Sunday, December 20, 2009

Genesis -- "Mad Man Moon" (1976)

Although a number of albums made a huge and lasting impression on me during my four years at SUNY at Buffalo, one of the records that hit the hardest was Genesis' A Trick Of The Tail.

I certainly enjoyed my share of 70's heyday prog rock from Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but this was the first one that really cut to me emotionally. I was not a particular Genesis fan entering college, and about the only song I knew from the band was "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway."

What I was just discovering was that Buffalo was a city with musical tastes all its own, and living there, you couldn't help being widely exposed to artists that were not even registering a blip elsewhere. This was a Midwestern blue collar city by Lake Erie that happened to be located on the northwest corner of New York State, just a Peace Bridge ride to Canada and Toronto.

Much like Washington D.C. adopted Little Feat and Baltimore took in Crack The Sky, Buffalo was a Genesis city.

Although the release of A Trick of The Tail didn't even register with me, the album was soon blasting loudly through the UB dormitories, and when spring came, out the windows as often as Peter Frampton Comes Alive.

I succumbed to the incredibly melodic snapshots, sweeping Melotron strings, Steve Hackett's acoustic guitar arpeggios and ringing chords, and Phil Collins' numerous ripping drums. Each song was its own little story, with the characters illustrated on the front and back covers of the album: a nurse sedating her patient ("Entangled"), a hunter seeking a mythical creature that turns into a "pool of tears" ("Squonk"), a thief who constantly denies his guilt right up until his death ("Robbery, Assault and Battery"), and a mythical creature who outwits his captors ("A Trick Of The Tail").

All magnificent and epic, but the real stunner to me was keyboardist Tony Banks' "Mad Man Moon," a complex ballad of mixed time signatures, a shift from its E minor verses to a magical D flat major interlude in the middle, and then a yearning return to the verses. It was as close to classical Chopin preludes as Genesis was ever to get, and a true showcase of Banks' piano and synth skills. Only in the prog rock genre could you get away with a tale of lost love, mortality, and madness on an epic poetic journey such as this, all seven and a half minutes and not one moment wasted.

Was it summer when the river ran dry
Or was it just another dam
When the evil of a snowflake in June
Could still be a source of relief

Oh, how I love you, I once cried long ago
But I was the one who decided to go
To search beyond the final crest
Though I'd heard it said just birds could dwell so high

So I pretended to have wings for my arms
And took off in the air
I flew to places which the clouds never see
Too close to the deserts of sand

Where a thousand mirages, the shepherds of lies
Forced me to land and take a disguise
I would welcome a horse's kick to send me back
If I could find a horse not made of sand

If this desert's all there'll ever be
Then tell me what becomes of me, a fall of rain?
That must have been another of your dreams
A dream of mad man moon

Hey, man, I'm the sandman
And boy have I news for you
They're gonna throw you in gaol
And you know they can't fail
'Cause sand is thicker than blood

But a prison in sand is a haven in hell
For a gaol can give you a goal
A goal can find you a role on a muddy pitch in Newcastle
Where it rains so much, you can't wait for a touch
Of sun and sand, sun and sand

Within the valley of shadowless death
They pray for thunderclouds and rain
But to the multitude who stand in the rain
Heaven is where the sun shines

The grass will be greener till the stems turn to brown
And thoughts will fly higher till the earth brings them down
Forever caught in desert lands one has to learn
To disbelieve the sea

If this desert's all there'll ever be
Then tell me what becomes of me, a fall of rain?
That must have been another of your dreams
A dream of mad man moon.

Buffalo was certainly ahead of its time, as this was way before Genesis decided to go the pop route and hit the top 40. A Trick of The Tail was Genesis' first album after Peter Gabriel left the band, when they decided to put drummer Phil Collins in front of a mic and step into those big shoes. As assured as Collins was as a vocalist, this album belonged to Banks and guitarist Hackett, who both stepped forward with their respective instruments, and the former as a composer. Collins was pretty unknown -- his goofy persona and Motown phase were still a long way off, thank God.

Their next album, Wind & Wuthering, was a sequel of sorts to A Trick of The Tail, except they got a bit silly ("Wot Gorilla," "All In a Mouse's Night") and dipped their toe into the pop pool successfully to their own surprise ("Your Own Special Way"). After that album Hackett left, Genesis became a threesome, dropped the "prog" part of their style, and headed on the fast track to the Top 40. All those big hits like "Invisible Touch," "No Reply At All," and "In Too Deep" bore almost no resemblance to all that great music when they were with Hackett and Gabriel.

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