Review Summary: The end of the line.
When Phil Collins quit Genesis in 1996 in order to focus on his already highly successful solo career, by any logic the band should have come to an end. Making it through the departures of original vocalist Peter Gabriel and then guitarist Steve Hackett, the remaining trio of Tony Banks, Collins and Mike Rutherford may have come out on top during the 1980's, but there's only so much of a beating that a group can take. Collins had been their leading force for years at this point, next to impossible to replace. Yet stubborn as they were in accepting that, Banks and Rutherford gave it a shot anyway.
The bloke they eventually ended up choosing as their new singer was Ray Wilson, coming off a younger Scottish band called Stiltskin. The motivation behind that choice could have been Wilson’s particular sound, closer to Gabriel's theatrical qualities than it was to Collins' popular charm. Based on this fact alone, many who were unhappy with Genesis' later direction might have seen his addition as a positive development, even a fresh start perhaps. The bitter truth however, was that Phil Collins would never have taken the group to a low such as this.
Calling All Stations
was the fifteenth and final studio record under the Genesis name, and has more than earned its prestigious status as the lowest point in their career. The basis for this absolute disappointment was built on the Banks' and Rutherford's inability to commit to a musical direction. Now, of course the band’s material, even at its most commercial, had always retained at least some 'artful' elements. Many of these songs appear willing to return to a progressive sound, but try to accomplish this without sacrificing pop accessibility.
Whether they suffered from a temporary loss of creativity or just didn't care much one way or the other, the effort on the band's part seems minimal. The fact that two different drummers, Nir Zidkyahu and Nick D'Virgilio (ex-Spock's Beard), were brought in for the album only increases the sense that Genesis were no longer properly functioning as a group. Chester Thompson, who had been a constant additional live performer along with guitarist Daryl Stuermer for nearly 20 years, was actually denied permanent membership before this happened, and both joined Collins on his way out.
Ironically, it is Wilson who seems to have put the most heart in his performance. His voice is fairly distinguishable, but maintains a very similar tone throughout the album, severely lacking in character compared to that of Peter Gabriel or even Phil Collins. As the record moves forward, it becomes painfully clear that his typical crooning does more harm than good.
Any redeemable traits are difficult to pinpoint, as the instrumental portions feel drawn out and tend to meander on. The focus on keyboards here is strong even for Genesis, and that is where Banks especially mucks things up. Offering very little variety in his playing over the course of nearly 70 minutes, he contributes to the consistent lifelessness of the album more than anyone. Rutherford, for his part, was always better behind four strings rather than six, and when the guitar is brought up front every once in a while, the pervasive, cliché 80's tone that could at least be called effective in the past just doesn't cut it anymore.
The production, which appears to date way further back than the late 90's as well, only adds to the list of issues. The likes of Congo
or the title track might have been potential radio hits a good ten years before, but they're a total bore regardless (even more so when compared to literally any
song from Invisible Touch
). The Dividing Line
is the closest thing to a highlight that this album has, featuring some of that dynamic interplay the boys used to do so well. Unfortunately, the vocals partly ruin the potential when they come in.
Since it is already blessed with a fair share of truly lethargic compositions, one might almost forget to mention that Calling All Stations
is home to some of Genesis' very worst ballads, dreadful lyrics and all. While it may be hard to pick a real winner among these, Small Talk
takes home the trophy thanks to an unforgettable, heart-wrenching chorus:
'Say something to me, anything at all
I want you to mean what you say
I've seen all I want to see, and you mean the world to me
I've lived for each moment to be with you, with you, with you'
That said, 'I'll be the river/I'll be the mountain always beside you'
, from If That's What You Need
, is a close second. So much for good ballads without Phil Collins, and so much for the group's respectability.
One of the most remarkable achievements in Genesis' history is that were able to master two styles that essentially contradict each other. Anyone slightly familiar with that history also knows full well that Selling England by the Pound
and Invisible Touch
were created in completely different eras, by partially different formations, however. Duke
did end up proving that popular and progressive can
be compatible in some cases, but right here, nothing came even remotely close to that level of innovation. All that was left of Genesis were two once-inspired musicians who sadly failed to recognize the group's expiration date.
Genesis Mark VI:
Tony Banks – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Ray Wilson – Vocals
The Dividing Line