Review Summary: Yeah, it's just that good.
Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down Broadway" is essentially one of the most complex concept albums ever written, and has been interpreted differently for decades. The story refers to a half-Puerto Rican boy named Rael living in New York City. At the beginning of the story, Rael is described as a "punk," and a troubled boy to say the least. Throughout the two-disc record, Rael encounters and battles creatures that seem like something out of a fantasy novel. With that said, what appears to be a conventional concept album virtually develops into a mythological and truly intriguing story. Peter Gabriel's obsession with fanaticism becomes very clear here, and is accentuated not only through Rael's journey, but also the music. The obscurity and wonder that "The Lamb Lies Down Broadway" provides defines the band with tremendous precision; it's quirky, strange, beautiful, and terrifying at all different points, with the music and lyrics being a testament to this.
Often with concept albums, a certain member appears to be responsible for the bulk of the record, or the release in its entirety, and this is no different. Like Pete Townsend with "Quadrophenia" and Roger Waters with "The Wall," "The Lamb Lies Down Broadway" was the vision of frontman Peter Gabriel. With the exception of a few tracks, Gabriel is the lone faciliator of the album's lyrics, with the rest of the band members delivering the record's obscure music. In the early 1970's, Genesis displayed their ability to produce unique and consistently outstanding albums, for "Nursery Cryme" "Foxtrot," especially "Selling England by the Pound" were critically praised. "The Lamb Lies Down Broadway" is no different in this respect, but is much more ambitious and on a grander scale than any of its predecessors.
The record opens with Rael committing acts of mischief in order to maintain his reputation with his Puerto Rican mob, spray painting his name on the subway walls. Attempting to dodge policemen to avoid getting into any trouble, Rael walks by as if he hasn't done anything wrong. This is essentially when, the "lamb" lies down on Broadway. The "lamb" is not elaborated on by Gabriel's lyrics, and is rather open to interpretation like much of the album is. The purpose of the opening track The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
is not only to introduce Rael as a character, but to demonstrate that he has done something seriously wrong. Looking past the petty vandalism that is conveyed by Rael's spray painting of his name, this action is just the pawn of a much more significant issue. This horrific action, is also not revealed, but hints are sprinkled throughout the record. At the conclusion of the title track, the “wall of death” presents itself to Rael, and attacks him. Terrified and confounded, Rael attempts to run from the wall, but cannot escape it and battles both the wall and his perception of reality. This represents the death of reality for Rael, who is now thrown into a purgatory-type of realm in which he must improve as a human being to escape.
Some sort of consciousness is reached in Cuckoo Cocoon
, where Rael discovers that he is in some type of place he has never been or heard of before. Like the relaxing feel of the music itself, Rael has found some sort of tranquility in this strange place, and is not afraid to drift off to sleep. Once again however, Rael is completely befuddled on whether or not what he is experiencing is real. In the Cage
is where Rael wakes up, no longer in the cocoon, but in a dreary cave. He stumbles upon a series of cages that humans are locked in, and unable to move. As the bars of a cage close on Rael, he catches his first glimpse of “Brother” John, who doesn't seem to be affected by what is happening to Rael, despite his screams for help. As John walks away, the cage disintegrates, Rael finds himself back in a conventional building in which he believes to be real. Recognizing several people in the building as members of his gang, Rael makes a run to escape the building only to see Brother John once again. He finds the streets of New York once again, but they appear to be modernized and re-done. The sights make Rael think back to his times with the gang, and how he gained the respect of his mob when he was incarcerated.
At a time when a break is needed from all the darkness and obscurity, comes Rael's first encounter with love. Both musically and lyrically, Counting Out Time
is light and beautiful, accentuating his experience perfectly. “Erogenous zones I love you. Without you, what would a poor boy do? Found a girl I wanted to date, Thought I'd better get it straight.” The track even offers a bit of comic relief that is often associated with Genesis, providing what is reminiscent to a kazoo. This bright point in the story is only an introduction to a much more melodic and wondrous piece, The Carpet Crawlers
. Considered one of Genesis' most incredible works, (if not the most incredible) The Carpet Crawlers
utilizes a harp-like synthesizer and very serene lead guitar. “Carpet Crawlers” refer to people that cannot make it up a spiral staircase, where at the top is their escape from this purgatory-type circumstance. “Mild mannered supermen are held in kryptonite.” This draws a direct parallel with the situation that Rael is in, for he cannot escape this strange and fictional (what he believes to be) world. Rael does make it up the stairs however, but is faced with a choice of 32 doors and the obstacle of many others who are attempting to get out. Not wanting to face this crowd, Rael begs, “This chamber of so many doors; I've nowhere to hide. I'd give you all of my dreams, if you'd help me, Find a door That doesn't lead me back again, take me away.”
