Best for: Cleaning the House, Pop Radio, Exploring a Catalog, Jamming In the Car, Air Drums, Daytime Listening.
Outstanding Track: Mama (Rating: 80).
Written By: Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks
Recorded: Summer 1983
Released: September 1983
2. That's All
3. Home by the Sea
4. Second Home by the Sea
1. Illegal Alien
2. Taking It All Too Hard
3. Just a Job to Do
4. Silver Rainbow
5. It's Gonna Get Better
Phil Collins: Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford: Guitar, Bass
Tony Banks - Synth
On their eponymous 1983 LP, machine Genesis 2.0 sheds its human skin and reveals the metallic gleam beneath, with laser eyes focused on the pop stardom prize and a hydraulic power-grip on the charts. It's also the beginning of their slow decline even as they ascended to higher heights in terms of sales. The child-like shapes on the cover of the album tell you all you need to know about the simplified and streamlined music inside.
The cha-chink sound that starts the mechanical Mama might as well have been a cash register, though the song itself is the single most intense and worthwhile song on the album. Despite the fact that it's only about a guy wanting to get a blow job from a prostitute, reading the song as an impassioned plea from a fetus makes more dramatic sense. The signature big giant drum beat hits just right and we have I Don't Care Any Mama going in a stew of dry Phil vocals and eerie synth pads.
After that the album becomes pop radio pablum for the most part. The drums have an electro-verb splash or wallop that was a sign of those times: overproduced and life-less because the volume nuance between hits is either non-existent (samples) or drowned in that gated reverb sound of the 80s that Phil himself spawned.
Many of these songs are that AM radio mom jeans sound and totally pleasant, hummable, and charming in their modest way. The tracks That's All, Home By The Sea, Taking It All Too Hard, and Gonna Get Better could echo around just about any grocery store or JP Penny's PA system.
Those hits became radio staples, sure, but they were weightless and might just blow away in the breezes of time. Phil's mastery of the nursery rhyme is admirable but, I mean, absolutely no one says, "Damn, put on 'That's All' just one more time, that's my jam! A little do do do do jaunty wobbly chorused-up guitar just makes me want to stroll down the promenade with my head held high!"
(No, the rappers on Phil's jock don't say that. They just cop his beats and some of his better hooks sometimes, I'm told).
On the rock music side of things, Home by the Sea is a perfect example why this music has its limits. The song has a funky synth bass and decent vocal melody, sure, but this Sea also has some crashing electro drums plus a funky guitar filtered through something that sucks all the soul out. Additionally, often in this 80's period of Genesis the synth patches Banks uses are just so boring or toy bell-chime ridden they make me wince. Over more than seven minutes, several almost interesting melodic thrusts in a faux extended prog-rock jam go nowhere after taking too long to develop.
Prog-pop means simplify simplify! The song is a decent rock song with whistling sounds and a good groove and short break in spots, but the problem with it is that it doesn't reward repeated listens. The first couple of listens are the best, and then it's diminishing returns. You start to wonder when it develops depth rather than remain all surface. When will the harmonic ideas flourish into more complex forms at the climax? It never really happens. You start to think it's almost like a guy fucking demoing every single one of the new patches on a synth he just bought one by one over a few minutes, though it finally rises to a Genesis style horn synth-chorus several times. A guitar solo within an annoying falling bomb synth effect is short enough that mercifully returns us to the song proper. When all is said and done, we haven't really gone anywhere for too long. It's tuneful in many ways, but like Domino on their next album, it's faux old-style Genesis. Fewer calories, golden in an iced glass, yet less filling.
While the That's All piano melody is just pop hit perfection in the model of McCartney, including the more gruff second verse, etc, and while Taking it All Too Hard has some classic Phil verses, they both dull the listener into submission by the end. Ohhh, noo noo, crows the backup vocal track, and we agree. Too Hard would have been better as a solo piano or Duke track without the over-chorused Wurli and the electro hi hat sound all the way through, for example. Nonetheless, Hard is the album's second best song as it offers an interesting movement from verse to chorus.
Even worse, several songs on Genesis out and out insult the listener. Every single artist who has ever managed to stick their necks above the sands of time just laughs and blows a fart in the general direction of the uber-catchy excrements of Illegal Alien and the TV cop show theme song Just a Job To Do. That stuff just dries up and melts back into the soil like silt from a ruptured septic. A Job is a kind of disposable guilty pleasure given its attempt at a fuzz synth riff and funky guitar chorus fills, but let's be honest. Selling records-- that was Phil's real job, and he did it well by dumbing it all down a notch.
Phil Collins and Genesis would produce more hits and several more decent songs and listenable albums, but they would never be able to sound like anything but a pop rock machine for the rest of their careers.