Critical review of English rock band Genesis's 1980 album, 'Duke'. The programme includes interviews with band members Phil Collins, Michael Rutherford and Tony Banks and features rare performance footage with clips of songs such as 'Duchess' ,'Turn It On Again' and 'Misunderstanding'.
After the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett, Genesis began slowly but surely turning away from the prog rock that had defined them throughout the 70s, moving instead towards the tighter, more concise format of the pop song. Duke saw the band balancing between and integrating the two like never before, but with more than enough equilibrium to keep them from hurtling off the tight-rope. In fact, Duke is more assured and better recorded than the band's previous And Then There Were Three, which though an underrated album, sounded more transitional, like they were still in the process of searching for a new direction while drawing their reserves from their proven formula.
Many of the tracks on Duke represent top-flight syntheses of prog rock and pop. The album's two, solid lead-offs are sterling examples showing where the band was at the time. On "Behind the Lines," there's a lengthy, fanfare instrumental section that opens up the song countered by the more subdued, very much pop verses. "Duchess," the eternal tale of the rise and fall of the musical artist, is more protracted than the usual pop tune length, but capped off with a driving rhythm throughout and an instantly accessible, sing-along chorus. While we're talking about it, "Duchess" is probably one of the best instances in this genre of using a drum machine. For once, it sounds like an organic and necessary element of the song. Rutherford's enigmatic "Man of Our Times" is one of my favorite tracks on the album, and is very successful at combining the angular keys one might more expect from a prog tune (in fact, very reminiscent of his "Moonshine" off of Smallcreep's Day) with an anthemic rock chorus. For me, however, the greatest example of these hybrids is "Turn It on Again." This was the very first song I ever heard from Genesis, at the tender age of 7; the video played regularly on a television program I used to watch named Video Concert Hall (a precursor to MTV). Along with Rush's "Subdivisions," this is one of those songs that represents as perfect a realization of prog-laced pop as you can get: taking prog rock essences — the odd meters, symphonic chords, and lyrics that aren't exactly "Love Me Do" — and somehow parlaying all of these into catchy hooks and a non-intrusive beat, while keeping it all within a 4-minute or so time frame.
Remaining songs lean further towards one end of the scale or the other. Towards the proggier end of the continuum, Banks' "Heathaze" was introduced to me when I was 15, at a summer pool party by a classmate, of all places, and was one of two songs (he also played me "Entangled") that turned me onto exploring old Genesis. At the time, Genesis were riding high on the success of Invisible Touch, and I was struck by the contrast — in fact, I initially asked my friend if this was one of those old Genesis songs from when Peter Gabriel was in the band. I couldn't get over how much more depth and beauty I felt it had than what I was hearing from them concurrently on the radio. The highlight of this album for any old school fan, of course, will be the fantastic "Duke's End." This was the band's last truly outstanding instrumental workout, culminating with an explosive, climactic reprise of the earlier "Guide Vocal," with the vocals of Collins at once furious and vulnerable. In fact, special kudos should be given to Collins, who particularly excels throughout the album. His vocal work is excellent, and his assertive, confident drumming gives these songs some muscle to carry them over the bland, wimpy brand of pop song that the band would sadly later wallow in.
As for the songs that lean more into standard pop sans prog, these are more variable for me. I don't really like "Misunderstanding," can stand "Alone Tonight," and am largely indifferent to "Please Don't Ask." However, gladly none of these are anywhere near the levels of banal pop music that the band would choose and, infuriatingly, be proud of, in the years to come.
While the lesser quality of the pure-pop tracks prevents me from calling it a 5-star classic, I would definitely call Duke Genesis' last well-above-average album (as I would call their next, Abacab, their last passable one). It's also one of the few by them that I still play regularly nowadays.
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