‘Ranking the Studio Albums of Genesis’ or — An Embarrassment of Highly Embarrassing Riches?

Colin Edwards
12 min readJun 14, 2024

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Ah, Genesis — my first musical love. The most formative band of my teens and gateway into a larger world of prog, jazz and classical. I’ve seen them live several times, own all their albums and still listen to them regularly to this day.

So why not, I mused, rank all their studio albums according to my highly biased, screamingly flippant, personal criteria purely for the LOL’s that’ll make every single hard-core Genesis fan rage-quit in fury before they’ve even made it past the opening paragraph? After all, this is a band that’s incredibly important to me and one I have nothing for other than total adoration so I might as well share those heart-felt feelings with you now (this is less an album ranking and more a love letter).

So, with those gushing caveats out of the way let’s buckle-up and take a look at every studio album by this bunch of highly annoying, right-wing, polo-playing pricks.

15/ — ‘We Can’t Dance’ (1991).

What is it about this record that gets on my bloody nerves? Is it that stupid walking thing they do, the fact the album’s baggy and bloated as hell or the fact that three millionaires who all live in huge mansions shouldn’t attempt any form of social commentary under ANY circumstances, unless it’s a thirteen minute song about how undercooked their fillet of goose is?

I think the real reason is that whenever they’d perform ‘Hold on My Heart’ live Phil Collins would pull out a bar-stool on stage and sing the song sitting, precariously perched half-buttockedly, on that. Why is he doing this? Because it’s a ballad and, according to Collins, that’s how torch song ballads are sung — sitting on a bar-stool. Christ almighty. Phil Collins once said that he “was everything people hated” but he’s completely wrong. We love the guy like crazy but it’s this sort of toe-curling, affected, embarrassing shit that makes you understand why three wives left him.

‘Jesus He Knows Me’ might be a banger but overall ‘We Can’t Dance’ is nothing more than a tedious slice of dad-rock… and that’s if your dad’s an insufferable twat.

14/ — ‘From Genesis to Revelation’ (1969)

There’s really not much to say about this album other than it has brief glimpses of “Oh, that sounds like Genesis!” sporadically popping up along with some nice vocal work. The songs are short, somewhat unmemorable and don’t really invite revisiting. ‘Am I Very Wrong’ is cute and evidence of a band containing Anthony Phillips, but more on him later as the influence (and absence) of Phillips casts a very long and silently significant shadow.

13/ — ‘Calling All Stations’ (1997)

This is a VERY weird album. In my opinion Ray Wilson’s vocals simply don’t suit the band with the former Stiltskin frontman’s voice possessing little of Collins’ or Gabriel’s idiosyncratic power and existing within a rather limited, and uninteresting, timbre and dynamic range.

There’s also some real crap on this album with tracks such as ‘Shipwrecked’ and ‘Small Talk’ being so musically irrelevant they might as well not exist (does anyone even listen to these?). Yet there’s also some not-too-bad material tucked away here: the second half of ‘Alien Afternoon’ is one of the most genuinely interesting things the band’s done in years and ‘One Man’s Fool’ builds to a reasonably energetic climax.

Still, it’s a frequently dull, sonically amorphous splodge of an album and an example of Genesis’ inability to keep their albums succinct (a recurring problem).

12/ — ‘Nursery Cryme’ (1971)

So this is where every die-hard Genesis fan starts foaming at the mouth and frothing with rage, but if you think me putting this classic album so low is blasphemy then you should stop reading right now because it’s only going to get much, much worse.

Their combination of musical depth, English quirk, imagination, humour and romance blends to perfection here, possibly best exemplified in ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’, a track which finds all five members in total sync: Gabriel’s lyrics are exciting and daft whilst Collins and Rutherford power it along allowing Banks and Hackett to demonstrate just how good they were together.

