Genesis – Wind and Wuthering (1976)

Genesis+-+Wind+&+Wuthering+-+LP+RECORD-552827Genesis were really a fascinating band, weren’t they?  Everyone knows that they slowly transformed from a fantastical progressive rock band to a reliable hit machine, but what was impressive to me was that they did it despite the fact that they hadn’t added a member since Phil Collins and Steve Hackett joined up for 1971’s Nursery Cryme.  I mean, certainly nobody who heard Close to the Edge could imagine that Yes would score a #1 hit over a decade later, but by that time they’d gone through Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, several keyboardists, and both of the Buggles.  With Genesis it was an oddly seamless transition.  Of course the conventional viewpoint is that losing Peter Gabriel (and more importantly, putting Phil Collins behind the microphone) was what really kicked things off, but that ignores a couple of things.  First of all, Peter Gabriel didn’t exactly have a lot of prog rock tendencies himself – “Moribund the Burgermeister”, the first song off his first album, is the only thing he’s done solo that sounds even remotely like Genesis.  Secondly, even after he left, Genesis were arguably proggier than ever.

Wind and Wuthering was not an album that was on my radar, even when I really got big into Genesis right after I’d went off to college.  This was mostly because the WRC (Web Reviewing Community), whose opinions were like gospel to me back then, seemed to really dislike it.  I’m not sure what’s up with that – perhaps it’s just tempting to go off on an album you don’t really like by a band you love because it makes you feel more objective.  I’m probably guilty of this as well.  They also complained an awful lot about Tony Banks (their keyboard player), which is also odd because when you get down to it, Genesis is really Tony’s band, and man do these guys love Genesis.  He’s the guy whose instrument seems to nearly always be in the lead, and he writes a lot of of the music (not to mention a good chunk of the lyrics).  I don’t think you can dislike Tony Banks while remaining a fan of Genesis.

Anyway, Wind and Wuthering catches the band at a rather fruitful time.  The departure of Gabriel certainly slowed things down (especially as they supposedly auditioned hundreds of replacements), but they rebounded quickly, releasing two albums in 1976.  The first, A Trick of the Tail, is really not far off from what the band was doing before, and someone who wasn’t paying close attention might not even realize that the band had replaced their singer.  But with Wind and Wuthering, you could hear the group start to figure out what they had with Phil Collins at the helm; not just a guy who could handle balladry really well (and remember, Phil sang a few of the band’s more tender songs in the past), but also someone who could leave some space for the rest of the band.  For Peter had this certain style…I don’t know if it was his characters, his odd vocal tics, or the lyrics, but whatever it was, he had a way of taking over the song.  In John McFerrin’s review of this album (let’s just say he’s not a fan), he takes aim at Phil’s vocals on “All in a Mouse’s Night” – he writes, “in the hands of Gabriel, it could have become a minor classic (just imagine him squeaking as the mouse or screeching as the wife or hissing as the cat)”.  As much as I dig Peter’s approach, I love the way that Phil bounces off the melody, turning it into the catchiest thing on the album – it’s a song that works fine without any hissing, screeching, or squeaking, thank you very much.

One thing you can’t deny is that this was a band that was still trying to progress, which was admirable in itself – many other famous names like Yes, ELP, or King Crimson had broken up (of course, not any of them for long), and a second wave of progressive rock which did little but copy those groups was well underway.  While a lot of bands were looking to simplify their sound, the array of instruments here is larger than ever – Hackett cycles through several guitars, Banks plays piano, organ, mellotron, and lots of synths, and even Collins’ kit seems to have expanded.  But overall, it’s the maturity of the group that stands out; it’s hard to believe that these were the same excitable youths that recorded Nursery Cryme just five years prior.  They’re now more interested in building soundscapes and working with texture, and developing the sort of compositions that reveal themselves over time.  Keep in mind that this approach was what led to a lot of the underdeveloped, filler-ish stuff that made up the second disc of The Lamb, but here the band really seems up to the task, and the compositions are more layered than they’ve ever been.  You can particularly hear this in Hackett’s guitar parts, which are often thoughtful and gorgeous.  One of the chief complaints a lot of people have about Genesis is that Hackett often went underused, which I think cuts against what the band was about.  They have some sections with classical guitar, but it’s almost never a lead instrument throughout a song, and Hackett really isn’t a rock guitarist anyway.  He’s always been more about remaining in the background and picking his spots.  This album exemplifies this more than any.

