Genesis 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.