Genesis: A Trick Of The Tail
Dance on a Volcano
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault and Battery
A Trick of the Tail
Peter Gabriel announced his departure from Genesis at a band meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, in January 1975. Genesis were touring The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway at the time, and Gabriel had already left during the album’s recording sessions but had been persuaded to return. This time he wouldn’t change his mind.
Steve Hackett was absent when Genesis started work on what would become A Trick Of The Tail in July ’75. The guitarist was busy finishing his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte. In the meantime, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Tony Banks began jamming in a rehearsal studio in Acton, West London. By the time Hackett turned up three days later, they’d written most of Dance On A Volcano and Squonk.
Recording The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway had been a tortuous affair. In contrast, A Trick Of The Tail took a little over a month. In some ways it was easier without Gabriel. He, Rutherford and Banks had always been Genesis’ principal writers, with Steve Hackett chipping away on the sidelines. With Gabriel gone, there was one less potentially dissenting voice. The band now relished the opportunity to prove that Genesis had always been a songwriting collective, not just a vehicle for their former frontman.
In the end, A Trick Of The Tail was masterful riposte to the nay-sayers in the immediate aftermath of Gabriel’s departure. From the muscular, deceptively complex opener Dance On A Volcano to the closing fusion-esque instrumental Los Endos, this album affirmed that Genesis were far from washed up artistically. It was a massively important record for the band, allowing them to came out from the shadow cast by Gabriel.
Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute.
Other albums released in February 1976
- The Third Reich ‘n Roll – The Residents
- Gimme Back My Bullets – Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Jesse Come Home – James Gang
- Shamal – Gong
- Dreamboat Annie – Heart
- Reflections – Jerry Garcia
- Starcastle – Starcastle
- Sunburst Finish – Be-Bop Deluxe
What they said…
“A Trick of the Tail makes sense as a kind of breather after the harrowing insanity of Lamb, and also a chance to play with softer tones and instrumentation. It’s telling that when Gabriel-helmed Genesis took a stab at this kind of material, it produced songs about child abuse, suicide and carnivorous plants. There’s a tendency to think that Gabriel leaving the group was a huge loss but it also gave them a chance to modulate a little bit, and there’s nothing wrong with a little lightness.” (W.A. Hughes)
“In almost every respect, this feels like a truer sequel to Selling England By The Pound than Lamb; after all, that double album was obsessed with modernity and nightmare, whereas this album returns the group to the fanciful fairy tale nature of its earlier records.” (AllMusic)
“The title track, based on a choppy piano rhythm, is the closest they’ve come to a pop single. Although the familiar themes are always apparent, A Trick of the Tail is much more straightforward, possibly because it’s more a joint effort than the Gabriel-oriented albums. On their seventh attempt, Genesis has managed to turn the possible catastrophe of Gabriel’s departure into their first broad-based American success.” (Rolling Stone)
What you said…
Uli Hassinger: I’m not a big Genesis fan because I grew up with their 80s pop songs, which I couldn’t endure. This hasn’t changed very much. I only have the albums Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in my collection from the Gabriel years.
Listening to the first album with Collins as a vocalist was a big surprise to me. It’s a pure prog rock album which has much more in common with the Gabriel era than the later albums. This speaks to the fact that the departure of Hackett was the turning point. The main songwriter on this album is Tony Banks, whereas – as far as I know – the songs in the 80s and 90s were mostly written by Rutherford and Collins. All this makes it a very progressive rock album.
To my ears, the voice of Collins is way more distinguishable than Gabriel’s. You can tell the singer from the very first tone. Collins’ singing is superb. That also applies to his drumming, which carries the songs. Collins is the outstanding musician on this album.
The one thing I can criticise about the album is that the mood of the songs and their structures are very similar. This makes its playing time of nearly an hour a little bit too long. To me it scores 7/10.
