The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Over many years as a Genesis fan, I have changed my mind many times about which is my favourite of their albums. I started in the post-Gabriel phase, and my favourite was Wind and Wuthering, before I really got the chance to take in the additional complexity and atmosphere of the earlier records, and so Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound and Trespass all had a look-in. Then for a while I favoured the simpler, more cleanly-produced sound and Abacab had its turn in pole position. But again and again, I come back to their longest, darkest, most turbulent, most musically diverse offering, to Peter Gabriel’s swan-song, to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
This was Genesis’s only real concept album. It seems almost strange from this distance of time that they decided, for their sixth album (the fourth for the classic Banks — Collins — Hackett — Gabriel — Rutherford lineup), to make a concept album, even before they knew what the concept would be: but in 1974 “concept album” wasn’t the term of abuse it became in later years. After several years of working on long songs, the peak being of course “Supper’s Ready” from 1972’s Foxtrot, the band felt ready to move on to the challenge of a whole album of connected songs, and decided that a double album would give them the space they wanted to explore their musical ideas.
And so, first of all at writing / rehearsing sessions at Headley Grange — possibly haunted, quite definitely infested by large and alarmingly confident rats — and then with the Island Recording Mobile, they put together a long, complex, idiosyncratic album. In many ways it appears to have been a tense, difficult time, with Banks, Rutherford, Collins and Hackett writing and rehearsing music without Gabriel (spending time with his wife after the difficult birth of their first child, and then working with William Friedkin on an aborted movie project), never quite sure what, or sometimes when, he would be singing. And since the concept they had chosen was Gabriel’s, he insisted on writing all the lyrics: for the band this was a big departure, because lyric-writing had been very much shared between all five members on previous albums, and they rightly doubted that Gabriel could manage the task. In the end he had to ask Banks and Rutherford to help out and they contributed lyrics for a couple of songs.
Despite the circumstances, they managed to achieve what they set out to do: a long, complex, musically adventurous album. In places they went not just further than they had gone to date, but further than they ever would again (“The Waiting Room”, “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”). At the same time they produced some songs which were simpler, cleaner, more emotional than anything they had done before (notably “In the Rapids”), and the average track length — although still not in the typical pop single bracket — was at just under 4 minutes noticeably shorter than before (only two out of the 23 tracks breaking the 8-minute barrier and only one other is over 6 minutes). And, an achievement which Roger Waters could not match in Pink Floyd’s concept albums, they managed to keep their sense of humour (“The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”, “Counting Out Time”, “Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist”).
Being a concept album could have excused (or justified) some amount of repetition of musical themes, and although Genesis made a habit in later years of book-ending albums with repeated themes from the opening tracks, and despite the pressure they ended up under to fill their self-imposed target of a double album, there is relatively little recycling of material within the album: the most notable, and again justifiable, being the way the title track turns up again in the intro to Carpet Crawlers and in The Light Dies Down on Broadway.
So what about the album itself then? I still remember being gripped by the cover (this is in the old 12″ LP days of course, when covers really were covers) when I saw it in a record shop even before I was a Genesis fan: black and white photographs on a white background, the figure of a man in jeans and bare torso (Rael, the hero of the story) stepping out of one picture, and looking at two more versions of himself, their outstretched hands gripping between the frames of their photos: on the back more nightmarish images (a man smashes through a window, shady figures in a maze of brick-lined corridors, a mouthless Rael with shadowy faces looming from the blackness behind him).
Inside the gatefold sleeve, we find Gabriel’s slightly loopy story. This tells how Rael, a New York street punk, is caught by a “wall of death” which sweeps through Times Square and propels him onto a bizarre journey, intended to be a modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress, in which he faces his past as a hapless gang member and would-be lover, the pain of confinement and helpless confusion, fear of death, sex and disease, and — several times — betrayal by those he trusts, particularly his brother John. Finally in a rush of cosmic energy he is liberated from his body and dissolves into a haze.
Now, does this story really stand up? Arguably not. Although Gabriel stands by it, the rest of the band seem to regard it now as the weakest element in the album, and probably most fans would agree (Tony Robinson, in his article to accompany the recent Genesis 1969-1975 box set, certainly takes that line). So perhaps in the end it is no more than a peg on which the band hung some great music, and if so it arguably achieved a purpose which lets us overlook some of the vagueness and, perhaps, dream-like pointlessness of which it could stand accused.
