Review Summary: Genesis’ first masterpiece: Nursery Cryme is a thoughtful symphonic prog-rock release driven by youthful imagination and a will to succeed.
The late, great jazz master Charles Mingus once said that “creativity is more than just being different… what’s hard is to be as simple as Bach”. Jazz as a genre of course is second to none as a creative outlet but while creativity can come in many forms, it is hard to argue against progressive rock being a close second. Forging from pop roots Genesis quickly established themselves as a genuine progressive act with their second album Trespass
, jumping aboard the bandwagon popularised by King Crimson et al. just one year previously. Clearly this was a large transformation for such a young band, and although Trespass
wasn’t a bad album it suffered from overly elaborate arrangements and embryonic compositions. Discarding the flak Genesis underwent a few major line-up changes, not least the introduction of Phil Collins on drums, and classic-era Genesis was born. With new personnel the group would go on to take the still infant progressive rock scene to new heights, and they marked this new epoch with their first glorious exemplar, Nursery Cryme
Both adventurous in design and imaginative in presentation, Nursery Cryme
purveys a deeply pensive aura through its delicate instrumentation which provides a vessel for Peter Gabriel’s commanding vocals. The beauty is in the detail; subdued brass and woodwind passages intermittently punctuate the wailing guitar riffs and gentle organ melodies bringing additional depth to the music, and yet it all seems so simple. This veil of simplicity shrouds the few audible mistakes and even these feel calculated, serving in creating a personable atmosphere for Gabriel to hypnotise through his surreal narrative. From the crooning folk verses of Seven Stones
to the audaciously theatrical stanzas of prog-rock epic The Return of the Giant Hogweed
, quaint storylines pervade the music injecting further charm and character into the record. It sounds eccentric, and at times it borders on plain silly, but throughout Gabriel retains a vice-like grip on his audience, aided by the outstanding pacing of the tracks.
The first of many flagship moments throughout Nursery Cryme
arrives in the form of the genre-defining, microcosmic opener The Musical Box
. Rivalling King Crimson’s Epitaph
as the gold-standard for symphonic prog, this ten minute arrangement illustrates regions of profound technical prowess and an acute manipulation of tempos and timbres enhance the atmosphere; refining convoluted meanderings into complimentary movements. This is far from the only example of genius however, with a diverse range of techniques unique to every track. Saccharine-dosed, folksy numbers are just as common as the progressive excesses and display a wholly different side to the band. Restrained duo Harlequin
and Seven Stones
rely heavily on eerie organ melodies, and the introduction of an acoustic guitar passage in the former compliments the vocal harmonies of Gabriel and Collins, leading to another distinctive aesthetic.
Whether it was the influence of Charisma label-mates Van Der Graaf Generator, with whom Genesis toured profoundly whilst writing this album, or a fundamental desire to utilize a far greater range of auditory talents is open to debate, but the introduction of heavier passages and a denser atmosphere amplified the bands strengths and would become the blueprint for their subsequent masterpieces. The track structure, musical aptitude and songwriting would all be perfected in years to come but sometimes it takes a truly exceptional album in order for a band to realise their potential, and without Nursery Cryme
expanding the band’s boundaries then it is possible Selling England by the Pound
would never have been made. With this in mind, as a precursor to greater things, Nursery Cryme
is a resoundingly accomplished record encompassing some of the very best prog-rock endeavours with all the gall and ingenuity of youth. Moreover, it is a masterfully crafted, well-paced soundtrack containing numerous highlights, expansive textures and even a hint of satire and never a dull moment.
Overall 4.5 Superb