Joe Owens: I have loved this LP since I first heard it. I was a big fan of Genesis while Gabriel was with them, and was very disappointed when he left the band.
A Trick Of The Tail was a fabulous way of letting their fans know that hey, we’re still here and relevant. A complete classic from beginning to end. For me it’s a solid 10.
Shane Reho: I’ll start my review by saying from 1970-1980 (Trespass through Duke), Genesis could do no wrong. This is far from being an exception. I’d make the case for side one being the best side they ever made, as close as side one of Selling England By The Pound comes (considering Foxtrot is my favourite album of theirs, go figure).
If side two was as good (it’s not far behind), this may very well have been their best. However, Robbery Assault & Battery isn’t as enjoyable here as it is on Seconds Out, and for some reason Ripples never seemed as great to me as most say it is. Not a bad song though.
This album’s peak is the last three songs on side one. Entangled is one of their more beautiful moments (they have quite a few of those), Squonk shows they could’ve been a pretty good hard rock band if they so desired (once again, I’d say the Seconds Out version is better, but it’s excellent enough here) and Mad Man Moon is one of their most underrated tracks. All that being said, this is a solid LP, although I’d say this lineup’s best came after it on Wind And Wuthering.
Chris Downie: The recent sad sight of one-time music behemoth Phil Collins forcing one last hurrah in diminished form, seated and in a pose more befitting a nursing home than one of rock’s biggest stages, may cause many to stop and ponder the legacy of a band who have presided over some of music’s most questionable choices, even by prog standards.
That the band’s huge worldwide following is distinctly divided into a few camps – the prog rock aficionados who eulogise the Peter Gabriel fronted era, those who favour the later, more commercial period and a modest number who straddle both sides of the fence – needs no introduction. What is often overlooked however, is that upon assuming the mantle of frontman, Collins initially did not rock the boat.
While A Trick Of The Tail was not Collins’s first foray into lead vocals (the track More Fool Me from their monumental Selling England By The Pound album hinted at what was to come) the first album after the passing of the microphone is, from a stylistic point of view, practically indistinguishable from the Gabriel era. The quirky but impressive nature of Squonk and the Tony Banks-inspired melodic title track rank up there among some of the band’s best work.
While replacement of an iconic singer has been problematic for many bands throughout history, the Genesis scenario could best be compared to that of Deep Purple’s Mk. III / IV line-ups, which ultimately fell short of their legendary predecessor but still yielded one of their finest works in Burn, with subsequent albums displaying occasional glimpses of the old magic.
With the benefit of hindsight, a fair reappraisal of this fine album should surely lead to a consensus that the long-held belief that Gabriel’s departure was the death knell for the band, is in fact a rock myth that should now be dispelled. Indeed, it was the later departure of guitar great Steve Hackett that would signal the end of an era and the ushering in of their controversial ‘pop’ period. 8.5/10
Mark Herrington: One of the delights of this album is the imaginative lyrical imagery. I find this album as rewarding in its lyrics as it’s music.
“The face in the water looks up
And she shakes her head as if to say
That it’s the last time you’ll look like today…”
Amongst some of the words that always stay with me
Mike Canoe: Inspired by this week’s pick, I did my first deep dive into the discography of Genesis and listened to all twelve albums that Phil Collins played on. While a week is obviously too short to really absorb this music, it did give me a better appreciation of Genesis as a whole and form some observations about their work in general and A Trick Of The Tail, in particular.
Genesis, even in the ’70s, was a very different sort of progressive band from what I usually think about (Yes, ELP, King Crimson). While they are certainly capable of bursts of bombast or virtuosity like opener Dance On A Volcano or Los Endos, they just as often write subtle, almost pastoral, pieces like Ripples, Mad Man Moon, and my new favourite, Entangled that take several listens to appreciate. Entangled, in particular, reminds me of Dark Side-era Pink Floyd, where gentle melodies lull listeners into a false sense of security until they really start paying attention to the lyrics.
