“From Genesis To Stagnation” - The new Genesis album: We Can’t Dance put under the spotlight by Mark Horner.
Let’s not mice words. We Can’t Dance is really the worst album of Genesis’ career, and worse still it’s a terrible album by almost any standard. Agreed, the first two or three albums were badly produced and contained some poor tracks (I’m sure we don’t know which ones, Mark - AH) but they had passion and belief pointing the way to a great future. We Can’t Dance is the negation of everything that made the band such a distinctive force in music.
Gone is the richness of sound, gone is the desire to innovate and experiment, gone is the ability to build dynamism and drama into the music, gone even is the ability to come up with a distinctive memorable melody. Today the band confront us with a complacent self-satisfaction that allows them to believe that by booking a block of studio time at least one year in advance, that they will automatically come up with material good enough for a new Genesis album. This process, which worked well enough ten years ago on Abacab, now crucially disregards the need for inspiration, ideas and a genuine desire to create new music. It has become the means to allow Phil Collins to keep at least three parallel careers going whilst not giving his full commitment to any. One get the impression that Genesis albums aren’t as all-consuming a passion anymore, the attitude; “it’s about time we did something, this is something so let’s do it”. One only has to examine the tracks on this album to see the process in action.
No Son Of Mine - Lyrically, this is a good idea, but the lyrics themselves are so terribly cliched that they make no impact. The music is just as bad, the drums all too predictably crash in after the first minute as they have done on so many other Genesis and Collins songs.
Jesus He Knows Me - Hardly an original subject for a song which has been covered to much greater effect by Fish’s Big Wedge to name but one. The music is horrible, disposable, reminiscent of Collins’ Don’t Lose My Number.
Driving The Last Spike - This is an attempted Genesis long “epic” which falls flat on its face due to some severely lacking contrast, dynamism or drama. It is a worthy enough subject but the lyrics are complete waffle which tells you nothing and this listener concluded “so what?”.
Never A Time/Hold On My Heart/Since I Lost You - I have grouped these together because they are so obviously “the love songs”. The first is a virtually predictable Collins-style love song in the same mould as Throwing It All Away bereft of any genuine emotion. It’s listless and twee. The second is a totally predictable Collins-style love song, slower and comparable with In Too Deep. It’s acceptable enough within the parameters of its extremely limited ambition but its inclusion on a Genesis album is tragic. The third of these tracks signals yet more mid-tempo complacency. I wish I had a pound (or Euro) for each time “gone” has cropped up in a Genesis/Collins song.
Dreaming While You Sleep - Like No Son… this is potentially an interesting subject to write about but once again it lacks any real passion or commitment. It is reasonably diverting in a musical sense but the “all my life” refrain - well, we’ve been here before haven’t we? On a solo album by you-know-who.
Tell Me Why/Way Of The World - these two tracks are the band’s attempt at political and environmental awareness and are the lowest point of the album - unspeakably terrible! Tell Me Why is lyrically trying to be Another Day In Paradise pt 2, but the music is bland in the extreme. And the band’s conclusion on the state of the world? “Just hope against hope that its’ not too late”. Is that is all they can offer, why bother? Way Of The World is an attempted environmental song and the band’s considered opinion on the threat to the planet is? “It’s just they way of the world and that’s how it’s meant to be…” Again, after all, why bother if all you can come up with is something this laughable and pathetic. As for the music, I’ve heard better radio jingles than this!
I Can’t Dance/Living Forever/Fading Lights - In a desperate attempt to be charitable I have gathered the few crumbs of comfort on this album. I Can’t Dance stands out a mile form the other songs simply because it has a different arrangement. For a change, the guitar is the lead instrument , and the drums get mixed down. It is tight and far less predictable but still hardly a great Genesis track. Living Forever is the one well-observed lyric on the whole album, and although the music is fairly pedestrian we get treated to a refreshing instrumental passage at the end. Again, this stands out because Tony Banks at last gets to play something of substance while the drums take a back seat. Fading Lights has great middle section which allows the whole band to impress and for once, the lyrics have a little subtlety and depth, but there’s also the feeling that it has been written as a contrived “big finish”. It is vaguely reminiscent of Afterglow and like that song, Fading Lights would fit well into a concert.
As stated at the outset, the worst Genesis album ever and one that doesn’t deserve to be called a Genesis album. It seems that they are reaching another watershed in their careers. In 1978 with And Then There Were Three the band had gone as far as possible with their old multi-layered instrumental sound and rightly explored new areas. They mad a gamble in being prepared to alienate their “old” fans but went on to achieve the ultimate in success to a point at which today, they have nothing more to achieve commercially, but artistically they must now risk alienating their 1980’s following and start searching for the next big step forward, or else the band will stagnate completely. If they cannot do this, they should split up, or at least drop the name Genesis and thereby cease to soil the name of a once great band.
Writing all the material in the studio and pooling all song writing credits is now working against the band. The music and arrangements on this album are very “samey” and so get very boring after a while. Perhaps the reintroduction of individual songs written out of a genuine sense of inspiration would be far more satisfactory tan six months of extended waffling around in the studio. I don’t argue for a return to the past. I ask for the band to pioneer the future once again.