The shorter tracks are no slouches either with ‘For Absent Friends’ and ‘Harlequin’ both as pretty as anything whilst ‘Harold the Barrel’, another overly theatrical comedy number, crams more energy into its furious 3 minutes than ‘Epping Forest’ does in ten.

This is a legit prog rock classic and it could be their most consistent and concise album, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t leave me somewhat emotionally cold, shivering like an abandoned child in a Victorian orphanage. And I’d rather be accused of having terrible taste than of being disingenuous.

But look at it this way — if ‘Nursery Cryme’ is this far down my list it must mean that every album that follows is a goddamn masterpiece.

11/ — ‘Genesis’ (1983).

Christ, this album’s got some fucking shit on it.

If ever there was a record of two halves it’s this one. Side 1 opens strong with ‘Mama’ followed by the catchy, if highly irritating and insufferable ,‘That’s All’ before culminating with the live favourite ‘Home by the Sea’/’Second Home by the Sea’, and I ADORE those two pieces. Sure, ‘Second Home by the Sea’ has the melodic complexity of ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ or ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ but it demonstrates how Genesis always benefited from self-enforced simplicity augmented by straight-forward sonic power.

Then you put on side 2 and the extraordinarily racist ‘Illegal Alien’ slaps you round the face like you’re a bloody piñata. Now if you thought three white, English millionaires shouldn’t write social commentary songs then they REALLY shouldn’t write songs about the plight of Mexican immigrants as a jaunty comedy number. It’s a song so truly appalling I’m shocked all three members of the band weren’t divorced by the end of it.

And as for the rest of side 2? It doesn’t matter. The damage has been irreparably done.

10/ — ‘Selling England by the Pound’ (1973)

When is their best album not their best album? When it’s this one and I prefer the live versions of the songs.

For many this is the band at their peak, and they’re not wrong as this album is outstanding. So why isn’t it higher? Simple — if I want to listen to ‘Firth of Fifth’ I inevitably reach for ‘Seconds Out’. Likewise with ‘The Cinema Show’, by far one of my favourite Genesis tracks but it sounds somewhat anaemic in the studio (do I dare say even a little boring?) whereas live it’s a thunderous demon.

Also, am I the only one who finds ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’ somewhat bloated, grating and annoying?

Still, here you’ll find the gorgeous ‘After the Ordeal’, one of the most beautiful instrumentals the band ever recorded and proof of just how good Hackett and Banks were together when Banks wasn’t being such a controlling asshole and possessed the humility to let Hackett shine.

However, I prefer ‘Tonight, Tonight, Tonight’ to ‘Epping Forest’ and ‘Throwing it All Away’ to ‘More Fool Me’ which is why…

9/ — Invisible Touch (1986)

When this album was released in 1986 Genesis almost dominated the entire world, but then again at one point in history so did the Nazis. Still, it can’t be understated just HOW massive this album was and, on listening to it, you can understand why.

Yes, it is over produced pop-rock but it undeniably works with all the songs having clearly identifiable and hooky melodies and the result is a consistent, shockingly listenable album. This is the product of a trio of seasoned pros who know exactly what they’re doing even if what they’re doing could be classified as a musical war-crime.

But songs such as ‘Throwing It All Away’ are insanely well crafted (you might hate it but try getting it out your head after a listen) and ‘Domino’ remained a permanent fixture in their live sets because it’s a masterful exercise in controlled build up, sustained momentum and climactic release. You may despite the sound, the lyrics, the tone or practically everything about it but structurally it’s immaculate.

8/ — ‘…And Then There Were Three…’ (1978)

I’m always at a total loss to explain why I love this album so much because, in many ways, it’s bloody awful. I mean, just look at some of the songs –

‘Ballad of Big’ (a cowboy song — stupid).

‘Snowbound’ (a song about a man trapped inside a snowman — fucking stupid).

‘Deep in the Motherlode’ (ANOTHER cowboy song?!).

‘Say It’s Alright Joe’ (another song allowing Phil Collins to sing it sitting on a bar-stool — stupid and idiotic).

