Review Summary: You've got to get in to get out.The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
is one of the highest landmarks in the history of double concepts, sprung from the collective and curious creativity of Genesis, who were for the final time fronted by Peter Gabriel. As he was experiencing personal problems prior to the recording of the album, the group’s collaborative writing method became an unusually divided process. Gabriel penned most of the lyrics (several of them inspired by his own dreams), while the others were largely responsible for the instrumental aspect. A great part of the text remains completely ambiguous, which has led to an unending discussion about its actual content and many differing interpretations of the concept’s meaning. Even despite this separation, music and words fit each other remarkably well, shaping something that goes beyond anything that Genesis had ever done or would ever do.
Gabriel’s departure was of course unfortunate, and though it is often blamed as a direct cause for the band’s decline (that and Phil Collins becoming too damn good at making love songs), it is hard to imagine them having ever matched this even if he had stayed. After all, the line-up managed to top itself again and again, right up to this.
And out on the subway,
Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid
Exits into daylight, spraygun hid,
And the lamb lies down on Broadway.
As opposed to the particular quirks that they had perfected on Selling England by the Pound
, the group broke off into a darker, but no less erratic direction on The Lamb
. The concept focuses on Rael, a half-Puerto Rican youth living in New York City, spending his time spraying the subway walls. He has been involved in, but seems to have forgotten about some sort of criminal act that is never specified (‘Lord knows what I have done’), returning from his more recent actions as ‘the lamb lies down on Broadway’. The plot takes an increasingly surreal turn as Rael finds himself approached by ‘the wall of death’, enveloping him without any notice from the people walking by (‘No one seems to care/they carry on as if nothing was there’), symbolising his own loss of reality. This is the start of a series of nightmarish sequences, in which Rael can be perceived as if delving into his own personality.
The atmosphere created by Gabriel’s words and the band’s adventurous, often bizarre music is boundless, the record unyieldingly captivating from first note to last. Where the title track is basically just a simple ‘chorus-verse-chorus-bridge’ rock song, the changing tone of the vocals signifies that something else is at work here. Rutherford’s aggressive bass hook rumbles through Banks’ fluttering keys, as the character of Rael is caught in the magic that hangs in the air on Broadway. Similarly, the slight dissonance of Fly on a Windshield
seems deliberate, capturing the feeling of alienation from a known world, as our protagonist is helplessly trapped in his Cuckoo Cocoon
(‘The dust settles on my skin/making a crust I cannot move in’). With a softly floating sound, he finds himself strangely accepting of his lonely presence in this strange place:
There’s nothing I can recognise; this is nowhere that I’ve known.
With no sign of life at all, I guess that I’m alone,
And I feel so secure that I know this can’t be real but I feel good.
Cuckoo cocoon have I come to, too soon for you?
His comfort however turns to suffering, for Rael experiences pain and fear as he becomes locked in a cage inside a cave, seeing others share the same fate; his brother John appears, but does not answer his call for help. He disappears outside instead, but the cage dissolves. In The Cage
counts among Genesis’ most incredible creations, with the manic display of instruments truly empowering the sense of distress in Gabriel’s words and voice (‘Rockface moves to press my skin/white liquids turn sour within’). The keys are especially mesmerizing, Banks again proving himself as one of the few in his trade who can manage to show off without ignoring the essence of the music itself.
The journey moves along The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
, a satirical portrayal of consumerism. It is a reflection of the world that Rael is familiar with, and he suddenly gazes upon his home; Back in N.Y.C.
sheds some light on the angry, disturbed part of his character that was first hinted at during the title track (‘I don’t care who I hurt/I don’t care who I do wrong’). The music is frantic, all over the place, the rash vocals almost unsettling, but Hairless Heart
calms the rage. The contrast set by Counting Out Time
could not be sharper: Rael falls in love and reveals completely opposite emotions (‘Found a girl I wanted to date/thought I’d better get it straight’). The song is far too odd (i.e. progressive) to have been envisioned as a potential hit, in order to boost album sales, but does pack a punchy rock guitar, upbeat melodies, and even some ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’.
The crawlers cover the floor, in the red ochre corridor.
For my second sight of people, they’ve more lifeblood than before.
They’re moving in time, to a heavy wooden door,
Where the needle’s eye is winking, closing in on the poor.
The carpet crawlers heed their callers:
We’ve got to get in to get out.
We’ve got to get in to get out.
’s first half reaches a chilling climax with its closing numbers. The Carpet Crawlers
is an unprecedented Genesis masterpiece, a uniquely-sounding track emitting a silent desperation. Banks’ dreamy synthesizer and Hackett’s hypnotizing guitar lead flow through calm, determined vocals. Collins takes the higher part of the chorus harmony, allowing Gabriel to sing in a stunning lower register. The dream’s twisting path shows an way out, but the crawl seems hopeless.
