|1. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway|
|2. Fly On A Windshield|
|3. Broadway Melody Of 1974|
|4. Cuckoo Cocoon|
|5. In The Cage|
|6. The Grand Parade Of Life-Less Packaging|
|7. Back In NYC|
|8. Hairless Heart|
|9. Counting Out Time|
|10. Carpet Crawlers|
|11. The Chamber Of 32 Doors|
|12. Lilywhite Lilith|
|13. The Waiting Room|
|15. The Supernatural Anaesthetist|
|16. The Lamia|
|17. Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats|
|18. The Colony Of Slippermen|
|20. The Light Dies Down On Broadway|
|21. Riding The Scree|
|22. In The Rapids|
("With variations on the above and Experiments with Foreign Sounds.")
Brian Eno: Enossification
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is a difficult album to summarize, and is even more difficult to summarize concisely. I could probably write a novel about this album, or at least a Master's thesis. But I'll try to make my comments relatively brief.
At least one critic has described The Lamb as the first postmodern rock album. Despite the fact that "postmodernism" has become for some an excuse to avoid thinking, the idea behind this argument seems fairly secure. The narrative of The Lamb is impossible to judge from a linear standpoint, and only makes sense as a work of multi-layered symbolism. Although a general link between the songs can be found if the listener seeks it out, no single concrete interpretation of any given lyric seems sufficient to encompass its multiplicity of meanings.
(Alternately, of course, the critic who referred to the album as a postmodern work may have been an over-eager literary critic who decided that the "pop culture" references were the most important aspect of the album. They aren't, though they do have a place in the overall context of the work.)
At the initial release of the album, critics complained that its plot was too convoluted. This criticism has continued, even among some progressive fans who have otherwise defended the merits of the album. Some regard the "concept" as a red herring entirely. I would argue otherwise.
For those who do not already possess The Lamb, it may be necessary to provide a brief outline of those few details of the plot which can be universally agreed upon. The album is a depiction of the life of Rael, a Puerto Rican youth who lives on the streets of New York City. As the work begins, Rael is seen in the Times Square/Broadway area, hiding his spraygun after a late-night "assault" on the values of mainwave society (spraying his name on a subway station). Completely out of nowhere, a lamb suddenly lies down on the Broadway streets; it's presence is never explained. As Rael turns to leave, a "wall of death" emerges upon him. And then, the deluge.
The remainder of the album is less immediately coherent, but it can be reasonably agreed upon that it involves a turning inward, as Rael moves through a series of memories towards an apparent resolution.
If the listener is to assume that the plot of the album after "Fly On A Windshield" is devoted to Rael's slow process of moving from this plane unto a separate realm of (non-?)existence (as many Genesis fans have currently accepted as the "unifying theme" of the album, the accusations of thematic ambiguity would seem to be of diminished relevance now). This interpretation would seem to explain the various mental states which Rael finds himself in as the album progresses. My own suspicion is that even this might not be enough to explain the entire album, but it outshines any other theory I've yet encountered.
Even if this is to be accepted as the general plot of the album, the question of "how the songs actually fit the theme" could still make for a few valid objections. "Counting Out Time" doesn't quite seem to fit with the general character development of the album; the position of "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging" strikes me as being a bit tenuous as well, and "Cuckoo Cocoon" might not be necessary as a link between "Broadway Melody" and "In The Cage". "The Lamia", moreover, is problematic -- it fits with the general theme of the album, but its position in the narrative (in relation to what comes before it) doesn't seem quite right.
The accusation that much of the album was "forced to fit" the theme may therefore be valid, but I would still argue that the general theme may still be understood in spite of these problems.
A few other notes first, though. The idea behind this album was, indisputably, the creation of Peter Gabriel. On earlier Genesis albums, Gabriel and Tony Banks had tended to share the lead songwriting duties, generally creating thematic concepts which the band as a whole would work out the music to. On this album, the balance was offset. It's possible that Tony Banks has never had as little control over any album that bears his presence as The Lamb (perhaps excepting From Genesis To Revelation), as Gabriel's domination of the project's "vision" was nearly absolute.
