Graded on a Curve: Genesis,
Trick of the Tail

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

Well, there goes another theory shot to shit. I always thought Genesis hit the aesthetic skids the moment Peter Gabriel split and drummer Phil “The Anti-Christ” Collins took over on lead vocals, but I’ve been listening to 1976’s Trick of the Tail, the first post-Gabriel LP, and I’m afraid I was sadly mistaken. Trick of the Tail is not a great album but it’s a very good one, packed with well-constructed tunes with lovely melodies that occasionally, but not too often, stray into the prog trap of technical virtuosity purely for virtuosity’s sake.

Peter Gabriel’s departure threw Genesis’ future into question. A Melody Maker writer went so far as to declare Genesis officially dead. But the band committed itself to proving it could make good music without Gabriel, and after a fruitless search for a new lead vocalist Collins, who wanted to turn Genesis into an instrumental act, reluctantly agreed to take on the vocal duties himself. Which in hindsight seems like a no-brainer, as Collins is a virtual vocal doppelganger for Gabriel and the obvious candidate as a replacement.

Album opener “Dance on a Volcano” has muscle and a fetching melody, to say nothing of some powerhouse drumming by Collins, whose exhortations (“Better start doing it right!”) sound convincing. There is some technical showing off for its own sake, especially at the end, but this one is more hard rock than prog, thanks to Steve Hackett’s guitar work and Tony Banks’ synthesizer. “Entangled” is a bit fey for my tastes, a quiet little pretty ditty, but it wins me over with its melody, which is simply lovely. There’s a beautiful synthesizer solo, which doesn’t attempt to mime classical tropes the way your more virulent and dangerous progmeisters would, and I like it for that.

“Squonk” is tres cool, a lumbering but still lovely number about a mystical beast that dissolves into tears when captured. Collins’ vocals are excellent, and the band pounds out the beat, and I love it as much as I do any song by Genesis, including the great “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).” The title of “Mad Man Moon” leads you to expect a raver, but it’s no such thing. It opens with some too-pretty keyboards, and is too saccharine for words until it climbs and climbs to a climax that is very, very nice. Then there’s a piano-dominated mid-section that sounds like pseudo-classical hokey-pokey to me, and I suffer. Then the song takes off, and it’s all copacetic, at least for a short while. Unfortunately the song soon returns to its beginning, before finally wilting under Banks’ sugary piano.

“Robbery, Assault and Battery” is a plucky, fast paced number that features Collins imitating Oliver Twist, and would be great if it had some muscle. The choruses summon up some testosterone, but for the most part this one is a rock song waiting in vain for some big guitars to give it the Charles Atlas treatment. Instead it sounds like a song from a musical I don’t want to see. “Ripples…” is a lovely and low-key number, heavy on the piano, that blossoms into a sumptuous chorus that I want to hate but can’t. Luvverly it is, and you’d have to be Mr. Hyde to resist its strains. It takes a detour mid-song, with Hackett playing some subtle guitar and Banks going magisterial on your ass, but it escapes (how, I’m not sure) pomposity before that pulchritudinous chorus returns and the song sadly, slowly fades out.

“A Trick of the Tail” starts on a sunny note, hopping about happily and making me glad to be alive. “They got no horns and they got no tail,” sings Collins, who proceeds to ask whether it’s wrong to believe in a city of gold. Yes it is, is the short answer, but this tune, which is pop gold, helps make up for the lack thereof. As for the near-instrumental “Los Endos,” it includes reprises of “Dance on a Volcano” and “Squonk,” and features lots of cool percussion and proceeds at a snazzy pace. The reprise of “Squonk” is especially natty, majestic even, and both Banks and Collins are at their best. I could do without the choir, who show up unannounced and slip through the back door, but I like the way the song slowly gets faster and faster until it finally fades out in a volcano dance or dissolves into tears if you believe in squonks and think this is one of them.

It’s sad that I should have lumped Trick of the Tail in with the pop dreck that would come to be produced by the eighties iteration of Genesis. As Phil Collins would sing, sort of, I waited in the rain for hours and they sucked. Ah, but no one can deny that the Phil Collins-era Genesis produced at least one LP that stands up alongside the albums produced while Peter Gabriel was the band’s front man.

By all accounts Collins is a bitter man, confused by the overwhelmingly negative reputation he has gained as the punch line to a musical joke, one that has left him the English equivalent of Huey Lewis. What can one say? The eighties were a horrible time, and atrocities were committed. Collins was guilty of many of them. But at least he can look to Trick of the Tail with pride. The guy whose band went on to give us “Invisible Touch” should count himself lucky.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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