Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway?

Why is Genesis' 1974 release The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway my favorite album of all-time? 

  • Singer Peter Gabriel's elocution: i.e., his delivery of lyrics: the pronunciation, intonations, effects used, doubling or harmonizing, masking or dramatic presentation. Sheer genius.
  • Peter Gabriel's poetic genius. The references, the alliteratives, the humour, the double meanings, the fore- and back-shadowing, 
  • Peter Gabriel's story telling genius. 'Tween angst (Am I child or adult?) City boy v. country boy. The nature of reality--what is imagined and illusory, what is "real." Mixing the mythic with the iconic, the archetypical with historical contextual. And, of course, The Lamb is rife with dualities--the least of which is the duality of material and psychospiritual.  
  • Peter Gabriel's theatrical, chameleonic vocal performance. How many voices--how many characters does he portray during the course of this story?
  • The cohesive collaborative weave of each musical piece.
  • The cohesive, connected tapestry that is the entire album. 
  • The band's playfulness. "It," "Counting Out Time," "Supernatural Aenaesthetist," "The Waiting Room," "The Colony of Slippermen," even "The Lammia" are all incredibly clever, intricate, yet playful songs.
  • Phil Collins work ethic. His drumming is flawless, essential, masterful, like another tuned instrument in the mix. Some (I think: Phil!) complain of the way the drums were mixed here, I think everything is perfect. There is clarity, subtlety and many layers at the attentive listener's beck and call. They don't jump out at you or demand your attention or distraction, they are an integral part of the music--much of which is performed in odd time signatures and that contain very subtle and dramatic time changes--for all of which Phil is the ship's engines.
  • 90 minutes of engrossing, nearly flawless music. When I listen to The Lamb it is from start to finish--and I love every minute of it. I never tire of hearing the myriad subtleties, whether it's the banjo in "Cuckoo Coccoon," the odd percussives (breaking glass) in "The Waiting Room," the descending bass slide in "Back in N.Y.C." after the lyric " I burned it to ash," or the insect sounds at the beginning of "The Colony of Slippermen." Every sound is perfect in its place, expected, welcomed, and smiled at upon each encounter.
  • Not one, not two, but three of that ever-so-rare phenomemon: "the perfect side." Sides 2, 3 and 4 are, in my opinion, about as perfect as an album side ever gets. My brothers and friends and I would often discuss in minute detail (often while listening) the merits of one side versus another. (I'm still not sure which of the three I prefer!)
  • Steve Hackett's amazing gift for melodic and amazing guitar solos. "Fly on a Windshield," "Hairless Heart," "Anyway," Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist," "The Lamia," and "It" are all among fan and/or Steve's personal favorites.
  • Tony Banks' brilliant foundational keyboard work. E.g. "Carpet Crawlers,""The Light Lies Down on Broadway," "The Lamia," "Anyway," "Back in NYC," "Ravine."
  • An engaging, all-too-human story.

     I was introduced to The Lamb several years after it had come out. Though I had been an avid Genesis fan for about six or seven years, The Lamb had never crossed my ears or turntable. A friend of mine that I met in graduate school because of our mutual passion for fresh, innovative music, helped introduce me to a lot of great music from the Seventies (like Eno's solo work, Joan Armitrading, Phillip Glass, George Winston and the Talking Heads). His partying experiences during his undergrad years often culminated with he and his friends playing the full-length of The Lamb while trying to enact the musician and singers' performances. (A party highlight of my own favor, thanks to the likes of Boston, Todd Rundgren, Earth Wind & Fire, Ronnie Laws, and others). So, my first listen to this monster album occurred in the company of a very animated (and, I must say, not half bad) Rael, imperial aerosol king. It changed my life. The Lamb became a favorite travel companion (I was driving a lot back then), and still is. (When I recently gave my ten-year old Volvo to my daughter a requirement of its passing hands was the inclusion of a metal oxide TDK cassette tape recording of the complete Lamb.)

