Do you know what Genesis has that their other acclaimed progressive rock contemporaries don’t? It’s Peter Gabriel. Hilarious, that the band saw fit to somehow truck on after The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, finally sick of his costume wearing fetishes (I mean, how dare the frontman take all the attention away from the other members?), and you’re a mass-murdering yuppie-hating yuppie psychopath if you somehow think that latter-day Genesis even compares to early-day Genesis. That’s not to say that the rest of the band isn’t noticeable; “Fly on a Windshield” is essentially Steve Hackett’s song, but you’re kidding yourself and the rest of the world if you’re under the impression that Steve Hackett stands a chance next to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. The title track is essentially Tony Banks’ song, but you’re kidding yourself and the rest of the world if you’re under the impression that Tony Banks stands a chance next to Yes’s Rick Rickman. And no list of progressive rock acts is complete without Pink Floyd, and I will say this; The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is extremely similar to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, right down to their mostly white covers, the fact that the second disc of both double-disc concept albums doesn’t compare to the first, and the fact that both albums remind me of the Who (in this case, Rael, the protagonist’s name, is lifted from a really mediocre track with the same name from The Who Sell Out). Oh, and there’s that Phil Collins guy that I haven’t talked about. But is Phil Collins really worth talking about?
Now, even the most ardent defenders of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway will probably confess that they have zero clue as to what is going on in the convoluted story that touches on everything that Peter Gabriel has ever been interested in. I mean, Tommy and Quadrophenia read like children stories akin to The Very Hungry Caterpillar in comparison and since I’m of the impression that this is Genesis’ crowning achievement, a culmination of all that they had hinted at all through their career up until this point (see “Supper’s Ready” off Foxtrot) and something that they had almost no interest in pursuing again, either as a Gabriel-less band or in Gabriel’s solo career, I’m going to give The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway the service of a track-by-track review. This will probably be the death of me. Okay. Inhale. Exhale. Okay. Let’s do this thing.
1. Now this is how you open an album. While I unfairly compared Tony Banks to Alan Rickman, his classical period (bordering on the romantic era) arpeggios start the album wonderfully, and then there’s Peter Gabriel’s stunning “And the lamb … lies down … on BRO-AD-WAY!” to open the album. Even people who think that Genesis were too arty and intellectual ought to enjoy this track.
2. I’ve already briefly touched on this one, so I won’t do so again. While the previous track was about Rael, this one is the first into the album’s real plot, “There’s something solid forming in the air / The wall of death is lowered in Times Square,” but the wind is so hard that Rael can’t escape, feeling like a fly on a windshield. While each of the first four tracks are their own separate identities, they play together in a suite extremely well, and one track segues into another effortlessly.
3. [The actual track time of “Broadway Melody of 1974” is 2:11]. This one’s easily separated into two chunks: the lyrical first half, backed by Hackett’s ominous-sounding strums, and the quieter second half, which signifies Rael losing consciousness to lead us into the next track.
4. Because the album’s stunning progressive achievement is just minutes away, “Cuckoo Cocoon” gets unfairly overlooked, but it’s by and far the prettiest song on the album. Rael wakes up in an unfamiliar environment, wrapped in a cocoon (predates Pink Floyd’s Pink who is surrounded by a wall by five years). Peter Gabriel sings as if he’s far away (apparently, in concerts, this was replicated by having him sing while underneath the stage), and the chorused “Cuckoo cocoon, have I come to, too soon … for you?” is one of the best hooks on the album. Meanwhile, instrumentally, this is dream pop at its finest, with both Steve Hackett’s beautiful tone and Tony Banks’ romantic-inspired playing in the second half.
5. While the first four tracks do segue into each other nicely, “In the Cage” is the best proof of Genesis’ prowess as a progressive rock act (even if I dismissed them in unfair comparisons in my opening paragraph). The falsettoed inflection, “Let me out of this ca-age!” is one of the better hooks on the album (the melody of that line sounds exactly like something Roger Waters will imitate in “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” years later). Rael finds himself caged in, glimpses his brother, who sheds a tear (of blood, of course) for him, before turning to leave him, and the music begins oscillating to signify Rael spinning around uncontrollably.
6. Ending the first side, we reach the first misstep on the whole album. Now, “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging” (what a waste of a glorious title) is less than 3-minutes, and therefore it is bearable, but the problem is it’s more interesting than it is good. Rael finds himself in a factory where it is explained to him by a “dreamdoll saleslady” that everything here is being packaged for sale. He sees his friends amongst the product and fearing for his life, starts to run away, before he sees his brother John and the track ends with a long, drawn out repetition of the title’s words. But a potentially good vocal hook and climax is ruined by too-heavy effects used on Peter Gabriel’s voice, and as a result, the thing just sounds way too aged and over-the-top (though the whole album is in danger of the latter criticism). Which is disappointing, considering this is one of the few contributions that Brian Eno helped out with on the album. Yeah, betcha didn’t know Brian Eno was on this album, did you? Probably because he’s credited with the useless term, “Enossification” (great word, by the way). And despite what I’ve just told you about the track, this is where I start to lose focus. Is this supposed to be real? Has he reached some strange purgatory? Is Peter Gabriel saying that all human beings are, are commodities? Is this The Matrix?
