Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Much like Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” stirs up a certain amount of controversy. It is a big, grandiose concept album, that some will say is pretentious and too long. Honestly, I don’t think anyone could approach progressive rock in the 70s without a certain amount of pretense. These musicians were trying to be the Mozarts and Beethovens of rock. So that also means that lengthy works would be inherent to the genre. For my taste, they got it just right (admittedly, I did have quite a few double vinyls in my collection). I have listened to “The Lamb” from start to finish every time since I first heard it, and consider Peter Gabriel’s final outing with Genesis a masterwork.
As I alluded to before, this was the last Genesis album with Peter Gabriel, and he was the main force behind it. The story was his, as well as the lion’s share of the lyrics. Mike, Tony, and Phil were definitely involved with the composing, but unfortunately Steve’s input was limited. He was suffering from a hand injury, but did recover in time to play all his parts on the album. Interestingly, Brian Eno is also credited under ‘Enossification’ for some of the keyboard effects.
The tale is about a tough street kid from New York named Rael, who gets transported to an alternate sci-fi / fantasy reality. Accompanied by his brother (or is he?), Rael encounters mythical creatures and other odd beings. In the end, all of the trials end up composing a journey of self-discovery and redemption. It may not be exactly easy to follow, even with the liner notes, but I have come across others that are far more difficult to discern (see “Imaginos”).
In this period, Genesis was on the forefront of the melodic, symphonic style. However, unlike similar works by Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer, “The Lamb” is not comprised of a few large movements. It is more a series of songs strung together with a purpose, much like they did on “Supper’s Ready.” Another unique factor was how hard they rocked. Don’t misunderstand, the entirety is structured into symphonic movements, but songs like “In the Cage” and “Back in N.Y.C.” have some serious huevos. Like any symphony the mood does not stay the same. “The Carpet Crawlers” and “Cuckoo Cocoon” are beautiful soft interludes, and “Anyway” basically is classical music with vocals.
As with all “golden age” Genesis, the musicianship is superb, and the lyrical wordplay is extremely clever. The cultural references in “Fly on a Windshield” are intricately woven together, and “Counting out Time” is a hilarious account of a first sexual experience. The only problem with the latter is that it doesn’t really fit into the story line. As unlikely as it may seem, even the combination of the New York experience and the fantasy word works well.
At first, this album may come off as a bit much to the casual listener, but I think there is something for everybody here. As grandiose, complex, or ‘high-brow’ appearances may be, it is always accessible. Even something as out there, and downright weird, as “The Waiting Room” is an appealing curiosity. This is also a rare case where the songs still work when taken out of context. When I was a teenager, WLAV in Grand Rapids used to play “In the Cage” and the title track all the time. I even heard “Carpet Crawlers” piped into a restaurant not too long ago.
The band mounted a huge tour to support the album. Not only did Peter create his usual costumes, he even cut his hair short for the Rael character. Because of the compelling story and visual possibilities, there were even plans for a movie version. Gabriel’s departure made this more difficult, so it never came to pass. We are left with an epic musical masterpiece, and Peter Gabriel’s farewell.
I instantly fell in love with this album, and it soon became my second favorite of the Gabriel era (nothing tops “Foxtrot”). I don’t think they ever composed or played as tightly on anything else. Even if it wasn’t as much of a group effort, the quality is not diminished. To those that know it, it is as much of a classic as “Dark Side of the Moon,” or “Quadrophenia.”
Michael Rutherford – bass, twelve string guitar
Phil Collins – percussion, vibing and voicing
Tony Banks – keyboards
Steve Hackett – guitars
Peter Gabriel – voices and flute