There was a time in the 1980s and into the early 1990s when Genesis, the pop/progressive rock band that started life as a quintet but eventually pared itself down to a trio, was as ubiquitous as mousse and spandex. It was impossible to turn on the radio or MTV — this obviously was the era when MTV actually played music videos — without hearing and/or seeing Phil Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford work their way through hit after hit after hit. After hit. And after that, another hit. Followed by a hit. For a change of pace, the band would have a hit. Did I mention the hits?
Things came to an end following 1991’s We Can’t Dance, with Collins leaving the band to focus on his even more ubiquitous than Genesis solo work. Banks and Rutherford did make one more album after Collins’ departure, bringing in Ray Wilson to handle vocals on Calling All Stations which was released in 1997. The album went unnoticed in America, although it did reach #2 on the UK charts. All parties concerned went their separate ways until 2007, when Collins rejoined Banks and Rutherford for a successful tour of Europe and North America. Now with the trio getting ready for a similar tour, most likely their last due to the age of all concerned and Collins’ physical infirmities (he can no longer play drums due to nerve damage from a spinal injury), the band has released a compilation available as two CDs or four LPs titled The Last Domino?. The album is being released today in most countries; it won’t be released here until November.
Whether even the most devoted Genesis fan needs yet another compilation/greatest hits album is a matter of conjecture. Depending on how one counts, this is either the fourth or fifth go-round of such a project, and has been the case with all prior collections there is no new material. Back in the day, such an album made quite the handy Christmas present, but in an era of streaming services and the ability to create playlists from same the primary attraction of such an assemblage is for the completist-oriented music collector. It warrants mention this is the first Genesis compilation to be released on vinyl, so there is that angle.
On to the music. The album is not chronological, nor does it include at least one track from each of the band’s fifteen studio albums. The collection leans heavily toward the band’s most successful commercial stretch, when to its longtime fans’ dismay Genesis deliberately moved away from its avant-garde progressive rock beginnings toward a far more mainstream pop identity, although traces of the band’s adventurous roots occasionally slipped through the songs.
What is most striking while listening to the collection some thirty-plus years after the days when music media outlets were all Genesis all the time was how much of the aforementioned adventuresomeness remained in place even during the band’s pop phase. Genesis was never about flash or virtuosity, aside from Steve Hackett’s world-class guitar playing (Hackett joined the band in 1970 and remained until 1977). It was far more a compositional group, one using multiple textures, colors, and dynamics to create its desired dramatic effect. This was ably led by the band’s original singer Peter Gabriel, who himself left the band in 1975 in favor of a quite successful solo career. It seems strange now, but after Gabriel’s departure Collins had to be coerced into taking over as lead vocalist. He eventually acquiesced, and the rest is about ten bajillion albums and concert tickets sold worth of history.
For people familiar with solely the band’s commercial phase, songs such as “The Cinema Show” and “Firth of Fifth” will be a revelation. Genesis was a hugely influential band in its time; in it you can hear the roots of Split Enz and other power pop meet art rock bands. As its complexity became ever more soft-pedaled, the band retained a gift for gripping melody that avoided cliché even as the surrounding swirls of sound ran ever straighter. Those who preferred the early prog days may well embrace the sudden realization that in hindsight, Genesis didn’t abandon its musical genesis nearly as much as originally thought.
For the fan who doesn’t have everything, or simply wants to wax nostalgic, The Last Domino? is a collection worthy of consideration. As an introduction to Genesis it might be a bit much, but for the curious as to what this Genesis thing was all about it will prove quite the revelation. Pardon the pun.