Wednesday, 22 January 2014
Classic Albums No.13: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have listened to this album. Sometimes, I think that I have memorized it so well, that whenever I listen to it again, it just goes in one ear and out the other, and it doesn’t really have any effect. But then, if I sit down and REALLY listen to it, I am reminded again of this one fact - that this album is a work of genius.
Released in 1974, Genesis’ sixth album was the last to feature Peter Gabriel. It was also their last truly classic album, although there was still enough prog on “Wind And Wuthering” and “And Then There Were Three” to keep the old guard happy. It was also their first double LP, and their first true concept album. And it elevated them to Prog-god status, only for Gabriel to walk as soon as the subsequent tour came to a close. In some respects, “The Lamb” is so monumental, so “high art”, that it is difficult to know quite where the band could have gone from here had he stayed. At least by leaving, the rest of the band were able to (slowly) reinvent themselves as stadium filling popstars.
Ever since the slightly fey sound that dominated their 1969 album “From Genesis To Revelation”, Genesis - via a series of Spinal Tap-esque lineup changes - began to make more impressive, powerful, and groundbreakingly unusual music as the 70s progressed. There was a huge leap in quality and confidence from the debut to the follow up, 1970’s excellent, but generally under-rated, “Trespass”, and by the time they reached 1972’s “Foxtrot”, they were at the top of their game. Dominated by the epic 23 minute long “Supper’s Ready”, this record represented Genesis at their most complex and inventive.
Album number five, 1973’s “Selling England By The Pound”, didn’t feature anything quite as lengthy, although it did seem to have a single theme running through it, unlike the previous records - one of Englishness, with songs referencing ‘Moonlit Knights’ and Epping Forest. “The Lamb”, in many respects, was designed almost as an extension of the single theme approach, whilst also conversely being the polar opposite of the Englishness of it’s predecessor.
The band had made the decision to make an album that told a story, with Mike Rutherford having designs on making an album based on the story “The Little Prince”. Peter Gabriel didn’t like it, thinking it was twee, and had his own story, that of New York street punk Rael and his Dungeons and Dragons style quest to ‘rescue’ his brother John, via a series of oddball set pieces, including details of a debut sexual conquest in “Counting Out Time” and the “removal“ of his, erm, “equipment“ by a Dr Dyper on “The Colony Of Slippermen“. The story seemed to be based underneath the streets of New York (the reference to Broadway), and the climax involved Rael having to make a choice between going ‘overground’ back to the city, or staying in this weird underworld to save his brother from certain peril. Gabriel, as lead singer, managed to get the rest of the band to “agree” to his request, and work began on the album in early 1974. By setting the story in New York, it was therefore also the flipside to the English countryside vibe offered up by “Selling England”.
Very early on in proceedings, Gabriel was approached by filmmaker William Friedkin, who was intrigued by the abstract story Gabriel had written for the rear cover sleeve notes on the recently released “Genesis Live” album. The two discussed a possible film project, and Gabriel asked the remainder of the band if work could be put on hold whilst he pursued his celluloid dream. With the rest of the band having little to do other than be in the band, they refused. Gabriel, angered as to why his request had been turned down (it probably gave him the impression that the others thought the band was a “job”, and that as an “employee”, you couldn’t just not turn up), promptly quit the group. The remaining quartet made the decision to carry on, and meagre progress was made on what seemed to now be looking like a new album upon which the singer had gone missing. However, relatively soon after the event, Friedkin admitted some guilt at having accidentally helped to break the band into two, and after the film project ground to a halt, Gabriel rejoined the group. What this did show, was that if there was previously an unbreakable bond in the band, then Gabriel proved it could be broken quite easily. This would prove to be an important event in the resultant months that followed.
The album was more or less pieced together by the two parts of the band - Gabriel, having come up with the entire story, wrote more or less everything for the record, claiming that it was akin to writing a novel, and that it would have made no sense for somebody else to try and assist with something that was in his head, and his head alone. The remaining band members were thus tasked with creating all of the musical side of the record, although guitarist Steve Hackett had little involvement - the album is probably a bit more keyboard driven than the earlier records, and so Banks, Rutherford and Collins ended up contributing more.
So what was the album about? Well, given that Rael’s quest to find his brother ends with him rescuing him from the rapids, only for John to turn and face his brother where upon Rael finds himself looking at a mirror image of himself, it seems to be about schizophrenia. But maybe that’s too simple. You would be well advised to read the “Annotated Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” article at www.bloovis.com/music/lamb.html, where the lyrics are printed in chunks alongside parts of the original story that Gabriel wrote and had printed as part of the album artwork, along with thoughts or observations about what each part of each song seemed to refer to. Heavy stuff, but entertaining.
