How can it be that I went over 4 years without writing on a band that opened the floodgates to my current musical tastes? When I first discovered POLYSICS, I had already gotten into the habit of thinking of my various pop cultural discoveries as a chain of links, one leading smoothly into the next. It probably wasn’t true in the slightest, since it implies that I followed a rather more logical path from one diversion to the next than what actually ended up occurring. End result? If I took the theory I just introduced seriously enough, I would place the burden of myself upon Peter Molyneux and Populous: The Beginning. Needless to say, I really wasn’t a fan of Black and White, so we’re not going to be doing that.
Still, ENO is a good jumping off point for how I developed my musical awareness outside the entirely different classical and jazz performance worlds. After its intro, the first real song (“New Wave Jacket”) showcases the essential balancing act POLYSICS has played through their career – psychoacoustic noise cavorting with blatant pop rock. The whole “New Wave” rock movement in the 1980s was a big influence on this band, particularly in how they add in their electronic elements, but ENO also showcases POLYSICS at very nearly their noisiest and most abrasive; the one exception probably being the album before it (Neu – in case you haven’t noticed, this band likes naming their albums and songs after artists and bands.) Given what they followed this up with (the literally named For Young Electric Pop), you could argue for this being some sort of transitional album if you wanted to.
I know that I’ll be doing that; ENO seems fairly typical as transitional albums at a certain level of execution go. While later albums tone down the noise part of this band’s noise pop a bit, the songs here tend towards the joyfully abrasive (contrast to, iuno, shrieky black metal), with a few exceptions that toss the brickwalled production out in favor of dissonance (“H MAJOR”), and a few breaks for your sore ears (“Weak Point” and “Highway Rule”). If you’re listening to the album in one whole go, those might really come in handy, since one of this album’s major flaws is that it’s mixed trebly with tons of high pitched synthesizer bleeps, and the constant fatigue may cause your ears to bleed a bit. Furthermore, this doesn’t really help express any dynamic range the band has; luckily this was something they worked on in later albums.
Given that I started listening to POLYSICS significantly before I adopted my “always listen to full albums at least once” approach, my initial experience with this album was akin to if the band had released a stream of singles, and as such, the usual disclaimer about objectivity applies here. If I weren’t writing for an audience that expects a lot of heavy metal discussion from me, I’d almost be more willing to the more polished later works above these – 2008’s “We Ate The Machine” comes to mind. But for you, the hypothetical hessian? Just drop in anywhere; you’ll be fine.
Highlights: “New Wave Jacket”, “Weak Point”, “I&I”
P.S: It’s my 300th post. I figured I might as well do something fancy with it.
You know, my most recent post on this blog is a bigger influence on its immediate successor than I initially thought. I figured I’d write about Rush since their influence filtered into a lot of death metal, and I decided to write about Suffocation because their approach made a good contrast with Bal-Sagoth, and so forth. In a progressive rock context, perhaps what’s initially most interesting about Phil Collins’ vocal debut with Genesis is how closely it resembles the Peter Gabriel era of the band… which itself was subject to evolution and steady development… but then again, artists and bands tend to do that.
The legends say that Phil Collins only took up the role of vocalist because the rest of Genesis was unable to procure a suitable replacement. Either way, his actual voice is hard to tell from that of his predecessor, but A Trick of the Tail showcases one major (but surprisingly subtle) change in how vox fit into the compositions. You see, Peter Gabriel had this tendency to alter his intonation a lot in order to represent various characters or narrators; that added to his love of elaborate costuming in live performances gave his era of Genesis recordings a multi-vocalist feel even when Phil wasn’t backing him up. With a few exceptions (like “Robbery, Assault, and Battery”), that’s missing here, and it means an important aspect of the old Genesis is gone. The lyrics still indulge in this approach as if Peter Gabriel had never left; I’ve heard that at least some of the songs here were written with him in mind.
The corollary is that Phil Collins performing primarily as Phil Collins didn’t really strike me for quite a while. In fact, I was rather more gripped by how flamboyant the instrumental performances had become. There’s quite a couple of moments on here where the band pulls out all the stops and performs lengthy instrumental sections. A prog rock staple for sure, but the virtuosity got cranked up quite a bit since previous albums. It also helps that this album has a more assertive production than previous efforts. This might be a mastering thing, and I’d be more confident in saying it if the original sounded more like the 2007 remaster, which adds a great deal of echo and leveling that wasn’t present in earlier versions. Still, that the original sounds louder and clearer than its predecessors doesn’t exactly hurt Genesis. To be honest, they always struck me as one of the more gentle, whimsical bands in the genre, although they still have their dynamic peaks… keep in mind that your average band wouldn’t be interesting without them.
It strikes me that even this era of Genesis is more direct and hooky than its predecessors. Presumably, the lesson is that you, as a songwriting, can have it both ways. If forced to rate this at gunpoint (please don’t), I would probably put it slightly ahead of other classics like Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound, but the difference in quality is slight at best.
Highlights: “Dance on a Volcano”, “Squonk”, “Robbery, Assault, and Battery”
You know that feeling when a band’s best work isn’t their most elaborate one as well? Sometimes, I think Rush peaked with their 1978 album Hemispheres, but at other times I’m more partial to this, despite how it begins to move away from the proggy writing that made the band so powerful in the first place. It was always funny that it began with a scathing indictment of the music industry – “The Spirit of Radio”, folks! I’m surprised the world’s broadcasters didn’t veto it for daring to criticize their perfect little world of ever fewer options, but then again that might’ve unleashed a worse storm upon them than the digital revolution. It must’ve tempted them even then with its extended instrumental intro and strange reggae flavored coda and other deviations from the orthodox pop structure.
Not to dwell on that too much; Permanent Waves has a lot to say from both a musicological and lyrical perspective. While it doesn’t contain any extra lengthy songs (illustrious examples in Rush’s past include “2112” and “Cygnus X-1″) even the shorter songs here retain the elaborate instrumental sections that took up much of the band’s songs. By 1980, Rush’s members had become rather good at playing their instruments – if you ask me, the compositions here don’t really favor one member over another, although you could make a case for Neil Peart’s consistently active style of drumming.
On second thought, what if we did dwell on Rush’s accessible turn? This blog has been sorely lacking in crass anti-commercialism for some time, probably because at one point I figured that wasn’t a particularly useful way to discuss music, but the more I think about it, the more important Rush’s evolution on Permanent Waves seems to understanding it. The first key, though, is actually that music can not be judged by its inaccessibility – the alternative is nobody being able to comprehend or tolerate the best music! The other one, however, is that Rush was already pretty easy to wrap your head around in the 1970s, at least by my jaded standards. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m not particularly objective in that regard. Still, Rush doesn’t toss around a lot of avant-gardeisms that some bands I like play with, but they do well enough with the more conventional things. Simplification, though, can only take you so far – while Rush continues to do quite well commercially in the Anglosphere, their more stripped down ’80s and ’90s recordings don’t seem to earn the love that their formative work did.
But luckily for us, you don’t have to care about later Rush in order to appreciate earlier Rush.
Highlights: “Freewill”, “Different Strings”, “Natural Science”