The source, by the way, as to what Eno does, comes from an interview with an extremely skeptic Tony Banks, “[Eno]’s contribution to the album is minimal actually; I often wonder why we even credited him, because what he did was very little […] Peter invited him down just to do a few effects on the vocals, and basically that’s what Eno did, he did those effects on “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”, those sort of funny effects on the vocals, and also on “In The Cage”; that was really all he did.”
7. George Starostin, after a paragraph of praise for everything else on the first disc, offers this on “Back in N.Y.C.,” “[It] is kinda ugly.” Now, I’m not sure why. CapnMarvel, another internet reviewer, suggests it’s because Gabriel sings the words “full of shit,” which might be too much on Starostin’s sensibilities, but I think it’s more because “Back in N.Y.C.” is one of the more rocking affairs on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, one of the few times where Genesis shows that they are aware of what a bass guitar is capable of. That keyboard line that’s used throughout the 7/8 track is pretty swell, as is when it bridges to the other melody which starts at the 2:52 mark. Admittedly, I didn’t quite like what Peter Gabriel was doing here with his voice (same issue with “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”), but it’s got a pretty hilarious harmony with the keyboard line. Something about cuddling with porcupines.
8. ”Hairless Heart” is an okay instrumental. I wish the main melody, starting at the 0:53 mark, was played out with actual strings instead of synthesized. I also wish I never elected to do a track-by-track review of this album.
9. The comic relief “Counting Out Time” segues wonderfully from “Hairless Heart,” and was chosen as a single for the album because it makes sense outside the context of the album. Here, Rael recounts his first sexual experience after having studied a how-to manual, “Found a girl I wanted to date / Thought I’d better get it straight / Went to buy a book before it’s too late / Don’t leave nothing to fate / I studied every line, every page.” The band on a whole is on top form here; Peter Gabriel’s “I’m … counting out time” and “Erogenous zones! I love you” so both great hooks, while Steve Hackett’s riff is perhaps the best on the album.
10. Another single taken from the album, where Peter Gabriel meets these creatures who are dubbed carpet crawlers because they can’t make it up the staircase. Actually, this is one of Peter Gabriel’s favorite melodies, quoted as saying, “I always thought the melody of “Carpet Crawlers” was one of the choicest things I’d written.”
11. Wow. We’ve made it to the end of the first disc. Musically, I can see what the band was going for (some sort of symphonic prog conclusion), I just don’t think they deliver. Lyrically, Rael finds himself in a room where there’s 32 doors. Yeah, if “The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging” was The Matrix, this is The Matrix Reloaded. Which can only mean that utter bollocks of The Matrix Revolutions is somewhere to come.
12. So, the second disc begins and we’re already off to a mediocre note. Musically, this is a glorified retread of the first half of “The Broadway Melody of 1974.” Allmusic’s Francois Couture sums up the failings of this track, “A rather straightforward rock number, like “Back in N.Y.C.” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” [but] “Lilywhite Lilith” doesn’t have their melodic appeal. The narrative gets very linear here, directly describing the action instead of evoking it or relating to it. As a result, the lyrics are cluttered with too many words.” Storywise, he meets a blind lady named Lilywhite Lilith, who is blind and whose sole purpose is to lead our hero into the darkness and instruct him to wait. Most people would’ve liked some character development, not another Sally Simpson. Oh, well.
By the way, I’m trying to withhold from doing too-much of a close reading on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. An excellent reading, if you are interested, comes from Finegan & McMahan et al.’s “The Annotated Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” which goes into these tracks in much more detail than I do, providing quotations from Peter Gabriel’s onstage performances, explanations of quotations taken from songs, paramusical examinations of the cover and leaflet, and quotations from other Genesis-related paraphilia. They do, however, closely examine references like the names, Lilith and the Lamia, and talk about where they come from.
13. I’m sort of already losing my attention. “The Waiting Room” isn’t as bad as some make it out to be, though it is a little long. The problem is it’s an anomaly in Genesis’ discography, essentially a Throbbing Gristle track (also predating them) that’s somehow found its way here, and without Peter Gabriel in sight, most listeners are left to scratch their heads. The “Revolution 9” of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. If you liked that track, there’s no reason why you won’t like this one. Hell, this one is shorter and actually has direction, compared to that one.
14. Finally. This is more like it. The first good track of the second disc, and not a moment sooner. This is all Tony Banks, whose arpeggios drive the track. The best part comes in the middle, instrumental section, starting at the 1:25 mark, where the tempo suddenly speeds up, and the arpeggios are grounded by thunderous bass, which sort of reminds me of the intro to “Baba O’Riley,” and though this one doesn’t have anything on that one (nothing does, really), it certainly comes close.
