Make it a Double: Genesis, THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY
The best prog records present listeners with an immersive experience. Think of Pink Floyd's DARK SIDE OF THE MOON—few people, if any, put on that album to listen to, say, "Money," then pack it up and put it away afterward. No, when you sit down to listen to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, you sit down to listen to the whole thing (perhaps accompanied by a viewing of THE WIZARD OF OZ, though that's not required). Same thing with Emerson, Lake & Palmer's BRAIN SALAD SURGERY, Rush's 2112 and Side One of Yes' CLOSE TO THE EDGE, among others. These epics beckon you in and then pour themselves out before you, submerge you in their stories, their melodies, their virtuosity—their utter progness.
Early Genesis had this kind of power. "Supper's Ready," from 1972's FOXTROT, alternated between jaunty classical interludes and bombastic guitar and keyboard passages, but to this day it holds the listener in its grip for every one of its 24 minutes. SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (1973) does the same thing, over the course of an entire album, broadening the canvas on which the band could make its tiniest, dotted details and broadest strokes.
Genesis' next record was its most immersive, spread out across four vinyl sides, on which the band—more pointedly, singer Peter Gabriel—told a story of gritty streets and wild wonderment. Our focus is on Rael, a Puerto Rican street tough, walking the streets of New York City, moving from adventure to surreal adventure, meeting an array of creatures and characters along the way. He sees “something solid forming in the air / And the wall of death is lowered in Times Square” (“Fly on a Windshield”); he finds himself in a cage, and sees his long lost brother through the bars (“In the Cage”); he dreams of a “day of judgment” for engaging in a sexual encounter (“Counting Out Time”), before being comforted by a procession of “Carpet Crawlers” in a lovely melodic moment.
Strange, huh? That ain’t the half of it. Rael finds himself in a pool of water with snake creatures and has a strange congress with them, as they drink his blood (“The Lamia”) and finds, as a result, he has joined the number of Slippermen—bulbous, deformed creatures (Gabriel would dress as one of them in live performance of "The Colony of Slippermen"). Eventually he finds his brother again and either dies, or doesn’t die—it’s complicated, and left open to interpretation.
The music, needless to say, is brilliant, with guitarist Steve Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks in particular operating at the height of their powers. The first album in the set contains the more straightforward songs; the second album beckons with its strangeness. Taken together, they form Gabriel-era Genesis’ most enduring and engaging work. THE LAMB LIES DOWN ON BROADWAY is a classic—one that bears repeated listening and regular immersion.
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