That just leaves the music to think about. But before the track-by-track walkthrough, the big picture. Nowadays of course you buy this as 2 CDs, and once it’s on your iPod you can listen to the whole 90 minutes at one seamless sitting. (On the Genesis 1969-1975 boxset DVD you can also listen to it like that, with the added bonus of the slides from their 1974-75 Lamb stageshow and some snippets of cine film from those live shows.) However I still think of this as 4 sides of vinyl, showing my age, and to my mind each ‘side’ has a different character — and here again I’ve dithered over the years as to which is my favourite.
Is it side 1, which although it contains the classic “In the Cage” (one of the two 8-minute numbers, and a stage favourite throughout the later 3-man Genesis years) is somehow dominated by the lighter, simpler sounds of the title track and “Cuckoo Cocoon” and their contrast with one of the dark highlights, the magnificent “Fly on a Windshield”? Or side 2, which runs from the positively rough-edged drive of “Back in N.Y.C.” through the retro pop of “Counting Out Time” to the sweeping “The Chamber of 32 Doors”? Then there is side 3, which sees the band explore dark territory indeed in “The Waiting Room” and closes on the ethereal soundscape of “Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”. And finally side 4, which takes us from the ‘funny noises’ which herald Rael’s arrival in “The Colony of Slippermen” before leading on through the multiple segments of that song to the off-kilter rhythms and virtuoso synth solo of “Riding the Scree” before closing out on the duo of “In the Rapids” — one of the 5-man Genesis’s most straightforward and heartfelt songs — and “it”, a dynamic send-off to the album which, maybe, points in a direction which the band ultimately didn’t quite follow.
Does that give the impression of an album of many ideas? It should. This album is full of different styles and ideas, a mix of Genesis’s classic tuneful prog rock instrumentals, corny music-hall-style lyrics, ballads, experiments with sounds and textures which they never really repeated, high drama and low comedy. It’s an album in which old odds and ends finally found a home, in some cases after many years, and yet an album which is a cohesive whole.
Finally a brief word about the new remixes, at the time of writing available only in the 1970-1975 box set. The 5.1 Surround Sound mix is great fun, with voices and instruments moving around you. It is quite recognisably the original album, with only minor changes to the balance in places, but the sound is clear and sharp: there are often complaints that these remixes are overly compressed, but to my ears this isn’t a significant concern on this album. Finally the DVD has a nice bonus — all the slides from the original Lamb stage show, plus some photos and snippets of cine film from the shows themselves. A great way to spend an evening in front of the TV.
Genesis — The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway: Track-by-track review
1. “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”
Banks’ tinkling piano introduction sets the scene for the album, as they set off with a pretty straight rock song, powered by Rutherford’s fuzz bass and Banks’ cross-handed piano playing.
The song sets the scene, evoking modern-day Manhattan coming back to life in the early morning:
Night-time flyers feel their pains
Drugstore takes down the chains
Metal motion comes in bursts
But the gas-station can quench that thirst
Into this scene comes Rael, self-styled Imperial Aerosol Kid, heading home from a night of spray-painting vandalism — and, bizarrely out of place, a lamb:
But the Broadway street scene
Finds a focus in its face
Somehow its lying there
Brings a stillness to the air
So the scene is set for Rael’s strange odyssey.
2. “Fly On A Windshield”
“Fly on a Windshield” starts off with a strummed Rutherford riff, which he reportedly introduced to the band with the phrase “Pharaohs floating down the Nile”. It sets a spooky tone for the appearance of the “wall of death” which sweeps across New York.
Then the wall hits Rael, like the fly is hit by “the windshield on the freeway”, and the band breaks into an instrumental based around a heavy stomp with sweeping mellotron strings and Hackett’s classic wailing lead guitar, before rising to a climax and seguing into the next track.
3. “Broadway Melody Of 1974”
A bass-driven riff, with Gabriel leading us through a catalogue of characters from 20th-Century American history. Banks’ mellotron strings dominate the texture, leading on from their significant part in the “Fly on a Windshield” instrumental, while Gabriel reels off a rollcall of early 20th century American culture, from Lenny Bruce via Groucho and the Ku Klux Klan to Howard Hughes, and then, with a nod to the contemporary drug problems of the inner cities,
As the song and dance begins
The children play at home
With needles, needles and pins
4. “Cuckoo Cocoon”
Hackett contributes the closest to a traditional guitar picking song on the album, a gentle croon tells of how Rael awakes swaddled in a bizarre cocoon. A simple song, with vocal harmonies by Gabriel and Collins, is punctuated by some good Gabriel flute in the bridge with Banks’ rippling piano accompaniment coming in on the reprise.