Musically, “The Lamb” differs in style from what had come before. Previously, Genesis had veered close to the folky side of British music, a lot of those earlier LP’s had combined Hackett’s aggressive guitar lines and Banks’ thrilling keyboard flourishes with far more pastoral, and genteel, moments. Many songs were lengthy, in part, because they were often three or four different songs pieced together. But “The Lamb” was more muscular in it’s sound - the noise generated on “In The Cage” or “Back in NYC” a far cry from the poppy bounce of “Harold The Barrel” or the hey-nonny-no acoustic strum of “Harlequin”. The beauty that filled up those earlier records was being replaced, at times, by something more raucous and in your face on “The Lamb”.
There are few genuinely lengthy pieces on here, aside from “Slippermen”. Instead, each side of the record featured a lot of cross fading, and each quarter was mostly made up of shorter songs designed to create one much longer piece. Several songs were quite short, often instrumental segments seemingly designed to link one song to another, whilst Gabriel wrote more lyrics than the band had envisaged, and the group thus had to come up with extra songs to fit the words to, such as side 1 closer “The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging”.
The Friedkin incident was one of two notable pointers as to the future of the band. The other was that Gabriel’s wife was having difficulties with her first pregnancy, meaning he was mostly absent from writing and rehearsal sessions. As such, the album was being worked on by Gabriel in one corner, and the rest of the band in the other. This, combined with Gabriel’s singular vision of what the album was about, caused problems at times - where the music had been composed and Gabriel’s lyrics added to it, the rest of the band would sometimes alter the lyrics Gabriel had written to better fit that piece of music. Gabriel was unimpressed whenever this occurred.
The band had been given a deadline within which to complete the album, and as such, some of Gabriel’s ideas were never fully realized, or were not explored properly, meaning several pieces of lyrics are so obscure, it is difficult to know what Gabriel was trying to convey. By the time the album was complete, Gabriel had made the decision to leave the band - a combination of family issues, and a sense that he and the rest of the band were no longer ‘on the same page’. But all five members agreed to tour first, and Gabriel’s departure was only announced after the final Lamb show took place in Besnacon in France on May 22nd 1975.
The original LP was released with a semi personalised catalogue number, CGS 101, and was housed in a gatefold sleeve. Original copies also included a competition insert, which on one side featured photos of albums from the Charisma back catalogue, and on the other, a competition entry form where you had to work out the names of a Charisma artist from a jumbled up set of letters in order to be in with a chance to win a cool £1000. Thankfully, this was made easier by the fact that the answers were all artists mentioned elsewhere on the insert. The original pressings were on Charisma’s “Mad Hatter and Bunny” labels, but latter period repressings exist on the blue “Mad Hatter only” design.
The two slabs of vinyl were housed in individual inner sleeves, complete with lyrics on each. In the middle of each side of the inners was an arty, 45 degree angled, “design” - each different on each side of each inner sleeve - which no doubt meant ‘something’. Each slab of vinyl had it’s own catalogue number (CG1 and CG2), and each inner had one or the other catalogue number printed bottom right on the front of each one, ensuring you returned your vinyl to the “correct“ inner sleeve. The lyrics were printed around the central design image, but carried over from one inner to the other, so the lyrics for most of “The Chamber Of 32 Doors” were on the second inner sleeve, despite the song itself being on CG1.
Sides 1 and 3 were on standard Charisma labels, but the same label design was used for sides 2 and 4 - an image of Rael smashing through a pane of glass, and thus featured both the CG1 and CG2 catalogue numbers printed on the label. In other words, you would only know which side you were playing by either actually playing it, or by flipping it over to see if you were holding Record 1 or Record 2.
The story of Rael was printed on the inside of the gatefold. Alongside the specially shot images that adorned the front and rear covers, were more photos, giving the impression the album was some sort of soundtrack to a movie, or TV show, with photos representing the chamber of 32 doors, the rapids, etc, etc. Gabriel’s story ended with the line “it’s over to you”, the first word being printed in italics to cross reference with the title of the final song, “It”. There then followed the credits, and, in order to ensure there was no void space in the artwork, the opening lines of the story were reprinted again, deliberately cutting off midway through one of the sentences. Different editions of the LP from different countries featured different credits, and thus the repeated story cut off in different places in different territories.