15. This is Steve Hackett’s track, with a couple of lines written by Peter Gabriel so that it fits on the album. Death, or the “Supernatural Anaesthetist” comes to Rael and yeah, he puffs on him? Okay. Gives a chance for Peter Gabriel to dress up as Death. Think Family Guy.
16. I realize I’m a bit of a hypocrite for liking “Anyway” and writing this one off, but the long length of “The Lamia” only reminds me that arpeggios are never very interesting, and they’re the backbone here. Rael smells perfume and uncovers its source, digging out an exit from the cave. He meets three Lamia; three half-women/half-snake creatures. Things take a turn for the sexual, “[Rael] slips into the nectar, leaves his shredded clothes behind. [The Lamia] with their tongues, they test, taste and judge all that is mine / They move in a series of caresses / That glide up and down my spine / As they nibble the fruit of my flesh […].” Rael eventually comes to cannibalize them, “O Lamia, your flesh that remains I will take as my food.” You might say, Rael ate out the Lamia.
17. This is an okay instrumental, sandwiched between the two long tracks on the second disc. Francois Couture talks to the simplistic nature of the song, “A six-note pedal-volume guitar motif backed by Mellotron and repeated over three minutes,” but also notes its practicality, “this song was one of the last ones written for the album. As the band was designing the stage show, it appeared necessary to include an instrumental track at this point to buy some time.” That makes more sense, because in the context of the album, not listening to it on stage, this one is a bit of a bore.
18. Nearly 2 minutes of pointlessness, and already, the longest track on the second disc is off to a bad start. Rael leaves the Lamias’ pool and meets more deranged creatures; the Slippermen. Forget “The Lamia.” This is the one where someone should’ve grabbed Peter Gabriel and went Freudian analysis on his ass. Rael recognizes his brother as one of the Slippermen and learns that he has become one himself. The only cure is castration. Oh jeez.
19. 2-minute instrumental of wind and some noodling in the interim. The Matrix Revolutions.
20. While I am actually angry that Pink Floyd dared put another “In the Flesh” on the second disc of The Wall with only slight variation of the original, “The Light Lies Down on Broadway” doesn’t suffer this problem. Yeah, the chorus is a reprise of the title track (and what an excellent chorus that was), but the verses and instruments are completely different. I’m not sure that those added backing vocals “And the light … (Light! Light!) … lies down …” were necessary, but who cares, because after the last 2 minutes of nothing and a near whole disc of mediocrity, we’re blessed with a fine melody. Oh, and Phil Collins fills in the gaps to remind us that he was a drummer before overtaking the band.
21. Same issues with “Supernatural Anaesthetist.” It’s a mostly instrumental track and then Peter Gabriel adds in some lyrics to further the concept, “If I want John alive / I’ve got to ditch my fear, take a dive / While I’ve still got my drive to survive / Evel Knievel, you got nothing on me / Here I go!” No idea why Francois Couture gave this an allmusic pick, although I will say those gentle bass pops around the 2:52 mark are a nice touch.
22. The low mixing from the get-go suggests a climax that the track never delivers. Structurally, it’s the complete opposite of “Riding the Scree;” I’m guessing the lyrics of this one were written first. Rael manages to pull John out of the water, but when he turns John over, it’s not John’s face he sees, but his own (GASP!).
23. Yeah, this one is the most confusing, concept-wise, but because of the kinetic motion of the track, it’s one of the few highlights on the second disc. I’m not sure what those noises are (ie. The first one at the 0:03 mark), but they sound like they’ll find their way into the Super Mario franchise years later. No one knows for sure what “It” refers to (I doubt Peter Gabriel even knows), and I don’t think dissecting this track would be particularly helpful; “It is eggs” seems to be a reference to Peter Gabriel’s fascination with the food, see “Aisle of Plenty” and “Supper’s Ready,” “It is between your legs” suggests that it’s sexual, “It is ‘Purple Haze’” suggests that it’s one of the best psychedelic rock songs from the 60’s. The only helpful ones are the last two, “IT IS REAL! IT IS RAEL!” before the outro, “It’s only knock and knowall, but I like It,” a reference to Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” If I had to guess, I’d say “It” is music. That makes sense. It’s all music. I think I figured it out. Someone get Peter Gabriel on the phone and tell him I’ve worked this all out and we can make an orchestrated cover of the whole album together!
Okay. A couple of closing notes and there are only a couple of them, I promise, because I’ve babbled on for way too long. I’ve heard this record multiple times, usually opting to just go through the opening side if I’m ever in the mood for some Genesis (what a weird thing to say. Seriously. “I’m in the mood for some Genesis.” That sounds like something God would’ve said at the beginning and never again), and stopping it thereafter. I’ve originally had this at a B+, but it really deserves more. The second disc is not nearly as bad as The Wall’s, barring some pointless instrumentals. And the album on a whole is the definition of a grower, if there ever was one. This is the Genesis album, which includes any of their solo careers. Nothing else comes close.