Selling England by the Pound - Genesis

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Selling England by the Pound - Genesis

Progressive Rock - StudioRecording - 1 CD(s) - Label: Atco, Charisma - Distributor: Arvato Services, EMI Operations/CEVA Logistics - Released: 01/08/1...

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Review of "Selling England by the Pound - Genesis"

published 02/02/2005 | Silverback
Member since : 23/09/2002
Reviews : 121
Members who trust : 173
About me :
No tools are kept in this vehicle overnight.
Pro Peerless mix of prog and pop
Cons Some self-indulgence, that Phil Collins vocal
very helpful
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money

"I Knew What I Liked"

Peter Gabriel, or is it Robert Plant?

Peter Gabriel, or is it Robert Plant?

Music critic and broadcaster Stuart Maconie recently owned up to a 30-year love affair with the progressive rock group Yes. In the same confessional spirit, I now reveal my own guilty secret.

Take a little trip back to the mid-1970s. In the fetid sixth-form common rooms of the nation, pimply teenage boys with scant outlet for their biological urges, formed passionate attachments to musical heroes. Their devotion was furious and exclusive. If 'your' band was Emerson Lake and Palmer, you couldn't devote yourself to Led Zeppelin. King Crimson fans reviled Black Sabbath. And so, for those brief, heady years, I became a faithful follower of Genesis.

I thought the band offered something superior to their fellow prog-rockers: they lacked the pseudo-classical bombast of ELP, or the cod-mysticism of Yes. Sure, they shared the same tendency to excessive song length, but they could also turn out concise pop gems. The lyrics might err on the side of the pretentious, but this was offset by that rarity in prog: a sense of humour.

In a couple of years I would transfer my allegiance to Elvis Costello. He was a lifeline for nerds who wanted to love punk but couldn't quite abandon keyboard-led literate songs. But until it became utterly unhip, I and my small, like-minded coterie pored over articles in Sounds and made pilgrimages to Wembley or Hammersmith Odeon to see Peter Gabriel prancing around the stage dressed as a flower or a fox.

My first Genesis album was Selling England By The Pound (£2.75 from Woolworths, Whitstable if I remember rightly). I recently felt emboldened enough to buy it again on CD. And you know, although I wouldn't have dared admit as much 20 or even 10 years ago, it's still a damn fine album.

Released in 1973, it is arguably the high-water mark of the band's career. If you know the band from its 80s incarnation this album may come as a shock. After Gabriel left in 1975, they became a pleasant, if uninspired, pop band, lacking the scabrous wit and surreal imagination of their former vocalist.

But here those talents found supreme expression. The pristine production, instrumental virtuosity, and witty, allusive lyrics all came together with gorgeously melodic arrangements and spine-tingling dynamics. The previous album, Foxtrot, had been similar but slightly rougher around the edges. Some would judge 1974's epic double-album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway their masterpiece. But for me, Selling England captures their creative peak.

Thematically, the album is an elegy for an England that has - hence the title - surrendered to the forces of commerce. Gabriel's lyrics mourn supermarket culture: "Knights of the Green Shield stamp and shout"; "Chewing through your Wimpy dreams"; "Thankful for her fine fair discount/ Tess co-operates".

In contrast to such tawdriness, the album opens with a pastoral, folky acapella, Gabriel asking "Can you tell me where my country lies?" before the tinkling 12-string guitar comes in. The bucolic mood persists through the album, even in the Ealing comedy gangster caricatures of The Battle of Epping Forest.

Along the way, it dallies with suffocating suburbia (in the single I Know What I Like); biblical and mythical imagery in the majestic Firth of Fifth, nods to T S Eliot's ecovation of seedy urban lust in Cinema Show, and tackles a rare love song: drummer Phil Collins's rather weedy and, some would say, fateful vocal debut on More Fool Me.

Gabriel is in fine voice though. His slightly rasping delivery leaps from throaty emotion and portentous threat, to parodies and playfulness, echoing his theatrical stage personae.

His lyrics are equally diverse, ranging from his narrative style in The Battle of Epping Forest, through the comic to the smutty. Some lines manage to be sad and funny: "'Old man dies!' The note he left was signed 'Old Father Thames' - it seems he's drowned".

But in true prog tradition, the musical settings are as important as the words. It is to the band's credit, though, that they rarely went in for excess for its own sake. Solos are brief, and flow together seamlessly. This is best seen in the two epic tracks and highlights of the album: Firth of Fifth and Cinema Show. Even these songs, that stretch over 9 and 11 minutes, avoid the clunky, artificial joins that mar the extended compositions of contemporaries like Yes or Led Zeppelin.

These led lazy critics to reach for terms like 'symphonic', and classical buffs would no doubt scoff. There is an orchestral grandeur to some of the arrangements. But their feet are kept on the ground by the taut pacing and the hyperactive drumming of Phil Collins. Washes of choral Mellotrons are underpinned by Mike Rutherford's thunderous bass guitar and pedals. Skittering time signatures are balanced by guitarist Steve Hackett's trademark honeyed notes which sound more bowed than plucked.

It's very difficult to uncouple the visceral effect of this music from its importance to my teenage self, but I'm sure even the most dispassionate listener would find something to enjoy here.

Apart from some of the pre-digital synthesiser, very little about this music sounds dated. The names of the supermarkets have changed, but the concerns about consumerism and loss of tradition are as relevant as ever.

In an age when popular bands such as Coldplay and Snow Patrol have made the grandiose piano ballad a pop staple, and 'experimental' outfits like Mogwai churn out 7-minute instrumentals, mid-period Genesis doesn't sound nearly so overblown as it might have a few years ago. If you like these acts, and you want to try some earlier epic pop, you may be pleasantly surprised by this prog-rock classic - and find far fewer lyrical and musical clichés to boot.

Track Listing:
Dancing With The Moonlight Knight 8:04
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) 4:08
Firth Of Fifth 9:37
More Fool Me 3:10
The Battle Of Epping Forest 11:46
After The Ordeal 4:16
The Cinema Show 11:06
Aisle Of Plenty 1:32

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Comments on this review

  • kevin121 published 18/06/2011
    I wonder how Gabriel looks on stage nowadays. Not nearly so delightful, but still full of steam.
  • darkangelwing published 21/09/2005
    I love Peter Gabriel to bits he's a god no wonder genesis sounded a lot better in the 70's hehe not a fan of Phill Collins at all but a fab review all the same i think this is genesis's finest album but that's my lousy opinion hehe, a very well written, fab review, well done and yep GENESIS ROCK
  • JoePoirot published 07/06/2005
    Nothing wrong with liking Genesis? Yes? 'Elp! Genesis faded after Gabriel's departure. "Nursery Cryme" is my fave Genesis album.
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Product Information : Selling England by the Pound - Genesis

Manufacturer's product description

Progressive Rock - StudioRecording - 1 CD(s) - Label: Atco, Charisma - Distributor: Arvato Services, EMI Operations/CEVA Logistics - Released: 01/08/1994, 08/1994 - 724383977727

Product Details

EAN: 724383977727


Listed on Ciao since: 18/07/2011