5. “In The Cage”
The centrepiece of the old Side One, and a long-time in-concert favourite, this is perhaps the most traditionally “prog” song on the album (if that makes any sense!). Starting with a heart-beat like bass pulse and Gabriel’s crooning vocals, it develops into a high-energy rocker driven by Bank’s Hammond and some of the dirtiest rhythm guitar playing Hackett ever contributed to the band. Here the time signatures start to get a bit further off the beaten track, with a 6/4 feel to the chorus.
The centrepiece of the song is the searing keyboard solo, played over a bubbling bass riff, and the bridge where Rael, trapped in a mysterious cage, sees his brother John — who promptly abandons him to his fate. Listen to the dramatic bass pedal which underpins this bridge, contrasted to the high-pitched synth line and thunderous drumming from Collins.
The song proper is followed by a short instrumental coda, a chugging barrel-organ riff which just fades in and back out again.
6. “The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging”
The first whimsical music-hall style piece, “The Grand Parade…” tells of Rael’s awakening in a room full of apparently lifeless people, all labelled and priced like merchandise.
It’s a fairly straight song, propelled through its four verses by a continual crescendo as more and more instruments join in — keyboards, bass, drums, guitars, percussion and whistles all make their appearance before the song runs down like clockwork to mark the end of the old Side One.
7. “Back In N.Y.C.”
A pulsing bass intro evokes the opening to “In The Cage”, before the main riff kicks in. A synth-driven riff, it is more angular and aggressive than anything Genesis had done before, or did again until, arguably, “Man of Our Time” from Duke.
The time signatures are getting trickier again here, with 7/4 and 7/8 keeping us on our toes. There’s also some good heavily processed guitar from Hackett, particularly on the bridge.
The lyrics take us back to Rael’s younger days and how he made his way in the New York gangs, apparently not as the most awe-inspiring of gangsters:
You’re only as strong
Yes you’re only as strong
As the weakest link in the chain
8. “Hairless Heart”
The straightest of the album’s instrumental numbers, this consists of two alternating sections: the first is fronted by Hackett’s acoustic guitar picking out the tune while Banks sends synth arpeggios bubbling away in the background, while the other is a classic Mellotron-powered sweep of sound.
The track closes with a casual almost disco-like bass riff which segues straight into “Counting Out Time”.
9. “Counting Out Time”
A complete song which Gabriel had written some time before, which comes in to its own here as Rael remembers his first (not too successful) erotic encounters. A bit like “Harold the Barrel” or the “Willow Farm” section of “Supper’s Ready”, it’s got more than a hint of the McCartney-esque pastiche to it. Hackett contributes a ukelele-like rhythm part and a heavily processed solo.
The star part however is Gabriel, with the clever lyrics finally telling us that without erogenous zones “mankind hand-kinds through the blues”.
10. “Carpet Crawlers”
One of the first musical cross-references sees the bridge of “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” make a re-appearance here as an introduction (something which was dropped for live performances in the post-Gabriel period). The song itself is simple and beautiful, based around Rutherford and Banks’ tinkling arpeggios with Hackett’s wailing guitar accents in the chorus.
If you only know the Seconds Out version then this version is a revelation, with a great restrained vocal by Gabriel, gorgeous chorus harmonies between Collins & Gabriel, and the closing “Got to get in to get out” section a masterpiece of intertwining vocal lines. Also in contrast to the Seconds Out version is the flatter dynamic here — the first verse is quiet, but the drums come in full strength for verse two, and it is a mark of the quality of the songwriting and singing that the song then holds very much the same dynamic and tone through the remaining 3 verses.
11. “The Chamber Of 32 Doors”
The last song on Disc One (or Side Two in the old money) is a fantastic collection of disparate pieces, which meld together to create a classic song.
