Best for: Cleaning the House, Pop Radio, Jamming In the Car, Air Drums, Daytime Listening. Outstanding Track: Land of Confusion
Written By: Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks
Recorded: Summer 1986
Released: September 1986
1. Invisible Touch
2. Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
3. Land of Confusion
4. In Too Deep
1. Anything She Does
2. Domino (In the Glow of the Night/The Last Domino)
3. Throwing It All Away
4. The Brazilian
Phil Collins: Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford: Guitar, Bass
Tony Banks - Synth
Slightly better than the last album (but still endemic of one of the problems with 1980's rock), Invisible Touch gave Genesis another monster radio hit even as its popularity was sewing the seeds of the band's demise. It manages to pull in the direction of less pop and more rock (a relief after the album that gave us Illegal Alien) but it's still all about radio hits. Perhaps by 1986 Phil wanted to wade across the river back to the streams of modern rock instead of all those RnB pools of tears he'd been paddling around in since 1984 and No Jacket Required. Still, you can't change horses mid-stream and Phil Collins would be stuck floundering in the less challenging pop shoals for the rest of his life.
Invisible Touch is proof of that truism of public taste which has doomed more than one pop hero over the last century: first they love you, then they love to hate you when you give them what they want. Full of hooks, big electronic drum production and large amounts of farm-grade fertilizer, the album is like a big shiny red bell pepper done in aluminum by Koons: impressive due to the good lighting in the display case but empty on the inside. It sells well and then gets put in storage while they drag out the formaldehyde shark or something that will get the kids interested.
Tonight Tonight Tonight is a good example of that. If you got a hook, why not reel the fish in with the pop polish of repetitive repetition? The song is a little like Mama with it's use of another short sample of a beep boop noise, but it is a little more more rock and less industrial. Still, even the title there is a warning. It's a beer commercial full of lyrics like, "I got some money in my pocket/Don't know where I got it/Got to get it to you." But why? Who? To buy more Michelob Light for the people attending your well-lit penthouse party TV ad shindig? The hook impossible to resist, but like that kind of beer, it's less filling.
Factly, I remember when my friend Lance bought this album and brought it over to my house for the first listen back in 1986. That divebomb guitar accent and the line "I'm comin down like a monkey" jumped out of the speakers and we knew: Phil Colllins had done it again. Another soaring hook, another top 40 radio hit.
Yet, in retrospect, it lacks depth. There is an attempt at a breakdown on "TTT" which sounds a little like lunch-hour at the Manchester steam-whistle fabrication plant #2 in order to make the song prog-pop, but it is brief. (This was the 80s, when anything sounding quantized and clangy or synthy was supposed to be futuristic). Soon, the tune returns to its endless call for some kind of making things right somewhere for somebody (one of Phil's favorite vague themes and the touchstone of the timbre of vocal angst he is able to tap). Ultimately, though, it seems like he's upset over nothing. Just use Western Union, dude.
At least the drums on Invisible Touch have more expression than the last album's lifeless overgated trash can clap smacks. Phil opts for just as much short verb but it sounds like he's using live snares with a distant but satisfying tight drumhead thwack which at least allows for some volume expression and variety.
The song Touch itself is again another harbinger of what Phil's really up to in this point of his career. He's the one who wants the touch of being able to write hit after hit. (Peter Gabriel had the touch for only one or two albums, in contrast to Phil's decade-long deal with the devil). It seems that Mr. Collins himself would like the the built-in ability to break every sales record he sees. Reach right in and grab right hold of your wallet! And he can, and he does.
Thankfully, Land of Confusion offers lyrics pertinent to something, and the video was a fun knockout satire that kept them in the public eye in the era of MTV. The roaring guitar work and chug a chug ARP bass are interesting rock textures. Plus, of course, the song has hook after hook.
Many of these songs are that AM radio mom jeans sound and totally pleasant, hummable, and charming in their modest way. The tracks Throwin It All Away and In Too Deep could echo around just about any grocery store or JP Penny's PA system. They're radio staples, sure, but they're weightless and might just blow away in the breezes of time. Did I write that exact thing in my review of Genesis - Genesis? Yes, yes I also did. It's tempting to call the album Invisible Douche for that reason, it's got such a lightweight quality in some spots.
On the rock music side of things, Domino is slightly harder and more imaginative arrangement-wise than Home By The Sea on the previous album. It's perhaps Genesis' last decent prog rock song, simplified but satisfying given the gentle three-note guitar tapping lead line underpinning several decent Collins' melodies and hooks. I was going to write it off as worse than Sea until I saw the live version and realized how much skill they put into arranging the several disparate sections quite expertly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIa3r12oCo8
The song sounds faintly like old style Genesis to start but the synth patches are again underwhelming and smack of the 1980's fascination with wimpy samples of all kinds. Banks chooses those de-riguer for the 80's (post Peter Gabriel's So) bottle-blow or shakuhachi patches which have some expression in the right places but also date the song. The breakdown lovesong part (In the Glow of The Night "we held each other") is a nice interlude but then the second half of the song rolls out bloody but vague lyrics (it's about Beirut, apparently) and a quantized rhythm track which becomes less interesting the more it goes on. The song concludes with a big chorus about being the "next in line" and you realize that this Phil Collins' senior thesis song: rolling up all his romantic and political concerns into one flat piece of dough with the hopes that it will rise together into ambrosia. Yet, in the end, exactly what is the song trying to say? That bad lovers lead to bad politics when the big players push you around? Perhaps, but it's vague. This is why Genesis was a pop band in the 1980s: they tease some serious flavors but in the end they boil everything down and still call it a banger and mash. The rock aspects show the band at least trying to remind themselves who they once were but in the end it's all electro-pop now, boys.
The Brazilian is a fun little poly-rhythm tune though it has the life quantized out of it. (Compare that to Droned/Hand in Hand on Phil's first solo album, a similar style with much more life to it). The triple octave synth lead is a good melody but of course like much of this album its hits you over the head. Meanwhile, Anything She Does must have been a leftover RnB tune from No Jacket. It offers nothing worth repeated listens beyond the title hook and the horn-guitar call and response idea of the introduction.
All in all, this album is actually even pretty short, with only 8 songs total, but most of them got airplay as singles. Genesis would basically stop producing hits and decent albums after this one and Phil's solo career would lose momentum as well. As a swan song, it is near but not their very best work. Still, it does demonstrate all the reasons why their 80's music was so successful and yet so ingratiating in so many ways. To that degree, the rise of authentic Genesis, the success of pop Genesis, and the fall of machine pop Genesis reflects the trajectory of the 1980's as well in America: too much gloss, reverb, electronics and professionalism which almost drowns out the humanity.
It's a story of the 1970's attempts at authenticity giving way to polarization, the prioritization of plastic consumption, popular pablum, and the ascendancy of prosperity ethics in Reagan's America. In other words, the beginning of the end for the world as well as for Genesis.