(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Definitely NOT to be confused with the happy-slappy Genesis of the 1980's by any means! Somewhere in the English countryside, circa 1970, 5 lads from a prestigious boarding school were hard at work in a small house (courtesy of gracious parents), recovering from wounds (namely having their debut album, From Genesis To Revelation flop and then nearly throwing in the towel altogether)and redoubling their creative efforts.
Armed with a steely resolve, a recently acquired Mellotron, a contract with the fledgling Charisma Records label, a sympathetic producer in John Anthony and ambitious new material, Genesis set its sights on upsetting the apple cart of ordinary music. No longer were they going to be pegged as "Moody Blues wannabes".
What emerged was an important, yet largely unheralded milestone in the development of progressive rock, as we know it. Here, the essential building blocks of the classic Genesis sound were coming to the fore, although they had yet to fully gel and integrate, but you could tell that even greater, more startling things were to come.
“Looking For Someone” leads off with a piercing Gabriel vocal and smoky organ, the protagonist looking for meaning and purpose in a world that doesn't seem to have any. The band charges in with full force, exercising newly found ambition and ability. Gabriel's slightly raspy and soulful singing carries this songs mood so strongly, supported by plaintive guitar statements from Anthony Phillips and frantic propulsion from Banks, Rutherford and drummer John Mayhew (who would be fired after the album's completion).
“White Mountain” switches to fairy tale mode, relating the story of a lone wolf who defied the sacred norms of his society and paid a terrible price for it. All this framed by frantic chase music and the trademark interlocking, chiming 12-string guitar passages that old Genesis fans loved so much. Gabriel also begins to experiment with processing his voice to chilling effect (when he recites the "laws of the brethren") and his unsettling whistling combined with mournful organ towards the end. Definitely not "happy-slappy" bubblegum stuff!!
b“Visions of Angels” begins with a deceptively winsome piano figure as it’s protagonist struggles with the idea of believing in an all-powerful God or not. “Stagnation” is easily the album's high point. This is the story of a man who decided to spend the rest of his existence comfortably ensconced underground. Gabriel's plaintive vocals here can send chills up your spine, along with those chiming 12-strings and Tony Bank's resourceful use of his new keyboard rig (I especially love that otherworldly organ solo he does in the middle of the tune, coaxing out sounds that were unknown at the time). The song builds to a rousing conclusion, with Gabriel just wearing his anguish on his sleeve.
“Dusk” shows the more folky side of Genesis with Gabriel again grappling with the meaning of life. Here, he also whips out the flute for the first time on record, as well as pronounced background vocals from everyone else, something that later would be discarded.
“The Knife” soon would become a Genesis concert favorite. This story of a revolutionary on a power trip is propelled by some of Gabriel's angriest vocalizing with snarling fuzz bass, frantic guitar and rhythm section to match. This early version feels a bit awkward only because of John Mayhew's rather tentative drumming, but would later just rip to shreds with great confidence, with Phil Collins in the driver's seat.
After this, Ant Phillips would develop acute stagefright and quit the band (replaced by Steve Hackett, who did seem to appropriate elements of Phillips guitar style), and a young unknown bloke by the name of Phil Collins would sit behind the drums and rip it to shreds. Even while flawed in some respects (production-wise and Mayhew's tentative drumming), Tresspass still stands as an essential piece of the Genesis puzzle, and for me personally, a very inspiring one to go back to every so often. Highly recommended for any prog-rock fan who wants to know about the music's history and development.
Genesis, every bit the school-chum band (or perhaps even art-rock garage band), released its second album, Trespass, in 1970. The album cover graphics, by Paul Whitehead, perhaps best summarize the tension in Genesis’ music at this stage of its career: romantic quaintness with the threat of violence by the knife never far removed. Genesis was indeed making its mark in the early years of the decade and helping to create the category of progressive rock proper with a musicality that was at once soothing and dangerous.
Trespass is the album just prior to the emergence of the band’s most noteworthy lineup; Phil Collins and Steve Hackett are not yet in the fold, and in their stead are John Mayhew on percussion, and Anthony Phillips on guitar. Regardless, what was then and would continue to be the nucleus of the band was intact: Peter Gabriel on vocals and flute, Anthony (Tony) Banks on keyboards, and Michael (Mike) Rutherford on various stringed instruments. The band is largely well synchronized and writing with finesse and dexterity, and it would not be too extreme a suggestion to say that symphonic progressive rock has one of its better examples in Trespass.