For all the discussions of whether Genesis were best when it had Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins as lead singer, whether Genesis was best when Steve Hackett was in the band or not; to me, Genesis has always been keyboardist Tony Banks’ band. He is writer or co-writer on every song here and his playing is a strong influence on every song here. Again, I turn to Entangled, and its long coda, where Banks’ eerie synths and Mellotron counterpoint the 12-string guitar passages.
By and large Genesis did not rock. They definitely did not rawk. And that’s fine. Call it progressive pop, then. Stellar musicianship that transcends what pop music can be, with lyrics that can be fanciful, yet still relatable.
I generally avoided Genesis in the Gabriel years, because I would jump into something like Supper’s Ready or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and it was too much to take in cold. I generally avoided Genesis in the later Collins years because I took as gospel that they were a pop band in all but name. This week I’ve discovered a lot more worth exploring, and it started with Trick of the Tail.
Alex Hayes: A Trick Of The Tail by Genesis. A triumph. A winner. A gem of an album. Pick your superlative.
As a teenager during the late 80s, my musical development was frequently characterised by a certain pattern, one which I’ve occasionally alluded to in these reviews. I would often find myself initially drawn to a band by their, then current, output, only to then delve deeper into their earlier discography and end up being blown away by it. I’m sure this was something that happened to many a young rock and metal fan. I mentioned it last week with Status Quo, and there are many other examples (Whitesnake, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Heart, Alice Cooper, to name just a few).
One of the most cherished examples of this was with Genesis. My youthful appreciation for Invisible Touch in no way prepared me for the immense impact that this group’s earlier, far more progressive rock leaning, music would later have on me. That magical seven album run from 1970’s Trespass through to 1977’s Wind And Wuthering constitutes some of my favourite music of all time. There have been plenty of great prog rock bands, but there was always something extra special about Gabriel/Hackett era Genesis. Like listening to old English fairy tales or nursery rhymes brought to life via the medium of prog rock. Enchanting stuff.
There’s a reason that I made specific mention of both Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett there, as Genesis’ career is often defined by a false narrative. So-called conventional wisdom likes to pretend that Gabriel’s departure from the band in 1975 was a ground zero, line-in-the-sand type demarcation point in the band’s history, and that Genesis’ music simply isn’t worth bothering with after that.
That narrative is plain, flat-out, untrue, and A Trick Of The Tail is ample proof to the contrary. It’s the first album recorded by four-piece Genesis, with Phil Collins now multi-tasking on both drums and lead vocals, and, to be honest, it’s very much business as usual. The production is a little meatier, the awesome, frenetic, album opener Dance On A Volcano flies right out of the traps and grabs you by the throat to demonstrate that point, but we’re still deep into prog rock territory here.
Thematically, there’s not much change here from the Gabriel era Genesis. Both the title track and Squonk deal with mythical creatures. Robbery, Assault And Battery is another tale of an Artful Dodger-type criminal on the run from the law, expertly portrayed by Collins. Musically, we’ve got the usual quota of superb instrumental passages all present and accounted for here. We’ve got the beautiful textures of Entangled and Mad Man Moon to soothe us. We’ve got a nice, slightly twee, album cover. A Trick Of The Tail is yet another captivating example of 1970s progressive rock Genesis. ‘Proper’ Genesis in other words.
If anything, I rate this album’s sequel, the delightfully romantic Wind And Wuthering, even higher. Unfortunately, and then there were three (literally), as Hackett decided to quit the band. The sharing out of responsibilities amongst band members increased, and the new three-piece Genesis strode confidently, and far more commercially minded, into the new decade. The shift in Genesis’ focus occurred in 1977, not 1975. It was Hackett’s departure that altered the band’s career trajectory, not Gabriel’s. A Trick Of The Tail ably provides evidence for this.
