Monday, January 25, 2016

The Genesis Project - "Duke"

Genesis - Duke
1980/2007, Atlantic

1. Behind the Lines
2. Duchess
3. Guide Vocal
4. Man Of Our Times
5. Misunderstanding
6. Heathaze
7. Turn It On Again
8. Alone Tonight
9. Cul-De-Sac
10. Please Don't Ask
11. Duke's Travels
12. Duke's End

Some decry Duke as a sellout, claiming it’s the final nail in the coffin for a once great progressive rock band. They claim Phil Collins ruined the band and that it became infested with puerile sugary pop. Yet others say Duke is a masterpiece that perfectly blends their progressive rock past with more pop melodies and sensibilities. I especially appreciate how opinions are either one or the other. Reviews I’ve read tend to be passionate - extreme hate or extreme love. I haven’t read one that said, “Duke? Meh.” Nope. Duke is an album that provokes some pretty strong emotions.

But a sellout? Eh… I don’t think so.

I can’t imagine what the reaction would have been of someone who’d heard “Misunderstanding” or “Turn It On Again” on the radio and bought Duke thinking they were going to get some catchy seventies pop. The album does not start such a casual listener off gently. “Behind the Lines,” “Duchess,” and “Guide Vocal” start a one-two-three punch of progressive mastery. I always knew Phil Collins played drums, but I never knew just how good he is. These three tracks were a revelation and I was in awe of the vibrant, expressive drumming on display. Next we get the rolling and contemplative “Man of Our Times,” which isn’t exactly radio material either.

Finally, “Misunderstanding” provides the first taste of what I would call “pop” as it’s pure seventies radio rock. Of course, it’s followed by “Heathaze,” which is a fairly mournful sounding tune. In fact, the album itself is, despite the bright, melodic synths everywhere, quite morose. Phil Collins was going through a divorce at the time and wrote “Misunderstanding” and “Please Don’t Ask.” Despite the former’s more upbeat sound, it is quite poignant, as is the later – especially when Collins tells his estrange wife that he misses his boy and that he “hopes he’s good as gold.” You’ve also got “Alone Tonight” which is another song filled with longing for lost love.

How is this a sellout again?

The album ends with “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End” a duo of mostly instrumental progressive rock tunes that recall the three intro tracks. Naturally, these are a perfect finale. Of course, “Behind The Lines,” “Duchess,” “Guide Vocal,” “Turn It On Again,” and the last two songs were meant to be a suite called, “The Story of Albert.” They were broken up because the band didn’t want it to be associated with their other epic, “Supper’s Ready.” It also probably had something to do with not overwhelming our hypothetical record buyer who really liked “Misunderstanding.”

Now I haven’t heard any other Genesis albums yet so I don’t admittedly have much perspective. However, I tend to agree that the album is a good mix of prog rock and pop. It’s still pretty accessible while still throwing some challenging material at the listener. At first I had to get used to all of the synths and keys and the slightly seventies sounding production (some of which I’m still not used to). “Man Of Our Times” took some time to grow on me. However, with each listen I found myself enjoying and appreciating it more and more. It’s too early to tell if it will be one of my favorite Genesis albums, but I really like it now. If any of the other albums are of similar quality, I will have a good year, indeed.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Useless Fact: Apparently Mike Rutherford regrets not putting Phil Collins’ solo hit “In the Air Tonight” on Duke.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Spock's Beard - "Day For Night"

Spock's Beard - Day For Night
1999/2007, Metal Blade

1. Day For Night
2. Gibberish
3. Skin
4. The Distance To The Sun
5. Crack The Big Sky
6. The Gypsy
7. Can't Get It Wrong
8. The Healing Colors of Sound, Pt. 1
9. My Shoes
10. Mommy Comes Back
11. Lay It Down
12. The Healing Colors of Sound
13. My Shoes (Revisited)
Bonus Tracks
14. Day For Night (Demo)
15. Gibberish (Demo)

A friend of mine had me listen to a couple tracks off this album years ago. At the time my reaction was, "Meh" because I was a fool. I went back to check out some samples and for some reason really twigged on to it. I got the CD for Christmas and... whoa. What the heck was my problem back then?! Day For Night is not only a fine album, it's has been one of the best albums I've listened to all year. The one thing that struck me is just how accessible it is. Sure, it's progressive but listening to it isn't challenging at all. It's almost like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes or easing into a warm bath. Songs are immediately engaging and the melodies are infectious. Better yet - the album has staying power. Songs like "Skin," "Lay It Down," and "The Healing Colors of Sound" are simply beautiful. I'm so glad I got this album as it's probably going to be inducted into my mental Hall of Fame as an album that is sewn into my heart. Wow... that was cheesy but totally true. Simply fantastic.

Useless Fact: I have the reissue which has two extra demo tracks. Also, "The Healing Colors of Sound, Pt. 1" begins what is really one big long song, just broken up into different tracks.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Gama Bomb - "Untouchable Glory"

Gama Bomb - Untouchable Glory
2015, AFM

1. Ninja Untouchables/Untouchable Glory
2. Avenge Me!
3. Drinkers, Inc.
4. My Evil Eye
5. Tuck Your T-Shirt In
6. Ride the Night
7. She Thing
8. Witching Mania
9. James Joints
10. Raging Skies
11. I Will Haunt You
12. After the Fire

I'm a little bit sad that I didn't pick this one up earlier. That way it could have been a contender for picks of the year for 2015. Oh well... there's next year right? Anyway, Gama Bomb continues their thrash metal assault against the senses with another blistering release. One challenge the band has always faced is making their songs distinctive. Admittedly, it's hard to do that when you're just balls to the wall thrash. However, I'd say Untouchable Glory is probably their most catchy and memorable album to date. Each song has a cool riff or hook to differentiate it from the rest. They even slow things down a bit with "Tuck Your T-Shirt In" - and by, "slow down a bit" I mean "not be pummeling for a few bars." Remember when I said back in the Citizen Brain review that I didn't know if I'd want album after album of this? Wow... what innocent times. I would totally want album after album of this. I think it's the combination of thrash and tongue-in-cheeck, self aware lyrics, giving the music a playful sense of  fun that keeps me coming back for more. Put simply, Gama Bomb rocks.