The album starts with the excellent “Looking for Someone.” Peter Gabriel has not quite found his smoother voice within Trespass, and at times his singing style is too shrill and too jarring (especially in the high end), but his phrasing ability and control of vocal dynamic are quite interesting and command the listener’s ear. Although the mix is poor in places (muddy and unseperated), the playing is stellar. Banks’ continuous switching between organ and acoustic piano fleshes the song out nicely, and the alternation between softer passages and driving tempo changes is well conceived. At moments, the music reminds the well acquainted Jethro Tull fan of Thick as a Brick, especially in the more frantic, hard rock-oriented sections, but with perhaps less dependency on reprised arena riffs. Mayhew is rather busy in his drumming, but he and Rutherford hold the rhythm solidly. Phillips' fretwork – and this will be true throughout Trespass when he is soloing or adding electric guitar flavor – is sometimes dead-on but also sometimes annoying, as he incorporates a thin tone and an extremely abrupt staccato technique. The conclusion is dramatic and evidences an incorporation of classical music motifs. This is a great opener, especially with regard to structural variety.
“White Mountain” follows, slightly recalling the work of early King Crimson. (The overall sense is that perhaps both Crimson and Tull were studying the Genesis output closely in the progressive rock heyday, and borrowing as suitable.) Anthony Phillips is at his best here with crisp, clean arpeggio work. The vocal mix is blurry and again, Gabriel is shrieking here and there, but this tune is another fine example of complex popular music – the gift of the era, truly. The song is a timepiece, undoubtedly, with its use of flute and recorder (compare it to several of Tull’s Aqualung tracks, or tracks by Yes and Led Zeppelin), but the pastoral atmosphere is mellow and clean and sits against the more mobile instrumental segments in sharp contrast. There is a slower, very creepy, very dark bridge, which is haunting and bleak and then moves into a breakneck run: music for chase film footage. The transitions within the track are delightful and edgy, maintaining the listener’s focus.
Unfortunately, the album slides into a minor lull with the next three tracks: “Visions of Angels,” “Stagnation,” and “Dusk.” “Visions” is maybe the weakest song of the bunch, a bit pretentious (using “mirth” in the lyrics) and weighted with idiosyncratic theological imagery. Here, and in “Dusk,” the vocal harmonies sound strikingly comparable to The Bee Gees of the late ‘60s – not at all a terrible problem (The Bee Gees were first-rate at that time), but slightly twee and affected. Mike Rutherford plays his most expressive bass lines in “Visions,” but Mayhew tries the listener’s patience with repeated drum rolls – too much, too often. A bombastic ending – not the first or last in the annals of progressive rock – sours the tune to a degree. “Stagnation” is bland, again very twee and quite slow. Tony Banks is marvelous throughout the song, saving it, honestly. In fact, with this track one realizes that Banks’ keyboard acumen is primarily giving Genesis its unique sound (along with Gabriel’s voicings), a realization that holds up and increases upon additional exposure to the album. “Stagnation” is the sort of song that will pave the way for bands like Styx and Boston, not to mention Marillion, for good or ill: overreaching and pompous at times, but with a balanced modulation between major and minor key themes. “Dusk” is hardly different than “Visions” or “Stagnation,” but the opening double-tracked guitar melody is sweet, the up-tempo instrumental break is fiery (allowing Gabriel his most lively flute offering), and the final measures are tense and appropriate, with the guitar gingerly laid over a very symphonic piano fill. There is nothing deplorable in these three tunes; they are occasionally overwrought and soporific, but perhaps in some way they serve well as repose between the more forceful minutes of Trespass.
The album ends with "The Knife," the highlight of Trespass and a future live staple, hinting at the Genesis to come. (It is not incidental, by the way, that bands in their prime can and do hold the best track for last; a welcome show of strength, when it is far easier to front-load the release and then tack filler onto the album.) Rollicking and powerful from the outset, the opening groove reeks of criminality and suspicious intent. The ensemble playing is tight throughout the track, and Banks’ galloping organ sets an enthusiastically racing speed. Anthony Phillips is off-track in most of "The Knife" – his style is too monotonous and attenuated – but his contribution after the lines:
"Stand up and fight for you know we are right
We must strike at the lies that have spread like disease through our minds"
is cutting and strong: his creative high-water mark upon Trespass. Generally, the electric guitar leads are abrasive, jagged, and sharp here – intentionally knifelike? Gabriel gets a second notable flute solo (compared with Ian Anderson, a mild and calm technique but not passive or heartless) and the delayed guitar chords echo both Peter Banks’ and Steve Howe’s playing in Yes. The band is vicious after the rambling, chaotic mob-and-police sound effects, and overall, the track is remarkable for its dark foreboding and anxious intensity.
Symphonic rock music would continue after the release of Trespass, but Genesis’ sophomore effort is a mainly compelling addition to the niche, and may even be one of the best examples of the style. Normally, and undeservedly, Trespass seems to receive short shrift from prog fans and Genesis fans. This is a thoroughly worthwhile album, even in its more relaxed moments, and when it rips, or reveals in tense interplay, it is top-notch. Trespass is recommended especially for fans of Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Yes, who may have skipped over Genesis, for whatever reason. Start with Trespass and hear the genre being created and developed in completely masterful fashion.