The album was reissued on CD in 1985. This edition of the album, sadly, is very shabby design wise. First up, the original “Genesis” logo has gone, replaced instead by a logo using a more standardised font which is placed further up the sleeve - it is actually printed inside a grey border that surrounds the front image. The original photo is still in situ, but the album title is also altered graphics-wise, too being printed in a new font inside the border - this time at the very bottom. This leaves a greater expanse of white when compared to the original, part of which is taken up by the tacky “this compact disc is not digitally recorded”. Thanks. Given it was taped in 1974, I could have guessed that myself. Put simply, it looks awful.
The rear cover is not much better, the original - and brilliant - triple photo montage on the back replaced by a close up version of the rapids photo from inside the gatefold of the original vinyl album. The inner booklet does, however, reproduce the rear cover photo on the rear of the booklet - minus the track listing that was on the original - and the same “altered” front cover design is also reproduced on the front of the booklet.
One nice touch though, is that the four sides of the inner sleeves, with the lyrics, have been faithfully reproduced in the booklet, whilst Gabriel’s story is also reprinted (but the inside of the gatefold is not reproduced, I suppose because it would have made the story impossible to read), so is printed in a simpler style in full. As you might expect, many of the photos used on the original are absent. Also unlike the original, no attempt has been made to fill up the void space that follows the story and credits, and so there is a white ‘gap’ at the end of the text at the back of the booklet.
In 1991, a boxset was released by Virgin (TPAK 17) which included reissues of both “The Lamb” and “Selling England” as picture CD’s (the latter also suffered from having it’s front cover tampered with, although the “new” logo as seen on “The Lamb” is used on “Selling England” as well, so there is actually an element of continuity). Although the boxset, of course, includes only two albums, there are three discs, and the back of the box lists the songs as if you are getting three albums, as if the two halves of “The Lamb” had been released in separate editions, with everything on sides 3 and 4 listed under the banner “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway II”.
“The Lamb” was performed in it’s entirety on the tour that followed. A show at the Shrine Auditorium on 24th January 1975 was taped for US radio and was later included in the 1998 boxset “Archive 1967-1975”. It was claimed in the sleeve notes that the final song was not recorded in full, and to make up for this, the original studio mix was revamped with some new Gabriel vocals. However, this story is nonsense, as tapes of the entire show - full album and encore performances of “Watcher Of The Skies“ and “The Musical Box“ - are doing the rounds. This link worked last time I looked: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnYlBCmtVAQ
Although never regulars in the UK singles charts, two 45’s were lifted from the album in the band’s homeland. A reworked “Counting Out Time”, with a totally new intro, appeared as CB 238, backed with a slightly different version of LP track “Riding The Scree” (the intro differs from the LP mix again), and was followed by “The Carpet Crawlers”, CB 251, which included a live version of “The Waiting Room”, taken from the Shrine gig - and thus now officially available again on the “Archive” box (although I understand the mixes of both sides of the single differ from the albums on which they appear). The b-side was actually titled “The Waiting Room (Evil Jam)”, as the origins of the song stemmed from a jamming session. As an aside, a reformed Genesis reworked the a-side for a compilation album in 1999, and although “The Carpet Crawlers 1999” never got released as a single in the UK (it did appear across Europe), it did reach the promo CD stage here, where it was included in radio edit form.
“The Lamb”, along with pretty much the entire Genesis back catalogue, got reissued a few years back, with a bonus DVD. However, video footage from the period is virtually non existent, meaning the DVD included features absolutely NOTHING from the actual album, but instead some early 1974 TV footage of a couple of oldies (excerpts of fan filmed bootleg footage was included). There does also exist a normal, remastered, standard edition and so anybody missing this album from their collection, should be able to track down this version of the album if nothing else for under a tenner.
You could argue, that in some respects, “The Lamb” was a major sidestep for the band. The decision to largely ditch the lengthy multi-part songs that had become their trademark, and replace them with shorter, sharper tunes (in the main) almost sort of predicted the more pop route they would take without Gabriel. But the sheer ambition of the record overrules this. What we are dealing with here, in effect, is one long 100 minute song. The band may have taken to performing only selected tracks from it in later years (the 1982 reunion show with Gabriel even saw them playing them in what seemed to be random order) but it works better as a whole.
Although much has been made of the more aggressive tone of the album, the highpoints are really from all over the place. The buzz-saw throb of the opening title track sets the scene for the overall vibe of the record, but soon enough, the inventive nature of the band’s past is soon apparent - the quiet opening section of “Fly On A Windshield” explodes into a beautiful roar, Hackett’s guitar (I presume it is him) filling the air as Banks’ keyboard lines bounce around the background. (PS. For the rest of this article, we shall assume all guitar licks are Hackett’s, for ease of use, although Rutherford played both bass and a 12-string Electric on the LP).
