"Calling All Stations through heavy static" - The new Genesis album reviewed by Bill Brink.
Well, the analysis of this album has been endless on the Web and since I knew I would be doing a bit of my own for TWR, I avoided reading most of it. I suspect this will be a little different. It is a 1-2-3 (first listen, second, third) with notes taken and updated each time. Then a little dash of completely objective (kind of like Grenadine) from someone who knows very little about the band. Here is the result, track by track...
"Calling All Stations" - the opening guitar is a rather complete manifestation of all the interviews where Mike and Tony remarked that they are trying to do things differently. OK then, there is a sort of Pink Floyd feel to this track but there's a catch (one which keeps popping up). The drumming just sort of plods along; heavy on the snare, and it tends to dominate large sections of the song. And here is the greatest weakness for the majority of the tracks; the mix is uninspired. At 3:33 into the song there is a fairly interesting bridge into a guitar solo but there is no power to it. The dynamics of the song remain the same. During round three I watched the meters on my cassette deck and they essentially stay in the small range throughout this album, with the vast majority of the dynamics coming from the drums (which isn't saying much). When they get to the final verse, Ray really puts some power into his delivery but it gets mixed down. That is a shame, his vocals are good for most of the songs but they could be a lot better if they had received some treatment. They often sound like they were recorded in a box. No harmonics, no echo, no chorus effects, basically no electronic "help" at all.
"Congo" - the first of several weird intros, which is followed by a guitar lick (or is it a synth?) which is too measured to be called "Grunge" and too basic to fit the "Techno" category, oh well. Before I read the lyric sheet, I thought he was singing "You say I put jeans on you" - some variation on "put clothes on your back". More of this later. The chorus in this song is the primary reason you will hear it on radio. The vocals are mixed forward etc. They even do a bridge into a quieter section that is quite reminiscent of older Genesis... 'Into my life...' then at the end I read the lyrics and listen and that DA-DA-HUM-DA-DA keyboard sound is supposed to be "Congo" the Congo?
"Shipwrecked" - this time the initial guitar has a legit Grunge feel to it, but that feel is completely erased when the keyboards kick in. This song goes all over the place; parts of it sound like a combination of "Can't Get Her Out Of My Head" by ELO and "Follow You Follow Me". There are some bass lines in there that remind me of "The Lamb"... and here comes another recurring theme: the keyboards. They sound like they were recorded for a different voice. They just drone along, kind of like the drums and lend no real support to the vocals. It sounds like this was assembled in a hurry.
"Alien Afternoon" - the intro here sounds like the music from the soundtrack to "Twelve Monkeys" or the like, and this time we get a good solid transition/bridge to some vastly superior drumming and bass work. The arrangement of this track is the best so far. The weird thing this time is the lyrics and their delivery. Maybe I am old school but rhyming lyrics are a good thing. Lines that end "...in my ears..." and "...nobody there" don't rhyme. How about "...nobody here..." ? Again, the mix is poor. There are some vocal crescendos that are swallowed by the keyboards as well as some really interesting guitar work that can just barely be heard at all (Steve Hackett revisited!).
"Not About Us" - the opening guitar section of this song immediately reminds me of "Pigeons" and the closing section of the title track on Anthony Phillips' "Wise after the Event". There are places where silence would be expected on this song but there are those low background keyboards again. The meters on the tape deck never went below three. At 3:30 or so, Tony suddenly comes in with a keyboard that has the wavering quality of a Mellotron kind of a treat.
"If That's What You Need" - the music has a P. Collins ballad feel to it, but the vocals are the best example of the Peter Gabriel qualities that Mike and Tony referred to in Ray's voice. I still think that the vocals got a raw deal in the mix. The little upswing in Ray's voice at the end of the verse preceding the chorus is almost lost. It was a nice touch.
"The Dividing Line" - More Gabriel feel to the vocals. This track has potential as a single. There is a fairly recognisable Genesis fell to it and it contains what must be Nir Z's best contribution to this album. Bits of it sound like sections from Gabriel's "Last Temptation..." album and the ever present snare seemed to be shelved for a change.
"Uncertain Weather" - First association with this is "In The Air Tonight", some sections remind me of that. Maybe it's just me. This is another of the tracks ostensibly written before Ray arrived. I think the vocals to this song have a lot more potential than is used. The chord progressions are classic Tony. They resolve and then unresolve into minors. The chorus, both in delivery and sentiment remind me strongly of "Somebody Else's Dream" from "A Curious Feeling".
"Small Talk" - Ick! Very much like "Don't Turn Your Back On Me" but with an uninspired rhythm.
"There Must be Some Other Way" - Some more interesting drumming and a few of the characteristics from earlier songs. There is a little dab of that guitar from the intro to "Congo" and the non-rhyming lyrics again. They just seem to hang out there before the chorus kicks in. We get a brief example of Ray's range in this track when he sings a few verses with a delivery reminiscent of "I Cant Drive 55". The keyboard solo here is sort of an antithesis of what Hackett has done. This time Tony seems to cover ground on the keyboards that would otherwise be played on guitar.
"One Man's Fool" - Plodding drums etc... Enough of this...
To sum it up: This album has some good moments on it and some bad ones. The thing is, it could have been so much better with a complete remix. The dynamic range is not there. Several tracks are mired in weak repetitive drumming and some of the backing keyboards sound like they are on auto pilot. This wouldn't be so bad if they were not so dominant in the mix. The vocals could have been embellished at least a bit in the studio and they certainly need to be more prominent. One of the key observations from the third party observer was that I couldn't understand what was being said. Not so much because of the pronunciation, but due to the other sounds that got in the way. I have a feeling that the revisionist outlook that was taken in the studio made them back away from a few things they did very well in the past. I would expect that the live versions of virtually any song on this record will be better than the studio versions. We shall see...