Album review: Genesis – Calling All Stations
Back in 1997, Genesis released what was to be their final studio album, and the only one following Phil Collins’ departure from the band. Featuring Ray Wilson on vocals, and long-time stalwarts Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, the album didn’t do especially well when it came out – and the band cancelled the tour partway through, subsequently going on indefinite hiatus.
Much has been said of why this happened. With Collins no longer involved, it seems that a large chunk of the audience lost interest. Wilson joined when the album was already in progress. When the reception for Calling All Stations (CAS) wasn’t too hot, Rutherford didn’t sound keen to start building a following all over again. In interviews, you can tell the Banks/Collins/Rutherford “power trio” would almost prefer that it never happened.
But you know what… the album really isn’t that bad. Sure, it’s overly long and drags in places – but a lot of the ingredients were in place. To its credit, some of CAS is more like “old Genesis” than “new Genesis”, although it does lack an accessible pop song – a far cry from the previous six studio albums, all of which yielded at least one hit.
Calling All Stations (the title track) is a slow burner, a dark, driving song that kicks off with a great Rutherford guitar riff and equally great Banks chords to back it up. Wilson’s voice is very different to Collins, but it’s decent, and fits the mood well. Though, it’s already clear this is an entirely different Genesis, and probably too different for many of the fans who enjoyed the 80s Genesis. It’s a long way from Invisible Touch.
Congo is good enough, but not really strong enough to be a memorable hit. It changes direction towards the end, but does this a little too late, then fades out just as the first track did – a disappointment. Shipwrecked is average and is fairly boring on repeated listens. You can see why it was dropped from the tour setlist partway through.
Alien Afternoon is better, though it goes on a little too long; Not About Us is fine, and unusual for being a more acoustic track with not much in the way of keyboards. I find myself nodding and thinking “yep, that’s ok, but what’s next?” We’re not really pushing the boundaries since the title track. Then it’s onto If that’s what you need, which is more keyboard/synth-heavy, but I find it incredibly boring.
The Dividing Line easily saves the album. There’s been mentions that this could have been the album closer, which would have worked well – if you listen that far, of course. It’s powerful, with an excellent combination of guitar, keyboards and drums, solid vocals, and a memorable melody. Even with a tour that didn’t go so well, this is the calibre of music I would have loved to see more of from this line-up.
My views on the next two tracks seem to differ from most – I find Uncertain Weather a bit boring, and I like Small Talk. The former is a bit like some of the previous album – We Can’t Dance – I guess it’s ok. Small Talk is more upbeat and I daresay quite catchy.
I’m a big fan of There Must Be Some Other Way – it has a feeling of finality to it, and I love Wilson’s vocals here, particularly in the chorus. There’s also a decent instrumental section. Again, I would’ve loved to hear more like this. Then there’s One Man’s Fool, which is one of those Banks tracks that takes you on a bit of a journey – it’s good, but it isn’t that exciting at the start, and there’s a fairly naff short instrumental bit in the middle (around the 4 minute mark). After that though, it picks up, and I really enjoy the rest of the track.
So that’s the album – but there’s more, in the form of various B-sides. We can largely discount Papa He Said and the much-derided Banjo Man, although Phret is a bit better, and 7/8 is worth a listen. (As a sidenote, it’s frustrating these four tracks didn’t appear on the remastered boxsets – the argument being that the band didn’t want to have too much material from the CAS period – though it means the fairly pricey boxsets are incomplete.)
However, it’s the extra tracks from Not About Us that are a real treat, particularly Anything Now, and Sign Your Life Away. I could live without Run Out Of Time, but again I think my view differs from most fans here. I’ll mostly ignore Nowhere Else to Turn as I don’t think much of it, although worth saying this brought the extra tracks total to eight for CAS alone.
I wouldn’t normally mention so many B-sides when talking about an album that already runs to well over an hour across 11 tracks, but I think they deserve a mention, because two in particular are so good they could have saved this line-up. It’s baffling that we got tracks like Shipwrecked and If That’s What You Need when gems such as Anything Now and Sign Your Life Away were buried on a single. Not only were a couple of odd choices made with what to put on the album and what to keep off, the ordering of tracks was strange too. Personally, I’d have put Anything Now as the first track and lead single. And hey, even with no changes to what was put where, a second album with this line-up could have been quite special.
So while the album isn’t amazing, some of the tracks from the sessions are definitely worth a listen, and it’s a huge shame the band didn’t do another album with Wilson. It’s also a shame they’ve not put out any new material as a group since then. Oh well.