Abacab (1981)

1.Abacab 2.No Reply at All 3.Me and Sarah Jane 4.Keep it Dark 5.Dodo/Lurker 6.Who Dunnit? 7.Man on the Corner 8.Like it or Not 9.Another Record


This album is one of my favorite Genesis albums for the simple reason that the band smartly realized that a change in style and direction was necessary. It was now a new decade, and if the guys were going to remain fresh and relevant, new paths were needed to be explored. A decision such as this can quite often lead to disaster, and it probably helped somewhat that the band wasn’t quite dominating the charts in America yet. Had the band had tons of singles and legions of followers, such a transformation might not have gone as smooth.

Hugh Padgham is brought in as the Engineer for the record. I would guess he also helped somewhat in the production department (although I confess that I’m not entirely sure exactly of all of the distinct job responsibilities of each role). He’s a key factor in the success of this record, and it’s very obvious as to why the band chose to work with him on future projects (both as a group and on solo projects). His main contributions to the album focuses on making them sound current without sounding dated. It’s very easy and very fair to look back at some music that was produced in the 1980s and shudder because of all the sheen and glam, yet Padgham’s work mostly avoids such clichés. For Genesis, he focuses on making the drums loud and in the forefront, while also adding many synthesized/electronic accompaniments. I imagine a lot of kids who heard this album decided that they wanted to grow up and be a musician like a Phil Collins or a Tony Banks.

Because of this new direction, some ideas are easier to assimilate than others. There are parts of the album where things feel a bit forced, and these instances have taken time to warm up. The leadoff track, for example, the song Abacab is a pretty fair representation of what the entire album sounds like. Unfortunately, it’s a three and-a-half minute song that gets stretched to seven minutes. I’m not sure why. The latter half of the song is the single most boring monotonous ‘jam’ in the history of music (it did sound much better live). The single version on their many Greatest Hits compilations is much much better than what is here. The leadoff single No Reply At All is also a bit of a strange one. It’s a very heavily influenced R&B number that features the horn section from Earth Wind & Fire. Phil Collins successfully applied such techniques to his first solo album (that came out earlier in the year) and it worked quite well. So I’m guessing that’s the main reason why this song is featured here. It’s a very good track, but oh so different.

Then we come to the song that many would consider the worst song in the history of Genesis. When I say ‘many’, I certainly don’t mean ‘me’, but I’m trying to be objective here. The song is called Whodunnit. It’s a very quirky synthesizer infested piece. It has its moments, but this was back in the day when singer Phil Collins would get ‘cute’ quite a bit on stage and in songs, and the song is a bit difficult for many to stomach. The band members, themselves, admitted that the track was received with a chorus of ‘boos’ quite often when played live.

None of the above mentioned issues really ruin the experience for me. When one goes in a radically different direction, some things will tend to stand out a bit more, even if it isn’t necessarily for the good. Each band member pens one original track by themselves on this album, and the rest are all group compositions. Differences aren’t that great, and the whole album does blend very favorably. One last bit of trivia: This was the first Genesis album to feature the band’s picture on the album sleeve. Why that really matters, I’m not entirely sure.

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