Best for: Rainy Days, Hours Long Music Sessions, While Reading, Long Car Rides, Evening Listening. Outstanding Track: Turn It On Again.
Written By: Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks
Producer: David Hentschel / Genesis
Released: March 1980
1. Behind the Lines (Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford)
2. Duchess (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
3. Guide Vocal (Banks)
4. Man of Our Times (Rutherford)
5. Misunderstanding (Collins)
6. Heathaze (Banks)
7. Turn It On Again (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
8. Alone Tonight (Rutherford)
9. Cul-de-sac (Banks)
10. Please Don't Ask (Collins)
11. Duke's Travels (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
12. Duke's End (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
Phil Collins: drums, piano, synth, percussion, etc
Guitar – Mike Rutherford
Synths - Tony Banks
Here is where the 80's start for gold old middle of the road rock music. Genesis' crossover from prog to pop paved the way for every intellectual 70's band in need of a way forward toward the golden palace of the Billboard Himlayas (even as the air seemed to be getting thinner in the Reagan, punk and post-disco era). Somehow, this alchemy of old and new yielded the best work of their career if not the top seller. Yet fresh from their emergence from the chrysalis, the formula gave them wings which would take them solidly into the next decade, one devoted to big walloping drum beats and hit-making prowess. While the band would drown in its own sound by the 90's, their story is in some ways a cipher that allows you to decode both the best and worst of the 1980's decade. And the Rosetta Stone of their success is the album Duke.
Leaving behind the ponderous for the pounding, the symphonic for the compact, and the baroque mystical for the human heart-break of Phil Collins' love-life, Duke managed to produce a hybrid of rock and pop that made the most of both genres. Without a doubt, both Patrick Bateman and I agree: the band went pro and shed their skin; beneath was a gleaming pop rock machine.
On Duke, the band sounds like it has found itself as a pop group as well as a rock group simultaneously.The alchemy is already swirling in the retort and it has distilled its essence. Something has changed, something has clicked into place.
For one thing, they were only a triumvirate. Since there were only three of them, the solos and arrangements were shortened, made more essential. The band is tightening up on their game one more notch in order to play in the A leagues. The harmonic thrusts of the songs on Duke are now supplied by the vocals or a single synth or guitar line instead of a bank of them. The focus works. Duke is without a doubt the finest album by Genesis. They lyrics are empathetic, the faint libretto touching. Thirty five years later, the sonic palate still works and the production still pops and sparkles.
This new Genesis 2.0 confidently makes their bold declaration with the singleTurn It On Again. It starts with Phil's yelps and an insistent beat under an overture keynote. Then it builds energy. And builds. And builds, until you sense its relentlessness. This is a band which wants to get over with a kind of total commitment to success, taking it all back to the basics as a statement of first principles. This is a band, here is their riff. The keys invoke Genesis' soon to be signature chorused electric piano tone, and we're off! The band demands we turn their music on, again and again… and we certainly will in the coming years. Then there's that impassioned "I...I... get so lonely" hook! And were hooked.
Duke works so well because it is basically Story #1 (out of four total) of Phil's breakup on record, and yet it has a pop gloss only hinted at before: the woo-ooh-oohs and falsettos of Misunderstanding, the repeated refrains of Turn It On Again. It also has other sounds Phil would choose to use over and over in the coming years, including the Roland 808 drum riffs and the pounding roto-tom drum fills.
The album featured smart short songs and clever transitions to make it seem longer and more conceptual that it is. Consider the excellent transition from the same patterned rock drums to the Roland 808 sound that bridges Behind the Lines to Duchess. Even though it has a suite like old Genesis might, the song isn't allowed to meander even as it fleshes out the harmonic possibilities of their new sound slowly but mesmerizingly. There were frequently soaring and yet anguished vocals from Phil Collins, such as the arresting hallelujahs of the Man of Our Times chorus.
The album Duke thus provided Genesis (and perhaps the entire decade's music business) a bridge from the prog rock era to the 80's pop era, with its streamlined instrumental and melodic grace, while still offering synth textures and expanded arrangements to please the fan base. It was as perfect as a Genesis album could be, and is indeed their best work. (The concurrently written songs from this era which adopt the style are often the best of their hidden jems as well and could make an album called Face Valley or AbaDuke). Though Abacab indeed owns their single best song and could have been a contender, that album has a few clunkers that send it skidding into a lower slot in the race car derby of Genesis albums/
The feint at a libretto for Duke is the story of a pop star undergoing an existential crisis. By this time in his career, Phil is already strategically standing in the rain for hours, a nebbish with whom we can empathize and identify. He sees the other man just leaving and he's willing to call it a misunderstanding if he can maintain the ideal of fidelity.
So, sure, he was a white bread chump and boring from the start. I'm telling you, that was his charm. He wasn't a snake with a bulge in his pants or a disco dealer or a gender-bent flirt, he was an everyman with a receding hairline who just wanted reciprocity. He was real, and tender and sensitive.
This was the model of 80's post feminism masculinity that seemed to make sense to most thinking people who were not seduced by the misogyny of metal. He was chivalric and when he got burned he got back at you on record, not with his fists. He was an artist. He couldn't help but pour his pain into a microphone and pluck at the piano keys and pound at the skins.
He faced you, pockmarks and all, directly, and asked you to take him at it. And he was a hell of a drummer in a band that now had its eyes on the prize. He was a driven man now. He would make her regret leaving him. No wonder the album was about a musician evaluating his place in the world too! So was Phil, and the answer was to prove that success was indeed the best revenge.
Bottom line, it is that emotional thrust which explains Phil Collin's phenomenal rise to the top of the world's charts. Humans know when someone is telling the truth. It's in the tremor of the tone, the weep behind the words, the tears stayed with a kind of tightening of the stomach. There is what is held back, and then there is that little reflexive inhalation of air; finally it gushes forth like a torrent.
It was his real-life heartbreak which was making his voice crack with that emotion. He was bare, broken, sometimes afraid, sometimes naked on record, confessing his utter abandonment to pathology in every inflection. It hurt, and you could hear it. Like anybody, he would call and call on the phone to the person who represented his whole world. When no one answered, he burned even hotter to communicate.
That desire to communicate and meld pop to rock's depth would be one of the major themes of 80's Genesis, and the album Abacab would further it. Yet good as that following album is, it lacks the resonant libretto dimensions and extended melodic mastery of Duke. Thus, this album represents the high water mark for the band creatively if not commercially.