They went on to sell millions of albums of course, but lost that special something along the way. There were still highlights, Domino and Driving The Last Spike are both terrific ‘multi-platinum’ era Genesis numbers, but later albums feel more pedestrian to me overall. Regardless, that previously mentioned seven album run is still more than enough to place Genesis highly on my list of all-time favourite bands. Just brilliant, end of.
John Davidson: I came to Genesis via the Collins era classic double album Seconds Out so have no hang-ups about Phil Collins being the voice of Genesis nor any feelings of disappointment about the absence of Peter Gabriel on A Trick Of The Tail.
Indeed, I’d argue that A Trick Of The Tail, while retaining much of the eccentricity and whimsy of the previous four albums, is more consistent than their Peter Gabriel-voiced classics.
It is arguably a gentler beast than Selling England By The Pound and certainly less ambitious than The Lamb Lies Down, but every song is beautifully crafted and expertly played.
Consistent doesn’t mean there is not variety. There is a real mix of emotions on the album from the unapologetically romantic tone of songs like Ripples and Entangled to the jauntiness of A Trick Of The Tail and Robbery Assault And Battery and the drama of Dance On A Volcano.
Squonk and Mad Man Moon bring the eccentricity and melancholy to the fore as well as some of the most complex musical elements.
Lyrically there is still an element of fantasy and dream like narratives but they are less impenetrable than some of Peter Gabriel’s output, perhaps nodding towards a more accessible (if not yet commercial) sensibility…I mean I knew girls who liked this album.
In terms of musicianship and songwriting this is Banks’ album. His keyboard leads and melodies are embellished by Steve Hackett’s luscious guitar and Collins’ now (I think underrated) drums, while Rutherford’s bass provides a steady heartbeat. Banks is ever-present in the composition too, sharing writing credits with Rutherford, Collins and Hackett across various tracks.
The only criticism I’d have is that despite the dynamism of the opening track it maybe lacks a bit of punch overall. Dance On A Volcano segues too neatly into the gentleness of Entangled, diminishing the former to an extent. Whereas on Seconds Out it rolls on into the pounding drumbeats of Los Endos to far better effect. But these are minor concerns when taken in the round.
Along with Wind & Wuthering (which has a bit more of Hackett in the soundscapes) this is my version of Genesis at its best . 9/10
Phil Yates: My favourite Genesis album. Still retains Steve Hackett and the eccentricity of earlier records with great tunes to boot. Phil Collins as singer was a bold decision that paid off in bucketloads. Either an important step in the evolution of the band or the first nail on their coffin depending on where you stand. I’m definitely in the former camp.
Evan Sanders: Trick Of The Tail is a tough album to review, as it’s hard to separate the music from the band’s transition from Peter Gabriel to a quartet with Phil Collins as the frontman. At the time of release, this would have been 4/5 stars or 8/10, as they showed that they could still do a “Genesis” album without Peter Gabriel.
The opening song Dance On A Volcano sets the tone, which continues throughout. Reflecting on it from the 2020’s, I don’t think it shines as much as their strongest Peter Gabriel effort, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, nor does it hint at what Genesis would become in the 80s. It’s still a fine album, but I drop it to 7/10 when compared to the band’s full body of work.
Mark Perrucci: I never was a Genesis fan until this record. I knew them but wasn’t interested. When they went pop I quit listening! I heard it at an all night record sale and bought it on the spot! Time for them to hang it up.
Ken Driver: My favourite Genesis album, and one which gets regularly played. I have to agree that it was the guitar work of Steve Hackett which made the difference between the earlier albums and those made from …And Then There Were Three onwards.
Craig Peters: What I like most about this group is I get to listen to music I haven’t listened to in years. It is so nice to get reacquainted with fantastic albums. A Trick Of The Tail is one of them. I honestly feel that Phil Collins at this point in Genesis’s career is just as strong as Peter Gabriel. Unfortunately the band became too pop for me in the late 70s. Stopped listening to them after Seconds Out.
