Genesis - A Trick Of The Tail
Exit Peter Gabriel, enter ... actually, nobody. Upon his departure, the band auditioned scores of possible replacements for Pete, but something tells me they weren't going to choose a new person anyways. After all, no matter how good the replacement might turn out to be, chances are that he would always be looked upon as an inferior 'outsider' by the fanbase, and the band would certainly have problems if that occurred. So the band did the only logical thing - they promoted from within the organization. Hence, Phil rose from his drumkit (well, at least in live performances - the studio drumming still is the same wonderful Collins work as ever) and into the position of singer and frontman for the group.
Now, in a lot of ways, this choice seemingly made sense, and not just because he was already a group member. At the most basic level, Phil's voice isn't all that different from Peter's, and so there wouldn't be as huge of a shock for the listener's ears upon hearing a new album. Plus, Phil had had the opportunity to sing lead on a couple of songs in the past, and while the efforts weren't spectacular or anything like that, they certainly weren't bad. Add in that his backing vocals were often just as important for the vocal harmonies as Peter's were, and you had yourself an almost textbook choice for a replacement. Right? Right?
Er ... sort of, but in a lot of ways, no. The main problem with Phil the lead singer, at least at this point, is that he's just not that creative in his singing approach. Oh sure, he sounds fine when he's belting full power, but when the compositions and lyrics call for subtle nuances and variations from line to line, he really comes up short. His singing tone isn't usually bad mind you, but it's very monotonous and does little to help draw your attention to the material. Not to mention that traditional Genesis compositions rely heavily on the singer's ability to hook the listener in, as the arrangments are never chaotic enough a la Yes to be able to get by with just a straightforward vocal "covering," like what Phil mostly provides here. I wouldn't want to go so far as to say Phil's vocals on this album are a weakness, but I would say that this album took what was once one of the band's greatest strengths and turned it into a relative non-factor.
Then there's the songs themselves. Best as I can tell, the band members didn't really wish to try and gallump about for an altogether new stylistic approach like they had on The Lamb. After all, the fans had already undergone one major catastrophic change in Gabriel's departure, and the last thing they would want would be a total break from the Genesis they had grown to know and love. Hence, while there are certainly some significant changes (not all of them for the better, mind you) from the "classic" style, this album is certainly much more in line with England than with Lamb. But really, that ends up hurting the album a bit - they try to capture the old vibe, but with Peter away, it was gone forever, and trying to recapture it without the requisite parts was ultimately a futile effort. They could now be nothing more than a Genesis imitation (albeit still a really good imitation), and that meant that, however good the album could be, it would have to be the last in that style. Of course, where they ended up was a disaster, but I digress ...
There is one really really huge difference between England and Trick, and that is the arrangements. England boasted a perfect balance and meeting point between Tony and Steve, whereas this album continues the Lamb path of tipping the balance well into Tony's favor. However, while Lamb found Tony's keys creating ghostly black-and-white paintings of the netherworld, Trick finds Tony's synths getting just a little too obnoxious in tone for me in places. Steve isn't invisible, as there are a few parts where he's clearly in the front of the mix (though it should be noted that his guitar sound on this album, for the most part, is nowhere near as satisfying as on England or on his solo album from a year earlier, Voyage of the Acolyte), but for the most part he's back to being a featured supporting player (providing good texture as best as he can), and not a lot more. The best example is what happens during his solo in Ripples, as mentioned in the page introduction; of all the moments when Tony should have just scooted into the background, this was it, but instead we get the marring of what should have been one of the all-time beautiful moments in prog rock (for proof of how good this track could be when the guitar was given full emphasis, see Archive 2).
So, after all that complaining, I still give the album an overall B because the actual songs, divorced from their presentation, are very good. The only one I'm not especially thrilled about is the rambling Banks "ballad" Mad Man Moon. Granted, it represents a definite break in style and form from Gabriel Genesis, which is an "advancement" I suppose, but I liked that style and form, dang it. The song has some moments that almost leave me thinking they're beautiful (until I wonder what exactly would distinguish them from plenty of other keyboard-based prog bands), and the song takes a nice turn during the piano breaks and the "hey man, I'm the sand man part," but the lyrics are unremarkable on the whole, and the song tries too hard for a beauty that just isn't really there.
But the rest is mostly great, once weaknesses in production and presentation are accounted for. As an example, the opening Dance on a Volcano is stricken with annoying *squeak* noises coming from Steve's guitar in the beginning and some ridiculous tones from Tony's synths throughout ... on the other hand, the synth riff underpinning the vocal melody is absolutely genial, and the main melody itself is nothing to sneeze at either. And of course, there's later the gorgeous Rutherford ballad Ripples, with Phil's best vocal performance of the album, an incredibly beautiful chorus to go with the nice verses, and of course the pretty Steve solo.
My favorite, though, has to be the cute Mike/Tony composition Squonk, about a hunted creature who cries himself to non-existence when finally captured by the "narrator." The song incorporates a good chunk of 12-string guitars, Phil's powerhouse drumming grooves things along well, and the organ riff in the chorus is fabulous! It also features a vocal melody that's pretty complex but still very memorable, and the vocal parts are sometimes even moving! It also doesn't hurt that it's poppy at its core.
The other four songs are very good as well. Entangled is a nice Hackett/Banks (!) collaboration, with a pretty melody, lots of acoustic guitar and appropriate touches of mellotron here and there. And the slow winding synth part at the end is remarkable - Banks does a good enough job of building up the tension and volume such that the piece doesn't really seem as overlong as it probably is.
Two of the other tracks also have heavy input from Banks, as one is a collaboration with Collins and the other is a solo composition. Strangely enough, the solo composition, the title track, turns out to be the second best song on the album, which means it's really really good. It's actually poppy in its essence, which is a surprise given the source, and both the verse and choral melodies are incredibly memorable. Plus, the lyrics are actually entertaining for once, as they tell the story of a runaway devil who discovers that life among humans isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are also some really nice quiet guitar tinklings (if such a description can be applied to guitar) that pop up in some of the instrumental breaks. The poppiness also extends to the other track on here, the Harold-the-Barrel-inspired Robbery, Assault and Battery. On this track, Phil comes the closest he ever would to fufilling his calling as Gabriel's heir of funny characterizations, and while it's certainly no Battle of Epping Forest, it's certainly not the "worst Genesis song ever" like some fans apparently say it is. Some of the mid-song synth soloing sounds a little amateurish, but I don't mind it horribly.
Finally, capping off the album (and possibly making up for lack of other inspiration), we have an instrumental reprise of some of the various themes found throughout in Los Endos. That doesn't mean it's not good, though - there are bits and pieces of new music in there, and the way they interweave the parts from Volcano and Squonk is quite fascinating. Why Phil sings a quote from Supper's Ready near the end continues to elude me, but no matter - the melodies mostly rule, and while the arrangement isn't perfect, parts of it are fantastic (my favorite part is that brief "teasing" guitar line near the very end). It would get much better live, anyway.
So all in all, this is a pretty great album ... but that's because it's rooted in a very great style, even if there have been some small changes here and there. For the first time in the development of this style, there is no track that tops the best effort of the previous album (remember, I'm not counting Lamb in this sequence, as it really doesn't fit), and the weaknesses are beginning to rear their ugly heads again. And yet, while I'm more likely to feel in the mood to listen to live versions of these songs than the original studio versions, the songs are so good on the whole that I can mostly forgive these problems.
Dance On A Volcano
Man Man Moon
Robbery, Assualt And Battery
A Trick Of The Tail