Sum Of The Parts (DVD)


Eagle Vision, 2015

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


People have been clamoring for a reunion of the “classic” lineup of Genesis—Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins—for almost as long as I’ve been aware of the band’s existence, having come of age musically during the group’s 1976-79 post-Gabriel transitional period.

And now they have it—sort of. Because in truth, as a Genesis reunion vehicle, the recent BBC documentary Sum Of The Parts is about as satisfying as spending half a concert in the bathroom with a sick friend.

Genesis is a band I’ve gone around and around about, inasmuch as I grew up with the Phil Collins-fronted editions of band and have only experienced the Gabriel era retrospectively. Several friends whose musical tastes I respect swear by the Gabriel-voiced band’s achievements, the long, winding, distinctly British tunes veering wildly between the pastoral and the absurd, full of artsy oddness and artful melodicism. Between that and the fondness of one of my favorite modern prog bands for early Genesis (the magnificent Big Big Train), I’ve made repeated efforts to come to grips with the full range of the group’s astonishingly varied output.

One might expect that this documentary—intended as a career-spanning retrospective highlighted by an in-studio group interview with the classic lineup—would assist in that process. On that count, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the documentary offers the most comprehensive overview of Genesis as a live band that I’m aware of, featuring rare concert footage from early days all the way up through the Banks-Rutherford-Collins trio’s 2007 reunion tour.

The bad news is, in terms of insight into the band’s creative process and the tremendous evolution of their sound, from their sometimes inscrutably progressive early work to their often blatantly poppy latter-day output, this film is basically a washout. It’s pure flash and spectacle, with precious little in the way of actual investigation of what made the band tick artistically and how and why their multiple musical evolutions took place. It’s pretty much the opposite of the approach that an interviewer like Anil Prasad would take.

Perhaps the most insightful comment in the film comes late in the game from someone outside the band, British comedian Al Murray: “I think the secret to Genesis’ longevity is that they are the progressive rock band who progressed. Progressive rock bands, according to their fans, are supposed to stop, about two albums into progressing, and progress no more. And that’s why they’ve survived.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For this viewer’s tastes, being much more familiar with the group’s later output, the early part of the film is the most interesting. It’s fascinating hearing the one real point of consensus among Gabriel, Banks and Rutherford—that fellow founding member and original guitarist Anthony (Ant) Phillips was the most musically talented of the original lineup, the “driving force” of the early band, and that the band could easily have fallen apart when he left.

Interestingly, the film cuts from talk of Phillips’ 1970 departure directly to Banks et al raining well-deserved praises down on Phil Collins for the way his entrance strengthened the band musically, given his prodigious talents behind the drum kit and superb voice. Except that, Collins didn’t replace Phillips; he replaced previous drummer John Mayhew, already the band’s third in its brief existence, none of whom are mentioned by name in the film. (Short-lived latter-day frontman Ray Wilson is similarly ignored.) Hackett joined soon afterwards, assuming the lead guitar slot, and the classic lineup was complete.

The tensions within the band are well and frankly documented. Hackett characterizes them as “a very competitive band—very gifted, but with those gifts, there’s a certain price.” Collins describes “always beating each other into submission—but it was fun, I was in a thinking band.” And then, there’s old frenemies Gabriel and Banks: “Peter and I used to fight a lot,” says Banks. “Very close friends, but we used to argue about silly little things.” Counters Gabriel, laughing: “He was an awful bastard, but we loved each other, too. It was a real bond.”

From there the film digs—a little bit, anyway—into the origins of the band’s famous theatricality, talking about Bowie’s influence on their costuming, and Gabriel’s self-imposed imperative to entertain. Much is made of the first time Gabriel indulged in his notorious shtick of singing with a mask on, donning a fox’s head and his wife’s dress mid-song during a concert in Dublin. Gabriel claims he just wanted to entertain the audience; the rest of the band are less sanguine about Gabriel’s attention-grabbing shenanigans. “He wasn’t particularly at ease with an audience until he became someone else,” says Collins, ever the diplomat. “He hadn’t told us about it,” fumes Banks, still twitchy at the memory, “which is just as well, because we would never have let him do it.”

The film goes on from there to chronicle the departures of first Gabriel and then Hackett, and the band’s explosion in popularity after the remaining trio turned toward more melodic, syncopated pop-rock, and Collins discovered his famously deep-throated “gated” drum sound, a foundation of the band’s slicker 1980s oeuvre. Precious little is said about the origins of the evolution in the band’s sound, other than the one time Banks’ normal reserve slips and he admits “I loved it. It’s great to have hits.” (Indeed, Asia would agree.) The coverage of Gabriel, Collins, Banks and Rutherford’s 1980s solo careers feels overly generous, but was probably necessary to the existence of this project.

Indeed, for all the surface chumminess of the quintet when initially assembled for their group interview, it’s evident that the old tensions still exist, with the rivalry and frustration between Banks and Gabriel—always the seeming crux of the 1975 split—ever present, and Hackett’s dissatisfaction with the others’ treatment of him resurfacing in the media after these interviews were filmed. All of which helps to explain why the “classic” lineup is willing to promote its brand by parading in front of the cameras, but loathe still to actually make music together.

In the end, flaws aside, Sum Of The Parts did achieve the desired effect. Which is to say, after watching it, I immediately went out and re-bought several Genesis albums that I used to own.

Well played, gentlemen. Well played.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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