This isn’t to say that the band can’t rock (check out “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, a workout of blistering keyboards and percussion), but Wind is really mostly about the balladry.  Again, this is a lot because they want to emphasize the strengths of Phil Collins – sure, Gabriel could do quieter stuff as well, but even at his best, there was an undeniable creepiness about his vocals, turning songs like “Carpet Crawlers” into something more sinister.  Of course, this is what a lot of people love about the early records.  Here, we have “Your Own Special Way”, which is the first of Genesis’s unadulterated love songs.  The song is all sweetness – a gently strummed melody, shimmering keyboards, and one hell of a slide guitar in the chorus.  But Collins just totally owns it, with a powerful, longing vocal that really feels like it’s in its own world; that little vocal outburst he does after “now who’s seen the wind, not you or I” sounds like he’s just singing to himself while walking through the park.  It’s a tender moment, almost overwhelming in its sappiness, but it’s here that you really start to see Phil as a star in the making.  I don’t think Pete could handle a song like this in the same way, nor would he particularly want to.  The band’s first major single wouldn’t come until next album (with “Follow You Follow Me”, which is equally brilliant), but the road starts here.

Perhaps one reason I feel such an affinity towards this album right now is because it’s winter, and I struggle to think of an album that captures the feeling of “it’s cold and desolate out there, but it’s warm in here” more than this one (particularly on the second side). I can’t say this is my favorite – both Selling England by the Pound and Nursery Cryme are better records, but this one has arguably the best sound, and I love to just let it sit in the background and play front to back. There’s a lot to unpack here, but sure as the winter is long here in the American Midwest, Wind and Wuthering is the kind of record that rewards those who stay in with it.  I’m glad that I never bought it when I was 18 – I don’t think I would’ve liked it much then anyway.

Unfortunately, it would turn out to be the last of its kind. In 1977, they released an EP of leftovers from this album (called Spot the Pigeon, for which most of the above also applies, but with catchier material), and an impressive live record (Seconds Out, on which you get to hear Phil take on “Supper’s Ready”). But then Steve Hackett would leave the band, and it seems like most of the progressive tendencies the band had would go with him. Of course, this was in the year of Tormato and Love Beach, so maybe this wasn’t exactly a bad thing.  The group’s first record as a trio was called And Then There Were Three…, which had a number of decent ideas, but as a whole was sleepy and a little plastic. It is also the only album I can think of that advertises the fact that people kept leaving the band.  Still, it contained “Follow You Follow Me”, the first of the band’s megahits, and by the time of 1981’s Abacab they sounded like a totally new band, with the grandeur and aspirations of an album like this one reduced to medleys on their sold-out tours. I guess you can’t really fault them.

That said, I feel like Wind and Wuthering (and Spot the Pigeon, with its brilliant “Inside and Out” which would’ve fit in perfectly here) shows off a forgotten era of the band – they figured out how to move on from Peter Gabriel without compromising their sound, and in the process would provide inspiration to a whole new group of progressive bands. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classic 5-piece Genesis as much as anybody, but it’s nice to know that there’s more to this side of Genesis than albums like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and giant, overarching suites like “Supper’s Ready”.  As the seven minutes of instrumentals on side 2 show, sometimes it’s nice just to hear these guys play.

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5 thoughts on “Genesis – Wind and Wuthering (1976)

  1. chwet

    I’d say PG’s greatest contribution to the band was the odd energy he seemed to give Genesis. Their 2 “catalyzed” albums with him, considering Selling England as Nursery Crime’s Englishness fighting to survive a band that wanted to go beyond it & The Lamb as Foxtrot’s odd tales morphed into a single humongous beast, were full of mirth. They come from a band that wanted to prove itself majestically. Wind & Wuthering maintains that majesticness, but it comes from people who were mostly content with themselves. After the Trick of a Tail album & tour rid them of the worries of continuing without PG, it seemed like they (TB in particular) could keep on trudging as they were doing & for once they kicked back & just did what they wanted, without worrying about how many blazing figures they could fit in 2 sides of vinyl. I imagine this change of mood is what set the McFerrins & Starostins off against this album.

    I imagine the cozy mood of the album (it was recorded in an Autumn in the Netherlands so I imagine the band were also happy tourists at the same time) is also what made ’em go back to the Christian themes, even with bloodier concepts like a failed Catholic insurgency, the propagation of violent fanaticism by leading figures who should know better (I think) & the desensitization of people to wars of faith by the numbing presentation of TV newscasts.

