Selling England By The Pound


Atlantic Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Herb Hill


The early 70's may be thought of as the "golden age" of progressive rock. Certainly it was a time when the output from various prog groups such as Yes and Genesis approached wholesale quantities. The volume and scope of the music from this era makes picking a flower or two from the musical field a little daunting. However, there are always a few flowers that stand above the rest. Selling England By The Pound is one of these.

I often hear comments that tend to group the bands from this era into one big prog rock pile; a sort of cluttered closet filled with dusty, yet, highly valuable works of art. Yes, Genesis, King Crimson... they are all prog and they are all different. Genesis, in terms of prog rock formats, are the true story tellers of this immensely talented and, some might say, occasionally over-ambitious group of musicians. Selling England by the Pound consists of one vignette after another. From the timeless story of male and female caught up their eternal struggle against, and for, each other as embodied in "Cinema Show", to the slapstick violence of gang warfare in "The Battle Of Epping Forest"; Genesis of the early 70's could tell stories like no other group could.

Putting this album in context is no easy task. For even during this time of experimentation and the juxtaposition of so many talented individuals to create a new genre of music, here is a group with not one but two future soloists of immense import. Peter Gabriel takes on the lead vocals and Phil Collins shines on drums. With the astonishing skill of guitarists Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett and the perennially underrated keyboard maestro Tony Banks rounding off this musical cornucopia, Genesis of this era put an incredible array of talents to work helping to define what is now known as progressive rock.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Gabriel would leave the group shortly after the next album ( The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) which in itself was a much harder edged musical weapon than is this album. Therefore, Selling England By The Pound can, in many respects, be thought of as the last of the classical prog rock albums from this group. This album has an ancient feel to it; old wood and faded gold with ruby inlays... Where Yes is the bullet train of prog, Genesis (and this album in particular) is the Orient Express.

There are four tracks that stand out, but for different reasons.

"I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" doesn't make much sense as a song title but this is the only early Genesis song that approached "hit" status in terms of radio play. Based loosely on the cover art painting, this is a story of a lawnmower who, while resting on a bench under the hot sun during his lunch break, mulls over various episodes of his life. Variously chastised and tempted by the voices in his head, he ends his trance by firmly asserting, to himself one supposes, "Me, I'm just a lawnmower / you can tell me by the way I walk."

"The Battle Of Epping Forest" has a comically violent feeling as an undercurrent to some incredible vocal gymnastics by Gabriel. However, the most interesting thing about the song are the hints of the next step in the Genesis evolution ( The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) that shine through here and there. It's almost like watching the change in style occur before your eyes. The lyrics are thought provoking and slice straight to the futility of this, and all, violent encounters: ".. "There's no one left alive / must be draw. So the Blackcap Barons toss a coin to settle the score."

"Cinema Show" has some of the best harmonies this group ever created. Describing the struggle of male and female using a contemporary example broadened to include a much more eternal message. Coupled with one of the best examples of Banks's keyboard mastery and incredibly intricate percussion work by Collins, the extended instrumental part of this song alone is worth the price of admission.

"More Fool Me" stands out as the track that should not have been. Its whining demeanor and thin vocals supplied by Collins (shades of things to come?) make me wish it had been saved for an album where it would not have ruined the mood.

As with any good prog album you are going to be torn in many directions due to the sheer talent displayed by the artists but if you want to focus on one thing, make it the keyboards. Tony Banks proves once and for all on this album that he is a match for any prog keyboardist of the time and he does it without the speed washed flourish of Wakeman or the synth heavy sound of Emerson. "Class" is what he exudes and perhaps that adjective best describes the whole album.

Rating: A

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© 2002 Herb Hill and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.