Bill Griffin: I wouldn’t actually ‘discover’ the band until 1982 when a show from the Abacab tour was played on the radio (I still have that cassette) and then went to see them. That concert remains my favourite to this day. I got to see one of the last full performances of Supper’s Ready, for one thing.
A Trick Of The Tail is quite simply, one of my favourite albums (Genesis made several of those, actually) with two of my favourite songs in Entangled and Ripples.
If any of these songs can be called the weak ones, they are – oddly perhaps – the two Banks’ solo compositions. The other six tracks are as good as anything they (or anybody else) have ever recorded.
Michael Thijm: Have this in my old notebook as my favourite LP from 1976.
Still play it a few times a year as it never seems too dated. Always felt that Tony Banks really stepped up after Gabriel’s departure. He wrote or co-wrote all tracks and it is very much a keyboard-driven album.
Greg Schwepe: Superb album from what you could call “The Middle Period” of Genesis. Or “And Then There Were Four.” Another good Album of the Week selection where all I had to do was write a review, as this one is embedded in my head since I’m a big Genesis fan. And a timely choice as “The Last Domino?” tour has just started its run in the U.K. Will be seeing them here in the U.S.
If you’ve seen any documentaries or read any stories about Genesis, you obviously know about the three distinct phases of the band; with Peter Gabriel, after Peter Gabriel, and the “it’s just the three of us now” phase after Steve Hackett exited.
This is one of my favourite Genesis albums as for me it epitomizes all the band is about. The opening grandeur of Dance On A Volcano, the instrumentation of the closer Los Endos, the thumping bass intro to Squonk, the humorous Robbery, Assault and Battery with Phil’s accents, and the moving Ripples.
The band played Ripples during their last tour and as I heard the lyrics “…ripples never come back…” I kind of laughed to myself. “Wow, that’s totally true now that I think about it…”
I really got into Genesis while in college and the first albums I bought or borrowed to record were probably Duke, …And Then There Were Three, and Abacab. So, for me I always knew Phil Collins as the voice of Genesis. Because the radio stations I listened to never played any Gabriel-era Genesis and I didn’t own any of those albums, I had nothing to compare Trick Of The Tail to. Bought this album at a used record store as I started to “go backwards” and become more familiar with the Genesis catalogue. Eventually I would own Lamb, Selling England By The Pound and all the others.
For the die-hard Genesis fans who were there from the beginning, I could see how this album could be the deal breaker for the “It’s Peter Gabriel Or Nothing” crowd. But again, I just listened and heard a great album. I was yet to have to live through a major line-up change for a band I’d followed from the beginning. That would come later with Van Halen (and Styx, and Foreigner!). And then Journey with Steve Perry leaving. Changes like these are catastrophic for some fans, even to this day! Just head to the Journey Facebook page and see how many “Journey is not Journey without Steve Perry” comments that Neal Schon swats down on a daily basis!
This album was very much a “Yes, Peter Gabriel was a great contributor to the band, but we can go forward without him, thank you very much” scenario. Many of these songs remained in the band’s setlist over the years; with Los Endos bringing about the drum duets with Phil and Chester. Not to happen on this tour though.
A great start to a new era of the band, that only went on to bigger heights from there. 9 out of 10.
Mike Hayes: I’ve been listening to their back catalogue lately, and they are all great albums. True, they are very different with Phil as the frontman. This is a great album from start to finish. Is it me, or does the song Squonk sound very much like Argent’s Hold Your Head Up?
Gary Scott: I loved this album, and Peter leaving did not affect the sound or quality of music. Alas though, the follow up Wind And Wuthering was good, but by the time they recorded the next, …And Then There Were Three, Steve Hackett was out and so was I.
Final Score: 8.05/10 (171 votes cast, with a total score of 1378)
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Louder – Genesis: A Trick Of The Tail – Album Of The Week Club review
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October 12, 2021