This obviously caused problems with the rest of the group; these problems were not smoothed over by Gabriel's attempts to create a multimedia version of the album while the recording was still in progress. Gabriel and the rest of Genesis actually broke apart for a time during the making of the album (Phil Collins was later heard to comment that they were considering releasing a double-album of instrumental music), and a reconciliation was only made possible by Gabriel's eventual willingness to scale back his vision somewhat (granting that his lack of Hollywood connections probably played a considerable role in this as well).
With Gabriel and the rest of the group at swords, the axis of Banks/ Rutherford/Collins began to take greater control over the instrumental aspects of the pieces; according to the Bowler & Dray Genesis book, Gabriel was in the habit of having them write musical accompaniment to his more general themes at this theme, generally abdicating his share of control over such matters (with some exceptions -- Gabriel claims the chord progression for "Carpet Crawlers".) Surely enough, a nucleus of a Genesis lineup without Gabriel was forming.
... but, what about the fifth member of the group? Steve Hackett's level of contribution to The Lamb has been a matter of some debate. Hackett himself has commented that he believes the album to be "unfinished", and his compositional role seems to have been the least significant of all of the members involved (to say the least). Hackett's hand injury late in the recording sessions (severing a tendon after crushing a glass, reportedly as the result of accumulated stress as regards the development of the group) may have contributed to his diminished presence, but it doesn't explain the entire story. Certainly, there's little that can justify his virtual absence from the first quarter of the album on such grounds. Although SH's alienation from the rest of the group did not start with The Lamb, it was certainly most pronounced here.
And Brian Eno's role? This, too, has been a matter of some debate. Eno himself has never specified his role, claiming only that he helped the group to adjust a few tracks. Frequently suggested possibilities as to the identity of these tracks include: vocal distortions on "The Grand Parade", keyboard distortions on "Riding The Scree" and "In The Cage", effects on "The Colony Of Slippermen", etc. Tony Banks has recently claimed that Eno's role was actually quite minimal, and that he didn't really deserve an official credit. Nevertheless, this mystery, too, refuses to die.
Made under extremely difficult circumstances, The Lamb nevertheless deserves recognition as one of the few truly essential albums of the progressive genre. The mysteries involving its plot and creation are interesting enough, but unravelling these matters is not needed for an appreciation of the music included therein.
Some have criticized The Lamb for containing fewer of the "epic" progressive works as the earlier Genesis albums, but this doesn't really make much sense. Genesis were not, on this album, abandoning longer material in favour of a more commercial output -- the songs were shorter, but the material was in some ways more esoteric than before. Some might argue that the expanded backing vocal role of Phil Collins (compared with Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound) set the stage for future problems, but this assumes far more than could have been known at the time. From a musical standpoint, The Lamb rates at about the same level as the earlier Genesis albums.
From a lyrical standpoint, it may well be the most successful album of the progressive genre.
The album begins with the title track, setting the stage for the plot which is to follow. The keyboard introduction to this track is quite unsettling, appearing as a fleeting, dreamlike piece with more than a bit of a sinister edge to it. Banks dominates the music throughout the song, and Collins and Rutherford are in top form as well, but the narrative is clearly the focal point here. As the street youth are forced from their nightly resting grounds, Rael emerges from the subway area with his spraygun hidden. The lamb appears as an outsider to this scene as daily commuters start their routines. An excellent introduction, all things considered. One minor problem would be Hackett's seeming absence from most, if not all, of the track; even without him, though, it still works quite well.
[Interpretations: (i) It doesn't take a great leap in logic to connect the hidden spraygun with a sexual reference, especially given that Peter Gabriel is the author. The reference to Rael "wiping his gun" and "forgetting what he did" in the middle of the song could have any number of meanings, some more sinister than others, (ii) It similarly doesn't take a great leap in logic to connect the lamb with a emissary from another plane of existence, alerting Rael of the fate which soon awaits him, (iii) It does take a certain degree of interpretive skill to associate the line "cabman's velvet glove" with the Velvet Underground, as at least one listener has done. Andy Warhol worked as a cab driver at one point, you see. If this is an accurate interpretation, one wonders what exactly Gabriel meant by the line, (iv) I've often thought that The Lamb contains certain homoerotic references, matched with heterosexual representations in a somewhat confusing manner. Here, the "Wonder women, you can draw your blind/Don't look at me, I'm not your kind" line could be seen as verifying this possibility. More on this later.]
