, and pop fans working backwards wouldn’t necessarily be scared off. (Those yearning for more of an adventurous prog album, complete with flute, are advised to seek out Voyage Of The Acolyte, Steve Hackett’s first solo album with contributions from Collins and Rutherford, which arrived a few months earlier.)
Genesis A Trick Of The Tail (1976)—3½