Genesis Revisited Revisited

Steve Hackett, keeper of the flame of the 'real' Genesis music (as opposed to to the stadium-filling successful sort), has released the second volume of his "GENESIS REVISITED" project. Two albums, sixteen-or-so years apart. The first embodies all that is risk-taking and exciting about this music we call 'progressive'. The second demonstrates how CONSERVATIVE rock music can appear if you're not careful. 

PLAY SOMETHING WE KNOW! - On exiting the Guildhall after a Genesis concert back in the '70s, one would often hear someone say "Wow! That was fantastic, it sounded just like the records!". This was regarded as A GOOD THING. This was what fans expected then. Unlike their contemporaries - Yes, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake & Palmer or other bands with which they were conveniently and erroneously bracketed - there wasn't an awful lot of room for IMPROVISATION at a Genesis concert. But that's not the kind of musical experience that I look for these days, the regurgitation of past glories. Where's the adventure? Where's the progress? Hackett says in his sleeve notes that he prefers the term "permissive" rather than "progressive" to describe this sort of music, meaning that it was music where anything was possible and anything was allowed.

The first "Genesis Revisited" album took a lot of liberties with the material and it was all the better for it. It took a sidelong glance at the Genesis songs and treated them as the starting point for music that is, if not always successful in its aims, at least fresh and interesting. But it wouldn't have pleased everyone. Perhaps a poll was taken among Genesis fans, all of whom agreed "We didn't like the first 'Revisited' album much, it didn't always sound like Genesis". The second album therefore goes out its way to sound JUST like Genesis to appease those very conservatives.

'Tribute' projects of this sort are bound to have their hits and misses, especially when they feature a revolving cast of players and guest artists. The first "Revisited" had a high 'hit' count. The second, sadly, has more than its share of misses (perhaps a double CD is stretching it too thin?). Neither of them pass the "You Can Comfortably Listen To It All The Way Through" test.


"Genesis Revisited II" is, it has to be said, a splendid looking package. The discs come encased in a 'hardback book', with photo-art illustrating the songs, copious sleevenotes and the discs nestling in non-scratchy paper envelopes at the back. A lot of time and care has been lavished on the presentation and it is a beautiful thing indeed.

As for the music, I'd probably go along with the reviewer who said that, at times, the "Revisited II" album sounds like 'GENESIS KARAOKE'. This time around they play it a little safe. Some of the arrangements stick TOO close to the original recordings to be heard as anything other than carbon copies. There's nothing here as adventurous as the first "Genesis Revisited"s Brazilian percussion-laden take on "Los Endos" or the frankly bonkers version of "Dance On A Volcano" for example. Hackett's regular live band are wont to throw a little bit of 'JAZZ' into the mix from time to time. The first album had that in abundance, but there are very few glimpses of that on the second.

Throughout his 'solo' career, THE VOCALS have always been Hackett's weak point - he so often resorts to novelty effects to disguise his own shortcomings (See "Revisited I" for several examples). Whereas on "GR1" the singers were allowed to bring their own interpretations to the songs, on "GR2" some of the guest vocalists appear to be falling over themselves to see who can do the best Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins impersonations.

It works best when the singer brings some individuality to the 'role'. Top marks to STEVEN WILSON for making "Can Utility & The Coastliners" his own and to JAKKO JAKSZYK for a lovely "Entangled". JOHN WETTON previously did a bang-up job of tackling "Watcher of the Skies" and "Firth of Fifth" on the first album, so it is slightly disappointing that he sounds out of his depth here on "Afterglow".

I'm not sure if I could ever warm to NAD SYLVAN's voice, which has been described as "Cat Stevens on steroids", or that of AMANDA LEHRMANN - try imagining "Ripples" as sung by Marianne Faithfull. Yikes! get the idea?

On the plus side though, this album SOUNDS glorious, with all the diamond-fingered guitar work and lashings of mellotron that you'd hope for. "Genesis Revisited" still stands up to repeated listening (once you learn to live with its more bizarre musical ideas). But as for "Genesis Revisited II", I'll probably prefer listening to the original versions when all's said and done. 


"GENESIS REVISITED" (single CD, originally released 1996)

WATCHER OF THE SKIES ***** Fantastic! John Wetton makes the song his own; Bill Bruford drums and Tony Levin basses (what's not to like?); The orchestra adds a whole other dimension to the grandiosity. Whoooomph!