And so it remains, as when Rael finally arrives at the door, it only leads to a great many more. He is overwhelmed by choice in The Chamber of 32 Doors
, which is crowding with people, among them his parents, and all they claim to know which door to take (‘Like everyone else they’re pointing, but nowhere feels quite right’). Without knowing whom to trust, and every exit as unsure as the next, he is alone, succumbed by fear:
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.
Of course his solitude does not last. The blind creature Lilywhite Lilith
appears, promising to guide him if he can help her through the crowd. But in his desperate state, Rael is deceived. The shortly exhilarating music becomes foreboding, as she leaves him alone in darkness, a discomforting sound growing near. The experimental sounds of The Waiting Room
would be simply unpleasant and purposeless on their own, but fittingly capture this imminent, unnatural danger. Anyway
is a beautiful piece musically, but very symbolic in its meaning, offering little clarity on what further takes place. The coming visitor is eventually identified as The Supernatural Anaesthetist
, often seen as an impersonation of Death (‘If he wants you to snuff it, all he has to do is puff it’). He however comes not to claim a life, his intentions left unexplained at the end of a somewhat incoherent section.
Rael progresses through a passageway, lured into a magnificent chamber by the smell of sweet perfume. There he is drawn towards a pool, stepping in to be welcomed by the frightening beauty of The Lamia
, three snakelike female figures. His fear is cast aside, easily seduced by their appearance. The song itself is another highlight: a gentle piano melody portrays his mystified state, holding up even as the snakes commence their feast (‘As they nibble the fruit of my flesh, I feel no pain’); the subtlety of the vocals, short use of flute, and outro guitar solo all add to the magical quality of the track. Lust is now evidently Rael’s weakness, but his attackers are poisoned at the very first drop of his blood. He survives to escape the chamber, a foul stench rising from the monsters’ floating corpses.
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
‘Till I came upon this dirty street.
I’ve never seen a stranger crowd;
Slubberdegullions on a squeaky feet,
With nonchalant embracing,
Each orifice disgracing
And one facing me moves to say hellay.
The bridging interlude of Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats
is very quiet, using only minimal guitar and mellotron, and a living but heavily disfigured Rael enters The Colony of Slippermen
; its inhabitants are other victims of the Lamia (‘We like you, have tasted love’), walking around in scarred bodies. He receives the dreading news that if he wishes to get out of this place, he must join his brother to Doktor Dyper, where they will both be castrated. His eventual punishment is possibly even worse than death, but Rael tells the Doktor not to delay, eager to find a way out above all else. Their organs are handed to them in a tube, and as they walk on, a giant bird comes down from the sky; The Raven snatches Rael’s container right out of his hands, but John leaves him to pursue it alone (‘Now can’t you see/where the Raven flies there’s jeopardy’). The chase is indeed wasted, as the tube drops down into a stream.
An ominous wind blows along the Ravine
, and Rael sees a window in the riverbanks. During The Light Dies Down on Broadway
, which reprises both the title track several recent themes, he views the streets of New York once more, familiar sounds coming from his home. As he doubts whether this is a portal to his freedom or yet another trick, his brother screams for help, drowning in the river below: his last choice must be made.
The gate is fading now, but open wide,
But John is drowning, I must decide
Between the freedom I had in the rat-race,
Or to stay forever in this forsaken place;
He makes for the river and the gate is gone,
Back to the void where it came from.
And the light dies down on Broadway.
Accompanied by the whacky synthesizers of Riding the Scree
, he struggles to save his brother from the rushing waves. In the Rapids
he dives, catching hold of rock, grabbing John as he is carried past; they hold together, fighting the currents, finding relief when the water slows down. Rael is startled when he looks at his brother’s face. It is his
If you think it’s pretentious, you’ve been taken for a ride
, sings Gabriel among the closing words of It
. Pretension and imperfection invariably belong to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
, and if allowed, the record does take you for an indescribable ride; a nearly constant stream of musical brilliance. The double concept has always been a dangerous area to tread, a near-guarantee to perform below expectations. Genesis did not defy tradition here. They simply recorded one of the greatest double albums in rock history.
Genesis Mark III:
Peter Gabriel – Vocals, Flute, Oboe
Steve Hackett – Guitar
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Piano
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitar
Phil Collins – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Fly on a Windshield
In the Cage
Back in N.Y.C.
Counting Out Time
The Carpet Crawlers
The Colony of Slippermen