Brent Johnson’s Lost Songs: Genesis

brent johnson digs up a pair of lost treasures, one from each famous eras of Genesis …

Few bands are as misunderstood as Genesis.

Many critics have a long list of complaints about the British rockers: That even in their whimsical early days, frontman Peter Gabriel was too preoccupied with dressing in giant flower costumes. That after Gabriel departed in the mid-1970s, new singer Phil Collins betrayed the group’s prog roots and led them down the dangerous road to pop superstardom. That at the height of their 1980s fame, they were corny, insipid and terribly unhip.

Give me a break.

Music snobs would have you believe Genesis were the Nickelback of their time. But they’re wrong.

The first version of Genesis was more than just visually theatrical, with Gabrial prancing about the stage in a fox or gargoyle mask. The music itself was fantastical. Unlike many of their 1970s counterparts, Gabriel & Co. were never too proggy. Even when their songs stretched past the 20-minutes mark, their melodies were rooted in pop. And they somehow managed to hit the British charts with a tune about a lawnmower man — 1973’s wonderful ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).’

Genesis were also masters of the concept album. Gabriel’s last effort with the group, 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, is a masterpiece — a double-album about a New York City juvenile delinquent named Rael. It wasn’t a major hit in America, but it’s developed cult status. And its most charming track is a catchy ditty about learning the mechanics of sex from a paint-by-numbers handbook. Strange? Yes. But who can resist a song with a guitar solo that sounds like a synthesizer being played underwater?

Gabriel’s Genesis has never been as maligned as the later version, when Collins switched from the drummer’s seat to the vocal mic. That’s when the haters really started to growl.

But forget the glossy sheen of ‘Invisible Touch’ or the cheeseball antics of ‘I Can’t Dance.’ Collins’ era had plenty of highlights. Chief among them: 1980’s powerful, subtly complex ‘Turn It On Again.’ Though a Top 10 hit in Britain, it made only a tiny dent on the American charts. Maybe it’s because the song isn’t glossy enough — it’s driven by shifting drum patterns, stabs of heavy guitar and a pleasantly unusual vocal melody.

My point? Don’t knock either version of Genesis until you try them.