DANCE ON A VOLCANO *** This works because of the quirkiness of the arrangement rather than despite it! It sounds frankly bonkers and more than a little irritating (those silly voices again) on first hearing, but after a few years you'll grow to like it, or at least tolerate it, believe me.

VALLEY OF THE KINGS **** I'm still not sure what this is doing here, but it's Damn Good Hackett nevertheless. It used to make a cracking set-opener a few years ago.

DÉJÀ VU ** This was an unused Peter Gabriel song from the "Selling England" days, but here, with Paul Carrack to the fore, it sounds more like a Mike & The Mechanics outtake. Not a bad effort all round, with some beautiful flourishes... but it's not really that strong a song and you can see why it remained unfinished in the first place.

FIRTH OF FIFTH ***** This works so well, as if the original song has been taken apart and reassembled: Very distinctive orchestration; notice how the famous piano part is reassigned to acoustic guitar; the instrumental passage breaks down into a jazzy interlude; Bill Bruford is allowed to shine on percussive sundries and John Wetton sounds so RIGHT for the song. Most agreeable!

FOR ABSENT FRIENDS ** Still can't make my mind up about this one. "For Absent Friends" was a fairly forgettable little interlude on "Nursery Cryme". Here it is reworked as a feature for Colin Blunstone and orchestra, with nary a trace of Genesis to be heard. Brave!

YOUR OWN SPECIAL WAY **** The surprise hit! This so shouldn't work but it does! With Paul Carrack at the microphone, this is really another in the "File Under Mike & The Mechanics" category, but it's a soulfully sweet reinterpretation of an already sweet song.

FOUNTAIN OF SALMACIS ***(*) I so wanted to like this unreservedly, because "Fountain of Salmacis" is at the top of my 'All Time Favourite Genesis Songs' list. The opening acoustic guitar flurry promises much. But then I have to dock it a star for the idiotically misplaced Darth Vader impersonation in the opening verse. It gets a lot better after that, though, really benefiting from the widescreen orchestration...

WAITING ROOM ONLY ** This is really just an excuse for the then-current band to have a bit of a jam and play around with the sound effects library. Considering how 'out of character' the original piece was, this was an missed opportunity. Apart from a brief segment near the beginning, I don't see what it has to do with the original "Waiting Room", either musically or texturally, but it has its moments.

I KNOW WHAT I LIKE * Oh dear. As the original hit was a bit of a 'novelty', I shouldn't be too surprised at what goes on here... but really! After all these years, don't you think someone would have taken Hackett aside and quietly explained that he doesn't actually do 'funny' all that well!?! The Viv Stanshall ripoff is highly embarrassing. I can't listen to this, where's the remote?

LOS ENDOS ***** This is a musical highpoint of the album, but one which seemed to annoy the purists at the time. The band play up the 'Latin' flavours previously only hinted at on earlier versions, with lashings of additional Brazilian percussion thrown in for good measure. So it sounds like "Genesis Meets Olodum" then? Excellent! That'll do for me!


 "GENESIS REVISITED II" (double CD, released 2012)

THE CHAMBER OF 32 DOORS *** I'm never sure if these excerpts from "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" will ever stand up in their own right, but this one pretty much has the requisite amount of mellotron-tastic grandiosity to cut it as an opening number. Nad Sylvan would not have been my first choice as singer though.

HORIZONS *** "Here's the one I do on all my albums..." (I don't have a complete set of Steve Hackett albums by any means, but I just counted ten near-identical recordings of "Horizons" in my CD collection. I mean it's nice, but do we need another one?)

SUPPER'S READY ** Really don't see the point of this at all! Remember that shot-for-shot Gus Van Sant remake of the movie "Psycho"? Well, this is exactly the same sort of thing. If you know and love the original "Supper's Ready" in all its glory, then you will be dazzled by the technical skill involved in producing a precise remake in technicolor, at the same time wondering why they bothered.

THE LAMIA *** Another bit of "The Lamb" left to stand alone. Nik Kershaw is a brave choice as singer, but it kind of works. Otherwise, sonically it sticks pretty closely to the original (as elsewhere on this album, the orchestral instruments blend rather too well with the keyboard textures, so you'd be mistaken in thinking they are synthetic after all. A lost opportunity...). The final guitar solo is the one glorious "Hairs On The Back Of The Neck" moment which sets this version apart.

