Easily one of the best albums of post-Gabriel Genesis.
Firstly, the band’s prog fans can listen to Abacab without feeling dirty about it. Because the band’s progressive ambitions are more than just “half-assed concept record about a fat guy” as they were on Duke; you’re getting complicated song structures (“Abacab”) and multipartite goodness (“Dodo / Lurker”), qualities that are frankly more in-tune with progressive rock than just half-assed concepts. Moreover, though Abacab’s pop ambitions are much greater than they were on Duke (which means that the band’s pop fans ought to loveAbacab more), the songs are often rhythm-based that places them in the new wave section of HMV instead of the pop/rock section (y’know, if there actually was a new wave section of HMV).
I mean, just press play to see what I mean. “Abacab” starts off with such an infectious rhythm, I wouldn’t be surprised if a balding man who was getting ready to paint his fairy figurines invented twerking and just didn’t know it was a marketable talent when he dropped the needle on the new Genesis record. Even if you’re not the type of person to dance, but you’re the type of person to sing, have at the lovely call-and-response, falsetto-to-manic vocals in the chorus. Even if you’re not the type of person to dance or sing, but you’re the type of person to air guitar, have at the band’s jamming at the song’s end – they haven’t sounded so together since the Gabriel days. Moreover, the band’s experimenting sonically – listen to the robotic squeals appear in the back half of the title track and throughout “Who Dunnit?”; each time the title’s words are uttered on “Keep It Dark” is preceded by a full measure of drum fills that are the coolest thing to happen on a Genesis album since Gabriel left; the repetition within “Who Dunnit?” might go a little overboard, but the song would’ve felt a lot more at home on a Gary Numan or Devo record and I think the band should be commended for stepping so far out of their comfort zone.
After the title track, the album’s greatest draws are “No Reply At All” and “Dodo / Lurker.” After Face Value got more commercial attention than any Genesis album, Collins (successfully) replicates its success with the former by bringing in horns to punctuate the song’s melody and create the album’s best poppiest cut. Meanwhile, you haven’t seen vocals and lyrics like the ones on “Dodo” since Gabriel wrote them. Firstly, the lyrics make no sense. Secondly, “Dog-baiter, agitator” reminds me of Gabriel writing as many rhymes as he could on “Willow Farm,” and finally, Collins suddenly entering a deeper register to deliver certain lines was the sort of thing Gabriel used to do for his characters. And if that weren’t enough, the band sticks a riddle as “Lurker” at the end of it (though the solution, found on the b-side of the single version, is dumb; mostly because of the line, “Don’t need no wings to fly”). Musically, Collins gives us enough melodies to work with while the rest of the band establish the album’s second best groove. As for closer “Another Record,” though the hook isn’t even close to Collins’ best on the album, the surprisingly lyrical drumming that he lays down and the triumphant synth line in the chorus both make up for it.
Collins has noted that this is the first album where the band worked as just that – a band. Yup. This is the first album since A Trick of the Tail where the bulk of the songwriting credits aren’t to individual members but to everyone instead (and even then, since the bulk of A Trick of the Tail was credited to two songwriters at a time, you can say this is the first album since The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). Unsurprisingly, then, the album’s weakest songs are all submitted by its individual members. “Man on the Corner”’s hook relies on some commonplace interval climbs and suffers from Phil Collins’ typical self-importance who doesn’t know the difference between a ballad and a power ballad. Mike Rutherford’s “Like It Or Not” tries to get by on some guitar hooks but doesn’t and ultimately fares the worst of the three. Tony Banks’ “Me and Sarah Jane” is the best out of the three, but the problem is it takes too long to get going – it’s not until the counterpointing groove is established that things really take off (the 1:50 mark, skip there every time) and the 30-second coda does nothing but make a long song longer.
Their best album of the 80s.