Friday, April 29, 2016

Genesis 11: Duke

Epic songs were becoming a thing of the past for a lot of bands, and Genesis found a way to rely on their pop sensibilities in order to stay fluid. Some prog tendencies bled over onto Duke, their second full album as a trio—the first three songs are segued musically, and the closing instrumentals reprise earlier themes—but now they’re writing songs that only seem to mean something, and keeping an ear on the pop charts. Nearly all of the songs deal with heartbreak, loneliness or isolation in general.
“Behind The Lines” is a wonderful fanfare, sporting the grand keyboards and dominant bass drone familiar from “Watcher Of The Skies”, with some nice guitar wailing too. The verse could be called funky, and some have, but notice how Phil doubles his voice with a falsetto, and get used to it. A drum machine tinkles out of the song’s fade, leaving Tony’s new digital piano to find its way to a main theme for “Duchess”, and real drums join in to drive the before, during and after story of a onetime singing star. The music’s better than the lyrics, and as the star fades, the drum machine keeps ticking, setting up the brief, sad “Guide Vocal”. Mike Rutherford’s penchant for odd rhythms makes “Man Of Our Times” sound more complicated than it is. Here also is the first instance of Phil singing “tonight, tonight”, as he would for the rest of the century. The chorus makes the song work. “Misunderstanding” was the catchy hit single, but nobody has pointed out that not only is the subject matter nearly identical to that of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain”, but even the main chord progression is a minor variation on the same tune. “Heathaze” is pretty in parts, but goes on too long and is hard to understand.
Almost like a reset button, “Turn It On Again” is a side-starter of power, providing enough weirdness from the old days with an unavoidable hook. “Alone Tonight”, one of the few woe-is-me tracks here not written by Phil, is a little too direct; “Please Don’t Ask” two songs later is even more so, but the music matches the pathos. “Cul-De-Sac” provides some pompous pomp, but the big guns are reserved for the closing not-really-a-suite. With a wash of cymbals and phased guitars not heard since 1974, “Duke’s Travels” then moves to a third-world pattern and then a more straight rhythm that manages to reprise the sole verse of “Guide Vocal” and then an adaptation of “Behind The Lines” suggested by the “Dance Of The Puppets” section of “The Court Of The Crimson King”. (How’s that for carrying the prog torch?) Finally, “Duke’s End” takes us all the way back to that initial fanfare.
With Duke, Genesis was approaching the mainstream. Never really wild men anyway, they’d soon find their way even closer to worldwide domination. The ‘80s were about to change a lot of things.

Genesis Duke (1980)—

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