"The Story Of… The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" - TWR takes a closer look at this milestone (or millstone) of an album through the usual mix of interviews, reviews and other material. Your guide through Rael's underworld, Alan Hewitt. Photography and other memorabilia reproduced in this feature by kind courtesy of David Lawrence and Jack Beermann unless otherwise stated.
Continuing our series of examinations of the band's albums, I thought it was time to go a little further back (agriculturally speakin' ) and have a look at the last of Peter Gabriel's opuses with the band: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
This was always going to be a difficult one for me. I have never made any secret of the fact that I am not a fan of this album. However, before we go down that path let me try and set the album in the context of its own time….
1974 was a difficult time in the UK, industrial unrest, the legacy of the 1973 oil embargo by the Gulf States and the shortages that that had caused still rankled. Terrorism in the shape of the IRA's campaign against targets both in Northern Ireland and also on the mainland UK remained a constant threat. The final heady ideals of the 1960's had died a death in the scandals of "Watergate" and the debacle of the Vietnam War. Everywhere you looked, strife was the order of the day, or so it seemed. There were certainly internal strifes within the band itself as we shall see….
Genesis' last album: Selling England By The Pound had been their most successful to date finally bringing them mainstream success at home and in the US and with a "hit" single to boot! However, with the beginnings of the stirrings within the music business which were to erupt some two years later as the violent but short-lived "Punk/New Wave" movement; the time was not ripe for yet another pastoral epic. That much was clear to Peter Gabriel if no one else within Genesis as they began to contemplate their next offering. As usual, the band threw ideas into the ring for the next project and two broad themes surfaced; one a band treatment of the children's fable: The Little Prince by Antoine St Exupery, and the other; a far more earthy essay about a Puerto Rican street kid called Rael.
|The latter eventually won the day and Peter Gabriel's brainchild began to take shape. Perhaps with more than a modicum of foresight; Peter had realised that a more realistic approach to the band's storytelling was required and he set about this with a vengeance whilst the rest of the band set about equally fervently on the soundtrack to it. After many delays; including hospitalisation for Steve Hackett, the album eventually saw the light of day in November of 1974 by which time the band were already immersed in their newest tour to promote an album which, many fans had obviously not yet heard. Reaction was mixed at best and the massive tour which lasted from October 1974 until the end of May in 1975 was neither a critical or a financial success, with the band often playing to half empty halls and with frequent gig cancellations due to poor ticket sales - hard to believe now, I know but true nonetheless!|
Peter's decision to leave the band, which he had taken at the start of the tour became firmer as that tour went on despite the best efforts of several band members and the head of Charisma Records; Tony Stratton-Smith to persuade him to stay. This decision and its aftermath, have of course; coloured band members' and fans' perceptions of this project and it is always viewed, in my opinion; through rose-tinted spectacles by the faithful, and indeed by certain band members as well athough Steve Hackett, and Phil Collins in particular, voiced their objections to the album and the adulation heaped upon their leader as the following extracts from interviews they gave to Circus Magazine in June 1978 and Melody Maker in October 1974 explains…
(Steve: Circus Magazine June 1978): "I was very pissed off at the way The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was going. I told Pete so and he said; 'I don't give a fuck'…" Steve was even made the scapegoat for the original tour's cancellation …. "Peter did an interview in which he said in so many words; 'We've had to cancel the tour - Steve goes out and gets a little drunk, and look what happens!' he was prepared to make me a scapegoat. My credibility was on the line, so I went to America and played the tour - with my arm in a sling…"
(Phil: Melody Maker 26th October 1974): "Sure all of Peter's press bothers us because we're an equally spread band. And it brings us down that people often can't see beyond the superficial thing of Peter wearing funny masks…. People seem to forget about the fact that all of us write music and all of us write lyrics. What annoys us intensely is when people come backstage after a gig, ignore everybody and go up to Peter and say; 'amazing show man, really dug it, your music's fantastic'…"
Here are the comments from Peter to which Steve alludes and which originally appeared in the 26th October 1974 edition of Sounds under a feature titled: "The New Face Of Gabriel" draw your own conclusions from all of these comments. It is interesting to observe, however, that both Phil and Peter's comments are from the same date but for SEPARATE publications!
