Wending our way through the hallowed ground of Tradged-Cheese, (we do a lot of wending here at WMMCM by the way,) we once more land on the proggy shores of Genesis. And as usual, I tend to handle the progginess around here. My mind just kind of works that way and rather than giving Bridey a headache, it’s better for all concerned if I jump in with both feet, (though in prog it could just as easily be one or three feet. It goes with the territory.)
So what happens when a major prog band is still “prog like” but, no longer truly progressive in their musical compositions? Well, that’s the moment when they start to sell records.
And by the winter of 1983 Genesis was really selling records. After the departure of founding member Peter Gabriel in 1976, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Phil Collins had slowly migrated away from their progressive roots into an increasing accessible pop oriented progressive style of music. It’s still usually got the insanely complicated time signatures and virtuoso musicianship but, it also has comprehensible lyrics and infectious melodies.
When the trio released their eponymous album, Genesis, in October of 1983, it followed on the success of two consecutive number one albums in their native England. In the US, Genesis had never quite made the top spot on the charts with either albums or singles but along the way, they had become one of the most played bands on the radio of the time as well as a major concert draw.
You see, that’s what is so tough about being a prog rocker. You can sell out the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles for five nights running and be all over the radio and MTV and still not be even close to having a number one hit.
The fifth single from the Genesis album would become a radio staple for years to come while somehow never even managing to chart past the fiftieth spot in the US. Overseas, it was a blip on the radar screen never even charting in another country. (This from an album that has sold nearly 9 million copies…)
Over the years since Genesis first formed in the early 1970′s, they had always a penchant for strange stories about even stranger creatures and events. After Gabriel’s departure they merely slowed down the approach never quite losing the tendency to be all but thematically indecipherable. But as drummer Phil Collins became more and more comfortable not only with lead vocal and front man duties, his, and the band’s lyrical direction became more conventional and accessible.
It took a few years but by the time Genesis was released, Genesis had their first “real” love song. Written by all three members, “Taking It All Too Hard” is one of the most difficult songs the band ever recorded.
With an intro that sounds like a typical top 40′s pop song of the day, Genesis is out to surprise you. Collins’ simple doom doom drum intro is stomped by Banks’ unusual sounding Yamaha electric piano while the drums follow into a straight forward beat. In a move that only a band like Genesis could pull off, the song is actually in 4/4 time, though with the way Collins is pulling the beat along with a long pattern that seems like it takes two measures to get through, you really have to pay attention to figure out that it’s simply in common time.
Rutherford is delivering a simple chorus infused bass line while Banks adds in a bit of left hand synth to fill things out.
Then the hammer drops when Collins starts his vocals. Collins has always had a way of getting every last bit of power out of his voice and on “Taking It All Too Hard” he makes your speakers melt with the flood of emotion.
“No, not this confused again
No, not the same mistakes again
You’re taking it all to heart
You’re taking it all too hard.”
Things change suddenly for the first verse when we start to see why our subject is so distressed.
“Why can’t you see what’s going on?
I know you’d never admit
You would ever be to blame
Everything’s a game to you.”
All the signs of a failed relationship are floating to the top but we’re still not there yet.
“The old days are gone
And they’re better left alone
I cannot help you
It’s much too late.”
There’s more here that what’s being said. That’s also why it’s so powerful.
Collins is selling the story with everything he’s got vocally and the meaning is starting to appear as well. All the while Banks and Rutherford are laying back creating a convoluted musicscape of simple bass notes played off by Banks’ layered and complicated piano and synthesizers.
Collins vocal shifts from disappointment to embittered as he slams into the second chorus with an emphasized “Oh No, not this confused again.” But this chorus has doubled and now we get a peak at what’s really going on.
“There’s always a reason why it happened
You never, never did anything wrong, but it
It just seemed to fall apart
But you’re taking it all too hard.”
At this moment it seems that Collins is trying to let the girl down easy even though whatever has happened has been fatal to the relationship.
There’s passion, confusion and anger all mixed up in Collins’ vocals. A nearly searing bitterness emerges even while he’s still trying to be consoling.
“Now that it’s dark, all of your fears
Like shadows creeping around
You’re much too scared to look down
And it’s lonely out on your own.”
And then, an even more unexpected set of emotions emerge… Compassion and loss.
“But I still miss you
I keep it to myself.”
For just a brief moment he’s back at that moment when things were good and they were still in love.
After that short flash of good days gone by Collins heads off into the chorus once more with an initial vengeance that slowly softens as he repeats the chorus into the fade.
“Taking It All Too Hard” is probably the most powerful “love” song the Genesis guys ever did. It’s angry, it’s bitter, it’s confused and it’s sweet for a brief moment while Collins, Banks and Rutherford get every emotion that can be found in four minutes.
A perfect bit of Tradged-Cheese.