In Defense of Both the Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel Eras of Genesis

With Collins' recent rumblings about returning to music, it's time to lay the "which era is better" question to rest.

“I have started thinking about doing new stuff ... some shows again, even with Genesis. Everything is possible. We could tour in Australia and South America. We haven't been there yet." ("Phil Collins announces return to music", by Lowenna Waters, The Telegraph, 5 December 2013)

This was what singer/drummer Phil Collins said to German media a month or two ago. It was another stop on his "Wait. I'm not done with music yet!" tour that most major media outlets have chronicled in recent weeks. On the road to promote his Little Dreams Foundation charity in Miami, Collins spoke at length about a renewed itch to one-day play music again that he sort of/kind of wants to scratch. Or, in other words (and as typical pop-star arm-chair decoding would suggest), Expect an arena tour and comprehensive box set by November 2015.

This is great news for the casual Collins' fan, but it's an even better quote for the die-hard Genesis enthusiasts to digest. Like it or not, step one toward finally getting the original lineup back together would be making sure the band's drummer was even physically able to play -- it was only 2011, remember, when he claimed he could never get behind the skins again during a fascinatingly dark Rolling Stone profile. We've already seen a reunited Collins-led collective head out on a victory lap (2007's Turn It On Again tour), but imagining a real, live, Peter Gabriel-fronted trek would be ... would be ... well, it would be unprecedented. 

At least for us Genesis obsessives. Why? Because it would complete the narrative. It would give voice to an era that's been muted for far too long. It would afford fans under the age of 30 the opportunity to actually see what the band once looked like without having to settle for tribute acts such as The Musical Box, The Waiting Room or Trespass (no disrespect; they all do fine jobs, but come on, now). It would serve as a reminder for how expansive the band could be. It would put the criminally underrated Collins back where he belongs: Behind a drum kit.  

And, most importantly, it would theoretically help put an end to the age-old debate that argues which era of Genesis is the best: Gabriel or Collins?

You see, as nostalgia continues to be in vogue within the fabric of a generation more obsessed with yesterday than it is today or tomorrow, the Leader of Genesis argument is one that occurs almost daily between any faction of fans who follow the English group. They sold out and became too corporate when Collins stepped into the spotlight, traditionalists argue. The Gabriel years were boring and hard to stomach, other listeners claim. It's a back-and-forth as hotly contested in the prog world as the Beatles/Stones conversation has always been in the rock universe. You can't be both; you have to be one or the other. It's either Nursery Cryme or Invisible Touch. No room for compromise. No room for crossing lines.

"Peter Gabriel would've never led Genesis, nor any innocents whatsoever for that matter, down the path on which 'I Can't Dance' became reality," a commenter posted on a forum discussing this very topic. "At this moment I'd rather listen to Invisible Touch over Selling England by the Pound, Foxtrot, or any other of those purported Gabriel-helmed masterpieces," another writer snapped. ("Peter Gabriel vs. Phil Collins")

The differences between the two incarnations are subtle, yet extreme; many, though few. The analysis that goes into picking which form of Genesis is better is a contradiction of progressive proportion, a plethora of excuses matched with tepid testimonials rooted more in exposure than they are education. The whole premise is a chicken and egg discussion -- if you first stumbled upon the Surrey standouts with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, there's a large chance you believe that anything from 1975 forward is rubbish, and such is reversed if your initial exposure came from 1976's A Trick of the Tail.

And this, friends, is why a proper reunion jaunt wouldn't just be a fun exercise for fans of all ages and generations to consume; rather, it would also be an imperative event for any hope of leveling the which-era-is-better discussion once and for all. 

See, the problem with labeling one regime better than the other in this particular instance is the mere fact that we haven't seen at least one of them operate as a unit for nearly 40 years now. This works both ways, of course. Absence will forever make the heart grow fond, remember, and notions of what could have been (as well as what could be) fuel a more rose-colored perception of Gabriel's stint as leader of the pack. Because he was the first guy to be front and center in Genesis lore, there's a sense of authenticity quite literally impossible to find while considering any other perceivable lead singer. 

Naturally, the first guy to do something doesn't always mean he is the best man for the job -- how are you doing, Pete Best? -- but it does invariably mean that he was, well, the first, and that title comes with pedigree, status and an all-around level of supremacy over whatever the second act might be. It's not necessarily fair, of course, but it's also not untrue. The originator receives credit for the dream, even if that dream eventually turns into an outsider's vision of reality. In this sense, Gabriel could never be matched when it comes to the Book of Genesis. In this sense, he is peerless.   


But Gabriel's dream wasn't necessarily free of nightmares. Critics famously panned the group for being too dull and pretentious and arty and all-around weird when their first few LPs came out. "It’s difficult to find people willing to treat this record kindly," writer Matt Blumenstein said in his recent review of From Genesis to Revelation, the band's debut set. "Critics hated and still hate it, it went completely unnoticed in the public eye, and even the band itself prefers to pretend it doesn’t exist. Everyone just gives it that patronizing pat on the head, writing it off as a totally pretentious and juvenile effort to get the band off the ground." ("Album Review: Genesis - From Genesis To Revelation (1969)", The Examiner, 18 August 2012)

Enter Collins, who then took the band by its Squonk and subsequently sent Ripples through what would end up being a historically successful pop stardom run. Gone, in part, were the 193-minute opuses and in was a quirky accessibility matched with tender songs that liked to pop up on soundtracks to movies. The group went on to sell more than 100 million records (that number could double, depending on what you read), and the roots of one of the most important prog rock bands ever were essentially reduced to a 25-minute medley that would be performed at Collins-era tour stops. 

