Genesis – Selling England By The Pound (1973): Review

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Produced by John Burns and Genesis
Label – Charisma

By 1973, most who chronicled Genesis with any degree of intrigue would conclude that their following was more a dedicated cult, and that their rise had been relatively stately, much like their music. The previous year the band had shown that genuine progressive rock virtuosity had been scaled on the fascinating (and fan favourite) “Supper’s Ready” suite on their “Foxtrot” LP. “Selling England By The Pound” is a culmination of formidable instrumental expertise, and an identifiable level of creative imagination that’s almost equally shared between each member of the band. Although not strictly conceptual, singer Peter Gabriel’s intention to create a very English flavour shines through, and its collection of provincial and pastorally geared fables and short stories is underpinned by a theatricality that lent itself to a continued successful live agenda. “Selling…” also marks the point at which relative new-comers, drummer Phil Collins, and guitarist Steve Hackett have a greater influence on the overall sound collage. Collins provides some astonishing off beat rhythms (particularly the opener “Dancing With The Moonlight Night”), and Hackett brings one of his greatest solo performances on “Firth Of Fifth”. Tony Banks’ first use of synthesizers (ARP pro) works relatively well, if a little thin on “The Cinema Show”. In addition, the album contains the band’s first brush with the pop singles charts on the wonderfully quaint psychedelic pop of “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”.

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Gabriel’s insistence on a greater “Englishness” is justified on the folk and literary allusions contained in “Dancing With The Moonlight Night”. His unaccompanied voice sings “Can you tell me where my country lies?” as acoustic guitars and a grandiose piano rise to join him, and as the song morphs into a brooding mellotron melody, Collins pummels a shackle breaking rhythm , allowing some clever guitar and keyboard interplay between Hackett and Banks. The torrent subsides to a simple guitar, flute and effects dreamscape and drifts away like a wispy cloud on a summers day. The playful “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” is a reminder that each member of the band was heavily influenced by The Beatles. However, their breakthrough single is far from a plagiaristic affair, with Gabriel’s appetite for Lewis Carroll styled fantasy in eccentric word play, and Mike Rutherford’s highly original skipping bass groove. The magnificent “First Of Fifth” was a combination of three Banks composed instrumentals, carefully spliced together for a classical and progressive journey that ebbs and flows by intermittent time signal changes and some extraordinary ensemble input, particularly Hackett’s solo. The complex theatricality of Gabriel’s story of fighting gangs on “The Battle Of Epping Forest” is flawed only by the fact that it’s slightly overworked and lacks space, but it’s still humorous and oddly endearing. The constant transformations from 7/8 to 4/4 time on the eleven minute epic “The Cinema Show” portray a band with a sense of mountainous confidence in that they could take arrangements, melodies and rhythms and seamlessly compose a skillful and memorable piece of music. The vocal mid section of choral voices and harmonies reminds the listener of Crosby, Stills Nash & Young’s “Our House”, but it’s befitting of the romantic lyrics that precede it, and makes for a complimentary addition to a fine song. The only blemish is the dreary Phil Collins sung ballad that closes out side one (“More Fool Me”). Chiefly written by Collins and Rutherford, it provides confirmation that at this stage in his early career, the drummer’s instrumental input was far more important than his compositional ability.

There’s a good reason why “Selling England By The Pound” was the album that broke Genesis both Stateside and into the upper reaches of the UK album charts. Every song is recorded with a level of intrinsic care, extraordinary skill, humour, but most importantly it comes from a band working cohesively to get the best from each other. As with all great prog rock albums it’s both reverent and irreverent, wonderful and outrageous, experimental and entertaining.

8/10

Track Rating

1 – Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (9)
2 – I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) (9)
3 – Firth Of Fifth (9)
4 – More Fool Me (6)
5 – The Battle Of Epping Forest (8)
6 – After The Ordeal (7)
7 – The Cinema Show (8)
8 – Aisle Of Plenty (8)

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