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Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis

Genesis - 1970-1975 Promo Sampler (CD+DVD)

Aisle of Plenty ... or: Which are the definitive versions?

Here we go – the SACD/DVD boxset 1970-1975 is about to be released. As for the previous boxsets, EMI sent out a sampler CD and a sampler DVD to their media partners to give them an impression of the new stereo and 5.1 mixes.

A History...

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was supposed to come out on SACD and DVD-audio already in 2004. What followed was an odyssey of delays and misunderstandings. In the end it was decided to do it right and release every album as hybrid SACDs with a bonus DVD. One reason for the delay was Peter Gabriel’s perfectionism. Gabriel was not happy with The Lamb when he listened to it and sent Nick Davis back into the studio to “do it right” and use the “possibilities of the surround sound”. The outcome was that the albums from 1976-1982 and later from 1983-1998 came out on SACD while Genesis were on their Turn It On Again tour in 2007. Tony Smith admitted in early 2008 that they had held back the Gabriel-era boxset a bit because they had been speculating about a possible reunion tour with Peter Gabriel.

When the first two boxsets came out heated debates broke out amongst fans. They argued about whether the “new mixes” were legitimate and mercilessly uncovered all the variations and flaws. The new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes were created on the basis of the old master tapes. They stay as close as possible to the original so that – if it all works out for the best -  the songs sound much better but not different. This is also why no new recordings or effects were used. A couple of new echos had to be produced, though, because they were on the multitracks.

Despite the careful work some of the song lenths vary – sometimes wrong recordings were used – the bass line in Anything Now is different in one place, Dreaming While You Sleep has an “oh” too many and Anything She Does has a list of variations on its own. There are just three examples, but they indicate why it can be expected that the Gabriel-era songs in their new mixes will provoke passionate debates.

Sampler CD

The promo-CD contains the following tracks:

Happy The Man
The Knife
Harold The Barrel
Musical Box
Get'em Out By Friday
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Cinema Show
Counting Out Time
Carpet Crawlers

It has to be said in advance that the new mixes of Happy The Man and I Know What I Like are already known because they have been released before on Turn It On Again: The Hits (Tour Edition). But only recently have fans identified variations from the original: the flute solo, or parts of it, have been mixed into the background in I Know What I Like. Apart from these two songs The Cinema Show has also been released on a Mail On Sunday promo sampler.

The track that will probably draw most attention is the previously unreleased Resignation. It is part of the legendary Jackson tape and was added to the promo sampler. Resignation is an instrumental, however, and a rather unspectacular one to boot, except, perhaps, for the ending. It is also not too relevant which means that whoever chose the songs for the sampler did not bring too much competence to the table.

Other highlights on the promo sampler are Counting Out Time and Carpet Crawlers. New versions of both were included in the Platinum Collection, but the ones on the sampler are even crisper and more precise. Counting Out Time plays with the lead vocals, you hardly realize where Phil, where Peter sings the lead vocals – very intriguing…

Carpet Crawlers seems revitalized, refreshed, as if it had taken a cold shower and got its circulation flowing. Curiously enough, a bit of Phil’s backing vocals is missing at the end – fans notice everything…

We should also point out Get ‘Em Out By Friday. This song appears in its new clothes for the first time and it, too, has been revitalized. While Watcher Of The Skies (see below) never really worked as a studio song, Get ‘Em Out By Friday is exactly the opposite. And so the song unfolds, the trebles sound crisper, the drums more precise and certain side noises can be heard clearly. This song makes one really look forward to the 5.1 mix.

The DVD sampler combines a couple of new surround mixes. They come in normal Dolby Digital 5.1, but also in full dts 5.1 – which is getting close to an SACD. We have listened to the songs in dts and offer you an admittedly subjective review: 

The Knife

If there is such a thing as “the song that started it all” then The Knife is a good contender for the title. The promo CD also begins with The Knife, though the song has always been mainly – an encore. But it was The Knife that sparked the cult of early Genesis, and interestingly, Genesis played this song for the last time in 1980, and most fans declare that the progressive era in Genesis’ music ended with Duke at the latest. Trespass always had this other sound, and it had another drummer and another guitarist than the other Gabriel-era albums in the box set. It becomes clear that nothing has been tampered with to make the drums sound like Collins. The Knife is actually not a spectacular remix. It sounds a bit muffled as in the original, only the cymbals are a bit clearer here and there. The vocals do not come out of the centre speaker only. At times, particularly during the “stand up and fight” bit, Gabriel’s voice is distributed across several boxes. Presumably they have brought out the best of the song with this. Purists will likely call this a highlight.