DANCING WITH THE MOONLIT KNIGHT **** It Bites man Francis Dunnery takes first prize in the Peter Gabriel Impersonators Competition. This song also sticks rigidly to the original arrangement, but it really benefits from being re-released in Cinerama.

FLY ON A WINDSHIELD / BROADWAY MELODY OF 1974 *** This sequence from "The Lamb" has been regularly played by the touring band over the last few years. This version documents the live arrangement fairly closely, featuring 'The New Singing Drummer', Gary O'Toole.

THE MUSICAL BOX ** Full marks for the big vintage-sounding production, but minus several for the vocals, which are uniformly horrible.

CAN-UTILITY & THE COASTLINERS ***** Gorgeous! If this disc has a five-star hit then it is this one. An overlooked track from "Foxtrot" is brushed off and given a much-needed shot of Steven Wilson. Great performance! This is one of the few tracks on the album where the orchestra is allowed to sound like a real orchestra and not an even bigger mellotron.

PLEASE DON'T TOUCH *** This piece was the title track to Hackett's second solo album, but apparently it was written as a coda to "Wot Gorilla", which excuses its inclusion here. There's not much to distinguish this from the versions you will have heard at any Steve Hackett Band concert in the last thirty years. Which means it's very good, but so what?

BLOOD ON THE ROOFTOPS **** This too has been performed live in this form for some time. 'The New Singing Drummer' has made it his own by now. The little introductory acoustic guitar piece here is delightful, a strong feature throughout the album. You can also hear the saxophone sounding like a saxophone instead of hiding amongst the keyboard washes as elsewhere.

THE RETURN OF THE GIANT HOGWEED ** Same comments as "The Musical Box" apply here. Great big fat 1972 sound, some nice surprises... but Nad Sylvan's vocals are horrible.

ENTANGLED ***** Disc Two's stand-out track... and again, it's all down to the vocalist of choice. This song really suits Jakko. I breathe a sigh of relief, as this is another contender for my 'All Time Favourite Genesis Songs' list and I would hate to hear it ruined!

ELEVENTH EARL OF MAR *** Nad Sylvan is the featured vocalist here as well, but this time around it's marginally less cringesome. Perhaps his voice is better suited to 'Collins' songs rather than 'Gabriel' ones? Apart from that, the song sounds exactly the same as it did on "Wind And Wuthering".

RIPPLES * They really should have got Jakko to sing this one as well, because Amanda Lehmann is completely wrong for it. As I said further up the page, she sounds to these ears like Marianne Faithfull. I'm sure that I would actually like her voice in the context of a suitable song. But this is not it, not by a long chalk, no siree bob. Apart from that, the song sounds exactly the same as it did on "Trick Of The Tail".

UNQUIET SLUMBERS FOR THE SLEEPERS / IN THAT QUIET EARTH / AFTERGLOW ****(*) This is terrific, for the most part. It actually improves sonically on the "Wind And Wuthering" sequence (and this was the best part of that album). Minus a point though (and I never thought I'd ever find myself typing this!) for John Wetton's vocals on "Afterglow". He managed to do a terrific job of two 'Gabriel' songs on the first "Revisited", but this 'Collins' song just doesn't suit him. A disappointing finish!

A TOWER STRUCK DOWN **** These last three Hackett 'solo' tracks seem a bit like fillers after that... The only connection this song seems to have with Genesis is that Collins and Rutherford played on the original version. There are some fresh orchestral textures here to set it apart.

CAMINO ROYALE ** This also suffers from the "It's Very Good... But So What?" syndrome. For the most part it is played here by a Hungarian band called Djabe, but you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish it from any SHB version of the last thirty years. The Genesis connection? You tell me!

SHADOW OF THE HIEROPHANT **** We end with a strong 'solo' piece, although it's another performance that pretty much 'clones' the original recording. Amanda Lehmann sings Sally Oldfield and her voice is much more pleasing to the ear in this higher register. This song was co-written with Mike Rutherford, if you're wondering what it's doing here on a Genesis tribute.


Listed altogether, that's quite a lot of music! But some of it doesn't bear repeated listening, it has to be said. Hmm... I'll probably find myself 'separating the wheat from the chaff' and compile my own CD of all the best bits before very long!