MCA, 1970

REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman


Why is "classic" Genesis so seldom played on "classic rock" radio? There exist numerous theories on that subject, but one of the more commonly-heard ones is that they are keyboard-heavy and guitar-light compared to the Zeppelins and Stoneses of the world. And the common misperception (at least when it comes to Genesis) is that keyboards are wimpy instruments that should be either in the background or completely removed if a song is truly to "rock".

The five records Genesis recorded from 1970 to 1974 are reason enough to renounce that belief, but if one needs to be eased from guitars into keyboards in baby steps, one should start from the beginning with Trespass.

Trespass was not actually their first album -- that distinction belongs to 1969's oft-maligned From Genesis To Revelation, a pastoral, string-heavy pop record that isn't as bad as many think it is, but is a far cry from what this band would do shortly thereafter. Thrown into a cottage in the woods and living together at the suggestion of their producer, the lads from Charterhouse Boarding School, all barely 20 years old, survived close quarters, and out came six intense pieces that sounded like nothing recorded since.

The stark, spare first verse to "Looking For Someone" opens the album, and in extreme contrast to much of the frothiness of the previous record, Peter Gabriel is "Trying to find a memory in a darkroom" and "Lost in a subway." The song launches ambitiously into several tempo and mood changes -- Anthony Phillips plays some immaculate guitar that has more of a classical feel than most of his rock contemporaries, partly for the purpose of making sure that Anthony Banks's organ playing is not relegated to the background.

In the coda, Gabriel gets in on the act himself with some amazing echoey flute that blends in perfectly. Short-lived drummer John Mayhew has a more monotonic, less professional style than Phil Collins (who would become the Genesis drummer a year later and the singer six years later), but he certainly holds his own, especially here, where he sounds equally controlled and manic. "White Mountain" follows and is less accessible, but just as unique, a mythical prog-rock tale with a swelling, King Crimson-esque mellotron.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Fans of Gabriel's more recent solo work will enjoy the Phillips-penned "Visions Of Angels." It's actually the closest they come to sounding like they did on the first album, but is still leagues ahead. The organs and mellotrons are toned down to a piano for the most part here, and Gabriel does some of his most soulful and philisophic singing ever -- "Some believe that when they die they really live / I believe there never is an end." It'll be tough to accept "Sledgehammer" as any sort of artistic statement after listening to this.

Side two arrives, and with it "Stagnation," excerpts of which Genesis was still playing live on the We Can't Dance tour. The folksy first section includes an as-yet-unduplicated mixing of classical guitar and keyboard into a single sound that is so beautiful and simply indescribable. And like "Looking For Someone," the alternating sections of loud and quiet, start and stop, work so well together; never do you wonder "Is this still the same song?" Rather, the drawn-out final section can't go on long enough -- the dramatic drumroll and off-key chaos that finally brings this eight minute opus to an end has the feel of the sad end of a performance that just makes you want more.

"Dusk," at four minutes the shortest track on the album, initially serves as little more than a head-clearing exercise for what's to come next, but it's actually a very good song. Less ambitious than the rest of the album, but still a distinguished, spiritual acoustic number about a new beginning.

And then, in sharp contrast, comes "The Knife," which closes out the album with what is still the biggest bang in Genesis history. It's a monstrously heavy number, containing elements of British Invasion hard rock a la Deep Purple or Uriah Heep. Even the lyrics are heavier, speaking words of uprisings and revolutions on an album otherwise chock full of introspection. And of course, there's yet another lengthy coda here, full of tempo changes and intelligently-sequenced shifts from minor to major variations of the same musical themes. The chorus- - "Some of you are going to die / martyrs of course to the freedom that I shall provide" returns at the end over a spine-tingling major seventh flourish, and even the ensuing silence is deafening.

"The Knife" was clearly a live favorite for many years; it once inspired Gabriel to fling himself into the crowd, resulting in a broken leg, but in spite of that, the band continued to perform it, often as an encore, well into the Collins era. In today's world of noisy rock, it's surprising they haven't resurrected it. But "The Knife," and Trespass in general, is also the first indication of what separated Genesis from other "art rock" of that era; the ability to create a lengthy, multi-layered piece of music without losing sight of the song at hand. Rather than filling up space with lengthy, unmemorable solos, the 7 to 10 minute Genesis epics are filled with notes that mean something, meticulous instrumental sections that flow just as naturally as concise radio friendly songs.

On more complex later albums like Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound, the Genesis without Phillips but with Collins and Steve Hackett would eclipse even these highs, but Trespass has a spontaneous, innocent quality that they never quite reached again. It's the sound of a rapidly maturing rock collective (early Genesis never separated songwriting credits in their liner notes; "all songs written by Genesis" was the standard copy) in its most fruitful period and hungry to be heard. If you're still a relative newcomer to early Genesis, it's probably best to start slightly later chronologically, but this is a logical next step.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Mark Feldman 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 MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.