Can You Tell Me Where My Country Lies?
Genesis Albums Ranked Worst To Best
by Benjamin Ray
I first joined the Daily Vault back in 2004, when life was simple and we walked to school uphill both ways and people listened to “CDs” in their “Pontiacs” under the regime of President “Bush.” The first few reviews I wrote were concerning Genesis, and since then I have become the resident Genesis fan on staff, carrying the torch for the Peter Gabriel years while Jason Warburg carries the torch for the Phil Collins years. As a longtime fan of the band’s entire discography, though, I look upon nearly all discs with affection, as together they represent some of the best progressive rock and progressive pop of their day. The success of Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited project, the band’s recent BBC documentary and the trickle of compilations and live releases that continue only underscores the special place this band holds in people’s hearts.
Below is a ranking of the band’s work, from worst to best. As always, you may disagree, and comments are welcome on our message board. I only ranked the 15 studio albums, not live discs or compilations.
15. From Genesis To Revelation (1969)
This one is hard to find nowadays, and for good reason. It’s just not very good. Clearly, the young Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel and Anthony Phillips were just starting out, writing precocious piano ballads with only subtle hints of what was to come. Interesting from a historical perspective, but not one that you’ll want to return to.
14. …And Then There Were Three (1978)
Losing Peter Gabriel cost the band, but losing guitarist Steve Hackett cost them even more, and the remaining three decided to solider on as a trio. Prior to turning toward a pop direction, they released a sort-of mix of the prog-pop sound of Wind & Wuthering and the leaner pop of Duke and came up with this muddled, unentertaining mess. Perhaps a handful of songs are decent, but given what Genesis was capable of before and after this, it’s not enough to save the disc. It’s pretty much notable only for “Follow You, Follow Me,” the beginning of the “pop phase” that would define Genesis for the next 15 years.
13. Calling All Stations (1997)
This one is better than you have been told. The clanking electronics can be off-putting to fans of both eras, but Ray Wilson is a fine singer, and the new approach resulted in some decent songs that have been forgotten to time. Of course, in 1997, Genesis was so much a thing of the past that this one barely registered anyway, but it’s worth giving another listen to now that you’re older and can appreciate such things.
12. Invisible Touch (1986)
The one that “true” Genesis fans love to hate, it’s the point where the arty side of the band was ditched for full-on ‘80s pop. The band had four hit singles from here that won them a new audience and lost others still clinging to Foxtrot, but much of the disc now sounds terribly dated and cheesy. “Domino” retains the art-pop spirit, at least, and “Land Of Confusion” is a fine single from the era, but that’s about it.
11. We Can’t Dance (1991)
The follow-up to Invisible Touch was better than that disc, but not by much. Genesis rediscovered its ability to tell stories and create characters on songs like “No Son Of Mine” and “Driving The Last Spike,” while the ever-present sense of humor (thanks mostly to Phil Collins) shows up on “I Can’t Dance” and “Jesus He Knows Me.” But the strong first half of the disc gives way to a series of turgid ballads and forgettable adult-contemporary sounds, and Collins quit the band shortly after.
10. Trespass (1970)
This is slightly louder and more progressive than From Genesis To Revelation but features the same cast. However, the songs are longer, more dramatic and yet still a bit fey British art-schooly. “The Knife” was the band’s first great song, one they would absolutely kill with in concert (to the point where Peter Gabriel, of all people, would stage dive), but the forgotten “White Mountain” is an early example of how the band could build and release tension better than most of their prog peers.
9. Duke (1980)
This album was actually constructed around a 25-minute song called “Duke Suite,” which had an introduction, long instrumental part, end and a few separate songs in the middle that fit the theme. For whatever reason, the band decided to break the suite apart and scatter it throughout the length of an album, filling in the spaces with other unrelated songs. The concept is welcome, a classic prog-rock move, but it came at a time when the trio had fully embraced synthesizers and a wimpy pop sound, so the filler tracks and the overlong “Duke’s Travels” just didn’t pack much of a punch. “Turn It On Again” is pretty great, though, arriving in the middle of the album when it is needed the most.
8. Abacab (1981)
Leaving behind the prog past pretty much entirely, Abacab is a straight ‘80s pop album, albeit with a darker edge on the instrumental half of the title track, “Me And Sarah Jane,” “Dodo/Lurker” and “Like It Or Not.” The album seems fairly superficial on first spin, but with successive plays it reveals an unexpected depth…except, of course, on “Who Dunnit?,” pretty much considered the worst Genesis track of all time.
7. Genesis (1983)
The band’s self-titled 1983 disc is a tale of two halves. The first half is fantastic, the spooky six-minute “Mama” and the efficient pop single “That’s All” among the band’s best ‘80s songs, but the “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea” is even better, a classic 10-minute Genesis story-song with a long instrumental break in the center. That it happens with synthesizers and programmed drums dates it to the early ‘80s, sure, but it was proof that the band was using different tools in service of the same musical approach to stay relevant and creative. The second half is less exciting, though “Silver Rainbow” is a forgotten gem. Stay far away from the awful “Illegal Alien,” though…what was Collins thinking?