Useless Fact: If you couldn't tell, the cover art is inspired by 70's Kung-Fu films. Though the songs don't really follow suit, they're more about various sci-fi/horror/pop culture stuff.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Genesis Project: An Introduction

I’ve been reviewing music on this blog for over six years. Wow! It seems like a long time. Though sometimes I get bored and pick an artist one year and explore their discography a bit. You may have noticed. Last year I went through the Beastie Boys catalog, the year before it was Tom Petty. However, this year I’ve decided to make it an official thing – pick one band and really make an event of it. I’ll review one album each month and decide if I really am a fan.

After much deliberation I chose Genesis. My experience with them started when I was still in the single digits, age-wise. I’m mostly familiar with their Invisible Touch material – more specifically, the song “Land of Confusion.” It was one of those truly iconic videos that always stuck with me as being surreal and rather frightening. Those strange looking puppets along with the urgency of the song really struck a chord with me. I watched it again the other night and my wife said, “This video is truly horrifying.” I loved the song, though. Still do. I’d also heard the album’s title track and really enjoyed that as well. Peter Gabriel’s videos for “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer” were MTV staples. Back in the day, I’d watch for hours just to see those two clips. I’ve even enjoyed a lot of Phil Collins’ solo songs. Hey, don’t hate - good tunes is good tunes. When I finally had two digits in my age, I’d be glad to see “Jesus He Knows Me” and “I Can’t Dance” pop up on MTV.

I was ignorant of their status as progressive rock legends until much later. I was far too young to have heard any of that material. My music exposure at the time was limited to radio stations and MTV. If it wasn’t played on either of those outlets, I didn’t hear it. In my early twenties, a co-worker let me borrow a copy of Nursery Cryme for me to sample. I remember absolutely none of it. What I do remember was not being that impressed. But, hey, I was young and stupid (Well… stupid at any rate. I don’t ever remember being young). I like progressive rock and I like pop music, Genesis has done both reasonably well. Seems like a good fit to me.

So here I am in 2016, ready to dive down and really dig into this band with whom I’m only passingly, but positively familiar with. The rules will be a little different for this project. I’m going to do a bit more detailed write-ups for these albums. I wanted to really marinate in each piece and take notes before I write up the reviews. I’ll even be…like…revising them and stuff. I want these to be a cut above what I normally do. There will be one Genesis review at the end of every month. I’ll still be doing my informal paragraph-long reviews as well.

The tentative schedule for my experience is as follows:

            Janurary: Duke
            February: Foxtrot
            March: We Can’t Dance
            April: Selling England By The Pound
            May: Invisible Touch
            June: Trick of the Tail
            July: Abacab
            August: Nursery Cryme
            September: Genesis
            October: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
            November: …And Then There Were Three
            December: Wind and Wuthering

I say “tentative” because I may change the schedule a little bit or replace an album in the line-up. At the end of each review I’ll let you know which one is next in case I do change.

Okay, I know what you’re asking: why start with Duke?

The answer is… it seems like good middle ground. I’ve heard that Duke is sort of the mid-point for the band’s career, mixing progressive rock with more pop sensibilities. In all honesty, that sounds like my kind of album! It also comes highly recommended. There’s this article that recommends Duke for those who want to get familiar with prog-rock. I also have the whole-hearted endorsement of a movie psycho. If that weren’t enough, there’s this article from a fellow gamer and prog-rock lover, Jeremy Parish. Oh, and don’t forget NolifetilMetal’s Scott Waters likes it too. So it seems like the place to start. I’ve also tried to pick albums from the band’s entire catalog, switching it up each month - one month I’ll do something progressive and another more pop. That way I’ll have palate cleansers and, hopefully, be more objective.

As I said before, I like both progressive rock and pop. I won’t be too worried about questions like “who ruined the band?” and the like. I don’t care. I will be listening to these pieces long after the fact and I will only have one question in mind. Namely, do I like it? I won’t be worried about its history or its placement in the band’s discography. No, each album will be a singular experience and that’s how I will rate it. At least that’s what I hope to do… Oh yeah! That’s the other thing, I’m actually going to give each album rating from one to five (five being the best, naturally).

One last thing, I don’t expect to find the band “ruined.” See, sometimes fans don’t realize that our favorite artists kind of get tired doing the same thing over and over again. Case in point: Deliverance. Deliverance remains one of my favorite bands of all time. They started life as a speed metal band, but gradually become a more melodic, more alternative sounding band. Everyone hated that. They wanted speed metal or nothing. Forget the fact that the band had been doing speed metal for almost ten years. Some artists want to try different things and that’s not wrong.

I suspect something similar happened to Genesis. It’s great to do sprawling epic progressive masterpieces. But I bet it’s just as good to put together a strong three-minute pop song. I can see where all the theatrics might get tiresome after awhile. Playing a ten-minute song probably takes a lot out of you. Also, I would bet pop music pays better. And as someone who’s had to worry about whether or not I could buy toilet paper, financial security is nothing to sneeze at.

So join me, won’t you? It’s should be a fun and enlightening year!