Progressive rock, a genre to love or hate. It originated in the late sixties thanks to heavy psychedelic rock influences and was pioneered by bands that wanted to go beyond the standard verse-chorus based song structures. As a result, often complex instrumental songs were bundled on concept albums with epic pretensions. It’s well possible that you once caught yourself asking what the hell one of these bands was trying to tell you while listening to one of their albums. The answers are provided here, in Prog Albums Explained. All you need is the album, a comfortable couch and some good headphones.
Genre: Progressive Rock
Preceded by: Selling England by the Pound (1973)
Followed by: A Trick of the Tail (1976)
Related to: Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
Genesis was one of the true pioneers of prog rock during the seventies, together with bands like King Crimson, Yes and Pink Floyd. The band was founded in 1967 by Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and some others who would be gradually replaced during the following years. Gabriel started as a drummer in his first bands before becoming the lead singer and theatrical frontman of this new band. Tony Banks contributed with his elaborate keyboard arrangements to what would become the typical Genesis sound, while Rutherford became the fanatical bass player of the group. They were joined in 1970 by Steve Hackett and Phil Collins (after having drummed for George Harrison on his solo track ‘The Art of Dying’), replacing respectively the former guitarist and drummer of the band.
In 1974, the band was at the peak of their popular and critical success, having released their epic masterpiece Selling England by the Pound the year before. But something bigger had to follow, so Gabriel designed a great project, just like Paul McCartney had done before with Sgt. Pepper’s and Roger Waters would do five years later with The Wall. At the same time it was the last album of the group with Gabriel, who contributed almost all the lyrics to the album. Those lyrics tell the story of Rael, a delinquent from NYC who is plunged into some surrealistic underground world that derived from Gabriel’s dreaming brain. The other guys came up with the music, but it’s the mind-blowing symbiosis of this music with the lyrics that produced an album that could impossibly ever be outbidden, even if Gabriel would have stayed with the band. Off we go.
Track 1: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
A frantic and fast piano-intro launches us right into the album, after which Gabriel officially declares that the lamb lies down on Broadway. However, the title track doesn’t have the goal to clarify the role of this lamb, but to introduce us to Rael. Rael just comes out of the subway, where he sprayed some graffiti on the walls to keep up his reputation with his gang. Not the most outrageous violation of the law, but the ominous distorted bass throughout the song from Rutherford tells us there’s more behind this, but what? He’s forgotten what he did…Lord knows what have I done?
Track 2: Fly on a Windshield + Track 3: Broadway Melody of 1974
I treat those tracks as one as they really merge together perfectly. In a threatening quiet way, Gabriel announces the coming of the ‘wall of death’, which attacks Rael. Totally being in the magic air that’s always above Broadway, the reality dies right there for Rael when the dust settles on his skin and he’s being alienated from other people: They carry on as if nothing was there. Rael is now captured inside this wall (represented by a bombastic wall of sound, an improvisational idea by Rutherford), where a stream of strange images reaches him as if it was one big psychedelic trip.
Track 4: Cuckoo Cocoon
From the chaos we return to serenity with this track, in which Rael wakes up again. Suddenly he’s captured in some cocoon, where he has never been before. But the panic from a few minutes ago is totally gone, as Rael is at ease on his new location. This is beautifully illustrated by the soft guitar sounds and the fairy-like voice of Gabriel, who proves once again what a splendid vocalist he is. And I feel so secure that I know this can’t be real, but I feel good.
Track 5: In the Cage
However, the serenity is just temporary, as this cocoon has suddenly transformed into a cave in this track. Rael is surrounded by cages formed by stalactites and stalagmites, which are capturing him also. Being caught in this cage, this is the first time that his Brother John appears. Rael cries for help, but John doesn’t seem a bit interested. The marvelous dynamic between the thrilling music (especially the manic keys from Banks and the tambourines from Collins) and Gabriels stressed voice (My headaches charge, my earaches roar. In the pain, get me out of this pain…) makes this song an absolute highlight on the album. Eventually, John leaves and Rael’s cage dissolves at that very moment… Keep on turning. Keep on turning.
Track 6: The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
Being able to escape from his dissolved cage, Rael finds himself now in a building he seems to recognize from the real world. But how can you be sure that this is reality when you just came from such a surrealistic world? Well, Rael sees how persons are lined up in a Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging, ready to be used for the consumer society: Stamped, addressed, in odd fatality. That evens out their personality. With profit potential marked by sign, I can recognize some of the production line. Scenario’s like these are too cruel to be made up in some surrealistic dream, so this must be our common reality. As cited, Rael recognizes some people and he even sees his Brother John again, labeled as No. 9! Is this the final explanation for John Lennon’s riddle from 1968?
-Continue to Side 2–