The tone of the album becomes more elusive with "Fly On A Windshield". Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford present a dark, apprehensive melody at the beginning of this track which accurately sums up the mood of the entire album. Over this, Gabriel describes Rael being ensnared by the aforementioned "wall of death", and phasing out of the New York scene. The inward journey thus begins. For the second half of the song (counted as part of "Broadway Melody Of 1974" for the remastered version; I'm using the old system of division here), the Banks/Rutherford/Collins team creates an impressively dark instrumental piece on par with their best work on earlier albums -- Hackett, moreover, is finally audible, playing an emotive solo leading up to the next track.
"Broadway Melody Of 1974" consists of Rael's vision of a distorted Broadway parade consisting of various deceased (and declining) cultural icons: Howard Hughes, Groucho Marx, Marshall McLuhan and Caryl Chessman all play a role in this procession. The last two are, from the point of the song, the most interesting. McLuhan, of course, is a Canadian communications theorist who presented ideas on "active" and "passive" mediums which are about as dense as The Lamb itself; nevertheless, the "casual viewin'" reference seems to indicate a loss of control over one's position. Caryl Chessman (to quote the information on "The Lamb Explained", a very useful web page for those interesting in getting even more information out of these obscure references) was the first American citizen to be executed under the re-instituted death penalty. The connection to Rael's own situation should be clear.
From a musical standpoint, the piece is primarily an extension of "Fly On A Windshield", only without a strong presence (if a presence at all) by Hackett. As against this, the guitar passage at the end (a lead-in to "Cuckoo Cocoon") may very well be him. The key focus of this track, however, is clearly the narrative, a profoundly dark examination of both the sedative role of Broadway life and equally sedative interpretations of an afterlife. The image offered by the depiction is, even on a surface level, far from comforting.
This leads to "Cuckoo Cocoon", which sees Rael emerging from this "parade" to a new state of existence. The lyrics are sung entirely from a first person perspective, and concern Rael's uncertainty as the nature of his newfound surroundings. Electric guitars appear under distortion as the track being, against which Gabriel's stark voice recites the character's lament (interestingly, it would be Gabriel's voice that underwent the most distortion in live performances). Banks eventually takes a leading role, playing another disturbingly pleasant accompanying piece. Phil takes a greater backing vocal role, and Gabriel's flute makes another appearance as well. There's nothing terribly wrong with this track, but it lacks some of the intensity of the first three numbers -- my suspicion is that the album could work without it.
A heartbeat bass tone begins "In The Cage", a truly disturbing number describing Rael's general state of internal confusion involving his present condition and his past memories (which are soon to make their appearance). Gabriel's vocal intensity is nothing short of amazing here, filling the lyrics with the urgency which they deserve. From an instrumental standpoint, Hackett again appears undermixed; he can be heard in the left channel in the first "primary" section of the song, but only faintly in comparison to the other band members (this is actually fairly interesting for the purposes of instrumental texturing, but the fact that it was Hackett who was given the subservient role doesn't seem accidental). Meanwhile, Rutherford's bass line is mixed remarkably high, with Collins's drum line playing off against it in a slightly disjointed manner.
An easy highlight of the song is the instrumental segueway section which appears at about the three-minute mark, presumably consisting of both Hackett and Banks in some harmonized balance. The piece then shifts to a "match to the gallows" section, wherein Rael first encounters his brother John (who refuses to release him from his "cage"). In perfect palindromic sense, the piece then returns to the instrumental section before returning to a reprise of the first full-band theme. The internal diversity in this track is quite impressive, as are the performances throughout. The song ends with Rael being granted liberty from his "cage", and spinning about into another altered consciousness.
This is the point in which Rael begins the journey through his slightly disjointed memories. We are first presented with "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging", an extremely clever number which nevertheless seems slightly problematic in the general context of the album. The song, essentially, describes a factory production of human identities, all of which are smoothly hewn of their distinctive characteristics so as to be made presentable to the world in general. Each individual is reduced to a corporate entity, and each advertises himself/herself as such. Gabriel's vocals are heavily distorted, and Collins's staggered drum line seems entirely appropriate. One could argue that the parade represents the sperm/DNA from which Rael was originally conceived; John, being a part of the "parade" would therefore be an aspect of Rael's own personality -- which would make some measure of sense later in the album. One problem with this theory, however, is that is says little to account for the subsequent "leap forward" of 17 years to "Back In NYC", the next track. Perhaps this leap was Gabriel's intention, but it's difficult to argue this with any certainty. One way or the other, though, the track is able to stand up on its own.