‘Scenes from a Night Dream’ (stupid, idiotic and annoying).

So what’s the allure? Maybe it’s Banks’ keyboard sounds or the way his plaintive piano echoes in the distance that hooks me (with Hackett now gone it was now down to Banks’ keyboards to do the textural heavy-lifting and you can hear him overcompensating like crazy), or maybe it’s because I bought this album was I was fifteen one October so it always sounds autumnal, and I love that particular feeling.

Or maybe I just have appalling taste.

7/ — ‘Trespass’ (1970)

Far from their best album but there’s something about it I adore and it and that’s down to one, specific ingredient — Anthony Phillips.

The story goes that the closest the band ever came to breaking up was when Phillips, the original guitarist, left and listening to ‘Trespass’ you can hear why as so much of that Genesis sound — 12 string guitar arpeggios, vocal textures, pastoral atmospheres redolent of mist in trees — was primarily, though not solely, driven by him and the loss of his sensitive, achingly romantic style would always be a hole that was never quite adequately filled. There are moments of stunning beauty here — the distant backing vocals during ‘Looking for Someone’, the haunting harmonies of ‘Dusk’ — that’re only found here.

It’s not their best album by a long shot but if you’re an Anthony Phillips fan (and I’m a big Anthony Phillips fan) then you’ll understand the appeal. Genesis would never quite attain such touching, fragile and delicate sensitivity ever again.

6/ — ‘A Trick of the Tail’ (1976)

Who would’ve guessed that pastoral Victorian whimsy and driving jazz fusion would fit so well together, but that’s what happened here. I also suspect that, for many people, it was this combination that made them so uniquely special.

‘Entangled’ is possibly the band’s prettiest piece and evidence, again, of just how well Hackett and Banks complimented each other, while ‘Dance on a Volcano’ is a blinder of an opener and ‘Los Endos’ is the band finally loosening up with dramatic results.

It’s a great album but it could’ve been tighter. Replace the somewhat structurally gibbous ‘Mad Man Moon’ with the severely underrated B-side ‘It’s Yourself’ leading into ‘Los Endos’ then, to quote Carl Weathers in ‘Arrested Development’, “you’ve got a stew going”.

5/ — ‘Foxtrot’ (1972).

Okay, great though ‘Watcher of the Skies’ and ‘Can-Utility and the Coastliners’ are ‘Foxtrot’ is this high for one reason only and that’s ‘Supper’s Ready’, easily one of Genesis’ best tracks and possibly one of the greatest prog rock pieces ever written. It has everything you want from the band — 12 strings, emotion, power, humour, invention, vocal textures — so by the time you get to the end and Gabriel sings “And babe, it’s gonna work out fine”, the key changes and then Hackett’s guitar suddenly soars we feel the air sucked from our lungs, the skin tingles and ecstasy is achieved.

Why do Genesis fans love this band so much? This, it is precisely for reasons like this. It’s the group in total balance and only a complete moron would place an album containing ‘Who Dunnit?’ above it.

4/ — ‘Abacab’ (1981).

This is one bloody ugly album, but that’s also part of its fucked-up charm. The inclusion of the Earth, Wind and Fire horns on ‘No Reply at All’ is the stupidest musical decision ever made until Bob Dylan decided to record an album of Christmas songs, ‘Man on the Corner’ is nothing more than a Phil Collins B-side and ‘Another Record’ is a seriously off-kilter weirdo of a track that boggles the mind.

Yet it’s also an astonishingly dynamic album, something immediately noticeable by the way the opening title track kicks in with that jolting splash of cymbals and thud of bass pedal, and the more stripped back the band make their sound the bigger it feels. ‘Dodo’ is an outstanding example of that (they’ve NEVER sounded more immense in the studio than here) whilst ‘Keep it Dark’ contains more rhythmic quirks, textures and strange angles than many of their epic, longer pieces.