    [as an aside, one complaint recurrent through the Then Play Long reviews of Genesis albums is that TB’s synth tones never match with the current sound trends, and that is a key factor to Genesis – Tony’s love of cheese is crucial to the band & in this album the arrangement decisions make a lot of the material & the mood overall]

    A key thing about this album is that here is where the TB/MR/PC trio dynamic that propelled ’em into stardom in the 80s comes from. They make 11th Earl of Mar smoke, and with Your Own Special Way, MR’s warm writing is brought to life by TB & PC’s chops. To analyze their personalities going off of a bunch interviews with them, MR was the emotional core of the band & the glue that joined 2 not-very-friendly personalities. PC is considered the key to their fame and the guy behind a bunch of sappy love songs, but his lyrics are rancorous & resentful both directly & not (the true start of PC the superstar is More Fool Me, what with it’s “but I’ll be the one who’s laughing chorus”; not to knock on the guy but he doesn’t come across as a nice person in his works), while I’d say that MR’s earnest enjoyment of people is what made the Mechanics. Anyway, this is the first where TB, MR & PC gel & get their own rhythm of working together.

    An then, of course, there’s SH, who was keeping down the fort for the Englishness camp. Between PG wanting to diversify his worldview & getting out of the upper-class Brit rut and TB/MR/PC being on route to the stateless pop giants image of the 80s (Wind & Wuthering being the 3rd album on a row to lack that touch of Englishness), SH was kinda left for himself. Blood on the Rooftops is as punk as a prog band can get (even if it does turn into a list of what SH watched on TV that week) and Inside and Out, his opus about a prisoner hoping to get a happier life after his sentence ends, being kicked off the album in favor of the “Phil’s happy time” track & getting relegated to an EP is the most amusing thing to have ever happened in prog history. I don’t have much experience with his solo work (besides Ace of Wands being English as fuck) so I can’t say more.

    Overall I’m glad that they managed to get some (temporary) peace of mind back then. Also John McFerrin follows you on Twitter, do you think he read this? (if he even cares about responses to discourse from 10+ years ago)

    [I meant to comment more here but haven’t gotten to it. I’ll do so on a “feels like has something to say” basis]

    Reply
  2. critterjams Post author

    That’s a good take on things. I do think the WRC tend to give Gabriel a bit too much credit – I think he really did give them an identity and there was nobody in the scene quite like him. But like the lame romantic comedy where the male lead realizes he’s been in love with his buddy’s weird sister all along, I too have realized that it’s always been Tony Banks that has drawn me to this group. Collins gets all the blame for making Genesis lame because let’s face it, his solo work Is toothless, easy to hate, and above all, inescapable, But he definitely had some edge to him through most of the band’s life – I thought a lot of his lyrics were plenty interesting, without being overly cryptic and gross like PG’s were. I mean lets not forget the first line on Trick of the Tail – “holy mother of God!”

    (by the way – most amusing thing in prog history? have we forgotten Emerson, Lake, and Powell??)

    I’ve heard Hackett’s first three solo albums. They’re pretty good. Funny enough my favorite tune on them is “Star of Sirius” which features Collins on vocals quite heavily – it is almost certainly something that undeservedly got rejected from Genesis.

    As for McFerrin – who knows if he ever read this, or if he stands by what he wrote way back then. I decided to read that page again and see that he called Seconds Out “An annoyingly mediocre live album” – man, couldn’t disagree more with that. I feel like he may have made up his mind early about this band – PG: good, SH: great, PC: uhhh, TB: hell no, MR: who? Cool thing about getting older is you get to go back and relisten to stuff like this and lose some of your biases, cuz to be frank I didn’t like W&W much the first few times either.

    Reply
    1. chwet

      Well, funniest thing in Genesis history, alongside Anything She Does.

      Tony is one I’ve always loved but recently I’ve gotten to appreciate Mike more (would that mean I realized that my supporting best bud is the one person I’ve loved the most all along?), even if the one album his stamp is heavy on (and then there were 3) does feel like mush at times. Phil’s more down-to-earth writing about relationships rubs me the wrong way, I’d say that he is an insecure divorced dad at best & a creep at worst, and that some of my love for Duke & Easy Lover comes in spite of him. Pete on Genesis was, for lack of a better term, very chuunibyou (if people said that he thought he had superpowers in the Charterhouse days I’d be totally convinced) & I quite like his lyrics a lot; they reinforce the band’s roots as a mutant high school clique (also the most likely reason for why he doesn’t look back that fondly at them).

      Also, one thing about the WRC is that they dismissed Tony’s solo career pretty swiftly. Ever explored that one? The vague impression I get is that that’s the place were all the Burning Ropes went to while he resigned his latter-day “epics” to 2 songs bolted together.

      Reply

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