Genesis - Selling England By The Pound
Charisma Records
Progressive Rock
8 songs (53:21)
Release year: 1973
Reviewed by Goat

They say that you never forget your first, and Selling England By The Pound was the album that popped my Prog Rock cherry, an impulse buy that hit hard and helped to prove the ultimate superiority of 1970’s music to everything before and after. It also introduced me to Genesis’ world, and what a world it is! Where some (Rush, ELP) travelled forwards, Genesis here took an almost perverse delight in going back in time, yearning for those glorious pastoral days of medieval England, placing it in the (then) present when the former empire was descending into economic recession and near-disaster at the hands of useless governments.

Selling England By The Pound was the commercial peak of the Peter Gabriel years, reaching number 3 in the UK charts. Although none of the songs have the poppy hooks of later hits such as Invisible Touch, it only takes a few listens to realise how damn catchy they are. More than any other Genesis album, this is a delight to listen to, the sing-along melodies easy to grasp and pleasing to the ear, masking the underlying technical skill of the band. And what skill! From Phil Collins’ drums to Steve Hackett’s lead guitar (Dancing With The Moonlit Knight alone is astounding) the instrumentation is superb, never overtly showy yet always captivating to those who give it their attention.

Each member of the band deserves pages in their own rights, but let’s focus on Gabriel’s vocals for a moment. He’s not the archetypical ‘perfect vocalist’, but it’s always obvious that he gives his all and he is a damn good frontman, leading the others through the ups and downs of each song, his sections bookending each instrumental flourish with taste and skill. It’s the melodies that songs are constructed around, however, and what an incredible set of songs they are. There is no filler whatsoever on this album, at all, with the shorter pieces acting as interludes, for example: I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) , a catchy, bordering on silly song that is driven by the expansive keyboard sound of Tony Banks and makes full use of lawnmower noises. The ‘you can tell me by the way I walk’ line never fails to raise a smile on my face and the jam-style section soon after is wonderful, with Gabriel’s percussion adding a touch of the Avant-Garde.

Any song on the album could be raved about, but Firth Of Fifth is probably my favourite. After a classical piano introduction by Banks (which he would go on to mess up in a live performance, resulting in its never having been played live since 1974) Gabriel bursts into an epic section, ‘the path is clear/though no eyes can see…’ building up and leading into more piano and a succession of solos, flute, keyboard, guitar – it’s perfect, no music fan can fail to be touched. Many complain about the following song, More Fool Me, a three-minute acoustic ballad with Phil Collins on lead vocals, but for the life of me I can’t see why. It’s quietly affecting, catchy without any obvious hooks, and finishes the first half of the album on a tender note.

The second half of the album is equally as impressive, songs like The Battle Of Epping Forest twisting and turning impressively, never leaving the listener in the cold. There are more piano gymnastics on After The Ordeal, a pleasant instrumental, and the epic love poem of Cinema Show. The album ends with the simple genius of Aisle Of Plenty, which repeats an early melody from Dancing With The Moonlit Knight to wonderful effect, replacing the original piano with flute and acoustic guitar.

Progressive Rock isn’t ‘cool’. Those of you not yet in your mid-thirties won’t gain kudos and respect from friends for liking it, and even those older may get a hard time. Music, however, is a personal experience, affecting each of us in a different way each time we hear it, and if the world was a fair place Genesis would be required listening for today’s teenagers. No, they may not be breaking any barriers in terms of heaviness, but for their peerless ability to mix instrumental skill with excellent songwriting the band deserves kudos. Selling England By The Pound is good enough for me to forgive the band its 80s period, enough to make Genesis my favourite of the classic Prog bands. Others may have taken a more Metallic, heavier path, but Genesis should be in your collection for this album’s merits alone.

Killing Songs :
the whole album’s perfect, all the songs are amazing
Goat quoted CLASSIC
Other albums by Genesis that we have reviewed:
Genesis - Trespass reviewed by Thomas and quoted 73 / 100
Genesis - From Genesis to Revelation reviewed by Thomas and quoted 65 / 100
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