THROUGHOUT their extensive career, Genesis have attracted much attention. Whether that be from their notable contributions to British progressive rock, or their subsequent change to pop rock, or even garnering criticism for being privately educated in the British rock scene. But whatever your opinion, it’s hard not to recognise Genesis’ importance in the development of prog rock. One album in particular that helped give Genesis this status was 1973’s Selling England by the Pound.
One first listening to this album it’s very easy to notice the whimsical nature of vocalist Peter Gabriel’s lyrics. Drawing from the likes of English folk lore and classical figures from British history, even the title of this album drips with essence of the homeland. Gabriel already had a reputation for eccentricity in their live performances, most notably when touring their previous album, Foxtrot, where he would often sing in costume. This would continue in the Selling England… period, with Gabriel donning the Britannia costume during performances of ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’.
When you combine these lyrics with the overall musical performance of the band, you end up with an ambitious, fantastical album that isn’t as easy to listen to as much of the band’s later material. Long, winding tracks such as ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’ and ‘The Cinema Show’ exhibit expansive guitar and keyboard solos, courtesy of Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Tony Banks. Opener ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight’ is one of the more accessible tracks, opening with Gabriel’s sole vocals crooning before morphing into clean guitars seeming to imitate ‘Greensleeves’. Finally the song delves into a fast paced beat with traditional Genesis indulgence.
The only single from the album, ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ is notoriously catchy, perhaps making it the only radio bait on this album. ‘It’s one o’clock and time for lunch, hum de dum de dum…’ Gabriel muses as himself and drummer Phil Collins unite in vocals to give a stunning performance over a concoction of sitars and mellotron. It’s no surprise the song is one of the few older Genesis songs to make it into their newer catalogue. The fourth song on the album, ‘More Fool Me’ shows Collins’ debut solo singing appearance on a Genesis record. In contrast to the rest of Selling England by the Pound, this song has a very stripped back simplistic approach, almost coming as a relief after the excess of ‘First Of Fifth’. Of course Collins would go on to become to bands lead singer in later years, after the departure of Gabriel.
It’s almost too difficult to describe the twists and turns of the second half of the album in pure word form. Genesis’ incredibly tight composition of their pieces let’s them play through such an intense piece such as ‘The Cinema Show’ and keep it riveting without losing the listeners attentions. That, of course, owes to the technically ability of Genesis’ then five members, and just how bleedin’ talented they all are. Of course, Selling England by the Pound isn’t always an easy listen; Gabriel’s theatrical performance may throw some people off, while tracks may often come across as excessive, but let’s be honest; what prog rock isn’t?
Gabriel left the band after the band’s next album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and from there the bands style would seriously change. Selling England… has remained one of their finest albums though; a deeply indulgent, evolving 50 minutes that’s tells more stories than perhaps some could handle.
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