With the beginning of the second quarter of the album, the band seemingly becomes a reasonably integrated unit again -- Hackett's presence returns to relatively normal levels, and some of the songs sound as though they could have been written as cohesive links of words and music. This "side" begins with "Back In NYC", generally regarded as "Rael's anthem". Gabriel's first-person depiction of our protagonist's violent impulses is both articulate and relatively realistic (it isn't every upper-middle class British kid who could get away with this, after all). The track begins with a deliberate reprise of the "In The Cage" bass line, but quickly shifts to something rather different. Musically, the track consists of the internal shifts and instrumental variation that Genesis (pre-1978) are best known for -- the 17/8 "chorus" is particularly impressive. The final "no time" is probably sung by Phil Collins, creating an eerie "third person" counterpoint to the rest of the song. A success.
[Interpretations: (i) Gabriel acknowledged in concerts on the Lamb tour that the phrase "cuddled the porcupine" refers to masturbation; that this image is juxtaposed directly with descriptions of Rael's violent impulses is somewhat telling, (ii) re: homoeroticism -- one line of the song goes as follows: "I'm a pitcher in a chain gang, we don't believe in pain". "Pitcher", it should be noted, is an American slang for the "active" participant in homosexual encounters, (iii) another lyric of this song goes as follows: "Your progressive hypocrites hand out their trash/But it was mine in the first place, so I burn it to ash" -- given Gabriel's dissatisfied position in Genesis and his desire to leave the progressive rock genre in later works, it seems unlikely that an interpretation of this line can be restricted to the Rael character.]
"Hairless Heart" is the album's first instrumental track, dominated by Steve Hackett's harmonizer-based guitar lead (sounding oddly like a violin, actually). Banks and Collins have impressive showings as well. This brief number, entirely satisfying on its own as a piece of music, is used thematically to accompany the ceremonial removal of Rael's pubic hair (as suggested in the previous track, and as verified in the live show).
This brief number leads to "Counting Out Time", a novelty track concerning mathematical applications of sexual instruction manuals, which was the first single from the release (it failed to rise in the charts, amusingly enough). Plotwise, the story goes that this piece is meant to correspond to Rael's first sexual experience -- my suspicion is that this was a convenient excuse invented after the fact to give the song a place on the album. Regardless, this track is about as amusing as a pop single of the progressive genre could be expected to be. Hackett's overbearing guitar lines at the beginning (that is Hackett, right?) work well as an expression of "tension buildup". The mid-song solo by Hackett is ... equally amusing, if not moreso; Tony's charmingly innocent keyboard lines only add to the overall value of the piece, of course.
[Interpretation: This song is also significant for its emphasis on numerology, which is given a more serious role in the subsequent tracks.]
"The Carpet Crawlers" is easily the highpoint of the album, well integrated with the thematic course of the album, and completely capable of standing on its own as well. Musically, it features one of Tony Banks's most beautiful performances ever, playing a fairly consistent pattern through a series of impressive chord developments. The bass line, though fairly simple, works extremely well -- Collins is excellent on both harmony vocals and drums, while Hackett's embellishments add to the value of the work as well. The song is open to numerous interpretations, but its primary meaning (to judge by recent alt.music.genesis discussions) is that of conception, with the "Crawlers" signifying the individual sperm attempting to achieve the process of reproduction -- numerous metaphors work throughout the track as well. The transference of "biological memory" through DNA seems to be a strong focus too; the "staircase that spirals out of sight" has been taken by some to be a reference to the physical pattern of DNA itself. The lyric also seems to suggest that Rael's own memories necessarily return to him in this process (hence the alternate metaphor in "my second sight of people"). The echo effects on the keyboards are among the most notable musical creations featured on the album. This easily counts as one of the best songs of the progressive movement, on virtually every level. (As a side note, I might also add that this song occasionally receives airplay on certain FM stations in North America, despite the fact that it, too, had no initial success as a single.) A minor quibble: despite having a role in the theme of the album, this song seems only tangentially connected to the plot development in the second half of the album.
