Friday, 13 May 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 9: Wind & Wuthering

The second and final album by the 4-member line-up of Genesis, 'Wind & Wuthering', saw the light of day in the dying days on 1976, just as a new musical tide was about to break over the shores of Britain in the form of the punk revolution. This would not prove to be an ideal time for Progressive music, which was beginning to be seen as 'dinosaur' music, lacking the immediacy and urgency that punk sought to bring (back) to rock music - a fact which would push to the sidelines burgeoning acts such as 'England' and 'National Health'. That being said, this was not a time when sub-standard prog was being written - a month after 'Wind & Wuthering' was released, Pink Floyd unleashed 'Animals' on the waiting world.

Once again the album sleeve was the work of Hipgnosis and Colin Elgie. This time it has a moody, autumnal feel to it, with grey clouds, mists and a single tree towards the lower right-hand corner appearing to be in full leaf. The reverse of the cover, however, shows a huge flock of birds flying away from the now denuded branches - a prophetic foreshadowing of the changes that were to come for the band?

As with 'Trick...' Tony Banks dominates the song-writing credits, with a hand in 6 of the 9 tracks on the disc. Steve Hackett, fresh from recording his first solo album, was a little agrieved that more of his material was not used in the collection, a factor that may well have led to his departure from the band shortly after the tour which followed its release.

Wanting to move away from the mythical inspiration that had fired some of their earlier songs, the band turned to history for the album opener and to the Jacobite risings of the 18th Century. 'Eleventh Earl of Mar' begins with Mellotron chords overlaid with soaring guitar and cymbals, building to a peak as organ and drums pick up the rhythm that drives the song forward. Mike Rutherford's lyrics tell the tale of John Erskine, the eponymous Earl, and the opening lines of the song are also those of the 1925 novel, 'The Flight of the Heron' by Dorothy (D.K.) Broster. The song has a nice pastoral acoustic section mid-way through, which breaks it up quite well.

'One For the Vine' is, perhaps, one of the finest songs that Tony Banks has written, and the fact that he spent over a year honing it may well be a factor in that. It began life in the writing sessions for 'Trick...' and concerns those who put themselves up, or are put up by others, as the Messiah, the Chosen One, and just how fallible they are (or maybe aren't, as the final twist implies). We open with piano and guitar playing a plaintive motif together, before piano takes over as the basis for the song's narrative, with greater orchestration for the second half of the verse. The middle section again is quieter (it may well have been a flute solo in Gabriel's time!), before the opening motif returns, this time heralding what sounds like pots and pans being hit - a prelude to a rockier section dominated by a keyboard solo. The motif returns for a final time taking us into the final verse and the climax of the song. This is perhaps the best the band has played together since Cinema Show, for me.

'Your Own Special Way', by contrast, has always left me a little cold. A solo composition by Mike Rutherford it seems a bit weak and a bit wet, to be honest, but on the plus side it was a stepping stone to songs like 'Snowbound', which is so much more accomplished. Essentially a 12-string guitar song, the verses are played in 3/4 and the chorus and instrumental middle in 4/4. When you consider the material that was left off the album (more on that later), it does seem a little odd that this song was kept in.

'Wot Gorilla?' gives Phil Collins a chance to get his fusion groove on, and Tony Banks an opportunity to develop the keyboard solo from near the end of 'Vine...' a little, as that seems to form the basis for this, the first of the instrumental tracks on the album. The tune bounces along with a playful vibrancy.

'All in a Mouse's Night' is the latest in the comic narrative school of Genesis songs, telling the tale of the perils faced by a mouse in its night-time search for nourishment and its accidental victory over its feline tormentor. The song opens up with strident organ chords which develops into a 'jangly' feel with guitar and keys before a more off-beat section when the mouse is 'talking'. During the periods of jeopardy the rhythm become more uniform (6/8?), and for the dénouement the opening chord sequence returns as the unfortunate cat tries to come out of this sorry business with some shred of dignity still intact.

After the dominance of Tony Banks for much of the album so far, we now come to a section where Steve Hackett is allowed his head. It begins with 'Blood on the Rooftops', possibly the finest song Steve wrote with the band, albeit in collaboration with Phil Collins (who wrote the music to the chorus). It seems to be a song about the place of televison in our lives, and the general tedium of it. Bearing in mind that it was written in the days when there were only 3 channels available to us in the UK it is still remarkably cynical. Musically it is quite beautiful - in contrast to the lyrical cynicism. We begin with classical guitar, which builds to the introduction of the vocals. By the end of verse 1, woodwind and strings (via keyboards) have been included, and the drums only appear for the chorus, along with bass guitar. Simple in structure (verse, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus, chorus) this is just an outstanding song by virtue of the musicianship throughout.

The final instrumental section is the paired tracks 'Unquiet Slumber For the Sleepers...' and '...In That Quiet Earth' (which are joined as one track in the US release). The title comes from the final words of Emily Brontë's novel 'Wuthering Heights' (from which the album takes its name). The first part is an atmospheric piece of strumming Spanish guitars with ethereal keyboards overlaid, evoking the mists of the album sleeve. This flows naturally into the secong part, where the band come together with soaring electric guitar, cascading bass and driving drums in 9/8. After some backwards-sounding guitar, the keyboards take up the theme previously played on guitar, and then both guitar & keys pick up a riff from 'Eleventh Earl...' which leads into the final section of the tune, which switches to 4/4 and develops 'Eleventh Earl' riff a little further and jams around it until the song neatly segues into the final song.

If '...Special Way' was Mike Rutherford's love song then 'Afterglow' is Tony Banks's, and whereas he spent 12 months developing '...Vine' this song was written in more or less the time it took to play it, apparently. Relatively simple in its structure there are nevertheless some subtle changes in key throughout the song, and it provides plenty of scope for Phil Collins to exercise his full emotional range in performance. The song quickly became a staple of the band's live shows and continues to be played live by Steve Hackett today.

At the time the album was recorded, the band also laid down some other tunes which came into the public domain later in 1977 as the 'Spot the Pigeon' EP. 'Match of the Day', a peaen to the Birish obsession with football, and 'Pigeons', a song about... pigeons, were suitably throw-away songs, really. But the third song, 'Inside and Out', was something altogether different. a 6½ minute song about a prisoner (most likely someone we would class as a sex offender these days, though apparently stitched up) being released from physical imprisonment, but who was not allowed to escape his past. Both lyrically and musically this is a song of great depth and maturity, and I can't help wondering whether it should've been included at the expense, perhaps, of '...Special Way'. The band clearly liked the song: I've recently heard a live recording of it from the 1977 tour.

But, 'Wind & Wuthering' is what it is. And what it is is maybe the finest work the band has done since 'Selling England...', and in terms of songwriting I don't think they ever reached the heights they did here again. Sadly the making of this album and the subsequent tour was to prove the final straw for Steve Hackett, and by the next time the band came to a studio to record together they would be down to a 3-piece. But the 4-man Genesis left us with two stunning collections of songs, and I for one am grateful that they did.