Genesis were one of the key players in the progressive rock scene of the 1970s long before they achieved any mainstream success. The sad truth when it comes to this band is the fact that they remain one of the most underrated, misunderstood bands in all of rock music. How these guys ever earned the nickname “Genesnooze” is frankly astonishing (Yes, this is true). A boring band? Genesis? Far from it. They rocked harder than Yes and wrote better melodies than Emerson, Lake & Palmer. They were just as whimsical as Jethro Tull and just as adventurous as King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Of all of these bands, however, Genesis is the one most likely to be scoffed at by the music press. ‘Nursery Cryme’, released in 1971, is proof enough that the presses were dead wrong.
Take the opening track, “The Musical Box”, for a perfect example of just how on the contrary of boring they were. It’s 1971, keep in mind, and guitarist Steve Hackett is ripping through a guitar solo that is clearly a building bridge to thrash metal. You read that right. Genesis were a link to thrash metal. Aside from this track, this record features two other classic Genesis epics (“The Return of the Giant Hogweed” and “The Fountain of Salmacis”). No, these aren’t the Genesis tracks you’ll hear on the radio. What they are though are perfect examples of Genesis at their artistic and theatrical peak. Genesis, like many other theatrical acts (Alice Cooper, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, etc.) have long struggled with accusations that the element of theater serves only to cover up the fact that the music is rubbish. This is nothing short of three-chord worship nonsense (not that there’s anything wrong with a three-chord song). Mainstream publications like Rolling Stone have been pushing this narrative for years (bless their souls).
The other thing to note about this record is that it’s underrated even for a Genesis record. Rarely is this record held in the same regard as ‘Foxtrot’ or ‘Selling England by the Pound’, but rest assured, it certainly should be. Besides the epics mentioned above, you get wonderfully sweet songs like “For Absent Friends”, which is the first Genesis song to feature Phil Collins on vocals in place of Peter Gabriel. By the way, who said that progressive rock wasn’t socially relevant? The aforementioned, “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” tells a cautionary tale of the spreading of Heracleum mantegazzianum (giant hogweed), a plant that is of course toxic and brought to England by Russia. This song is also one of the first rock songs to feature guitar tapping. This would become a technique that Eddie Van Halen would utilize quite often in his career, perfected years before by Genesis’ Steve Hackett.
The consensus on this record is that it’s an awesome one. Highly underrated work from a highly underrated band, especially during the Gabriel era. No one is arguing that the Collins era isn’t vastly inferior or that it wasn’t prone to producing some extremely hokey, typically ’80s garbage. That goes without saying. This particular era of the band, however, should rightfully go down as one of the best, most original bands in the history of rock music. End of story. The only real downside to this record is that the great tracks are so great that the others seem a bit meek in comparison, though they remain solid tracks themselves.