6. Nursery Cryme (1971)
In which Phil Collins and Steve Hackett join the band and elevate them to the next level, no disrespect intended to the talented, likable Anthony Phillips. The album is basically three long prog-rock classics with some filler, and while higher plateaus would be reached soon, the music signified a shift in approach and attitude and suggested that the other bands of the period had competition.
5. Foxtrot (1972)
Sonically an improvement over Nursery Cryme, this album is notable for the band’s sidelong epic “Supper’s Ready,” the introduction of the red dress and fox head that Peter Gabriel would wear on stage, the continuation of educational and British references that few bands (save the Kinks) proudly displayed, and a much louder, multifaceted attack. Hackett and Collins had fully integrated with the other three and a newfound maturity and self-assurance shone through on “Can-Utility And The Coastliners” (check out how the Mellotron and guitar weave around each other as the bass ebbs and flows like the tide about halfway through the song), “Supper’s Ready,” the one-act play “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” and Hackett’s beautiful acoustic solo “Horizons.” I’ve never been a huge fan of “Watcher Of The Skies,” but its propulsive rhythm that kicks in after the epic, creepy keyboard opening is classic Genesis.
4. Wind & Wuthering (1976)
It always felt like Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel were the twin peaks of Genesis leadership, and their creative and sometimes personal tension resulted in the fantastic music of the band’s art-rock years. With Gabriel gone, Banks could naturally assume the leadership role, and he did so on the band’s second post-Gabriel album. At the same time, he discovered synthesizers as his primary go-to keyboard source and began to dominate the writing, pushing Steve Hackett’s guitar to the edges (Hackett would leave after the tour that resulted in the live Seconds Out disc). But Hackett’s acoustic guitar, Banks’ synthesizers, the band’s intact art-rock past and an overall moody, thin, gray sound resulted in a fine, melancholy album with many great songs. The anti-war “One For The Vine,” the anti-political apathy “Blood On the Rooftops” and the satirical royal bashing “Eleventh Earl Of Mar” were as sardonic and political as Genesis ever got, while “Your Own Special Way” and “Afterglow” were nakedly emotional love songs, also a first for the band, but far more heartfelt and real than what would come later for both the band and Collins’ solo career.
3. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)
Legendary DV founder Christopher Thelen once described this album as potentially “the last act of a deranged frontman,” and there is truth to that statement when trying to decipher the lyric sheet, costumes, and storyline of this sprawling double album. Like many double albums, this one is far too long with a pile of mediocre songs on the uneven second half, but the first half is far and away one of the best Genesis discs. The dramatic tension of “In The Cage” is darn near a one-act play, so much so that Collins would continue to sing the song well after Gabriel had left the band, and remains a Genesis masterpiece. The piano-led “Anyway,” the straight-up synth-rocker “It,” the driving, moody “Fly On A Windshield” and the epic, self-assured “Carpet Crawlers” are prime Genesis, while the supporting tracks on the first album are nearly as strong. Stretching this out to two discs means that the irritating instrumental freakout “The Waiting Room,” the dull “The Lamia” and most of Side 4 serve as padding, but it only slightly diminishes the quality of the best stuff here. Gabriel left when he needed to, because there’s no way he could have done something else with the band after this.
2. A Trick Of The Tail (1976)
Shortly after Gabriel left, the band auditioned a few hundred singers before deciding their drummer was the best fit. Collins sounded a little like Gabriel, but moreover, the quartet was riding such a hot streak since Foxtrot that bringing in a new voice would have killed the momentum. So they quickly got to work and produced their second-best album. Three of the eight songs on Trick would stay in the band’s live set until they broke up, and while the tunes are fairly long, they are both dense and full of the subtle twists that one expects from the band. “Squonk” is all swagger and a throbbing bassline, “Mad Man Moon” and “Entangled” are lovely and engaging, “Ripples” is a beautiful piano/acoustic number with a tense, tricky instrumental midsection (Hackett’s backward guitar is a studio trick, sure, but it works within the piece), and the closing “Los Endos” ties together the different riffs and motifs throughout the disc. None of the band’s other albums sound like it.
1. Selling England By The Pound (1973)
The band’s finest hour, hands down. Two sprawling 10-minute epics on the second side plant this firmly in prog rock heaven, with “The Cinema Show” going on to become a band masterpiece, a love story with “Supper’s Ready” overtones that gives way to one of the band’s best instrumental sections in its history. “More Fool Me” is Collins’ first real vocal spotlight and provides a welcome respite from the heady prog elements of the disc, such as the kinetic, surreal, absurd “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight” and the goofy, near-pop “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” which was even released as a single. But all of this pales in comparison to “Firth Of Fifth,” flat-out the best eight minutes Genesis ever put to tape. Banks’ piano intro is not one the band would attempt in concert, but at only a minute it is memorable and a perfect setup for the song proper. Gabriel’s flute solo and Hackett’s guitar solo are majestic, soaring things of beauty, while Collins drives the song forward with timely cymbal crashes and unexpected drum rolls. The moment where the solo switches keys and leads into the final verse is an aural catharsis, something Genesis was very good at, but not more so than on this song, and this entire album.