Friday, April 15, 2005

Off With Their Heads!!

Genesis - The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging

Without realising it, I've been drifting into Wonderland over the last few weeks. I bought a copy of Surrealist Games, published by Atlas Press a decade ago. I lent my original copy out and it never returned, so it was good to see it again. Alice was a key text for Surrealism, a thing full of the wonder and invention they aspired to in their game playing, which for a while at least was as creative as their poetry and art.

Then after years of procrastination I got around to ordering Randy Grief’s “Alice” box set from, purveyors of all kinds of strange and interesting things. Five cds, five years in the making, epic and twisted, reckoned to be massively psychedelic. What the hell, you live once. It's on the way from the USA, so expect a report in the near future.

And then what sneaked up on me in the HMV sale but another retelling of the Alice story, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis. Now I hadn't heard this for a good 15 years or more, but the contrariness of it had always appealed. Prior to this album, Genesis were happy to give us songs about little girls playing croquet with heads and restaurant owners threatening to commit suicide, but there was a constant pastoral strain within the music that softened the macabre subject matter. Selling England By The Pound, released just before Lamb Lies Down, is a warm, beautifully produced record. Regardless of whether you like the music, they were massively successful within their remit. But it couldn't go on, and it didn't.

Lamb Lies Down was Peter Gabriel's last album with the band. At the time, he seemed more interested in working on scripts with William Friedkin, the man who brought us "The Exorcist". But the album got underway, defined by Gabriel’s story of a New York hoodlum who drifts into some nether world, passing though a series of episodes that echo Alice.

Adieu to Old England, with your lush green fields. There's no room for the pastoral in New York. The rich sound is gone, replaced by something deliberately synthetic. And the vocal is constantly shifting, buzzing, echoed. It’s worth pointing out that Brian Eno was on board, too, applying what is called "Enossification". You can tell.

The story doesn't work, they cried. How could it? But you get the feeling that Gabriel was actually saying, "Why should it?" The dark nonsense of the content had seeped out into the structure, threatening collapse. Let it go, let it go.

Yes, the album is flawed. It's a double, and the conceit is spread too thin. But it certainly works better than that other last gasp gatefold folly, "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle". And "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging" shows them yielding results that sounds like nothing they did before or after that point. Pokey keyboard, waspy vocals, building into a clockwork dusty room soul strut straight into the nearest wall and topped off with a mutant choir giving it their all. Then it’s gone. Now get back in your boxes, you freaks.

What happened? Gabriel left. His 1977 solo debut kicked off with "Moribund The Burgermeister", which sounded like a postscript of The Lamb. Despite the presence of "Solisbury Hill", it’s a nervy album.

Genesis retreated back to the pastoral with "A Trick of The Tail" and "Wind & Wuthering", trying to ignore the clatter of McLaren and his oiks outside.

There is no future in England’s dreaming…

Buy - Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Buy - A Book of Surrealist Games
Visit - Top notch info on recording the album, and more
Visit - Strange Fortune


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