The Musical Box

The surround versions of the classic Genesis songs, e.g. The Musical Box, were eagerly awaited. Nick Davis explained that the options are restricted with Trespass and Nursery Cryme because they were recorded on 8 or 16 tracks instead of 32. If we bear that in mind, The Musical Box may be one of the big winners in these new mixes. It sounds clearer, stronger, reasonably subtle in quiet bits and the surround effects are used only where they make sense (e.g. in Phil’s voice when he sings “here it comes again”). The vocals benefit from being mixed to the centre. The Musical Box has improved as a whole package; there is not much sense in pointing out other details.

Watcher Of The Skies

This live favourite has only recently been revived most impressively by the Canadian band The Musical Box. The impressions their live show leaves are so fresh that one wonders whether Phil’s cymbal faded in in the original, too – but the studio version has always been like that. The surround sound makes the intro much more dramatic, the incoming cymbals sound brilliant, the bass drum is powerful – and all these things sound clear and do not oppress each other. The snare-drum could be a bit louder in places, but the overall distribution of the drums across the surround speakers is interesting. The centre speaker is mainly for Gabriel’s vocals, which are therefore very clear here and elsewhere. Steve’s guitar wanders through the surround space – and the finale of the song is overwhelming. Still, Watcher Of The Skies has never been a studio track, it is a live track…

Firth Of Fifth

The 1973 classic features the definitive Steve Hackett solo. Often copied, never equaled. It may not be the trickiest solo, but the style is non-pareil. Stuermer has never tried to do that and went for a “faster, higher, further” version; Drennan got close in 1998 but did not have the special something. Firth Of Fifth is one of the strongest Genesis songs ever; it has rarely been left out off the band’s live setlist to this day.
DVD SamplerThe 5.1 version on the sampler DVD lives up to this reputation. Suddenly percussion elements surface that could not be heard before. Gabriel’s vocals come mainly out of the centre speaker, the drums are strong and the bass works well in both the louder and quieter bits of the song. The climax of the song is the instrumental part. It begins with lots of realizations about the percussion before Hackett’s solo charms the listener. The lead guitar is focused on the centre speaker (like the vocals before it). This moves Hackett’s effort into the centre of attention. Suddenly you can even hear the 12-string guitar from the rear speakers. Collins’ drums drive the song forward until Tony’s piano calm it down towards the end. Many people will rediscover this song in the surround version as a sparkling jewel revived.

Twilight Alehouse

This song will be on the SACD/DVD with the extra tracks. Twilight Alehouse was a B-side of the I Know What I Like single, though it was recorded much earlier, in the Nursery Cryme sessions. The surround mix has to be judged accordingly. The lighter passages, such as the beginning, benefit a lot from the 5.1 mix, but there is not much difference in those parts of the song where the arrangement is more compact. This is probably because of the source material that was less differentiated than at the time of Selling England By The Pound. It is good to hear that the bass drum was mixed with an ear for the overall atmosphere. The quiet part (at around 5:00) has some remarkable effects; the flute part in particular stands out. The finale is very strong and sounds better than other loud passages earlier in the song.

In The Cage

What people expected most from are the new mixes of the opus magnum The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. There are better albums, some would argue, and point out that A Trick Of The Tail and Selling England are more popular with Genesis fans. These two albums are produced better than The Lamb, too, and so fans wonder what Nick Davis can get out of this album – particularly since Peter Gabriel sent him back to the studio to get more out of the 5.1 mix. Knowing Peter Gabriel’s penchant for effects a subtle version seems the wrong thing to expect. When you compare In The Cage to Firth Of Fifth it soon turns out that the Selling album was recorded with more care. The overall Lamb sound cannot live up to that. The 5.1 mix of In The Cage is nevertheless a pleasant experience. It is peculiar, though, to hear Peter Gabriel sing the song – after all, Phil Collins has sung this song on almost every Genesis tour since 1976 – and it is beyond dispute that the live versions are an improvement over the studio version. Nick Davis still discovers previously unsuspected depth in the song. A couple of percussion elements trickle out of the rear boxes instead of getting drowned in the overall sound as in the old stereo versions. The drums are not as brilliant as on the live recording from the Archive 1967-1975 set, but Mike Rutherford’s bass line after “my little runaway” is very effective. In The Cage is a real teaser in 5.1 and probably only outlines what the 5.1 mix of The Lamb holds in store for us.

At the end of the day

The choice of songs for this sampler is as peculiar as the previous box set sampler. It may be doubted that these songs provide a representative impression of the whole boxset. The songs indicated, though, what is coming our way, and they give us an appetite for more. Mission accomplished. Whether the journalists see it that way, too, remains to be seen.

The litmus test are the fans, of course. Are these the definitive versions of the songs? Or are they merely variations that are a nice bonus but cannot replace the originals? The fans will decide …

by Christian Gerhardts

translated by Martin Klinkhardt