The introduction starts with swelling mellotron strings before drums and guitar burst in, swell to a climax — then stop and start the whole thing again. This leads to the verse, with a simple driving bass-line (Rutherford content to stick to root notes in crotchets when the situation calls for it). This in turn makes way for a chorus based around ringing twelve-string guitar chords and piano, a simple pastoral sound by comparison with most of Genesis’s work. Finally the song breaks again for Gabriel’s impassioned cri de coeur backed by vibraphone and electric piano:
But down here
I’m so alone with my fear
And everything that I hear
And every single door that I’ve walked through
Brings me back, back here again
The song sets Rael in a room full of people, with 32 doors, none of which seems to lead out. Trapped, Rael has to beg for someone to show him the way. A ringing piano and vibraphone chord closes the disc.
12. “Lilywhite Lilith”
This is another song based on an old fragment, in this case a song called “The Light” which was reportedly brought to the band by Collins and played on some occasions in the time around the recording of Nursery Cryme: you can find it on a few bootlegs, e.g. the recording from La Ferme in Belgium. The outro of the song features a reprise of “Broadway Melody of 1974″‘s bass riff.
The lyrics see Rael led out of the Chamber of 32 Doors by the blind Lilith, who leaves him sitting in the dark on a stone throne, waiting…
13. “The Waiting Room”
For the first and just about the last time, one of the band’s jams makes it straight onto record. Known informally as “The Evil Jam”, it is a dark, threatening collage of sounds and textures: Tony Banks has said “We switched off all the lights and just made noises. And the first time it really was frightening.”
From the chaos however order arises, with a bass-driven 6/8 rhythm over which Banks’ howling synth starts to pick out a melody, before finally the beat changes to a solid straight 4/4 and the band rocks into the fade.
This is one of the oldest snippets which made its way onto the album: a complete Tony Banks song, previously played since the Anthony Phillips days, and dusted off, with new lyrics, for The Lamb Lies Down.
A comparison with the version which forms part of the “Genesis Plays Jackson” suite, included on the Extra Tracks album included in the Genesis 1970-1975 boxset, shows that they didn’t do a lot to this song apart from the lyrics, but that’s a testament to the strength of the original writing. It’s a simple but dramatic song, with a great harmony guitar solo by Hackett, the main accompaniment otherwise being Banks’ arpeggio-dominated piano.
15. “Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist”
One of Hackett’s greatest contributions to this album, a quirky song which tells the quirky story of Death’s apparition to Rael as he lies entombed underground. Starting with jazzy strummed chords, a short verse sung by Collins and Gabriel leads quickly into a rhythmic guitar solo, built around repeating figures and building to a climax before breaking off into an atmospheric minor-key interlude with more Hackett guitar work, which in turn dissolves into the next track.
16. “The Lamia”
Perhaps the most “prog” of the songs on this album, “The Lamia” tells the story of Rael’s encounter with strange snake-bodied women who seduce him, die, and are eaten by him. As he leaves, they are reincarnated ready to lie in wait for their next victim.
The song builds from a piano-based verse, with weaving synth lines coming in to introduce the chorus, evoking the snaky bodies of the Lamia. The song ends with a guitar solo from Hackett, and Gabriel joining in on the flute as the song fades.
One of the joys of this song is the evocative and slightly bizarre imagery which Gabriel conjures up in the lyrics: when the Lamia die,
Each empty snake-like body floats
Silent sorrow in empty boats
– the last line being so good it became the title of the following instrumental track; and as Rael leaves, having eaten the Lamia’s bodies, his final despairing cry is
It is the scent of garlic that lingers
On my chocolate fingers.
If that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is.
17. “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats”
Another experimental soundscape, not as aggressively unusual as “The Waiting Room”, this time just built around a repeated riff of six guitar chords, faded in by volume pedal. Over this background the band builds a panorama of desolate sound, with mellotron choirs appearing and fading away. The track is a triumph in atmosphere building and a haunting epitaph to the Lamia whom Rael mourns. Repeated listening, especially on headphones or in the new 5.1 Surround Sound mix, reveals more and more texture and detail.
