Genesis – A Trick of the Tail (1976)
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”