As a teenager I was completely captivated by the music the English sympho band Genesis made in the 70s. Their albums at the time had a huge attraction to me, it was almost absurd. What a spell that was, extraordinary. Those tinkling 12-string acoustic guitars, that pastoral yet voluptuous organ playing, that idiosyncratic lyrical guitar work, those expressive vocals and the swirling drumming have set the standard for me. After that, this beauty has never been surpassed as far as I’m concerned, not even by the band itself. The 70s and Genesis, wow. I am glad I consciously experienced that period and so I have some justification for my enthusiasm.
I have to admit with my hand on my heart that “Selling England By The Pound” is the pinnacle of the Genesis oeuvre for me. What am I saying? In my collection you will not find a pearl that shines more. The reason for this is actually very simple: the album shows a surplus of magical moments that are in turn wonderfully strung together.
Can you tell me where my country lies? sings Peter Gabriel a cappella at the beginning of opening track Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. The role play present throughout the album starts and while you get to know the Queen of Maybe, subtle acoustic guitars and lyrical licks of the electric six string take you into the album. The piano blends into the music and the drums also make assert themselves. Guitarist Steve Hackett gives free rein to his creativity and comes up with some remarkable riffs that sound beautifully together with Tony Banks’ Mellotron. You don’t often hear the instrument so monumental and the fat old lady outside the saloon will be happy with herself forever. The song has a dreamy ending and that is a proper transition to the next song.
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) is the first single with which Genesis entered the charts. The number, floating on the psychedelic sounds of an electric sitar and the necessary hand percussion, only reached 21st place in the United Kingdom. I don’t think it’s a misser and can therefore understand that the guys from Genesis wanted a lighter track on the album. From that time on, the song was always on the set list during concerts where it was expanded into a steaming medley. Enough about the song, on to the third composition of the album.
The piano intro of Firth Of Fifth is that wonderful you can hardly imagine the band can get over this and yet it happens. The middle section with its largo organ chords is magnificent, the ideal background for Gabriel to add a visual text to the song with his beautiful voice. Firth Of Fifth is full of dynamic variety. Very beautiful is the passage with the flute that ends in an euphoric keyboard theme. And then? And then? Then Hackett plays a guitar solo which is so lyrical and melodic the song gets something heavenly, an indescribable feeling.
The A-side of the LP closes with More Fool Me, sung by Phil Collins. We here disrespectfully said a campfire song, but the combination of Mike Rutherford on acoustic guitar and Collins’ inspired voice makes it a sparkling miniature.
When we have turned the record over, it appears Genesis just continues to produce quality music. The B-side is dominated by two epics, each almost twelve minutes long. The Battle Of Epping Forest puts you in a forest where two rival gangs meet for a fighting game. However, Gabriel could not find any documentation about this and wrote a fictitious text. The many rhyming words and types result in a writing that appeals to the imagination. This results in a song that is full of tempo and mood changes and therefore comes across as a bit like a musical comic book. It is a very entertaining song where the performances of Bob the Nob, Nick the Prick, Harold Demure and many others are wonderfully supported by a multitude of mainly organ sounds.
The greatest degree of symphonic indulgence can be found in The Cinema Show. Beautiful 12-string guitars are accompanied by flute and oboe in a goosebumps way and arm yourself because your skin is going to have a heavy time. For more than four minutes Tony Banks appears to be having the time of his life behind his ARP Pro Soloist. This solo mainly has to rely of its taste and it saves a lot that the rhythmic support is done by the great Phil Collins. The two push each other to great heights and meanwhile the 7/8th rhythm rumbles on. Phenomenal prog, you won’t get better if you’re a keyboard liker.
With Hackett on board, guitar enthusiasts can also enjoy “Selling England By The Pound” a lot, although the album falls into the category of keyboard dominated sympho. A very nice song is the instrumental After The Ordeal, which is a nice place for Hackett to show himself between the two epics. He plays the first part on the nylon guitar, or the classical, after which he continues on the electric. In this Hackettian moment, his feeling for the note comes to the fore.
The album closes with Aisle Of Plenty, a short reprise of a chord sequence from Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, but with different lyrics. The circle is round. Lovit.
The album is conceptual and deals with the decline of English folk culture and an increase in Americanization. Some find it all rather arty varty, but I speak for many when I say that behind the typical English cover painting of Betty Swanwick there is a more than brilliant album.
© Dick van der Heijde 2022