Following on from The Beatles a couple of weeks back, it's time to continue with another classic British act, Genesis and their final album with Phil Collins, We Can't Dance, from 1991.
As the eighties ended and the nineties began, Genesis hadn't released an album since 1986's Invisible Touch and by that time, Phil Collins had released the multi-platinum selling But Seriously... album, spawning big hits such as Hang In Long Enough and Something Happened On The Way To Heaven. Collins looked ultra-comfortable with his solo career at the time, and it was the draw of the lengthy jam sessions with bandmates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks that allowed We Can't Dance to ultimately take shape.
Much like other Genesis albums of the same time, We Can't Dance is an eclectic mix of digestible pop tunes and some lengthier prog rock. When it comes to opening the record, it's clear that the trio eased everyone in with the combo of No Son Of Mine and Jesus He Knows Me. It’s tracks like this that would ultimately ease me into Genesis, with Jesus He Knows Me remaining a favourite for years right up to now. The brilliant thing about these two especially is the way that they sound and their content means they aren’t your typical pop rock tracks. Both concern subjects other than love, with No Son Of Mine tackling childhood abuse and Jesus He Knows Me concerning televangelism. No Son Of Mine retains the sinister sound seen before on the likes of Mama and Tonight Tonight Tonight, offering up something cold thanks to Rutherford’s hypnotic guitar and the ticking clock. Jesus He Knows Me is perhaps a little bit lighter in sound, but equally dark and mocking in tone. It shines a light on a more cynical and satirical Collins, pointing the finger at television preachers who claim to be in touch with God and, for the price of a donation, they could get you closer to heaven. What you get with these are fundamentally left-field pop rock that still make for a great listen. Sure, they aren’t Gabriel-era classics, but after such a diverse back catalogue anyway, there’s nothing really for the band to prove. Both tracks are brilliant to my ears, and make for great listens in their own right.
There’s still some more traditional pop rock tracks present with the likes of Never A Time and Hold On My Heart proving more typical in content especially. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of Collins’ own solo outings during the time in-between Genesis albums, but its stream-of-consciousness style with little semblance of chorus and verse structure does make it an interesting listen. It might be a little bit meandering to some however. In the same vein, despite its romantic nature, Hold On My Heart retains the same intrigue as Never A Time when it comes to structure and actual lyrics. Barring the title, every line is different, but with only the first and last verses repeating their lyrics, it acts as a nice little complete circle. When you consider the fact that Genesis might’ve become known for the formulaic pop hits by this point, Hold On My Heart hits that point with a baseball bat right back into the pitcher’s face.
When it comes to those longer songs, it's tracks like Driving The Last Spike that prove my point. It's more comparable to the likes of Domino from Invisible Touch in terms of length and methodology, telling the story about those who worked on the railways in the nineteenth century. In terms of those soaring soundscapes, it's a real Genesis classic, fitting pieces together to create an absolute epic that, to my mind, is one of their best tracks of the Collins era. A couple of tracks down the line comes Dreaming While You Sleep, a fine illustration of the pop-prog sound that Genesis made their own from the early eighties onwards, fusing together those quintessentially Genesis sounds - Tony Banks' intricate keyboard work and Mike Rutherford's sinister guitars. There’s no doubt it’s a big sound, and it’s a damn shame that the song got cut towards the end of the associated tour. When you listen to early shows of the We Can’t Dance tour, especially the Houston Astrodome show, Dreaming While You Sleep makes for one of the best tracks to listen to. In its full form, it’s astounding and even as a studio version makes for a breathtaking listen.
As with every album and associated live tour, some tracks have to get cut short, and with We Can’t Dance, it did have a couple of unfortunate casualties. Tell Me Why comes first, a song that despite its somewhat joyful melody discusses the issue of homelessness. Of course, Collins had tackled this before on Another Day In Paradise, although Tell Me Why changes the mood completely. For better or for worse, it’s a lot more upbeat than Collins’ more profound and emotional heavy-hitter. It’s always a song that escapes me during heavy Genesis listening sessions, but it’s a nice one to rediscover when coming back to this column.
Living Forever is a song that get a bad wrap from some fans because they might find it a little bit lacklustre compared to some of the rest of this record, but personally speaking, I can’t see what there isn’t to like about it. It’s got a decent instrumental-come-jam section that sounds exactly as you’d expect, and Collins’ layered harmonies certainly sound great. As a few people pointed out on the Genesis subreddit (massive props to u/LordChozo for the Hindsight Is 2020 write-ups for the tracks here - a great source of information), Living Forever does dive into a Revolver type sound in some places, not least on those backing vocals, but you can look on it on two ways. Either it’s a sign that the band had lost their creative spark, or that it’s a warranted comparison to some of the Beatles’ best work. For me, it’s the latter.
As Genesis albums go, We Can't Dance is a real personal favourite. Its eclectic mix of unusual pop rock and more classic Genesis prog tunes make for great listening. Sure, it may not be the same as those early classics with Peter Gabriel, but the trio's swan-song record is still an enjoyable listen all these years later.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/3ko7lXZ
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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