I love the lyrics of “Broadway Melody Of 1974”, where Gabriel runs through a list of pop culture references - “Lenny Bruce declares a truce, and plays his other hand...Groucho with his movies trailing stands alone with his punch line failing...Klu Klux Klan serve hot soul food and the band plays “In The Mood“...there’s Howard Hughes in Blue Suede Shoes, smiling at the majorettes smoking Winston Cigarettes”. On any other album, the ethereal “Cuckoo Cocoon” might seem slight, but here it provides a good link into the pounding “In The Cage”, which has a gloriously noisy middle section, Banks again pushing the keys to their melodic limit, as Gabriel spits his lyrics across the cacophony of sound - “outside the cage I see my brother John...I cry out Help! before he can be gone...and I shout out John Please Help Me!...I’m helpless in my violent rage”. It’s the first really epic piece on the record, and after it ends, a beautiful, bubbling keyboard driven instrumental passage fades in, more evidence of just how beautifully melodic Gabriel-era Genesis often were.
“The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging” stomps along, building and building to a growling, almost grotesque, snarl of a finish, before side 2 starts with the spiky new wave strut of “Back In NYC”. Again, as Banks’ keyboards flit around the room, Gabriel scowls away over the top - “you’re sitting in your comfort, you don’t believe I’m real...your progressive hypocrites hand out their trash, but it was mine in the first place so I’ll burn it to ash”. It is followed by the stunning instrumental “Hairless Heart”, where the keyboard sounds feel like they’ve been beamed down from heaven - the music on this record is just as important as Gabriel’s words.
To be fair, I could live without the rinky dink naughty pop nonsense of “Counting Out Time”, a song where we go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the sublime, because the propulsive beauty of “The Carpet Crawlers” follows straight after - there are few things better in life than hearing Gabriel whisper the opening line “there is lambs wool under my naked feet, the wool is soft and warm, gives off some kind of heat” whilst Banks again conjures up some magical keyboard riffs. Almost as impressive is “The Chamber Of 32 Doors”, which alternates between a rhythmic strut in the start of the verses, a genteel laid back vibe in the latter part of the verses (it always sounds to me like the band taped this bit in a church) and the twanging thump of the choruses. The advantage of this album being too long to fit onto one CD, is that the natural halfway break you got on the LP is still here as this song closes CD1 - the final section, more or less Gabriel singing without any backing, is all the more effective when it is followed by that wall of silence you get as you prepare to change discs/records - “this chamber of so many doors, I’ve nowhere to hide, I’d give you all of my dreams if you’d help me find a door that doesn’t lead me back again...take me away”. It’s a stunning climax to the first portion.
“Lillywhite Lilith” is one of several songs that has it’s origins in an earlier, unfinished, Genesis piece, and it recalls the earlier period of the band - it doesn’t quite follow the verse chorus verse formula, the big booming pop sound of the first 90 seconds then changing track completely to a finish with a keyboard filled, rather quiet, rumble, as Rael is taken into another nightmarish scenario (“she leaves me in my darkness, I have to face my fear”). It goes straight into the psychotic madness that is “The Waiting Room”, lots of odd noises eventually transforming into a groovy jam, with Banks - yet again - at the peak of his powers.
“Anyway” is driven by a beautiful piano motif, and with Gabriel’s voice sounding fragile (“all the pumping’s nearly over for my sweetheart”), creates a beautiful piece of music. There is a glorious piano solo in the middle before Hackett pulls off a stunning solo which helps propel the music skyward, before it slows and quietens down for the final verse - again, some of the lyrics are wonderfully descriptive, helping you to try and keep up with the story (“the doorbell rings and it’s “Good Morning Rael, so sorry you had to wait, it won’t be long yeah, she’s very rarely late“”). The stomp of “Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist” leads into another work of beauty, the heavenly “The Lamia”, which again opens with a beautiful piano run, as an almost inaudible Gabriel cries in a high pitched voice “the scent grows richer, he knows he must be near”. Gabriel’s vocals throughout this are stunning, and the way he delivers lines such as “struck by beauty, gripped in fright” like a little boy lost one minute, then “it is the scent of garlic that lingers on my chocolate fingers!” with a sense of fear and aggression the next, is quite remarkable.
Side 3 climaxes with “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats” - for three minutes, it sort of hovers in the background, as Hackett plays the same simple set of chords, as if it is some kind of morse code being sent out across the oceans, to try and entice somebody to come back to shore. Every so often, a choir of voices will harmonise with the guitar, creating something so beautiful, it is nothing short of perfection.
