Progressive Rock's Crown Jewel
D. A. Rich | Boston, MA | 03/12/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'll get right to the point. Selling England By The Pound, Genesis' fifth studio album, originally released in 1973 (with the classic Genesis lineup: Peter Gabriel: voice and flute; Tony Banks: keyboards and twelve string guitar; Michael Rutherford: bass and twelve string guitar; Steve Hackett: lead guitar; and Phil Collins: drums and voice) is the crown jewel of progressive rock. Not only is it Genesis' finest album, but it is the single best progressive rock album ever recorded. That's right, better than The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to The Edge, better than Emerson Lake and Palmer, Tarkus, Trilogy and Brain Salad Surgery, better than In The Court of The Crimson King, Lizard, Lark's Tongue's In Aspic and Red, better than Days of Future Past, In Search of the Lost Chord, On The Threshold of A Dream, To Our Children's Children's Children and Question of Balance, better than Genesis' own Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and A Trick of The Tail, and better than any other one of the many fine progressive rock albums of the era. In fact, discard the progressive rock label; this album is a great, great album period.
If you do not own this album, and you love music of any kind, it is an absolute must purchase. Musically, lyrically and artistically this is an absolute masterpiece and as guitarist Steve Hackett has noted, it is a unique album, neither Genesis nor any other artist has released an album that sounds like this one.
Why is this album so fine? It combines wonderful musical composition, intelligent and poetic lyrics, dramatic vocals and instrumentals, virtuoso performances, elements of classical, jazz, English folk and rock music married together, and tasteful cover art (for those that remember LPs). Although every song is a highlight (with the possible exception of the witty but overly wordy "Battle of Epping Forest"), three songs stand out: the opening "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" (with Peter Gabriel's wonderful acapella opening and Mike Rutherford's pastoral guitar/flute/keyboard closing); "Firth of Fifth" (a Tony Banks composition that contains an extended keyboard [with arpeggio flourishes] introduction played by Banks, a beautiful Peter Gabriel flute solo and Steve Hackett's incredible, haunting guitar solo, his finest with Genesis); and "The Cinema Show" (which contains beautiful Gabriel penned lyrics [borrowing from Shakespeare and Greek mythology] and an extended instrumental piece composed by Michael Rutherford that features wonderful keyboard work by Tony Banks and percussion by Phil Collins). The album also contains "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)," Genesis' first "hit," "More Fool Me," with Phil Collins taking the lead vocals, and "After The Ordeal" a beautiful Steve Hackett instrumental piece.
Lyrically, much of the album, and in particular the opening "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" and the closing reprise of same, "Aisle of Plenty," concerns the commercialization of English society, and contains wordplay on British references that will be lost on those who have not spent any time in Britain.
After their next studio release, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and the tour promoting same, Peter Gabriel would leave the band and embark on his very successful and creative solo career. Steve Hackett would soon follow (but only after two more fine studio releases, A Trick of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering). Genesis, with Phil Collins as its front-man, would eventually morph into a pop-hit making machine. But Genesis would never record anything that would equal this beautiful album. While I prefer the LP to any of the digital versions, the music is so fine it is worth owning in any format. I would recommend purchasing the 1994 "Definitive Edition" while it is still available, as the newer (SACD overseas/DSD in the USA) release of this recording is remixed, and although the newer version is cleaner sounding, it is also louder and compressed.