Best for: Doing the Dishes, Deep Listening Sessions, Cleaning the House, Long Rides on Public Transportation, Jamming In the Car, Relaxing. Outstanding Track: No Reply At All.
Written By: Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks
Recorded: Summer 1981
Released: September 1981
1. Abacab (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
2. No Reply at All (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
3. Me and Sarah Jane (Banks)
4. Keep It Dark (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
5. Dodo/Lurker (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
6. Who Dunnit? (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
7. Man on the Corner (Collins)
8. Like It or Not (Rutherford)
9. Another Record (Banks, Collins, Rutherford)
Phil Collins: drums, piano, synth, percussion, etc
Guitar – Mike Rutherford
Synths - Tony Banks
This album is the Genesis trio at the top of their game. It could have been their best album (but for a few clunkers) because it contains their single best song and many of their most compelling tracks ever. Even the fact that they are now producing themselves (with the help of masterful Hugh Padgham) illustrates their newfound confidence in their sound.
Still, it gets a lower grade than Duke because songs like Who Dunnit? jar the listener out of their enjoyable reverie and remind you that there isn't really any conceptual thrust to the album. Nonetheless, with Abacab it's clear that Genesis' gleaming pop rock machine is now oiled up and starting to roll its first flagship models down the line.
No doubt, No Reply At All with its surprisingly easy to integrate RnB horns and odd jittery guitar riff, combined with its valentine candy heart center, makes it the band's best of all time, an alchemy of all their strengths in one tune. Meanwhile, even more than Duke's electric piano sound, this song shows they had already drawn up the blueprint designed to show how Genesis could melt up into pop superstars playing uptempo accessible fluff if asked to.
Hence, this is also the band's zenith. While other albums had bigger selling hits, and while Phil's solo career would produce music of the same caliber or better, Genesis itself became a prisoner of its own success and became more and more ersatz as time went on even as it was able to often achieve greater sales stats. It was really only downhill on a gentle slope from here, like a bikeride in the park on the way back home from lunch.
On Abacab they're still in it for the music, tho, so the title track is a jam that keeps it simple stupid with its sawing synths while still stretching out some in the end in a pleasing way that shows the band communicating within and without a rubbery guitar solo coda.
Me and Sara Jane sounds like an outtake from Face Value given its storytelling lyrics, but the songwriting credit goes to Banks only. Nonetheless, it has a slow beginning which then pops into a nice chorus. It is reminiscent of a lot of the songs on Duke as well but fits the Abacab album well due to its uptempo arrangement.
Keep It Dark, however, is one of the songs that grates on my nerves a little. Not like Who Dunnit (a total throwaway) but though the fat synth stabs are interesting and the post-chorus breakdown is ok, it has that kind of winking perv Benny Hill English humor vibe to it. Following a tale of earnest childhood love, it's jarring.
Dodo/Lurker is another suite-like track that was originally part of something larger, apparently. The song has a funky bubbling drum thrust and some urgent sounding vocals, but Dodo elicits a tad less sympathy than Duke-o because Duke was a real person and Dodo is what, a bird? Even Phil does not know where he goes or what he really does. Like the crime at the heart of the dismal Who Dunnit, Phil is shadowboxing with his heartbreak here rather than confronting the crimes head-on, and it becomes circumspect. The 8 bar breakdown with the odd synth line doesn't help explain things either, only complicates without discernible cause. Thus, despite the interesting guitar pluck section, a decent chorus and an interesting loopy Banks solo, it is not as strong a piece as Duke's Travels.
Still, It does entertain with Genesis' newfound mastery of the single synth line carrying a whole song rather than trying to orchestrate a mini symphony every time, which is a relief. It's somehow more accessible and less accessible than many of Duke's more melodically rich songs, capturing the new Genesis (while leaving off Naminanu and other strong tracks because they don't fit this new machine mold).
Then of course, the 808 sound finally makes a strong appearance in the form of Man on The Corner, a dry run for the big drum ending of Face Value and was another breakout single that allowed Phil to capture the sound as their signature, a little shaft of modern electronica light emanating from the mostly rock prism.
The last two songs Like It Or Not and Another Record close the album out fairly strong but they are not necessarily top shelf tracks. Like it or Not has the vocal yearning of Duke but it sounds like a rock song instead of a pop song due to the tempo and the self-pitying lyrics. (He doesn't recognize her, she just's another face, but why doesn't she come back anyway? Wow, talk about passive aggressive). Another Record starts as a meandering Duke outtake, has a moment of pop piano, and then devolves into a drum workout for Phil without extending either of the previous melodic ideas much. The vocals are a little histrionic for the less interesting lyrical thrust but they "work" much as most of the music Genesis will produce in the next decade does because by by this point in his career Phil is a master and Genesis has become the tuned and toned popular music machine we all know and hate today.