Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Music Review: We Can't Dance

We Can't Dance
  • Band: Genesis (Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks)
  • Label: Atlantic (USA), Virgin (UK)
  • Genre: Rock (Progressive)
  • Producers: Genesis, Nick Davis
  • Release: 11 November 1991
  • Formats: Casette, CD, Vinyl
I may claim to be a huge fan of Phil Collins and Genesis, but to be honest, most of my knowledge lies in their later career, where all the hits came from.  The first Genesis album I bought was 1986's Invisible Touch which, while a good starting point for anyone wishing to explore their catalogue, doesn't offer anything special outside of its many hits.  I know the band dates back to 1967, but I have yet to get into their older, Peter Gabriel-fronted material.  But for now, I've been focusing on their other albums, like Calling All Stations and the one I'm presenting for you readers today: 1991's We Can't Dance, the final album they recorded with Phil Collins.
  1. "No Son Of Mine": Like in Calling All Stations, We Can't Dance opens with an awesome, emotionally epic track.  But unlike the title track from Calling All Stations, which hits you with full force at the get-go, "No Son Of Mine" starts out quiet, which only serves to make the climax that much more moving.  The lyrics are told from the point of view of a man who tries to take refuge with his family, but is rebuked by his father, hence the title.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  2. "Jesus He Loves Me": Don't be scared, this isn't a Christian rock song.  "Jesus He Loves Me" is sung from the point of view of a televangelist, who broadcasts a donation-corrupted dream of eternal salvation for his viewers, and gives off the appearance of a perfect family man whilst dealing in shady - and occasionally sexy - business on the side.  I mean, lines like "I believe in the family / with my ever-loving wife beside me / but she don't know about my girlfriend / or the man I met last night" should clue you in that not everything is heavenly in his paradise.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  3. "Driving The Last Spike": One of the album's long-format tracks, "Driving The Last Spike" is another character song, told from the point of view of a railroad worker in 19th century Britain.  Around the middle of the track, the protagonist survives a tunnel cave-in, and the music builds up accordingly.  5 out of 5.
  4. "I Can't Dance": This blues-rocker is unlike anything else on the album, or even in the band's entire repertoire.  That Genesis can follow up three character-based progressive songs with a single-ready hit sung from beneath the pants only serves to underscore the band's versatility.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  5. "Never A Time": At this point, the album's momentum sadly starts to peter out with "Never A Time", the unimpressive fifth track.  At the very least, it falls in line with the production style of most of the other songs on the album.  In a word, I would describe the feel of these songs as "sunny", with the soundscapes being painted by soft synth washes and more of Mike Rutherford's guitar work than in their previous album.  Not to prefer one over the other, but if you listen to this next to the considerably darker Calling All Stations, you'll notice a difference  Released as a single.  3 out of 5.
  6. "Dreaming While You Sleep": Once again proving the band's ability to adapt their style, "Dreaming While You Sleep" takes cues from contemporary electronica.  Most of the track is driven by a minimal jungle/house beat, almost as if they had updated "Man On The Corner" for the '90s.  But as with "Man On The Corner", they still find time to pull out a rousing, intense chorus.  4 out of 5.
  7. "Tell Me Why": This is one of those help-the-homeless types of songs, where every line in the verse is supposed to make you feel sorry for the less fortunate.  Heck, they even attack the listener with "You say there's nothing you can do / is there one rule for them and one for you".  Listen, I've got nothing against the act of charity, and sales of the single (not released in North America) were contributed to Bosnian Save The Children and the Red Cross.  But if I'm going to contribute to help out the needy, I'll do it on my own terms, thank you very much.  Fun Fact: Phil Collins sang on the chorus of the original help-the-homeless song, "Do They Know It's Christmas".  Released as a single.  2 out of 5.
  8. "Living Forever": Nothing stands out on this track except the instrumental jam at the end, which break out some 70's-era synth keyboards.  3 out of 5.
  9. "Hold On My Heart": This is a dang beautiful song, that provides the perfect chill-out after the (relatively) intense instrumentals of the last track.  It might have served its duties better if it had followed something faster, like "Jesus He Knows Me" or "Driving The Last Spike".  But as it stands, "Hold On My Heart" gives your brain the relief it needs to get through the rest of the album - and trust me, you're gonna need that mental stamina.  Released as a single.  5 out of 5.
  10. "Way Of The World": Yeah, it's another song complaining about the ills of the world, like on "Tell Me Why".  However, the message here is more nihilistic, saying there's all these kinds of people, but "it's just the way of the world".  Fun fact: another one of these types of songs, Collins' own "Another Day In Paradise" is my favourite song of all time.  Although... the lyrics aren't necessarily the reason why I adore it so much.  3 out of 5.
  11. "Since I Lost You": Fun fact: this song was written by Collins as a tribue to Eric Clapton, whose four-year-old son died earlier in 1991.  This is the same accident from which Clapton himself wrote "Tears In Heaven".  Of course, that doesn't save "Since I Lost You" from the fact that it's boring as toast, even with Collins putting his all into it.  3 out of 5.
  12. "Fading Lights": This is it.  Being the final track on the final Collins-led Genesis album, "Fading Lights" takes it out with a bang.  In spirit, anyway; in practice, smoldering would be a better way to describe it.  There are long, quiet buffer zones at the beginning and end of the track, but they build up and break down gradually to great effect.  In between are some downright volcanic instrumental segments utilising more classic synth, thus tying past with present.  And the lyrics talk about how everything in this world is ephemeral and unlasting - a fitting, if unintended metaphor for Genesis's career at this point.  Don'tcha just love accidental symbolism?  5 out of 5.
For what would be their final album with their most recognisable lineup, Genesis crafted a work that perfectly bridges their classic and modern eras.  The lyrics and compositions are daring without coming across as pretentious, and are able to fit into the mainstream crowd whilst being unlike anything else out at the time.  The only problem with this album - which sadly denies it the perfect score I awarded to its successor - is that the album cuts are a little weak and lack that memorability found on even the most obscure tracks of their other albums.  But when We Can't Dance hits its high points, it strikes the perfect balance between everything Genesis has come through in the past quarter-century and takes it all to the next level.
    The Call: 95% (A)

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