Wind and Wuthering - Where the Sour turns
Wind and Wuthering occupies something of a
pivotal role in the Genesis canon. The last album to feature Steve Hackett, it
is also seen by many aficionados as their last "great" album. This
school of thought runs approximate to the dictum that after Hackett left, the
music became less "progressive", and simplified over a period of time
to the point where Genesis evolved from a "prog" band who occasionally
wrote "pop" songs, to a "pop" band who occasionally wrote
Whilst this analysis is seriously flawed, there
are, as with most examples of generalisation, grains of truth in amongst the
chaff. To these ears, Wind & Wuthering represents the last Genesis album
where the counterbalance of Collins and Rutherford as a dynamic and inventive
rhythm section, Hackett's poignant but sharp tonal colouring, and Banks' grand
romantic tendencies led to a musical result that was much greater than the sum
of its individual parts. It also represents the last "narrative" based
lyrical album that Genesis were to make, in as much as, with the exception of
Afterglow and Your Own Special Way, the songs are character based, or are based
on story rather than experience. More of this later.
But, turning to the album itself, the central
themes that run through almost all of the songs, are the ideas of illusion, and
disillusion - lost love and lost innocence. This places an interesting parallel
with Selling England By The Pound, where a similar air of lament (in this case
for the loss of a particular kind of national character and identity) runs
through most of the work. The difference of course, being that the primary
lyricist of the "themed" songs on Selling England had now departed,
and the wordplay and barbs inherent in Gabriel's lyrics are replaced by the
romantic allegory of Banks and Rutherford, and the dry wit of Hackett on Blood
on The Rooftops.
The illusory aspect is first introduced by
means of the cover - a grey autumnal scenario with a tree whose foliage turns
out to be scores of birds, leaving the tree bare and alone.
The album opens with Eleventh Earl of Mar, a
grand musical piece based on the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, which introduces
the idea of innocence (the narrative voice is alternately entirely third person,
and that of the protagonist's young son), and failure, in the ultimately
unsuccessful campaign. The child's dreams are blended with the naiveté of the
observations - "One wave of his funny old stick, there's a band of light
across your eyes".
Musically Eleventh Earl is a piece de
resistance - one of the strongest songs that they ever wrote, to these ears. The
balance between electric rock and acoustic balladry is carefully and skilfully
crafted, and the dynamic of the rhythm section suggests that time spent playing
the Trick Tour with an accomplished, edgy and rhythmically impatient counterpart
had galvanised them somewhat.
The song completes with the imprecation to wait
until everyone forgets, and do it again - "some things never end"
Which leads us nicely into One For The Vine,
the first solo Banks song on Wind & Wuthering. This deals again with
disillusion, fatalism and failure, and reinforces certain ideas introduced the
song before. The saga of a man finding himself the unwanted focus of a people's
aspirations as a result of an act of cowardice - "Then one whose faith had
died, Fled back up the mountainside" - "A misplaced footfall made him
stray, From the path prepared for him" (my italics), his reluctance
to assume the mantle of responsibility sees him take solace in his own thoughts,
in a section than can either be read as quasi-Biblical, or more prosaically as
plain Dutch courage.
"He walked into a valley,
There he talked with water, and then with the vine"
I have always taken the reference to talking
with water, and the vine, to indicate a reference to the fermented fruit
thereof, especially when taken in conjunction with the Steward from Eleventh
Earl - "Dressed too fine, and smelling of wine". In fact, I see the
two songs as different perspectives of the same type of event, which is all the
more interesting, given that the two were written by different lyricists.
The culmination of the song, as with Eleventh
Earl, introduces the cyclic concept, which is the lynchpin of One for the Vine.
The "hero" is trapped within the cycle of events described by the song
- and is therefore doomed to repeat them. Just as, once the dust has settled,
the protagonists, or their offspring, are free to repeat the same mistakes in
Eleventh Earl of Mar.
Musically, whilst this song is something of a
perennial favourite amongst Genesis cognoscenti, and it must be said that it is
a song I do enjoy, it is evidence of the Problem With Tony And Steve. Put
simply, The Problem… was that Banks' music was beginning to be arranged such
that there was progressively less room for Hackett to manoeuvre in, within the
context of the song itself. This was probably (and this, like most of these
thoughts, is pure conjecture), down to several factors. Firstly, the advent of
synthesiser technology meant that from a position at the line-up's inception,
where lack of equipment and stage budget had led to necessity becoming the
mother of Genesis' (and Gabriel's) invention, and Hackett and Banks had to
create the sounds that they wanted to put across by means of innovative use of
the available resources (readers are pointed in the general direction of Return
Of the Giant Hogweed's instrumental introduction and centre pieces, and the solo
sections of The Musical Box, as well as the interplay on Dancing With The
Moonlit Knight, and The Battle
Of Epping Forest, amongst many others), now Banks had the technology to play a
lot of these parts himself. And so he did. In this it is instructive to hear the
Three Sides Live version of One For The Vine, where Stuermer plays several lines
originally covered by keyboard, on guitar, to the Wind & Wuthering version,
where Hackett is very much sidelined by the grand sweep of Banks' overdubbage.
The writing was starting to appear on the wall…….
There then follows Your Own Special Way, which
is for me one of the least satisfying moments of the album. The song begins in
what by now could almost be termed archetypical acoustic Genesis - a 12-string
guitar playing a chord progression liberally sprinkled with suspensions.
