John's A-Z Of Albums: Abacab – Genesis: A Track By Track Review



The title track instantly marks out Genesis' musical transition from prog rock to more straight ahead stadium rock (with the odd proggy moment in for good measure).

Genesis' previous couple of offerings had gradually toned down the pomp, instead relying on more accessible melodies. While this may have infuriated Genesis purists, the trade for a wider audience was a logical one with increased record sales.

Abacab itself is a taut, muscular rock workout loosely based on the song's structure. It's the first of a fair few tracks to use that recent Genesis/Collins favourite: the Vocoder – a voice synthesiser that can turn one voice into many. The likes of In The Air Tonight and Man Of Our Times used this to great effect, and it can be heard elsewhere from Doctor Who to Chock A Block.

The album version differs slightly from the single version, with an extended instrumental jam that features a cool Rutherford guitar solo fading gradually into the ether. Well deserving of its Top 10 status.


No Reply At All

If Abacab had concerned the purists, then No Reply At All probably made them spit their granola bread into flustered crumbs over the walls. It's said that when the band performed this song in the Netherlands, they were met with a chorus of boos.

This is far more in keeping with Phil's solo work – a looser pop song that owes more to blue eyed soul than prog rock. Even the promo video with the trio in shades and saxophones is a far cry from Peter Gabriel's outlandish costumes from the early '70s. It's the first to feature the Phenix Horns – a staple part of Earth Wind And Fire. They had featured on Collins' Face Value album on tracks such as the reworked Behind The Lines. Their presence adds a glossy sheen to the production which lyrically also much in common with Face Value in that it charts a relationship's breakdown in communication.


Me And Sarah Jane

Not a fictional account of Doctor Who's time with the classic Elisabeth Sladen companion. Instead, it's a tale of a lonely man who invents a fictitious girlfriend called Sarah Jane. There's darker forces at work here, with the implications that the protagonist is suffering from some kind of depression or mental breakdown (“Going round and round and down the same old track”). Indeed by the song's end, things don't look good for this chap with “the city lights dimming one by one/it costs too much money to keep them on.”

This affected state of mind is echoed in the song's unusual structure which is kind of like a medley of different songs in one. While keeping the same strident beat, the song ducks and weaves in different styles, lending this track an edgy, nervy quality.


Keep It Dark

Originally titled 'Odd', Keep It Dark is a quirky story of a man who refuses to tell anyone that he's just been whisked away to a futuristic alien planet as he's told by authorities on his return that everyone would think that he was nuts. It's an alien world where everyone lives in happiness, free of war, corruption – and most likely, Boris Johnson.

This was another song chosen as a single, and actually deserved to be higher in the charts. The sleeve cleverly features a trio of brass wise monkeys who speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. It only just scraped into the Top 40 at Number 33 in the UK. Maybe it's the slightly off-kilter drum rhythm that put people off, but it does suit this unusual X-Files-esque ditty to a tee.



Side 2 kicks off with a track that owes more to the band's past. A 7 minute track that begins as bombastic keyboard-driven stadium rock before veering off at different tangents – even including quick snatches of Christmas bells and a bit of prototype rap about a mythical lurking creature that doesn't need wings to fly.

The band explained that the sleeve artwork of Abacab was deliberately abstract, in keeping with the more eclectic material on the album. Out of all them, it's the mysterious Dodo/Lurker that sums up this abstract credo the most.


Who Dunnit?

Mad as a box of frogs, throwaway fluff. Over the trademark Collins drum thumping, the lead singer bellows nonsensical lyrics along the lines of “Was it you or was it me?” with repeated hollers of “I didn't... I... I didn't do it!” and “We know! We know!” Complete with disorientating sound effects that slow the voices down and speed them up at the same time, it's a track that could, in theory, be easily skipped, bit in its own goofy way, remains compelling.


Man On The Corner

Another Day In Paradise is the most infamous example of Collins tackling the theme of homelessness, but Man On The Corner is a more effective stab at dealing with this topic. It's less preachy, instead using the lyrics to tell the tale (“Nobody knows/Nobody cares/Cos there's no hiding place”). The minimalistic arrangement pre-empts Collins' 1989 hit, using hushed vocals, moody drum machines and keyboards before it builds up to a last frenzied chorus.


Like It Or Not

The intro threatens to tip into the theme tune from Perry Mason, but becomes a woozy slow number about an unlucky in love guy (“It's been a long long long long time since I held anybody/Since I loved anyone”). Rutherford's contribution to the album is a good one, using some nice chord sequences to tell this tale of woe. Actually, along with No Reply At All, it's the closest that the album gets to soul – complete with multi-tracked “Aaaaaah”ing from Collins in the background.


Another Record

There's a certain bitter irony about Another Record's opening lyric salvo of “It's funny you know/Cos there's an old rock 'n' roller/He's got nowhere to go”, given the recent deteriorating health of Collins – now unable to lift a drumstick and confined to a chair on stage on their recent tour. It's a poignant reminder that the ravages of time catch up with us all.

The closing track is unusually subdued, lacking the manic frenzy of say, Los Endos or the epic double whammy of Duke's Travels/Duke's End. But it does its job well, and is a solid finish to a solid album. If you're looking for an introduction to the stadium rock approach of Genesis, this might well be the album for you.