The Bodhisattva Beat
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Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: 1974

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: 1974

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

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6 Responses to “Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”

  1. I agree with you HT, the main problem of The Lamb is the lack of Steve Hackett’s atmospheric guitar.

    But that problem wasn’t totally new, the peak of the collaboration between Hackett and Banks was in Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, Genesis created a special sound that was absolutely unique,. in some sections you could hardly knew when the guitar finished and started the keyboards, it was something revolutionary because the MIDI guitar wasn’t yet invented, and was done directly by Steve with a common guitar.

    In Selling England by the Pound, that thick atmosphere was lost, the impression you were under a dense mist when the band played was over, of course we have amazing solos like the one in Firth of Fifth, but the sound was somehow simpler and friendlier.

    In the Lamb it was worst, due to his physical problem and a more direct style, in The Lamb the guitar plays a minor role in the general scenario, in comparison with the first albums, and Genesis lost their trademark mysterious sound.

    The most haunting track is In The Cage by far, but the mystery and claustrophobic sound was created almost exclusively by a constant organ hammering our brains without rest (wonderful by the way), and Peter’s vocal ductility and semi yodels that created an anguish and pain sensation, the guitar can’t be found.

    Still a great album, but not in the level of Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme or even Trespass, where the dark haunting mood was the central aspect of Genesis music.

    The merit of The Lamb, is being the cornerstone of the conceptual albums.


    BTW: Don’t you find a relation between the concept of The Lamb, Quadrophenia and The Wall, all about complex people trapped in a situation from where apparently there’s no escape, I always thought The Lamb had a connection with The Trial by Kafka

  2. Great review as usual, HT, and very interesting comments by Ivan. As far as I am concerned, I must admit I have never been able to get into the album – same as “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, though the two albums are vastly different in structure. However, there is no denying that the story behind it is very intriguing, and should have helped to debunk the myth that prog was only about airy-fairy nonsense (something that was hardly true in the first place).

  3. As an effort, I tend to praise it entirely, because it’s a riveting oddity, even for a band that previously delivered Supper’s Ready, plus allowed fantasy lyricism and movementing to invade into an otherwise firm symph-prog focus.

    As a rock opera, I hardly see where there’s room to bicker over how long and act-sliced it is, since that’s how it’s done; still, I could see something dangerously frail in it. Even with the beloved hotspots (The Lamb, In The Cage, Carpet, etc.), the rest has intense shapeshifting, miniatuarism and unconventional deliveries or transitions. The album rarely lets you settle in your armchair and relax. Not sure if, stripped from context, a good portion of the repertoire would actually stand as Genesis royale, either. Nevertheless, I would put faith in such an unresting intriguiness, rather than how Yes simply multiplied their core genes into 4 fat epics.

    Finally, as a selected 1 1/2 hour of music listening, it’s happened to me both ways. The happiest occasions usually were when I rewinded it after a long period of time. Last time, I lost the grip from the second disc onward. So I think The Lamb is ultimately capricious at all levels.

  4. I am a big Genesis fan, and the “assumption” that Steve’s participation on “The Lamb” was due to his injury is incorrect, thereason why Steve had very little to do with the writing of “The Lamb” was because he was having trouble with his first marriage and was in the process of a sad divorce, which is why he he was a few weeks behind forth the lack of Hackett’s guitar. The injury that Steve obtain was before the tour suffered when he was at a concert and someone mentioned that this band was would be nothing without “Alex Harvey” which frayed on Steve’s nerves.

    • I got that from what I thought was a reliable source, but you never really know do you. Suffice to say that for whatever reason, Steve was not as involved with the album.

      I never heard that other story about Alex Harvey before. I saw an allusion to it on Steve’s site, but didn’t really understand it.

      Thanks for the commentary Chuck. 🙂

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