However, the arrangement of the song, with its awkward transition from verse to
chorus, indicates that the band themselves may have had some difficulty knowing
quite where to take the song. The chorus also has the faintest of Eagles-esque
US radio tinge to it, which may have been prophetic, but in 1977 sits rather
uncomfortably with the rest of the album.
And then we get to the middle eight, which is
in its own (special) way a microcosm of the changes in Genesis from 1971 to '77.
Whilst the Genesis of Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot would have possibly arranged an
obviously unconnected piece of music into a delicate acoustic vignette, which
may still have sat apart from the main body of the song, but provided a pleasant
diversion, what we have in the middle of Your Own… is what sounds for all the
world like bored noodling on a Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Which is a shame, because the song does deserve
better. In a way Genesis were still an album away from mastering the art of the
intimate (as opposed to the tragic-classic) ballad, and the reading of the song
on Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited album shows that the song itself is not at
all without merit - merely that the arrangement applied in 1977 did the song
very little justice.
Lyrically the song is relatively lightweight,
which is not to decry the lyrics - merely to point out that sometimes simple is
Side one of the album ("this all used to
be fields, you know"), concludes with Wot Gorilla, which is the subject of
some Genesis apocryphal folklore. Commonly held belief has it that Hackett was
very distressed at the inclusion of this song, at the apparent expense of the
song that ended up as the title track of his second solo album, Please Don't
Touch, apparently because Phil "couldn't get into it".
The short instrumental, the closest relative to
Brand X in the Genesis portfolio (with the possible exception of "It's
Yourself", which could have sat comfortably on Moroccan Roll) is
fundamentally a short theme, which is improvised on, taken to a middle eight
with a suitably church-esque organ segment, and then reprised. Pleasant enough,
but once again somewhat guilty of being the sort of aimless noodle that within
months they would be decrying bands like Yes/ELP et al for specialising in.
And so, on to turning the record over.
All In a Mouse's Night is the second Banks song
on Wind & Wuthering. And it is at this point that Hackett's criticisms of
the band upon leaving - namely that the group were increasingly becoming
self-referential and complacent - start to have some of the reviewer's sympathy.
It is presumably only coincidence, that side two track one of the last three
studio Genesis albums (not counting the anomalous Lamb Lies Down..) have
narrative based songs with a comedic element. From criminals playing cat and
mouse games, to cats and mice. And bread bins. In amongst what is really a quite
one-dimensional lyric, there still remains the parallel of defeat being snatched
from the jaws (literally) of victory, and the use of illusion as an explanation
or substitution for the mundane events of accident - although there's probably a
big difference in scale between a failed rebellion and a jam jar, that rather
depends on whether you're a Jacobite or a small hungry bundle of fur with a sore
Musically, All In a Mouse's Night begins with
another grand romantic sweep of keyboard, and is something of a precursor for
the next album - as the lead guitar is almost entirely conspicuous by its
absence except at the end of the song. When it does arrive, however, the solo is
played with the economy and taste that Hackett was and is rightly feted for.
From illusion as a substitute for the humdrum,
to the propensity of the humdrum creating the artifice of illusion - a
beautifully poignant piece of classical playing leads us into Blood On The
Rooftops, Hackett's main lyrical and musical input to Wind & Wuthering. In a
similar manner to Selling England By The Pound, the density of references to the
English culture and mindset of the mid 1970's is impressive, but can make the
song a little impenetrable if one is not familiar with all of the nuances
contained within. The references to arcane English existence merge together to
create a miasma of the mundane, giving the song an otherworldly romantic sheen
emphasised by Banks' sweeping keyboards during the choruses. This was definitely
territory that would not be visited again by the band, although the arrangement
of the guitar and keyboard does have some vague echoes in Say It's Alright Joe,
from And Then There Were Three.
Unquiet Slumbers……starts with another
throwback to the days of Genesis as a "woody" band, with Hackett's
classical playing overlaid across Rutherford's 12-string, and the Mellotron of
Banks. Sharp-eared listeners may recognise the initial melody as being very
similar to Please Don't Touch, from Hackett's album of the same name. (If at
first you don't succeed….) Moving into a passage redolent of Entangled from
the previous album, the piece builds into the drumroll that
presages….."In That Quiet Earth"
Which splits into the Hackett bit (The first
passage, played by Steve on numerous solo tours), and the
Banks/Collins/Rutherford bit (which found its way into several Genesis medleys
in the 1980s). One of the last truly great instrumentals that Genesis recorded,
and with fine playing and solo work from all concerned, especially Banks during
the Zeppelin-esque latter section. A restatement of the theme to close, and then
Which is another Banks song, a song of
redemption and renewal, amongst lost love. Lyrically, the simplicity of the
imagery and the poignancy of the words make this one of his finest songs. There
is an almost valedictory feel to Afterglow, which in hindsight is almost
entirely appropriate. The final chords fade into the distance, with the added
benefit of the drumming being tastefully appropriate to the feel of the song,
rather than the "How fast can we play the part from More Trouble Every Day
from Roxy and Elsewhere tonight Chester?" bombast that ensued when the song
was transferred to the stage. And then the song is over. And then, as they say,
there were three.
Copyright © 1999 Manir Donaghue
(This first appeared in 9/8 magazine. Acknowledgement is due to Jeff Kaa for a great magazine, and for his encouragement in getting me to do this review)
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