On March 24, 1980, "Genesis" released their tenth studio album, "Duke".
True, this is not one of the masterpieces of "Genesis" from Peter Gabriel's era. It's also not one of the band's classic albums from the early Phil Collins era with Steve Hackett's crushing lead guitar. But it's an album we're always like to go back to. An album that will always have a warm place in our hearts.
Just before Phil Collins bursts into his solo career and becomes an artist with the largest amount of hits in the top 40 of American Billboard, "Genesis" enters the studio to record their tenth album. It will be an album where the band will make an adjustment in their musical style and adopt a more commercial sound, the album that will bridge between the band's progressive era to its pop-rock era, the album that will help them stay relevant during the eighties, and beyond! The band's first album to conquer the top of the charts.
The album's story begins during the tour to promote the band's previous album "...And Then There Were Three..." The heavy burden of the tours and the long time far from home, influenced Phil Collins' marriage. Even before the tour began, Andrea warned him that if he fully surrendered to the busy schedule of the band he would not be there when he returned. And she did. In late 1978, Andrea took the kids and moved in with her family in Vancouver, Canada.
Collins was torn on the inside. On the one hand, he was sure "Genesis" was facing their big break, and on the other hand, he was afraid to break up the family. He finally informed his bandmates that he was taking a few months off, to try and save his marriage and flew to Vancouver. Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford gave their friend all the time he needed and began working on independent projects. Tony Banks on his first solo album "A Curious Feeling", with drummer Chester Thompson and Mike Rutherford on his first solo album - "Smallcreep's Day", both incidentally recorded in the same studio.
In April 1979 Phil Collins returns to England, having failed to save his marriage. He returns broken and crushed and finds solace in his side project "Brand X". At the same time begins to pour all his emotions into the music and lyrics in writing new songs. He turns these songs into demos at his home in Shalford, Surrey. Beyond singing and drumming, he plays the piano and synthesizer and begins to take an interest in the sounds that can be produced from the drum machine he has acquired.
A few months later, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford moved into Phil Collins' home to begin writing the material for Genesis' next album. They come emptied of materials after using them for the newly recorded solo albums. They were stunned by the amount of material Collins managed to create and record demos for, but it was clear to everyone that not all of them would fit into a "Genesis" album. The three conclude that each of them will contribute two songs to the album and the rest they will write together. It was the first time the three had written in such a way. They were accustomed to writing together.
Collins suggested five songs, one of which was "In the Air Tonight" which was rejected by Tony and Mike. Tony Banks will later admit that he regrets that. The selected Phil Collins songs were "Misunderstanding" - the third and bouncy single released from the album and which Collins admitted was inspired by three songs: "Sail On, Sailor" by "The Beach Boys", "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by "Sly and the Family Stone" and "Hold the Line" by "Toto".
The second song Phil Collins managed to put on the album was the moving and crushing ballad "Please Don't Ask," which he wrote about the crisis in his marriage life. This is the most personal song Collins has written and is probably among the most intimate songs we are familiar with. Collins simply puts his soul on a tray and puts us into the shattered house, hoping the words and music that came from the heart will enter his wife's heart and save his marriage, but in vain.
Like Collins, Banks, and Rutherford also brought two songs each. Banks contributed "Heathaze" and "Cul-de-sac" and Rutherford "Man of Our Times" and "Alone Tonight", with the rest of the album's songs co-written by the three members.
Not many know, but this album was originally designed to be split in two, with the entire first side supposed to be an entire half-hour epic piece called "Duke's Suite," which tells the story of an imaginary character named Albert. The piece was supposed to include the six tracks the band co-wrote together - "Behind the Lines", "Duchess", "Guide Vocal", "Turn It On Again", "Duke's Travels" and "Duke's End", while the other side was supposed to include the six The songs each of the members wrote separately. However, the fear that such an epic would not suit the spirit of the time, as well as the fear of being compared to the band's progressive era and the "Supper's Ready" masterpiece, led to the decision to split the piece into sections that would be easier to digest.
It is interesting to note, that the band even treated these songs as one overall piece, during the tour to promote the album, with the six tracks played in sequence and presented by Phil Collins as "The story of Albert".
The album opens with the mighty "Behind the Lines" which serves as a bridge between the band's progressive era and the pop-rock era and as a transition point between the 1970s and 1980s. The instrumental opening with the frequent rhythm changes, syncopations, breaks, and hallucinatory time signatures is definitely reminiscent of the Progressive "Genesis", when starting at the singing part around 2:15 min. we just cross the bridge to another musical period and a new decade. This song was not released as a single but it was a must-have song in the band's performances, which got even more sweeping and exciting on stage. It is interesting to note that the song will also appear in a slightly different version on Collins' solo album "Face Value", which was released a year later.
The first track of the album connects with "Duchess" - one of the most beautiful songs on the album and even dare to say, one of the most beautiful of "Genesis". Phil Collins used, for the first time on the "Genesis" albums, a Roland CR-78 drum machine. The song tells the story of the rise and fall of a star-studded diva, from the beginning of her career, through the glory and meteoric success, and to the declining and cruel disregard of the audience. The song was released as the second single from the album but in the shortened version that does not include the instrumental intro.
"Turn It On Again" was originally shorter and was supposed to be used as a transition part, but the band loved it and eventually made a song out of it, its length was doubled to make it a stand-alone track. The song originally started from an outtake that Mike Rutherford did not use for his album "Smallcreep's Day", connected with an outtake from Tony Banks' solo album. It was the first single released from the album and was a huge success in the band's performances. The lyrics were written by Mike Rutherford and are about a man who's obsessed with watching television which makes him convinced that the characters he watches on TV are his friends. This is one of the most complex songs on the album, which features hallucinatory rhythmic changes and asymmetrical time signatures, that vary between all parts of the song. It is interesting to note that "Dream Theater" performed it as part of the "Big Medley" on the album "A Change of Seasons".
The album ends as it opens, with two instrumental pieces that remind us that this is still one of the greatest progressive bands of all time - "Duke's Travels" and "Duke's End", which were also supposed to end the original epic piece. In these excerpts, you can hear the virtuosity of the three band members, especially Collins and Banks who even manage to thread a tribute to "King Crimson", in the last seconds of the first of the two tracks.
In conclusion, although this is not a progressive album in the full sense of the word, it corresponds well with the genre and with the band's progressive era. It includes some amazing pieces, that sound great even after more than 40 years of listening. Not for nothing, Tony Banks noted that this is his favorite "Genesis" album. As we mentioned this album is also very much loved by us and always fun to come back to. It has a bit of both worlds in it. A combination of the lightness and sweetness of Phil Collins and "Genesis" from the eighties, along with the complexity of the seventies, and this combination is definitely balanced and in the right doses.