Genesis: We Can’t Dance (1991)

The last new music by these three was 29 years ago.  After several tours, Phil Collins announced his departure from the band in 1996.  The album was a massive hit (four million copies), although it failed to reach number one (only number four) in the U.S.

There were hit singles on the album, although all these years later, I can only hum one of them.  Did the formula become too familiar or were the songs indistinguishable from other Genesis songs? This is not an album I listen to, I bet it has been a decade since I even looked at it.  So why now?  If you read my blog you will find that lately, I have looked back at a number of Genesis albums.  As I was looking through the collection, I grabbed this one.

We Can Dance was the last studio album by this grouping of the band.  Listening to this album I thought of Abacab, the album of a decade earlier.  That was an effort to make their sound harder-edged and more contemporary; and I found that same strategy here. Most of the songs here are musically very complex and dense. I am amazed they can play these songs in concert, as layered and intricate as they were constructed in the studio. Having said that, songs of this nature are not always easy to listen and absorb.  These guys are professionals so they know how to create songs with enough recurring melody and hooks for the radio.  I found listening to the entire album in one sitting quite exhausting.

 

Let’s take a listen.

“No Son of Mine” A driving beat like “Turn It On Again,” it is not quite as bombastic, but at times the song does have its moment.  There’s more guitar at the choruses than in the usual Genesis song.  How does it rate for a single?  It is pleasant but one of the least memorable of their singles.

“Jesus He Knows Me”  Another single from the album, it has more of a hook than “No Son of Mine.”  This is a cynical song about using Christianity for profit.  Reached number 23 in the U.S.

“Driving the Last Spike” This song is over 10 minutes long, it tells the story of railway workers who sacrificed a lot for the hard work they performed to unite the country by rail. A quieter song (at least in the beginning), less generic, and more guitar.

“I Can’t Dance” The song starts with a heavy, bluesy guitar riff. The second single from the album, peaked at number seven in America.  A stripped down sound for the typical Genesis single.

“Never a Time” The fifth single from the album, reaching number 21, but higher on the Adult Contemporary Chart, which it is suited. A mid-tempo ballad with plenty of soothing keyboards.  Rutherford plays a grittier guitar on this track.

“Dreaming While You Sleep” More programmed beats, Banks carries the rhythm chords, while Rutherford uses the guitar for fills and effects; he even gets something like a solo.  At over seven minutes, the song provides much opportunity for musical interludes. It is pleasant, but it doesn’t really take you anywhere new.

“Tell Me Why” A bouncy song with a distinctive groove.  It was released as a single in Europe but did not chart.  A song about poverty and lack of food for children.  Rutherford shines with the use of the Rickenbacker guitar, the kind made famous by the Beatles.

“Living Forever”  An uptempo song, hard to distinguish from other Genesis songs.  Banks a keyboard solo while Rutherford riffs the song along on his guitar.

“Hold On My Heart”  The second single from the album, and a lovely song.  An aching song, the best ballad Genesis has written.  Number one on the Adult Contemporary Chart.

“Way of the World” A lovely beat by Phil Collins and riff by Rutherford on guitar and bass.  A nicely arranged song.  It is lively and less ponderous than Genesis can get wanting to be symphonic.

“Since I Lost You”  I like this arrangement, the sound is different from the usual keyboard sound Mr. Banks gives us. A mid-tempo ballad, kind of sad.  Mr. Rutherford fills the space nicely with his guitar.

“Fading Lights”  A very slow lead-in. A wide canvass for soloing, something Genesis keeps to a minimum.  Unfortunately, their soloing sounds very predictable and too polished to generate much excitement from the listener, perhaps because you aren’t getting it from the players.  I say that after more than 45 years as a fan.

Afterward

The album has more metallic sounds than usual, very industrial sounding.  I notice not as many blended layers of keyboards, what you hear is more distinctive, and there are more guitars apparent in the mix.  That’s a great move; I guess they heard my complaints.

The length of several songs are over ten minutes, but don’t think the progressive-rock times have returned.  These are not suites of song pieces wielded together like the old days.  On this album I heard an attempt to change their style a bit, but Genesis is pretty much the same as you hear on And Then There Were Three. That’s not a bad thing, Genesis had a distinctive style and they used it to sell millions of albums and entertain concert goers around the world.

Where would I rank this album in their discography? I would put it in the middle; very good but not great.  There is a lot that I recognize as well-crafted songs, but not ones I want to listen to, over and over again.  I found the sound to still have some of the 1980s over-production, and it sounds a bit dated, the deep-echo drums as an example.  It is difficult for Genesis to think simple and uncluttered, although they try here, but are not very successful.  I would love to hear a piano or organ, without as many synthesizers.  Rutherford ditched the guitar synthesizers and used cleaner electric guitars, but it is still relegated to a backing instrument.  With all of that, I find numerous things to like about this album.

All in all, this was probably a good place for Genesis to stop.  They toured off and on, and continued after Phil Collins left.  He came back to the group to tour again, then retired.  Genesis has announced a tour, just the three of them, not any of the past members of the band.  Collins’ son will be behind the drum kit.


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