18. “The Colony Of Slippermen (The Arrival/A Visit To The Doktor/Raven)”
“The Colony of Slippermen” is the longest song on the album. Apart from the three segments indicated by the subtitles, it also has a long introduction which again is an experimental medley of sounds, before Gabriel’s “Babbity-babbity” introduces the first verse. The verses are based on a simple organ riff, in 4/4 but with the backbeat delayed on every second bar to set up an off-kilter feel. The Slippermen, “covered in slimy lumps”, warn Rael that, like them, he is suffering from disease caught from the Lamia. “A Visit to the Doktor” starts with a faster chorus, where the Slipperman tells Rael the cure: amputation by
Doktor Dyper, reformed sniper
He’ll whip off your windscreen-wiper
Rael, now reunited with John, is prepared to take this drastic cure: but “The Raven” tells how, having been given his severed member in a yellow plastic tube, he then loses it when a huge raven swoops down from the sky to snatch it from his hand. A classic Banks synth solo, which reappeared as part of the “In the Cage” medley through most of the Collins-led years, is another album highlight.
Finally John abandons Rael to search for his stolen organ, and a reprise of the chorus riff from “A Visit to the Doktor” brings us Rael chasing the raven until he drops the goods into a river.
Another haunting soundscape, again based around a repetitive rhythm guitar figure. Whistling synths and finally wind effects build the bleak atmosphere before the fadeout.
20. “The Light Dies Down On Broadway”
Running out of time, Gabriel finally turned to his band-mates to help with the lyrics, and Banks and Rutherford obliged with this, which reuses themes from “The Lamia” and “The Lamb Lies Down…” to build a bridging song to get Rael to the final decision, as he faces a choice between saving his brother John or returning to the New York of his old life.
It’s a good song, and I’ve always really liked it. The old themes are imaginatively re-visited, although it’s the sort of re-hashing you can only get away with in a concept album as a rule. The main weakness is those lyrics: there’s a stiffness to Banks’ and Rutherford’s lyrics which you don’t get in the Gabriel lyrics. They stick to the script and get the job done, but there’s little of the poetry or the off-the-wall imagery which Gabriel can conjure up in half a line — just compare it to “The Lamia”.
21. “Riding The Scree”
One of the hidden gems of the album. It is dominated by a great keyboard solo, played against a syncopated Rutherford / Collins riff in an oddly jarring time signature and with some great off-beat breaks to emphasise key moments in the solo. Gabriel’s vocals do not make an appearance for 2 minutes: his short verse, which tells us he is struggling down a steep scree slope to save John, ends with the line
Evil Knievel, you’ve got nothing on me…. here I go!
– once again Genesis cannot keep a straight face for too long — before a short reprise of the keyboard solo fades the song out.
22. “In The Rapids”
One of Genesis’s most heart-tugging moments: Rutherford again effortlessly conjures up a melancholy atmosphere from his Rickenbacker 12-string before Gabriel comes in with a throaty vocal of true pain, as Rael contemplates the peril of losing his brother in the rapids.
The song builds gently, Hackett’s weeping guitar work and harmonics complementing the tone set by Gabriel and Rutherford, until the Rael rescues his brother only to find that
That’s not your face — it’s mine! it’s mine!
and with this traumatic discovery song segues into the album’s finale.
Yet again the album changes gear, and an up-tempo tune takes us to the conclusion. Again driven by Rutherford, both his 12-string strumming and his urgent walking bassline (although the live versions use bass pedals rather than bass guitar), this time it’s an up-tempo song in a straightforward time signature, maybe on the verge of a pop song: almost something you could dance to.
Hackett and Banks play their parts here too, with the melody which forms the intro, and also with a great duet which is interleaved between the lines of the first verse: with a great sense for not repeating themselves, the other verses are just sung straight through by Gabriel.
Gabriel’s talent and predilection for word-play is to the forefront here, with a series of images and puns as he tries to hint at what it is:
Any rock can be made to roll
If you’ve enough of it to pay the toll
It is inside spirit, with enough grit to survive
It is here, it is now
It is Real, it is Rael
and finally he admits that
It’s only knock and knowall,
But I like it, like it..
Is all the last hour-and-a-half just “knock and knowall”? Surely more than that, surely more than just “rock’n’roll” too: it may have made us work hard, but at the end of the day, and even after all these years, I like it, like it.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis
“The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”
“Fly On A Windshield”
“Broadway Melody Of 1974”
“In The Cage”
“The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging”
“Back In N.Y.C.”
“Counting Out Time”
“The Chamber Of 32 Doors”
“The Waiting Room”
“Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist”
“Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats”
“The Colony Of Slippermen (The Arrival/A Visit To The Doktor/Raven)”
“The Light Dies Down On Broadway”
“Riding The Scree”
“In The Rapids”