Towards the end of the 1970s, the premiere progressive band was in a state of flux and looking towards a new direction. They had lost their lead singer a few albums previously, but had ably continued with drummer Phil Collins stepping to the mike. They lost their lead guitarist only recently and released an album aptly titled And Then There Were Three. This recording was a dark and moody piece, with very little of the English pastoral sound they had been famous for in the past. They got their first real taste of success here with the single “Follow You, Follow Me.” It was time to make some drastic changes if they wanted to continue in the world of popular music.
Genesis’ Duke is that change. It features a brighter, much poppier sound, most likely due to Tony Banks finding new keyboards and Collins introducing the recently invented drum machine to the band. Bassist Michael Rutherford was also comfortably finding his way to be a better lead player on the guitar.
It begins with the first part of the Duke Suite on “Behind the Lines” which leads to “Duchess” and then “Guide Vocal.” “Behind the Lines” is a bombastic, fast paced slice of progressive rock, paving the way for what might later be called neo-prog. It’s gloriously powerful and heralds this new direction for the band, as if to say: “We are here to stay! We will not be going anywhere soon!” “Duchess” continues with its tale of a popstar rising to fame and then her inevitable fall from grace. It then ends temporarily with “Guide Vocal,” sung so tender and elegantly beautiful by Collins.
This seems to be the first record that songs feel uniquely represented by the three songwriters in the band. Rutherford is represented by the big sounding tunes like “Man of Our Times” and “Alone Tonight.” Collins songs are more lyrically personal and direct. “Misunderstanding” and “Please Don’t Ask” (a heartfelt lament to a loss of family), characterize his writing quite well. This would become much more clear as his solo career took off in the early 80s. Tony Banks sound most effectively represents the classic sound of Genesis with “Heathaze” and “Cul-De-Sac.” These songs are melodic and keyboard driven.
“Turn It On Again” is perhaps the best single ever featuring a 13/4 time signature and is a continuation of the Duke Suite as is the incredible instrumental “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End” that close out the album. I understand that they played the piece as a whole on tour. It would have been nice to hear it that way, but I understand the need to have both sides of the original vinyl LP start and end strong. In the age of CDs we would most likely have heard it played as a whole on Duke. As the Duke Suite winds down in its final minutes, Collins repeats the lyrics from “Guide Vocal” in a more aggressive manner. The whole piece is amazing.
This was the last great progressive album by the band, as they would taste this success and run with it on future records. This is definitely a transition album, as they did not sound like this before, but would take this style and introduce even more pop elements on future recordings. One of my favorite albums by one of my favorite bands, I have no choice but to give this my highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on January 8th, 2011