Review Summary: It's not the perfect progressive album, but Selling England by the Pound remains a peak moment for Genesis.
Somehow, Genesis were able to keep getting better at what they were doing every step of the way, surpassing each previous work with a more refined one. Foxtrot
stood as their best record yet, containing the masterful epics Watcher of the Skies
and the massive Supper’s Ready
. The band’s tested formula for theatrical compositions, filled with magnificent instrumental passages and a proper dose of Britishness, was arguably brought to perfection on their seminal fifth LP, Selling England by the Pound
. The penultimate album by the five-piece formation can be seen as a final sharpening of these signature Genesis elements that first truly came to life on Nursery Cryme
, right before the group were pushed to, and ultimately divided by another kind of brilliance. Though not entirely flawless, Selling England
is a truly phenomenal work that counts among the greatest in ‘70s progressive rock.
As had become more or less of a Genesis (or general progressive) tradition, the album shows its merits most abundantly during its epics, four of them divided among another four tracks. Though it can hardly be called a concept, most songs contain distinctively English themes that are served with both irony and playfulness. The bombast is more restrained than before; most instrumental parts are tightly constructed and seem better calculated to employ the entire band, rather than its separate members. This may not allow the music to suddenly burst out as strongly, but strengthens the compositions considerably.
'Can you tell me where my country lies?
Said the unifaun to his true love’s eyes.
It lies with me, cried the Queen of Maybe;
For her merchandise, he traded in his prize.'
So opens Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
, with Gabriel’s a cappella intro mimicking Trespass
’ Looking for Someone
and immediately becoming one of the album’s most memorable moments. The singer is in his finest voice yet and commands the ebb and flow of volume taking place behind him. The band’s more unified approach is immediately notable here, as everyone’s tricks have an effective, continuing role in the arrangement, even when it quickly changes its direction: Hackett is once more proven a masterful guitar player whether it comes to an electric or acoustic, Banks as always a genius on any type of keyboard, and Rutherford with Collins forming a rock-solid foundation. Selling England
could well be Genesis’ cooperative peak, even if the group may not have written and recorded it in that state of mind. The balanced production works wonders in that regard.
This comes forward especially well in the largely instrumental Firth of Fifth
. The classical piano part and stunning guitar solo during the middle of the track are two clear individual standouts, and despite that, neither feels like an ego trip, fitting very comfortably within the song and only working to enhance it. Even After the Ordeal
, essentially a solo Hackett piece that both Gabriel and Banks were against including, comes across as a combined effort with some great keys behind that guitar.
In turn, Banks retaliates with a four-minute solo during the final section of The Cinema Show
; it is ‘saved’ from being nothing more than a keyboard show-off by a thunderous rhythm section. The first part is also quite beautiful, with gorgeous acoustic parts and vocal harmonies between Gabriel and Collins. Similar harmonies emerge during I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
, featuring a strangely poppy chorus that made it Genesis’ most successful single until Follow You, Follow Me
The only thing that's somewhat of a dud is The Battle of Epping Forest
, the epic that doesn’t live up to its potential. It’s mainly Gabriel that goes overboard here, providing an overload of information in his obligatory multi-character theatre episode. The instrumental part is already pretty busy on its own, and doesn’t get a lot of room to breathe with the amount of lyrics being constantly thrown out, though there are a number of interesting parts to it. Some would consider More Fool Me
the weakest link on the record, which is a pretty simple love song that features Collins on lead vocals with only some accompanying guitar. As with For Absent Friends
though, it’s effective and pleasant enough in that simplicity. The only real piece of ‘filler’ doesn’t fit the name since it comes in at the very end. Aisle of Plenty
is basically a Moonlit Knight
theme reprise that serves to wrap things up.
and The Lamb
closely rivalling it for the title of best Genesis album, Selling England by the Pound
is easily one of their greatest. It moulded the band’s strengths more carefully and diversely, showing they could hold back when needed without giving up the things that made them exciting. The group was at its most focused at this point, delivering a number of amazing compositions and coming very close indeed to progressive perfection.
Genesis Mark III:
Peter Gabriel – Vocals, Flute, Oboe
Steve Hackett – Guitar
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitar, Sitar, Cello, Vocals
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
Firth of Fifth
The Cinema Show