Friday, March 14, 2014

The Genesis Of 'Abacab'

In 1986, I was afforded the opportunity to see Genesis in concert at Sydney’s Entertainment Centre.  I had just completed my high school studies and was excited, albeit a little nervous, as I hopped on the tour bus to take me to the ‘big smoke’.  It was my first big concert experience, and it was more than everything I’d hoped it would be.  With almost 20 years touring experience behind them, Genesis knew how to put on a show.  I’d later learn to appreciate the Peter Gabriel era Genesis, but at the time I was only familiar with the Phil Collins’ led outfit.  This was their ‘Invisible Touch’ tour, an album which saw Genesis reach the pinnacle of their career - in commercial terms at least.  The core trio of Phil Collins (vocals/drums), Mike Rutherford (guitar), and Tony Banks (keyboards), were augmented in concert by regular tour cohorts Daryl Stuermer (bass), and Chester Thompson (drums).  Almost thirty years later that concert experience has stayed with me as a highlight of my concert going ventures.  As quickly as I could I began buying up the Genesis back catalogue, including their 1981 album, ‘Abacab’, which to this day remains one of my choices among the band’s best offerings.

Genesis recorded a total of five albums, and the 1974 double album ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, during Peter Gabriel’s tenure as lead vocalist.  During this period of their career the band were primarily an art rock come progressive rock outfit, demanding a concerted effort on the part of patrons to tap into the
depth of their sound.  Gabriel departed Genesis at the end of their 1975 tour, and would go on to achieve a phenomenally successful solo career (see future posts).  Rather than look beyond the band for a replacement
vocalist, the decision was made to add lead vocals to the duties of drummer Phil Collins.  Despite some reservations from other band members, Collins was confident he could do the job.

Genesis carried on in studio with the quartet of Collins, Rutherford, Banks, and long term guitarist Steve Hackett.  For touring purposes, the band enlisted Chester Thompson to share drumming duties, freeing Collins up to become the front man.  The pair would regularly perform a drum duet for each live show.  That incarnation of Genesis recorded two albums together - 1976’s ‘A Trick Of The Tail’, and the early ‘77 set ‘Wind & Wuthering’.  Hackett too left the band soon there after, also to pursue a solo career, though without the profile of Gabriel.  Once more Genesis were posed the question, do we recruit outside the band to replace Hackett?  The answer was the same as with Gabriel, with bassist Mike Rutherford stepping up to assume guitar duties.  The band brought Daryl Stuermer into their live configuration to handle bass responsibilities.

In studio, Genesis had been pared back to the trio of Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford, and in 1978 released their first album in that formation, with the appropriately titled ‘And Then There Were Three’, which contained their first bonafide commercial hit in the form of ‘Follow You, Follow Me’, and the sublime ballad ‘Many Too Many’.  Genesis followed that up with 1980’s ‘Duke’ set, yielding the guitar driven hit ‘Turn It On’, and the soulful, horn laced Phil Collins penned ‘Misunderstanding’.  By this time the band were sailing perilously close to becoming a pop-rock outfit.  But they still retained some of their art-rock roots, particularly on the pure album cuts.

If Genesis were sailing close to pop-rock territory on ‘Duke’, they docked at the pop-rock pier for 1981’s ‘Abacab’.  Released in September of ‘81, ‘Abacab’ was produced by Genesis, with acclaimed producer Hugh Padgham acting as sound engineer.  Phil Collins handled the lead vocals, percussion and drums, Tony Banks keyboards and backing vocals, and Mike Rutherford guitars, bass, and backing vocals.  The album featured nine tracks in all, with eight clocking over four minutes in length.  Six of the tracks were co-written by all three band members, with each of Banks, Collins and Rutherford composing one track.

‘Abacab’ was still ‘art-rock’ at its core, or album oriented rock, but it was layered with an increased number of pop hooks, relative to earlier albums.  The Genesis brand instrumental passages were still in evidence on tracks like the album version of ‘Abacab’, but they were less prevalent, and secondary to the band branching into other stylistic areas.  A reggae beat was in evidence on the track ‘Me And Sarah Jane’, whilst ‘Dodo’ was driven to extinction by a funk rhythm track.  Other album tracks included the oddball character of ‘Who Dunnit?’, the shimmering ‘Like It Or Not’, and the heavily percussed (as opposed to concussed) ‘Another Record’, which was another record all together from Phil Collins’ ‘Face Value’, but similar in sound.

The ‘Abacab’ album yielded four single releases.  ‘No Reply At All’ (US#29 - #2 US Mainstream Rock chart/ OZ#74), boasted the bold brass of the Earth, Wind & Fire horn section (see separate post), who had also recently featured on Phil Collins’ ‘Face Value’ album.  The atmospheric ‘Man On The Corner’ was closer to the traditional Genesis sound, and found the outskirts of the top forty (US#40/UK#41).  The eccentric ‘Keep It Dark’ (UK#33) was an engaging tale of alien worlds visited (but ssssshhhhoosh, don’t tell anyone) and was backed by an appropriately quirky promotional video.  The single remix of the title track, ‘Abacab’ (UK#9/ US#26 - #4 Mainstream Rock chart/ OZ#35), was the closest thing to guitar/synth driven rock on the album, and was remarkably close in nature to a ‘new wave’ song, at least in the single remix.  It was backed by a very effective performance based clip.  When I’m playing my copy of the Genesis ‘Video Show’ on DVD the volume always gets turned up for ‘Abacab’.

‘Abacab’, the album, earned Genesis their second #1 album in the U.K. (US#7/ OZ#18), following on from ‘Duke’, and confirmed the band’s growing commercial appeal. The ’Abacab’ album was a clear pointer to Genesis evolving from a predominantly progressive rock outfit, into a more commercially accessible band, an evolution that would reach its culmination on the mega-selling ‘Invisible Touch’ album.)))

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