The title track is still a lot of fun for a song about nothing; even the closing jam, while simple, keeps the attention with the dueling synth and guitar, and crazy seagull effects in the back. “No Reply At All” is an awfully bold departure, for the band anyway, being that it is plastered with the same Earth, Wind & Fire horns that Phil used on his solo albums, to the detriment in the mix of Tony Banks’ organ and Mike Rutherford’s highly impressive bass. (His guitar is equally impressive all over the album.) “Me And Sarah Jane” is another quirky Banks tune, with some echoes of the ‘70s, but wrapping up nicely for the final “choruses”. The real hidden gem here is “Keep It Dark”, which even got a video, telling a grand Genesis sci-fi tale in 6/4.
Side two starts in a similar fashion to side one, with an extended jam of sorts for “Dodo/Lurker”, which somehow encompasses an extinct bird and a submarine. “Who Dunnit?” appears to be an exercise in annoyance, starting with a simple idea then beating it into submission. “Man On The Corner” seems descended from Phil’s demos for his solo album, with a touch of the social commentary he’d pursue later, unless one considers it a view in third person of the poor slob from “Misunderstanding”. “Like It Or Not” fits with Phil’s recent romantic laments, except that Mike wrote it. There’s a wonderfully moody setup for “Another Record”; sadly it doesn’t last for the whole song, which turns into a clever acknowledgement of fleeting stardom (indeed, the song was allegedly left over from Duke) featuring one of the earliest uses of the fake harmonica sound that would become omnipresent throughout the decade.
There are a few long tracks, but no epics; most of the tunes are concise but not throwaways. Abacab is a refreshing look back to the band when they were just this close to becoming true behemoths. There’s something for every fan, and something to piss every fan off.
Genesis Abacab (1981)—3½