     I know the story of the band's inner turmoil throughout the creation of The Lamb yet I think the four instrumentalists were all clicking on all cylinders, in high gear, despite what Peter later brought to the music. Personally, I think it is Peter's conceptual vision that brought all of the music together. His story, his powerful storytelling voice, gave it all a synthesizing focus. 
     I've tried many, many times to listen to the music and imagine it without the vocals, vocal melodies, or the story and lyrics presented through Peter's 'instrument' and I dare to say that I think the music/album would suffer incredibly without it all. I think it lucky that the Rael/John story and Peter's will won out to bring this smattering of song scraps together into the beautiful tapestry it is. Mega kudos to Steve, Mike, Phil, and especially Tony for putting together such beautiful song constructs--all ripe for Peter's magical input, yet I feel strongly that it was Peter's input that breathed life into this music. 
     Take "The Lamia" for example. Bare bones, it is a fairly simple, straightforward though unarguably elegant and polished piece of music. But add to the mix Peter's vocal melodies, his masterfully poetic lyrics, his incredible use of elocution, pronunciation, intonation and alliteration and you have one of the most emotionally evocative songs these ears have ever heard. The weakest songs on the album--which are still only 8/10 rated songs--happen to be ones that others revere: the opening and title song, "In The Cage," "Lilywhite Lilith," "The Colony of Slippermen," and "It." And yet, I rarely skip these songs. In fact, I usually listen to them enjoying their musicianship and the lyrical contributions they make to the Rael/John story.

     The album highlights for me include:

  • The piano opening of the title song which informs you that you are about to begin The Ride
  • The sublime beginning and crashing entry to some of the band--and Steve Hackett's--best instrumental work conveyed through "Fly on a Windshield,"
  • The historical film references in "Broadway Melody of 1974,"
  • The simple psych-folk feel and flute of "Cuckoo Coccoon,"
  • The quirky presentation and instrumental build-to-crescendo (with some great Hackett work and awesome Gabriel screaching) of "The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging,"
  • The "burned it to ash" bass slide of "Back in N.Y.C.,"
  • Tony's brilliant 'background' keyboard work and more of Maestro Hackett's display of genius in "Hairless Heart,"
  • The clever and oh-so appropriately witty lyrics (and presentation) of "Counting Out Time"--and the banjo!
  • The sustained power presented through "The Carpet Crawlers,"
  • Tony's staccato hits of his octave- and time-spaced piano chords, the far background "AHH-ahh" just before crashing into the chorus sections, and the wonderful "I'd rather trust ..." chorus lyrics of "The Chamber of 32 Doors,"
  • Pete's strong lead vocal, the background vocals, bass lines, big tom and cymbol crashes, and organ of "Lilywhite Lilith,"
  • The cohesive power that rises out of the chaotic cacaphony of "The Waiting Room,"
  • The feigned control that tries pretends to suppress the chaos and rebellion that rests beneath "Anyway," (which is capitulated by more brilliant guitar play from Maestro Hackett), 
  • The gorgeous strummed guitar chords, incredible lead guitar work, and fun b-vox of the perfectly titled "Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist," ("[He's such a fine dancer!]")
  • The perfect blend of Tony's keyboard work, Phil's delicate drum and cymbol play, and Steve's sublime pedaled lead with the most perfectly elocuted, intoned, and emotionally evocative vocal presentation I've ever encountered in "The Lamia" (My favorite Hackett solo on this album; my favorite Genesis song of all-time),
  • the Eno-esque meditative float down the river Lethe in "Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats,"
  • The gentle journey with Tony through the fog of "Ravine,"
  • The beauty of the most perfectly constructed and balanced song on the album, "The Light Dies Down on Broadway,"
  • The wildest ride you'll ever get to take with Maestro Banks in "Riding the Scree,"
  • The dramatic and climactic dénouement of the Rael/John mystery in the quiet masterpiece, "In The Rapids" (my second favorite song on the album),
  • The frenzied guitar (and banjo?!) strumming and ever open-for-interpretation lyrics of "it."
     Now are you beginning to understand my esteem for this timeless record achievement? In my minute and myopic exposure to the annals of human collaboration, human creativity, and human potential brought to realization, I connect with none so deeply and profoundly as this 90-minute ride. 
     But there are others . . .

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