Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway - Review
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critics' view

It's no wonder that Peter Gabriel left Genesis after this album. It's the sound of a leader moving sharply in the opposite direction to their band. A showman onstage and a painfully shy man off, he’d been approached by The Exorcist director William Friedkin, impressed with short story Gabriel had written on the back of Genesis Live, with regards to him writing a screenplay. Gabriel took himself away from the rest of the group, who retreated to the country to write the music for what was to become The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Although the film idea came to nothing, the resulting album is occasionally confused, yet frequently brilliant.

The first disc contains some of the most visceral, thrilling music the group ever recorded – the dense “In The Cage” condenses the side-long pomp of previous epics into eight exhilarating minutes; “Back In N.Y.C”, later covered by Jeff Buckley, is raw, aggressive rock; “The Chamber Of 32 Doors” contains one of Gabriel’s most soulful vocals; and “The Carpet Crawlers” gave the group a standard which remained in their live set for years. The second disc, some very real highlights aside (“it.” “Lilywhite Lilith”), could have benefited from editing. However, it is never less than interesting and still impossible not to listen to all the way through.

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, along with Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes has come to be dismissed as reductive shorthand for all that is grim about progressive rock. However, concept aside (a sort of modern day Pilgrim's Progress centering on Rael, a Puerto-Rican leather clad street punk), this is dense, brittle music, that looks as much to harder-edge rock than to anything resembling a madrigal. The problem was, the rest of the band would have rather gone down the madrigal route. At the end of the world tour to support the album, Gabriel left the band.

Given all the overt literary references of Selling England by the Pound, along with their taste for epic suites such as "Supper’s Ready," it was only a matter of time before Genesis attempted a full-fledged concept album, and 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was a massive rock opera: the winding, wielding story of a Puerto Rican hustler name Rael making his way in New York City. Peter Gabriel made some tentative moves toward developing this story into a movie with William Friedkin but it never took off, perhaps it’s just as well; even with the lengthy libretto included with the album, the story never makes sense. But just because the story is rather impenetrable doesn’t mean that the album is as well, because it is a forceful, imaginative piece of work that showcases the original Genesis lineup at a peak. Even if the story is rather hard to piece together, the album is set up in a remarkable fashion, with the first LP being devoted to pop-oriented rock songs and the second being largely devoted to instrumentals. This means that The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway contains both Genesis’ most immediate music to date and its most elliptical. Depending on a listener’s taste, they may gravitate toward the first LP with its tight collection of ten rock songs, or the nightmarish landscapes of the second, where Rael descends into darkness and ultimately redemption (or so it would seem), but there’s little question that the first album is far more direct than the second and it contains a number of masterpieces, from the opening fanfare of the title song to the surging "In the Cage," from the frightening "Back in NYC" to the soothing conclusion "The Carpet Crawlers." In retrospect, this first LP plays a bit more like the first Gabriel solo album than the final Genesis album, but there’s also little question that the band helps form and shape this music (with Brian Eno adding extra coloring on occasion), while Genesis shines as a group shines on the impressionistic second half. In every way, it’s a considerable, lasting achievement and it’s little wonder that Peter Gabriel had to leave the band after this record: they had gone as far as they could go together, and could never top this extraordinary album.

Daryl Easlea
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading. external-link.png

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