My recent eBay sales have been pretty successful! More successful than I had anticipated, in fact, which is nice. (Speaking of which, I’ve put some complete-in-box vintage systems up for grabs now that I’ve photographed them to hell and back, please go and add them to your collection.) The money has largely been going toward paying off some debts that accumulated over the winter while business was slow for my wife, and toward purchasing some essentials that are long overdue for our house now that we’ve been here for a year. But I have spent a little on a couple of self-indulgences… call it a birthday treat for myself.
The biggest of these was the Genesis 1983-1998 LP box set, which contained four albums by what may ultimately be my favorite band that I didn’t own yet on vinyl. I found a great price on a new edition of the set and decided to grab it. Honestly, I probably would have been just as happy with buying the albums singly from vintage pressings, used and without the fancy 180g record weight, but one of the albums in the set has never been issued on vinyl outside of this box. It’s probably the least popular and least beloved Genesis album of all time, but I really wanted it, because as it turns out it’s actually a pretty damn good collection of music.
Calling All Stations was the final studio release from Genesis, and I’m sure most people would say it probably never should have happened. It was the only record the band ever put out without Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins as the lead singer; Collins quit the band after 1991’s We Can’t Dance, leaving just guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks to soldier on. And the result… was actually quite good. It wasn’t what people wanted from Genesis, which is to say Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel, but in my opinion that actually works in the album’s favor.
In effect, this was the best solo album that Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford ever wrote, respectively. Musically, it sounds a whole lot more like classic Genesis than either Invisible Touch or We Can’t Dance, both of which sounded pretty much like Collins solo albums minus the Motown touches. Calling All Stations is dark, has only two obvious Top 40 chart attempts, and it’s surprisingly heavy on the keyboards and synthesizers considering Banks had pretty much not even bothered showing up to the studio for We Can’t Dance. Sonically, its closest precedent would probably be side two of Genesis’ eponymous album from 1983 — less adult contemporary, less radio-friendly, more willing to take standard rock song structures and stretch them out a bit without going into the 10-minute-plus excess that inevitably popped up in at least one track on every Genesis album. I’ve noticed that prog bands tend to gravitate either towards standard three-minute radio fare or epic tunes, but Calling All Stations mostly sits in the awkward space in between. Kind of like A Trick of the Tail, though not up to the standard of excellence. Then again, what is?
When I say this was a solo album by Rutherford and Banks, what I mean is that it was composed entirely by the two of them… and primarily by Banks, I suspect. The pair hired a new singer for the album, a guy by the name of Ray Wilson, who did a remarkable job of singing in a register similar to Gabriel and Collins without sounding like either of them. However, it appears he was given zero creative input on the album (nor were the two session drummers credited in liner notes), and when Calling All Stations tanked, Banks and Rutherford basically disavowed themselves of both the album and Wilson, who infamously wasn’t invited to any of the band’s reunions. That right there is pretty crappy.
He deserved better. Wilson did a solid job on this record — his voice is throatier and less nasal than Collins’, and I would really love to hear a bootleg recording of the subsequent tour, because I have to imagine he knocked the obligatory classic Genesis material out of the park. It’s a shame the old-timers were such weasels in the wake of the album’s failure, because there was real potential in this lineup, and a follow-up could have been something truly special.
Awful behavior by the veteran members notwithstanding, this is a much, much better collection of music than I’ve ever seen anyone give it credit for. There are only a couple of clunkers, the worst of which — “Small Talk” — only starts out horribly but is quite enjoyable past the opening bits. The worst track here is probably “Congo,” which tries to incorporate tribal drums (noooo, white British people, you can’t get away with that unless you’re Peter Gabriel) and whose lyrics open with what appears to be a really uncomfortable metaphor involving the slave trade (“You said that I put chains on you”). But then, Genesis thought the insanely racist video for “Illegal Alien” was a good idea, so I guess maybe it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that they decided to use “Congo” as the lead single for the album. It’s like they were trying to fail.
A couple of duds aside, though, Calling All Stations consists of the same meaty deep cuts that appeared on all of Genesis’ other albums throughout the ’80s and ’90s. Not necessarily classics, but dense and interesting. I am fairly convinced that if Collins had sang on this album, it would be much more fondly regarded… but then, this album would have been something else entirely if he had contributed. Frankly, I think it would have been far worse for his creative contributions, which would have resulted in more syrupy ballads and probably muted Banks’ keyboards, which give this record so much tooth. In any case, it’s been nearly 20 years since this album originally came out, and it’s about time someone said something nice about it. Of all the albums in this box set, it’s the most consistent set of music save the expertly crafted ’80s synthesizer rock perfection of Invisible Touch.
I’m also impressed with the album’s vinyl mastering, save for a couple of quirks. The album cover, clearly designed for CD size, looks dreadful at 12″. And of course, this CD-focused album wouldn’t fit on a single record, but rather than spread the songs across four record sides the record label left the D side blank, embossing a portrait of the band into the wax. Despite the relative musical density, though, there’s not a single hint of inner groove distortion or sibilance — something that, in my experience, inevitably diminishes the sound quality of CD-era albums pressed to vinyl for the first time years later.
In short, I’m glad I indulged myself. This is a great rendition of a legendary band’s most underrated record. And to heck with you if you don’t agree. To heck, I say.