Duke by Genesis is perhaps the band’s best album as a three piece.
Duke was the third concept album I heard (after 2112 and Nursery Cryme) and the first one I managed to listen to all the way through.
I know it was a concept album because lyrics and parts of tunes reappeared later in the album, giving the appearance of a coherent piece. I couldn’t tell you what the concept is though – I was never much of a lyrics person. OK, “Misunderstanding” was easy enough – the break up of a relationship finding your partner cheating on you (although no mention of dumping them by fax, curiously). “Duchess” saw Phil Collins singing about the life of a singer who was once popular, but now had only her memories of the cheering crowds. There’s more irony in Collins singing that than anything Alanis Morissette came up with (albeit it doesn’t scan as well…)
I played this album to death when I was 15. The album closes with the ten-minute plus “Dukes Travels / Duke’s End” which manage to replay parts of the whole album and is a joy to listen to, even now. I know that because I just heard the album again for the first time in probably twenty years.
Genesis were a quintessentially English prog rock band, boasting the only two rock stars to be expelled from Charterhouse School for being too posh.**
After this deplorable incident, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks were forced to take to the streets of the East End of London** where they met the Artful Dodger (later known simply as “Phil”). Dodger took them under his wing but also introduced them to a life of criminal records, some seeming to last several hours.
Delivered from Fagin’s gang by the Angel Peter Gabriel they released nine albums of beautifully-played nonsense, recruiting Artful Dodger on the drums. Dodger subsequently deposed the Angel Peter Gabriel as singer of the band after the latter dressed as a singing flower.
This made Collins the first singing drummer since Levon Helm of The Band and unwittingly gave an idea to Kiss drummer Peter Criss that singing and flower arranging combined would be somehow acceptable as entertainment*
I saw Genesis at one of four nights they played at Wembley stadium in 1987 for the Invisible Touch Tour. Collins was charismatic, funny and a winning front man, involving the crowd at every opportunity and playing a medley of old songs throughout set closer “Turn It On Again” – and the band played superbly, drenched in vari-lites. Mike Rutherford played the Isle of Wight Festival last year, and played old Genesis songs to a happy mid-afternoon crowd. It seems that the tunes remain popular, even if no-one’s prepared to admit it…
Phil Collins left the band in 1996 and left the UK shortly afterwards at the start of Tony Blair’s leadership. I leave the last word to Noel Gallagher who famously said in 2005 “Vote Labour. If you don’t and the Tories get in, Phil is threatening to come back”.
Record #15: Genesis – Duke
*(see performances of “Beth” where Criss threw flowers into the audience).
** This may not be true.