“Calling All Stations” by Genesis… an Entry in the Inexplicable Album Series
Edwin is focused on his site for the day and didn’t want to rush anything so he won’t be posting today. Good thing I had a few articles in the backlog, including this look at what I’ve always considered a rather great example of an Inexplicable Album as it’s shockingly and irredeemably awful…read on to find out why, kiddies!
After listening to thousands of albums in my life, I’ve discovered a listening event I call the “Good Album First” effect.
This occurs when you listen to a band’s best albums first and then move on to their “other” stuff. The “other” stuff usually ends up being a huge disappointment, even if its high quality in and of itself.
For example, I listened to the Cars debut album and I couldn’t get enough. It was diverse, well written, engagingly arranged and surprisingly lyrically apt.
Then I listened to “Candy O.” And “Shake It Up.” And “Heartbeat City.” They were hugely disappointing to me at first. Although I’ve learned to enjoy just about every album by the Cars, I’ve never listened to one I enjoy as much as their first.
I mention this effect because many fans often call out other listeners that they believe are suffering under this “delusion.”
“If you wouldn’t have heard ‘Pet Sounds’ first, you’d think ‘Carl and the Passions-So Tough’ was amazing!” they might say, or “Come on yeah sure, compared to ‘Sgt. Pepper’ it might be weak, but ‘Help!’ is still a kicking album!”
I have made very similar arguments from time to time and I understand the draw of such a simplistic and impossible to dispute (logically) argument.
But here’s what makes that particular argument so insidious: by claiming somebody doesn’t appreciate something because it doesn’t meet their expectations, you are , in essence, arguing that they are closed minded. And how can you disprove being closed minded? By getting angry and defensive and looking like the asshole while the TRUE asshole gets all the girls for defending shitty albums.
Why do I bring up this contentious argument? Because it’s an argument I’ve often run into from certain (rather delusional) Genesis fans regarding their last (and likely to stay that way) album “Calling All Stations.”
“Come on man! You just heard ‘Foxtrot’ first so you think it’s the best thing ever. If this album was by another band, you’d love it. It’s dark, moody, mysterious and oh so ‘arty’ after all the pop crap of the Phil Collins era!”
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell all “Calling All Shit-Stains” defenders to “fuck off” for that argument: this album, objectively (from my point of view) and in fact quite subjectively (almost mathematically) is not only the worst album produced by Genesis but may be one of the worst albums ever made.
Short, short Genesis history: weird prog band with Peter Gabriel loses Peter Gabriel and makes synth pop music to make it big. Phil Collins was their drummer and singer for the pop period and he had his own crappy solo career.
Collins left in 1996 after the simultaneous success of the “We Can’t Dance” Genesis album and his “But Seriously…” solo album in and around 1991.
Do you get the humor of Phil’s timing fully? I mean, the guy left the band to “further his solo career” right when it was at the point of complete implosion and just moments before the guy became a decades long running joke. But hey, even if Phil did make crappy Disney soundtracks…he never made this album. So he still comes out smelling like roses in the metaphorical pile of shit.
All right that’s enough stalling: let’s get started.
Here’s a fascinating yet true fact: one second into the album is all it takes for you to know it’s going to second. Seriously. One second into the opening title track is all it takes. Don’t believe me?
I was right wasn’t I? The second that stupid dive bomb heavy metal guitar riff comes in your toes curled a little didn’t they? And then the stupid, unimaginative and plodding drum beat started giving you bad flashbacks to early Van Halen moments before Tony Bank’s cheese ball keyboards jumped in to remind you of his…mixed history of success with picking tasteful, non-shitty keyboard tones.
And then the ringer…I’m sorry, I mean SINGER…Ray Wilson starts bleating in and you simultaneously feel intense anger and pity for Genesis.
You see, before the release of this album, they billed Wilson as a second coming of Peter Gabriel. There’s…a very, very small grain of truth to that. Basically, Wilson is rather raspy. Or “smokey” or perhaps even “dramatic.” Kinda like Gabriel.
That “kinda” is the smallest and least honest “kinda” you’ve ever heard in your life. Kinda like the “kinda” you whisper when your mom asks you if you’re smoking pot again.
Wilson gets only minor blame for this album: all the music on the album is written by Banks and Rutherford. Wilson doesn’t even write the lyrics as the album was written and partially recorded before he joined. The band planned on integrating his creative input on a second album that never came to be due to the mass of either outright indifference or rage at this album. Thank heavens.
But then again, pity kicks in because you know part of them probably really believed that Wilson was something like a return to Gabriel. Sure, he lacks Gabriel’s sense of humor, raw power, songwriting talent, stage presence, charisma, sense of theatricality, enunciation, diversity, and…well…
Okay he’s nothing like Peter Gabriel. They were fools for trying to pull that one off.
Everything on the album is just DRAINING. Everything’s mid tempo…all the guitar tones are HEAVY (or blandly acoustic)…the drum beats are leaden and boring (there are two drummers on this album and you can’t tell them apart)…Ray whines out high school poetry level lyrics…the phrase “take me to the Congo, I’m free to leave” is crooned…and the album is long, I swear to fuck, it feels longer than listening to “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” (a double disc album) two times in a row.
The band seemingly went out of its way to alienate fans. They do everything wrong on this album. They wrote awful music and dressed it up in preposterous “dark” tones to make it “arty” in a misguided attempt to get back to their roots. They hired some bland dude and proclaimed him Gabriel. They eliminated all senses of pop sensibility, something present on EVERY Genesis album up to this point, including their darkest prog nightmares, to politely alienate all their pop fans.
They even refused to let Chester Thompson, their long standing live drummer, participate. I want to reiterate that: Thompson, excited about the possibility of being the band’s studio drummer and participating in songwriting and arranging, was turned down by the band.
Chester. Fucking. Thompson. Do you know that Chester Thompson used to drum with Frank Zappa during his most musically complex period? Or that Thompson played drums for (in)famous fusion band “Weather Report”? Or that he dedicated nearly 20 years of his life touring with a band that ultimately asked him to play little more than crude 4/4 beats to mimic Collins’ pop drumming style?
And they turned him down. They wanted a “fresh new start.” A “fresh new aneurysm” is more like it. I respect Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford a lot. They wrote a ton of great music for Genesis (in fact, they ultimately ended up writing more music for Genesis than anybody else) and helped steer the band through rocky periods of musical and personal changes to become one of the biggest bands in the world.
But when you turn down Chester Thompson (who actually would have been wasted on material this mundane) for two no-name hacks, I lose a little bit of respect. Not a lot. But enough.
I realize I didn’t talk about very many songs. In fact, I only talked about one. That’s enough. Seriously…one second…and you know you’re in trouble.