"This sucks!" older fans would scream. 

"Yeah, and 'The Knife' runs about eight minutes and 54 seconds too long!" younger supporters would counter. 

The truth? Well, both are right. And both, of course, are wrong. Hearing "Illegal Alien" snuggled up against "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" was and is disrespectful to the latter's epic incarnation, and honestly: You could shave at least three minutes off "The Knife" and still have a pretty decent tune.

The point? The Peter Gabriel era of Genesis is great for the same reasons the Phil Collins era of Genesis is great. And what are those reasons? Among them:

1. For as unique a singing voice as Gabriel has, Collins not only pulled off similar sounding croons with success, but he also blended in enough of his own to mirror it with a miraculous sense of tribute and originality. All told, there are only two people in this world who have a voice like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, and those two people are Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.

2. The marathon song-lengths (i.e., the "progressive" side of the group) never stopped existing. "Driving the Last Spike", which appeared on 1991's We Can't Dance, ran 10:08 while another track off that final Collins-era record, "Fading Lights", went 10:16. Sure, it's no "Supper's Ready", but remember: That thing had seven movements and nearly took up an entire side of an album. It's not like these guys went all Green Day and started considering 2:30 a viable amount of time for a long-form single. 

3. Much like the Gabriel/Collins marriage worked so well vocally, the Collins/Chester Thompson marriage on the drums turned out to be just as valuable. Thompson, one of the great seasoned players who has a resume that should make any respectable drummer blush, essentially clones everything Collins has ever done on the sticks, right down to his signature tom-tom sounds. As part of the live Genesis experience as anybody over the last 30 years, he's become an unofficial member along with Daryl Stuermer, who himself fills in gloriously for Steve Hackett.

4. It's Genesis. Many have tried to emulate their signature sound, but few (if any) have ever really succeeded. Be it "Watcher Of The Skies" or "Mama", there is still that indescribable element that's always been there when music from that name is played through speakers. There simply aren't a lot of acts that sound like they sound. Shoot, even Phish couldn't really pull it off when they helped induct them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago. And if those guys couldn't pull it off.

It all adds up to this: No matter which era of Genesis you might prefer, the notion of proclaiming one better than the other is an unfair way to try and pigeonhole some of the best progressive rock that popular music has ever influenced. You can chalk it up to closed minds or wannabe sophistication or ignorance or obsession with tradition or some hatred for the song "No Son of Mine", but whichever way you cut it, the reality remains that one is not superior to the other. A little different, maybe. But better or worse, no way.

"I do think that Phil was a good singer for a large number of Genesis' 'poppy' songs (he sounded quite nice once he started singing more aggressively in the '80s)," blogger John McFerrin wrote during his monstrous roundup of all things Genesis a few years ago. "I don't totally blame him for 'ruining' Genesis by turning it into a pop band (though I do blame him a bit for making Genesis indistinguishable from his solo work there at the end); as a backing vocalist to Peter, he couldn't be beaten; and most of all, HIS DRUMMING WAS FRIGGIN' AWESOME. ... This was never the most consistent of bands (actually, one of the things that strikes me most about Genesis is that, in some way or another, every one of their albums represents some integral feature of the band in transition, whether it be the rise and fall of Steve (Hackett)'s prominence, or the transition to being a pop band, or one of many other examples) but when they did well, they produced music so stunning that it continues to boggle the mind to this very day." ("Genesis")

It does. Give one listen to "Seven Stones" and follow that up with both parts of "Domino" and you'll continue to find countless elements to value, despite the former coming from the Gabriel days and the latter being recorded when Collins was at the helm. It's a hell of a run and it's one that is so unfairly overlooked by all rock historians and/or experts that something needs to be done to cement the group in the minds of all pop music enthusiasts as something more than "That Band that Does That Weird Dance". 

That something could be one final properly reunited trek across the world. Gabriel has been active in recent years with his covers records, and his Back to Front tour has been hugely successful through both America and Europe. So, he'd be ready to don that "Britannia" costume one more time, right? And if Collins can be cleared to sit behind a drum kit for three hours a night, he could surely rock "Los Endos" like it was 1976 again before stepping out front to run through "Follow You, Follow Me" or something, couldn't he? Tony Banks hasn't stowed away his keyboards and Mike Rutherford doesn't think that a Mike and the Mechanics reunion is happening anytime soon, does he? 

Wait. I don't sound too delusional, do I? 

I hope not. Because no matter what era it is, Genesis is a band that deserves far more recognition than it receives these days. A tour would give us all one last, level-headed, all-things-considered memory of a group popular culture seems so willing and so eager to either forget or deride. It would close a final chapter yet to be written in the book of the band. Most of all, it would feel like much-earned resolution for a group whose story has become so bogged down by lame jokes and internal drama that it's sometimes hard to remember exactly how great "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" really was. After all, it takes a special kind of genius to write lines like "When the sun beats down/ And I lie on the bench/ I can always hear them talk/ Me, I'm just a lawnmower/ You can tell me by the way I walk." 

Gabriel wrote it. Collins immortalized it. And to this day, it still sounds uniquely genius. No matter which era it came from.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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