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Monday, January 19, 2009

Guest Listening

Your Weekend Listening • 1/19/09
Genesis, Aisle of Plenty
Selling England by the Pound, 1973









Here's the first Weekend Listening that's not from the Dave archives - rather, it occurred to me that it might make sense to occasionally post artists who provided the foundation for my style. This one is pretty basic and should come as no surprise - the Genesis approach to music during their first decade wore itself into me stylistically so deep that I think you'd need to perform a full lobotomy to remove it.

What is it about the Genesis sound from this particular era that I love so much? I honestly don't think that there's a band whose sound I like more. The jangling, delicate 12-strings, the mellow keys, Peter Gabriel's soulful bray mixed with Phil Collins's chiorboy trill - yes, all of these get me going. But it turns out that the sound I love more than anything else is Phil Collins's drumming. I've said it before and I'll say it again - pound for pound, I think Phil Collins was the greatest drummer of the rock age. He could go all the way from Bonhamesque pounding to Stewart Copland frilly hit-hat work; he incorporated jazz phrasing into rock in a more convincing way than anyone this side of Bill Bruford, and he had an unmatched snare technique (what Carl Palmer was famous for, but Collins could actually deliver) and an approach to tom fills that clearly builds on what Ringo started.

On top of that, and what sets him apart from any other drummer ever is that he always played to the song (much like Ringo), and didn't try to fit something else in that wasn't needed. No wonder he went on later to become such a pop hit - you could hear his hit instincts at work just sitting behind a kit. Just the fact that he could segue from high-prog playing to tasteful pop drumming and do it without compromising a thing and making it seem completely organic, well. Can you think of any other drummer who could do so much and do it as well?

I was listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in the car earlier today - for those who don't know, it's Peter Gabriel's final album with the band, and is their big prog-rock opus, a two-disk operetta about a Nuyorican gang member who gets lost underground in a sci-fi allegory of his life. Anyway, I was listening to Phil's performance throughout, and actually found myself emotionally moved. Scary, but true. I became misty listening to his powerful but delicate playing on that record. And believe me, the emotion doesn't come from the songs, which are about as lyrically obtuse as lyrics can get ("Echoes of the Broadway Everglades/With all mythical Madonnas/Still walking in their shades.").

Today's song, on the other hand, is from the previous album, my favorite Genesis album and easily in my top 10 favorite albums of all time. And this song has a lyric that manages to be cerebral but emotional at the same time - a short tale (the song is actually a reprise of the much bigger title track) of a lonely woman who tries to fill the void in her life by shopping - but also deep down knows that it's a crutch.

"I dont belong here," said old Tessa out loud.
"Easy, love, there's the Safe Way home."
- thankful for her Fine Fair discount, Tess co-operates.
Still alone in o-hello.
- see the deadly nightshade grow.

English ribs of beef cut down to 47p lb
Peek freans family assorted from 17 1/2 to 12
Fairy liquid giant - slashed from 20p to 17 1/2
Table jellys at 4p each
Anchor butter down to 11p for a 1/2
Birds eye dairy cream sponge on offer this week.


Placed in the context of the album overall, it becomes a poignant picture of a country caught in an expansionist consumer fever where the apparent end will be the ultimate dissolution of the national character - and perhaps the nation itself. Which makes it also pretty topical today. I particularly like the dual pun in the first verse, with the names of UK grocery chains also doubling for lyrical meaning.

And that moment where Phil comes in on drums moves the song from melancholy to despair, which is a pretty amazing emotion to be able to coax out of a drum kit.

D.

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