Calling All Stations - The album track by track… by Alan Hewitt.
To say that there was a LOT riding on this album at the time is an understatement and my thoughts about what it might be like were mixed at best in the lead up to its release.
Calling All Stations itself convinced me that the band were still a creative force to be reckoned with. A darker, harder edged song carrying an impassioned vocal by Ray brought out the band's Rock credentials again after the perceived "poppier" slant of the preceding couple of albums - an excellent opener.
Releasing Congo as the first single from the album was a big mistake as far as I am concerned. This is far too quirky a song for the average punter. An infectious riff certainly but a song which doesn't really grab me I'm afraid.
Shipwrecked definitely owes something to Ray's time in Stiltskin. Another harder edged track still driven by Tony's unmistakable keyboard phrases. Not everyone's favourite I know, but an infinitely more palatable choice as a single to its predecessor.
The band had said that they wanted to return to the darker, more dramatic style of music which they were justly famed for and with Alien Afternoon they did exactly that. An extremely dark track; full of menace and portent, a definite hark-back to the epics of old and another favourite of mine.
Not About Us, certainly proved that the writing of quality ballads wasn't merely Phil's strongpoint. This is a marvellous track with excellent performances by Mike on acoustic guitar for a change and a brilliant vocal delivery from Ray as well. I am sure that had this been released instead of Congo it would have done far better in the charts than it eventually did, a definite favourite and a great part of the "acoustic set" on the subsequent tour.
If That's What You Need is another dramatic and poignant performance. Another impassioned vocal delivery over Tony's lush keyboard chords makes this a vintage slice of Genesis and I love it.
The Dividing Line is, perhaps a reflection of the band's own feelings on their current situation. The "dividing line" had definitely been crossed as far as many fans were concerned. Another dramatic track and one which gave full rein to the band's playing powers and to Ray's vocal talents.
Uncertain Weather is another song which could be viewed as an extended metaphor for the band's situation too. Ray's downbeat vocal and the understated, somewhat muted performances from both Mike and Tony leave me wondering exactly what was going through their minds when they wrote this number?
Small Talk too is almost certainly a back handed comment about the situation that Ray found himself in. Unfairly vilified as the guy who DARED to replace Phil Collins, scant respect was shown to Ray at the time or indeed since. If this is the band's musical two-fingered gesture at the critics, then good on 'em!
There Must Be Some Other Way is another marvellous rock track. Ray's fervent vocal delivery and the backing from Mike, Tony and Nir makes this another highlight and one which really took off in the live show.
Rounding the album off is One Man's Fool, and for me this is the only track that doesn't really fit. The sentiment behind the lyric is all well and good but the song itself comes across as extremely trite and contrived.
Any Genesis album is only as good as the bits that get left behind and if the tracks that ended up as B Sides are anything to go by, the band certainly had no shortage of ideas. In fact, as far as I am concerned, several of the tracks which emerged on the subsequent CD singles should have had a place on the album itself. Phret and 7/8 the two instrumental tracks are absolutely lovely. I agree with Ray's assessment of Banjo Man; a track better left forgotten. The remaining tracks; Anything Now, Sign Your Life Away and Run Out Of Time are intriguing. Sign Your Life Away is a particularly bitter swipe at the vagaries of the record industry; maybe that is why it was relegated to a B Side, I don't know. Then there is the vexed question of Nowhere Else To Turn which remains unreleased although it has appeared on several bootlegs. The quality of these tracks proves to me at least that Genesis were far from out of ideas during this period.
Calling All Stations is by no stretch of the imagination, the best Genesis
album ever but neither does it deserve the unmitigated panning it has received
from most quarters either. There was never any way that Ray was going to come
in and achieve Phil's success overnight. The fact that he gave the job 110%
and delivered an accomplished album is something that he should be justly proud
of - Mike and Tony should be proud of themselves too although they should hang
their heads in shame for surrendering so abjectly to the vagaries of record
company and the carping mediocrity of ill-informed fair-weather "fans".
The album remains one of my top five Genesis albums, and the subsequent tour
remains the most enjoyable by the band that I ever experienced and that is something
I never expected to say at the time!