"It's a real drag. Steve Hackett had his hand stitched up yesterday, but he should be able to play again in about three weeks. What happened? He crushed a wine glass in his hand. It was an incredibly stupid thing. And it happened at the most important time…. We are left in a sticky situation, apart from anything else, we've lost all the money deposited on the halls. I think the rest of us will have to go and busk outside other people's concerts…"
It does seem strange that Peter was the one who complained about the band's treatment of him during his problems with the birth of his first daughter and yet he himself paid no attention to the problems that Steve was going through at this time with the failure of his first marriage and a young child; his son Oliver an innocent victim of the marital fall-out.
Maybe this particular "skeleton" would have been better off left in the closet (or wardrobe) but it does serve to remove some of the aura which surrounds Peter's behaviour where this project is concerned.
Putting the internal band politics aside, I have no such illusions about Peter or his part in Genesis' story. I didn’t hear Genesis for the first time until 1976 by which time the ghost of Peter Gabriel had already been exorcised somewhat by the success of the band's follow up album: A Trick Of The Tail. Nonetheless, I shall try and look at this album in as practical a manner as possible.
|Given that the original intention behind the album was to inject a leavening of realism into the band's ethic, the resulting work is without doubt, their most dense and on occasions impenetrably obscure album. It is ironic that an English band took as their hero a character so far removed not only from their own personal experiences but also their own country. Therefore when Gabriel sings about "Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid" the lyric lacks any real sense of conviction. How can it? Gabriel has no REAL (pun intended) reference point from which to work - here he is; an ex-public school boy trying to portray a character from a world so alien to him that it might as well be the moon! However, to counterbalance that, as Gabriel pointed out at the time; the choice of character was a deliberate one to avoid the criticism that had previously been aimed at the band for being "arty farty" and not having the courage to deal with REAL subjects and REAL characters. So, rather than try and write about a down to earth English character about whom "Public Schoolboys" like Genesis (despite the fact that Phil and Steve were "mere" Grammar School boys) were not supposed to have any inkling; Peter chose a down to earth American character instead. Sadly, the ploy still failed and the critics in large part savaged the album and the reviews for the shows were mixed at best.|
As an essay in overindulgence, The Lamb… certainly takes some beating. What many fans and indeed, some band members have referred to as "experiments" I would prefer to call "padding". There is much to recommend this album to the listener; the glorious title track for starters. The truly awesome In The Cage which does manage to evoke a real sense of panic and claustrophobia. Steve's guitar playing on Hairless Heart and the playful nature of what was ironically enough one of the "throwaway" tracks Carpet Crawlers serve to show that the band's sense of humour is still alive - and believe me, humour is something which is in VERY short supply on this album!
The work is obviously a deeply personal one to Gabriel and therein lies my major problem with the album as a whole. The story is SO personal, that it makes it almost impossible for any outsider to really understand it. It is interesting to see that this is the only Genesis album which comes complete with its own pseudo explanation of the story as part of the packaging! A tacit admission that the story will be beyond the comprehension of many of its intended audience, perhaps? Many of the episodes that take place, especially on the third and fourth sides of the album are almost directly lifted from the works of the likes of Jung and Freud and as such do not really sit comfortably within what is, after all an album of Rock and Roll!
Set in the context of its time, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is one of the major monuments to everything that Punk eschewed and everything that Progressive Rock aspired to. It is obscure; pretentious and extremely long-winded and yet when it works it creates a fire that can seldom (if ever) be matched by the purveyors of the three chord trick which followed it.
Personally, I have never subscribed to the cult that reveres either Peter Gabriel
as a person or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway as an album. To me, this album
serves as an exercise in what happens when you allow one member of a band to
indulge themselves without hindrance or protest. I don't blame Peter for that
either; in fact I blame the rest of the band for not standing up for themselves
more at the time. Either way, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is one of those
irritating albums that aspires to the heights of greatness but which sadly only
reaches them in patches; rather like a beautifully decorated layer cake which
on closer perusal has little solid content. The live performances, heavy on
visual effects and theatrical gimmicks must have been astonishing if their latter
day recreation by The Musical Box is anything to go by but all the gimmicks
in the world cannot hide the fact that for all its pretensions; The Lamb Lies
Down On Broadway is severely lacking in the quality music department.