Few bands have displayed a capacity for reinvention as dramatic or successful as Genesis
, a band that embraced weirdness under the direction of Peter Gabriel
but pure pop melodicism in its '80s output, after drummer Phil Collins
had taken the helm. Here's a look at some of that band's finest tunes in the latter category, pop confections that house far more musical substance than they're ever given credit for.
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Having already begun the transition from art rock band to pop/rock vehicle for Phil Collins' songwriting, Genesis released 1980's Duke
with even more focus on that increasingly accessible sound. This punchy guitar-based tune with incredibly hooky melodies became the band's highest-charting pop single to date, climbing to No. 14 and fully establishing a new niche that alienated many of its longtime fans. Because I happen to favor the pure melodicism of the Collins era, I find only pleasure in the band's stylistic shift, but whatever your perspective, this is music that deserved the vast radio airplay it received.
This energetic track deserved a far better chart fate than barely cracking the Top 60, but the relative popular obscurity may be understandable, as it is a much better portrait of the bandmembers' individual contributions than Genesis would typically release as the successful Collins era wore on. Built on an egalitarian foundation led by Tony Banks' keyboards but dressed up skillfully with Mike Rutherford's tasteful guitar and Collins' forceful drums, the song certainly verges more into rock than pop territory. However, Collins' distinctive melodic and lyrical touches certainly make their presence known.
With the release of 1981's Abacab
, perhaps it's true that the music of Genesis had become almost entirely the domain of Collins, a notion that became particularly obvious as the singer embarked on his solo career that same year with Face Value
. But I still have a hard time grasping how that's a bad thing when Collins' influence produces music this consistently pleasurable. Once again, the melodies and chord progressions kick with a crackling if thoroughly mainstream intensity, ushered forward with nifty if backing instrumental flourishes from Banks and Rutherford. And Collins is nothing if not a master of the bridge.
As one of Collins' least preachy stabs at social consciousness, this atmospheric number wildly succeeds. As a distinctive Genesis track, it's considerably less successful, seeming completely like the next single from whatever solo project the singer was working on at the time. But again, that's more of an observation than a negative criticism, as the headstrong melodies and vocal performance from Collins are undeniably top-notch. One has to wonder how comfortable Banks and Rutherford were with their clearly shrinking artistic output, but any irritation must have subsided as the hits got bigger on subsequent albums.
While this snarling, shadowy rocker about a hit man certainly does Genesis proud as a still-functional rock band, the way it benefits from Collins' songwriting genius helps take it to another plane in terms of what '80s music had to offer. Unfortunately, the song's quality may have been lost on most listeners who didn't purchase 1983's Genesis
, as this brilliant little number was inexplicably never released as a single. What's more puzzling is how this song has never appeared on a Genesis best-of compilation, especially considering the copious amount of fluff on the band's next album that hit it oh so big.
Collins' penchant for songwriting simplicity may have irked longtime Genesis fans to no end, but there's no doubt his efforts contributed favorably to the pop music landscape. And although his firm direction permanently altered the band's previously obscure trajectory, it's hard to fault Collins for becoming the best artist he was capable of. It just turns out that artist had relatively little enduring interest in progressive rock. The band scored a Top 10 pop hit here, the first of its career, and the cascade of good things resulting from that milestone certainly dulled the sting of dwindling critical respect.
Along with 1978's surprising and, in some circles, infuriating single "Follow You, Follow Me"
, this gently tuneful track from Genesis
delivered a well-placed dagger to the heart of the band's dwindling art rock legacy. In fact, it's no accident that this song performed far better on the adult contemporary charts (No. 11) than even the pop charts, what with its lilting keyboards and decidedly non-rock and roll arrangement. Nonetheless, the track's best moments are infused completely with Collins' melodic genius, and the man's substantial gift helps make this song highly listenable despite its faults.
Even I have to admit that 1986's megahit Invisible Touch
has substantially less to recommend it artistically than anything perhaps Genesis has ever released. I mean, "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight"
should have probably been a beer jingle as its only manifestation. Nonetheless, I've always felt this track retains some of the band's earlier rock swagger, not only musically but perhaps most obviously in Collins' angry lyrics and passionate vocals. The social commentary may not be earthshaking, but its ire is genuine and skillfully packaged in yet another iconic melody.
Although this song has certainly built a reputation as a mindlessly sappy Collins love ballad, I've always felt it harbored much more than that, particularly in the signature strains of Rutherford's memorable guitar riffing. Beyond the welcome symbiotic nature of the band's performance here, this No. 4 pop hit is unmistakably lovely and moving to all but the most hardened Collins-haters. Perhaps there's no '80s artist who knows his way around a love song more completely than Collins, and if that means some unfairly label his lyrics as blatantly sentimental, the singer can find solace in all the platinum and gold records.