Review Summary: Though clearly not without faults, We Can't Dance would have been a fitting swansong for Genesis.
Once knights of prog, then masters of pop, Genesis had reached their commercial peak with 1986’s Invisible Touch
, arguably one of the greatest pop albums of the decade. An understandable pause followed in the wake of its success, and Phil, Mike and Tony did not emerge with a new record until five years later. We Can’t Dance
, the band’s fourteenth LP, did not climb to quite the same heights as its predecessor, but still spawned numerous hit singles and ended up selling millions, which was more than enough to uphold their popularity worldwide.
Despite all of this, even Genesis’ longest-standing power trio formation was slowly nearing its end. When Collins chose to fully dedicate himself to his solo career, finally leaving the band in 1996, they were left without that irreplaceable singing drummer who saved them from fading away after Peter Gabriel had left more than 15 years prior (note this is the short version). Banks and Rutherford were somehow crazy enough to attempt a final album under the Genesis name with some other guy, and well, we all know how that one turned out. Regardless of what came after however, We Can’t Dance
had its own shortcomings. There are some great moments here, but the presentation as a whole is a rather uneven and overly long mix of catchy pop rock songs, (semi-)progressive tracks, and the unavoidable balladry.
Compared to the mostly upbeat Invisible Touch
, the tempo of most of the songs is significantly lower here, giving the album a relaxed, sometimes even atmospheric vibe that mostly works in its favour. No Son of Mine
and I Can’t Dance
, both among Genesis’ best known singles, rely on their catchy choruses as always but never really shift into a higher gear. Their progression is more subtle, yet apparent enough to keep them enjoyable. An abundantly clear exception to this general set-up is Jesus He Knows Me
. It’s the liveliest track on the record by some distance and well-known as a satire of televangelism; in this, the lyrics are all but subtle.
Even after they had started selling millions, Genesis always recorded at least one track per album that exceeded the standard length. How 'progressive' these actually were remains debatable, but the band always kept a place or two for something different, a reminder that they had not completely forgotten about their the past. On We Can’t Dance
, they offer us a generous three of these, two of them passing 10 minutes. Fortunately, they also prove to be worth that time. Driving the Last Spike
is a familiar build of continually growing intensity, though no less effective for it; Fading Lights
closes the hour in similar fashion. The percussion-laden Dreaming While You Sleep
is somewhat of a hidden gem, capable of crashing in forcefully but always retreating calmly like the tides. Collins’ vocals here are some of his best.
The reason We Can’t Dance
does not entirely live up to its potential becomes evident during the second half of the album, which suffers from a string of forgettable songs. Among the particularly guilty subjects are Hold on My Heart
and Since I Lost You
, two ballads that would have been far better suited for one of Collins’ solo albums. It should however be noted that the latter is not one of those many heartbreak pieces, but rather a lamentation written for Eric Clapton, who had recently lost his 4-year-old son. Some of the other tracks attempt to inject some new energy, but to mixed results. Way of the World
only manages to work up annoyance, mostly through its lyrics, though Living Forever
isn’t half-bad. The amount of unmemorable material is a shame, especially considering that there would have been plenty left to work with, had more of it been cut.
If only just, the good does outweigh the bad on the final Collins-fronted Genesis record, which might have served nicely enough as the final Genesis record altogether. Those who cannot appreciate this era of the band already know to look the other way, but those who can will find a good number of things to enjoy. Looking past its length and inconsistency, We Can't Dance
is actually different enough from the group’s 80’s output to make it a relatively refreshing listen. All it needs is to be approached with an open mind.
Genesis Mark V:
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Synthesizers
Phil Collins – Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Mike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass, Vocals
No Son of Mine
Jesus He Knows Me
Driving the Last Spike
I Can’t Dance
Dreaming While You Sleep