Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Nursery Cryme [Charisma, 1971] C-
  • Foxtrot [Charisma, 1972] C
  • Selling England by the Pound [Charisma, 1973] B
  • The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [Atco, 1974] B-
  • . . . And Then There Were Three . . . [Atlantic, 1978] D+
  • Invisible Touch [Atlantic, 1986] C+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Nursery Cryme [Charisma, 1971]
God's wounds! It's a "rock" version of the myth of Hermaphroditus! In quotes cos the organist and the (mime-influenced) vocalist have the drummer a little confused! Or maybe it's just the invocation to Old King Cole! C-

Foxtrot [Charisma, 1972]
This band's defenders--fans of manual dexterity, aggregate IQ, "stagecraft," etc.--claim this as an improvement. And indeed, Tony Banks's organ crescendos are less totalistic, Steve Hackett's guitar is audible, and Peter Gabriel's lyrics take on medievalism, real-estate speculators, and the history of the world. This latter is the apparent subject of the 22:57-minute "Supper's Ready," which also suggests that Gabriel has a sense of humor and knows something about rock and roll. Don't expect me to get more specific, though--I never even cared what "Gates of Eden" "really meant." C

Selling England by the Pound [Charisma, 1973]
The best rock jolts folk-art virtues--directness, utility, natural audience--into the present with shots of modern technology and modernist dissociation; the typical "progressive" project attempts to raise the music to classical grandeur or avant-garde status. Since "raise" is usually code for "delegitimize," I'm impressed that on half of this Peter Gabriel makes the idea work: his mock-mythologized gangland epic and menacing ocean pastorale have a complexity of tone that's pretty rare in any kind of art. Even more amazing, given past performances, organist Tony Banks defines music to match, schlocky and graceful and dignified all at once--when he's got it going, which is nowhere near often enough. As for the rest, it sounds as snooty as usual. B

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway [Atco, 1974]
I wanted to call this the most readable album since Quadrophenia, but it's only the wordiest--two inner sleeves covered with lyrics and a double-fold that's all small-type libretto. The apparent subject is the symbolic quest of a Puerto Rican hood/street kid/graffiti artist named Rael, but the songs neither shine by themselves nor suggest any thematic insight I'm eager to pursue. For art-rock, though, it's listenable, from Eno treatments to a hook that goes (I'm humming) "on Braw-aw-aw-aw-aw-aw-dway." B-

. . . And Then There Were Three . . . [Atlantic, 1978]
The departure of Peter Gabriel having long since left them a quartet, what might this title indicate? Ask ex-fan Jon Pareles: "Without lead guitarist Steve Hackett, the band loses its last remaining focal point; the rest is double-tracking. Hence a sound as mushy as the dread Moody Blues, with fewer excuses." D+

Invisible Touch [Atlantic, 1986]
For a while I was tempted to buzz Phil Collins over his former fearless leader. He's a warmer singer, God help them both, and the formerly useless Tony Banks proves adept with the keyb hooks. But in the end I couldn't tolerate the generalization density--not just of the lyrics (where Peter Gabriel's personal and geopolitical details offer some evidence that he's been there) but of the hooks, which end up feeling coercive, an effect unmitigated by Collins's whomping instrumental technique. And just to prove they're still Genesis, we get solos. C+

Further Notes:

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]