We finally get to the first song that consists of multiple parts, “The Colony Of Slippermen”. Whilst the subject matter is just as, well, arguably childish as that in “Counting Out Time”, it’s executed better because the music is more muscular at one point, more “Genesis”-like in others - just listen to the glorious sounds emanating from Banks’s keyboards as Gabriel finishes the “supersize blackbird that sure can fly!” line. The shimmering “Ravine”, again an instrumental used a la “Hairless Heart” to link two songs, is glorious - the sound of a wild west movie being transported to the streets beneath New York City.
We are now on the final stretch, and things don’t let up. “The Light Dies Down On Broadway” cleverly references two earlier songs from the LP - the title is borrowed of course from the opening title track, whilst the melody and chords in the verse echo those in the chorus of “The Lamia”. It was the one song on the LP whose lyrics were provided, in full, by somebody other than Gabriel, and the re-use of music from elsewhere on the record is really quite brilliant - it helps to bind the different sides of the album together. It’s a beautiful sounding piece of music, and is the point at which Rael has to decide whether or not to save his brother. He decides to do so, and so we are thrown headfirst into the time signature changing madness of “Riding The Scree”. Banks’ keyboards are in full flight again, and the lengthy opening passage is designed to try and paint a picture of Rael trying to find a pathway towards where his brother is stranded; when the opening line finally kicks in - “Struggling down the slope, there’s not much hope” - Gabriel’s voice is hidden quite significantly in the mix, maybe done on purpose to try and convey the sense of urgency that the story is trying to convey.
“Here I Go” whispers Gabriel at the end, and another mighty Tony Banks keyboard solo roars out of the speakers as Rael dives down into the water. He is pulled downstream past John and the song slows down, and fades out, before the stunning “In The Rapids” begins. Again, Gabriel can barely be heard as he describes the situation in the river (“moving down the water, John is drifting out of sight”), and the song recalls the melodic pull of early Genesis once more - minimalist guitar lines, Collins eventually getting into a simple but effective drum pattern, as Rael finally grabs hold of his brother (“I’m waiting for John to be carried past, we hold together and shoot the rapids fast”). As the song approaches the finale, Gabriel’s vocals become more urgent as the band kicks it up a notch, until the horror of what Rael uncovers is finally revealed (“something’s changed, that’s not your face, it’s mine...It’s Mine!”)
A space age style keyboard noise shoots past, finishing “In The Rapids” and starting up “It”, a bouncy romp of a final song, which sounds like an attempt to give an optimistic finish to what seems to have been a rather depressing and heartbreaking story. Notable for featuring the name of the song in each line of lyrics, or at least as part of a word in each line of lyrics (“just a little bit of it can bring you up or down...it is walking on the moon, leaving your cocoon”), it shuffles along with a groove that isn’t characteristic Genesis, but is marked by some nifty Hackett riffs and a roaring melodic rush that is definitely the band’s trademark. “It’s only knock and know all but I like it” Gabriel repeats again and again as the song fades out, and Rael’s story - whatever it is - ends. As does Gabriel’s time with the band.
So what would the band have done after “The Lamb” if Gabriel was still with them? They would have had the same problem The Who had in trying to top “Tommy”. But fate had played it’s hand, and by 1976, a new four piece version of the group was dropping some of the prog for pop, and Gabriel was seemingly in hiding. It thus stood as the band’s grand statement, the final fling by the original incarnation of the group. And as good as some of the later albums were, they never managed to make another record quite as good as this one.
“The Lamb”, and Gabriel era Genesis in general, is spectacular. Rarely namechecked by anybody, it still stands as a monumental achievement, a gloriously alternative piece of rock music, and the pinnacle of a band who had spent the first half of the seventies making genuinely progressive, and groundbreaking, left field music. I have said it before, and I will say it again - this is real alternative rock, not Keane or Snow Patrol style “indie music”, and yet is never too avant garde or pompous to grate, but instead is regularly exciting, thrilling, weird and beautiful. Of course, if your knowledge of Genesis ends with “Invisible Touch”, or your awareness of Gabriel stretches no further than “Sledgehammer”, then prepare to have your mind blown if you have never heard this record, and decide to check it out. Maybe at times, by trying to stretch it out over a double LP, it struggles to maintain the quality levels to a consistently high standard at times, but there is enough genius on this album to overcome this minor quibble. Without doubt, a high point of 70s Prog, and a benchmark for all alternative music that followed. If you own this album, you probably agree with me. Or at least, you should do. But if not, as Gabriel says in his story of Rael, whether or not you decide to try and discover just why some people have raved about this record for the last 40 years, well, it’s over to you.