And any time Banks pulls out his vocoder (or whatever it is he’s using), as he does towards the end of ‘Me and Sarah Jane’, it always makes me weak at the knees.

However, ‘Abacab’ also contains ‘Who Dunnit?’. The problem isn’t the track itself but Phil Collins’ insistence that this was their “punk song” and proof that Genesis always had a bit of punk rock in them, which is easily the most idiotic thing any rock star has ever said since The Rolling Stones said “Let’s hire the Hell’s Angels as bouncers. What’s the worst that can happen?”

‘Abacab’s an utter monstrousity, but that’s also why I love the ghastly fucking thing.

3/ ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’ (1974).

Full disclosure — I never really liked this album.

For decades I’ve always found it cold, unapproachable and bloated and I can still understand why as the New York setting and deliberately alienating story just don’t work for this most romantically English of bands. Oddly, it’s now for those very reasons I find it’s also the Genesis album that holds up to revisiting.

‘The Lamb’ is musically dense with the first two sides containing enough musical ideas for four. Did I overlook sides 3 and 4 because I wasn’t crazy about them or because of sonic exhaustion? Yet it’s now those overlooked sides I now love the most.

‘The Waiting Room’, ‘Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats’ and especially ‘In the Rapids’ (has Gabriel ever sounded so achingly emotional?) are so thick with ineffable evocation they defy and withstand over-listening.

The band have never sounded more ecstatically brutal than on ‘Back in N.Y.C.’ but it’s with ‘Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist’ where Genesis click like never before with them functioning as a total whole, and it’s here that Hackett takes the melodic lead and Banks provides the mystical textures.

And talking of Hackett…

2/ ‘Wind and Wuthering’ (1976).

“My god,” a friend who wasn’t that familiar with the band told me after I let them hear this album, “Steve Hackett leaving Genesis impacted their sound more than Gabriel did!” And they weren’t wrong as Genesis have never sounded as beautiful as they do here and a huge part of that was down to Hackett.

So it’s a shame that despite containing some of Genesis’ most stunning pieces — ‘Blood on the Rooftops’, ‘Unquiet Slumbers…’, ‘… in That Quiet Earth’, ‘Afterglow’ — that this masterpiece of a record is hampered by Tony Banks’ rabidly insecure ego. ‘All in a Mouse’s Night’ mars side 2 to an almost greater extent than ‘Illegal Alien’ did on ‘Shapes’ and his bestie Rutherford’s anaemic ‘Your Own Special Way’ is such a boring travesty I start humming ‘Who Dunnit?’ instead.

And it is a shame because, those abominations aside, this album can be summed up in one, simple word — pulchritudinous.

1/ ‘Duke’ (1980).

There have been many momentous partnerships throughout the history of music — Karajan and the Berlin Phil, Callas and Rescigno, Chas and Dave — but there’s never been a pairing quite as gorgeous as that of the Roland CR-78 drum machine and the Yamaha CP80 piano, and they’re both all over this wonderful sounding album. Do I have a favourite Genesis track? Yes, and it’s ‘Duchess’ and that combination of drum machine and piano are a big part of it.

‘Duke’ is pop-rock but the songs are (two mawkish ballads aside) strong, clear and distinct. It’s got the big hits and live favourites but it also contains two of the band’s most underrated tracks — ‘Man of Our Times’ and especially ‘Cul-de-Sac’, a Tony Banks number with more power and dynamic energy than many of his epic pieces.

Is this a perfect album? No, but that’s Genesis’ biggest problem — everything they released always had a bit of shit on it. Yet that’s also what made them such fun as despite all the romantic yearnings, pastoral textures and grandiose concepts they are, at heart, a genuinely fun band and (nearly) always a blast to listen to at any point in their career.

So it’s not a case of choosing between ‘Supper’s Ready’ or ‘Land of Confusion’ because the glorious thing is we can, and do, have both. And isn’t that a wonderful, if fucking stupid, thing?

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.