Within the chaos that Rael encounters with the 32 doors, he meets a woman, “Lilywhite Lilith,” in which guides him to what he believes will be the light. Rael is deceived however, because he is left in darkness and hears a terrifying noise approaching. Rael's wait in fear is represented by The Waiting Room
which is the record's most obscure track. The noise of the creature approaching is developed tremendously with enough bizzare musical sounds to make the Flaming Lips' creativity pale in comparison. Developing into a somewhat usual instrumental, The Waiting Room
is the segue into musical masterpiece Anyway
. Beginning harmlessly, the piano builds to a foreboding and terrifying level as Rael throws a rock at his unknown target, which is enough to destroy the cave entirely. Now cornered with nowhere to go, Rael faces death once again. Gabriel personifies death in his instance, and refers to it as “The Supernatural Anaesthetist.” Rael finds him to be a fine and decent person, who left nothing but a memorable appearance in this short encounter.
Considering what had just happened to Rael, he discovers that he is still very alive. In the rubble he is lying in, Rael smells a sort of perfume and makes his way towards it. Eventually coming upon a pool of water, he all of a sudden is faced with three serpents in which look as though they will attack. The serpents deceive him however, because each give off a pleasant and sensual appearance with female breasts. Although unclear, this encounter could very well be an allusion to Rael's crime at the very beginning of the story. The crime is believed to be of a sexual nature, and the breasts on the serpents is a test to see if Rael can overcome his sexual urges. The serpents do succeed in seducing Rael, and begin to devour his body. They become the victims however, for Rael's blood is poisonous to them. Finally leaving the pool, Rael discovers a group of homely looking individuals in which inform him that the same incident with the serpents has happened to all of them. Their bodies are mutilated due to this occurrence, and the same happens with Rael. Among these individuals is Brother John, who seems to be going through everything that Raels has gone through. John explains to Rael that, in order to look normal again, they must visit Dokter Dyper, who will castrate them. After the operation takes place, both of the boys are given their testicles in a tube. A black raven steals Rael's tube, and John refuses to run after it. He says, “Now can't you see Where the raven flies there's jeopardy.” To Rael's horror, the raven drops the tube into a waterfall, never to be seen again.
The Light Lies Down Broadway
while having a great deal of musical similarities to the first disc opener, is another turning point in the record. Reality begins to set in for Rael once again, although this time he discovers John drowning in rushing waters. The ultimate theme of the concept becomes clear, for Rael must rescue John in order to experience complete reality again. Throughout the course of the final three tracks, Rael is diving in the water, and dragging the nearly dead John to safety. When he reaches the comfort of dry land, John appears to be dead and Rael helplessly tries to bring him back. Rael comes to the realization that he
is John; an alternate personality.
“When you eat right fruit you see everything alive, it is inside spirit, with enough grit to survive If you think that it's pretentious, you've been taken for a ride.”
Genesis' “The Lamb Lies Down Broadway” is an absolutely breathtaking journey, a concept record that the world may never see the likes of again. Not only is the story brilliant and intriguing, but the music fits the concept perfectly. This is Gabriel's final stand as a member of Genesis, and a damn incredible one at that. Everything from his lyricism to his vocals are outstanding. His usage of his voice is both innovative and versatile; delivering passion and creativity on songs such as the title track. None of the other members deserve to be overlooked either, for the synthesizers are a tremendous factor in the success of the album, as is Phil Collins' drumming and Steve Hackett's guitar work. “The Lamb Lies Down Broadway” is a masterpiece that may be overlooked by other concept records such as Pink Floyd's “The Wall” and The Who's “Quadrophenia,” and maybe even its predecessor, “Selling England by the Pound.” When it comes down to all of the factors; the musicianship, the storyline, the lyrics, and the atmosphere, “The Lamb Lies Down Broadway” is as damn near perfect as it gets.
The Lamb Lies Down Broadway
In the Cage
Counting Out Time
The Carpet Crawlers