Atco Records, 1972
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/26/2009
Progressive rock in the early to mid ‘70s had arguably reached its pinnacle; within the span of a year, the giants within the genre would release some of their most ambitious work. Pink Floyd broke through with Dark Side Of The Moon, Yes would see fit to unleash Tales From Topographic Oceans upon the world, and Genesis delivered Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound.
It was clear at this point that as a group, Genesis had reached a level of musicianship that signaled their status as one of the premiere bands of the era. While Trespass and Nursery Cryme both featured moments of outstanding play, Foxtrot saw the group attempting to expand their sound.
The opening moments of “Watcher Of The Skies” confirm this, featuring one of the more famous uses of a mellotron in rock. Tony Banks wrings forth unearthly sounds to create an aural landscape, befitting Peter Gabriel’s lyrics. Throughout the song, the group rapidly shifts from time signature to time signature with a heavy, rapid delivery of the bass, organ and drums. The song became a live standout, and for good reason.
The weaknesses of Foxtrot come during the middle portions of the album. Genesis prided themselves on being songwriters and not jamming for the sake of jamming. Unfortunately, the material does not live up to the band’s self-imposed standards. There are suitably grand moments that manage to be somewhat memorable (the refrain to “Time Table”), but for the most part, the music fails to inspire.
In the recently released Genesis: 1970-1975, the band members take care to mention the occasional problems Peter Gabriel caused in his lyrical pursuits. On Foxtrot, the glaring example comes in the form of “Get ‘Em Out By Friday.” While the concept demonstrates a remarkably forward-thinking premise, the lyrics themselves are stilted and do not flow. Gabriel demonstrates talent in switching from character to character, but when combined with the complex music underlying the song, there is, as Mike Rutherford would say, “too much stuff.”
Fortunately, the old adage of “saving the best for last” applies to Foxtrot in the best of ways. Steve Hackett’s “Horizons” may only run for a minute and a half, but the beautiful, classically inspired acoustic piece serves as the perfect introduction into what some call the best song Genesis ever recorded, “Supper’s Ready.”
If broken down to its simplest form, “Supper’s Ready” follows in the tradition of other Genesis classics such as “The Musical Box” and later on, “The Cinema Show.” The first few minutes feature a gentle, acoustic intro that also allows the group to showcase the brilliant combined vocal talents of Gabriel and Phil Collins. As with many prog rock songs of this length, the intensity slowly grows with the passing of each section (seven in all contained here). Gabriel’s lyrics are a pastiche of the pastoral, biblical and mythological, growing more and more grandiose as the track progresses.
Once the “Willow Farms” segment has been completed (most famous for the live performance which featured Gabriel dressed as a giant flower), it becomes clear that the foundation of the song is a struggle of good versus evil. Gabriel references the “guards of Magog” as well as the Number of the Beast as Tony Banks builds upon layers of organ and mellotron that truly make the track seem epic. The final stanzas are iconic, detailing the return of Christ who has come “to take them to the new Jerusalem.”
And with that, Foxtrot ends on an incredibly high note, truly one of the greatest examples of the potential progressive rock had at the time. However, the track has become less familiar to the masses over time, which is a shame. “Watcher Of The Skies” and “Supper’s Ready” are two of Genesis’s most well-loved pieces, and deservedly so. Were the middle potions of the album up to the challenge, this would be one of the Great Albums. As such, it lies just below that status.
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