Genesis – Selling England By The Pound (1973)

Many things have conspired, throughout the week, to bring me to this album yet again. I finished “England, England”, Julian Barnes’ wonderful novel, I drank, out of pleasure as well as dire necessity, gallons of tea, discovered a very funny British game show, and had the opportunity to reflect on certain aspects of the past. It’s not that the album has the word “England” in the title – it’s that the weather’s been dreadful, I’ve been cooped up inside enjoying a very specific brand of humor and feeling a certain shade of blue which sort-of rolls in right before spring, and for some reason all of these things remind me of this record without fail.

Source: genesismuseum.com

I think, probably more than any other group with such a long history, Genesis can be approached as two very different bands altogether. There’s the Peter Gabriel Genesis, and then there’s the Phil Collins Genesis, and I can scarcely find any sort of relevant, deep resemblance between the two. This album is definitely part of the Peter Gabriel era, which is in my opinion, the “proper” one, and it’s the first Genesis album I ever heard. Let’s just say that the Phil Collins Genesis really isn’t my cup of tea, and I could never really consider how profound the changes in the band’s music had been, so I stayed away from them for the longest time, thinking “I can’t dance” and feeling that’s all I needed to know. And yet, I would read reviews about great prog rock bands from all sorts of archives, written by people I agreed with when it came to Focus, King Crimson, Yes and so on, reviews which would praise Genesis as one of the very best, most exciting and enthralling of the entire genre. I couldn’t really bring myself to jump in, I wasn’t sure where to start, and so the years went by, until I found myself in a car driven by an ex girlfriend’s father, as her +1 for a relative’s wedding, half asleep. It was on that long trip that a CD with this album on it teased me awake – for some reason I was sure it had to be Genesis, although, as I said, I hadn’t heard any of their music previous to “I Can’t Dance”. I just knew it had to be, and it was too good to be true. Sleep forgotten, I immersed myself in the record completely, and it became, right then and there, on of my favorite albums.

Every thing which defined that particular scene of my memory fell apart, except Selling England By The Pound – this album acts now like a sort of miraculous glue holding together an otherwise perilously jagged mess of emotion and remembrance, a sort of musical painkiller of truly moving beauty, drawing heavily on a sort of romantic aesthetic (I swear, there are piano parts on this album which spell Chopin to me, and that’s no small feat) and radiating a sort of calm, an aura of magnificent tenderness and peace of which I can’t get enough on most days.

Sure there’s over the top drama and theatrics embedded in the very music, not to mention the lyrics (which are really really good, seriously) but I’ve always felt it offensive that people would simply catalog that as being pretentious and gratuitous and unavoidable in progressive rock. Yes, towards the end of the genre’s most prolific cycle, these traits had come to take precedence over the music, but not here, not on this record. Here, every phrase has it’s proper place, well thought-out and constructed, and the slightly corny vibe some of the passages can convey is somehow natural, justified, honest. Besides, I think Genesis were probably the most visually overwhelming live act in the prog rock years (save maybe for Pink Floyd), staging costumed shows the likes of which nobody had ever seen before, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the music retains some of that quality even in recorded form.

In any case, the album is a true waterfall of music – refreshing, majestic and sublime, and I keep telling myself, in this dreary, bitter month of February, that if this doesn’t put the spring back in one’s step, nothing will. I hope that you’ll enjoy Selling England By The Pound just about as much as I am right now. See you soon!

P.S.: Imagine my surprise when I found the entire record on YouTube! Yay!

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