From there, we arrive at "The Chamber Of 32 Doors", another of the more enigmatic themes here. The track begins on a guitar lead, quickly leading to an extreme expression of grandeur (apparently representing the chamber which the protagonist has found himself in). Collins takes a more prominent role on vocals, again. Lyrically, this song involves Rael's attempts to interpret his surrounding in this mysterious Chamber, with various cultural archetypes appearing around him. The key to understanding all of this is -- qv. the earlier note on numerology -- Kabbalism.
In the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, there are 32 paths in total, connecting the various planes of existence. The positioning of man on the Tree is invariably at the lowest condition, regardless of what steps are made in other directions (ie. "But down here, I'm so alone with my fear"). The line "My father to the left of me, my mother to the right" is also a direct reference to the individual's positioning in this Tree. As such, by wishing to remove himself from the "Chamber", Rael is presumably expressing a desire to leave the system of temporal life itself.
The song isn't quite as successful as the rest of the side. After four consecutive works of excellence, this one (whatever its own merits) is a slight letdown -- perhaps the narrative had a bit too much control over the music, in this case. There's nothing particularly wrong with this track, but it doesn't really stand together as well as the rest of the "side".
The third quarter of the album begins with "Lilywhite Lilith", which rates on the same level as "The Chamber" as far as quality goes. This is easily the most rock-oriented track on this "side", featuring a variation on the musical themes of "Fly On A Windshield/Broadway Melody Of 1974". Collins shines on drums, and the rest of the band develops the piece rather well; the track simply doesn't stand on its own as well as the rest of the side. Thematically, the most obvious archetypal development in the album is featured in this track -- Lilith, of course, course to a temptress in both Kabbalism and related forms of Christian Gnosticism, ultimately leading her followers unto death. The track ends as "two golden globes" enter the room to which Rael has been led to (and abandoned in), followed by "a blaze of white light".
This leads to "The Waiting Room", the track most likely to bewilder anyone who only knows Genesis through their debased '80s incarnation. This track is, essentially, devoted to the exploration of terror through musical form -- the first half consists to numerous chaotic/grotesque sonic elements, on par with the output of some German progressive bands of the era; the second half consists of an instrumental theme (dominated by guitar) which is almost equally frightening, in some respects. It was not without reason that this track was referred to as the "Evil Jam" during the original recording sessions. In live performances, the band would play a slightly extended version of the track as a means of "blowing off stream" from the stress caused by the project. That aside, this is easily one of the more impressive musical moments of the Genesis career.
The narrative of The Lamb continues with "Anyway", another keyboard-dominated track concerning Rael's emergence from the near-death experience of the previous track. The middle section of the work is dominated by a guitar spotlight, impressive in its grandeur (as befits the piece). The track, recited from the first person, consists of Rael's surprisingly literary and articulate musings on death (I have a hard time believing that "Different orbits for my bones/Not me, just quietly buried in stones" isn't related to Kabbalism as well, by the way). The character of Death makes a belated appearance as the track ends.
"The Supernatural Anaesthetist", a brief vocal duet track between Peter and Phil, concerns the attempt of the Death character to ensnare Rael's soul with the use of his poisonous gas (which Rael miraculously escapes -- this isn't explained in the lyrics, and one must rely on statements made by Gabriel in live performances to attain this particular meaning). Most of the song is instrumental, featuring another excellent guitar solo by Hackett (instrumentals tend to become more frequent at this stage, with the narrative having been concluded in a somewhat hasty manner.)
Following this comes another shift in the linear development of the story with "The Lamia", which begins with a mysterious piano line accompanying Keats-inspired lyrics (Keats is thanked in the liner notes, by the way). The focal point of the song is again the narrative, which goes roughly as follows: Rael enters a strange room, enters (believing himself "quite alone"), encounters three lamia creatures (ie. half-woman, half-snake) who sensually assault him, and joins the lamia creatures in their pool -- on their first exposure to Rael's blood, however, the lamia shrivel and die. Following this, Rael consumes the remainder of the lamia flesh (the consequences of which are elaborated on in a subsequent track) and departs the area.
The listener will be forgiven for wondering if all of this is really relevant to the plot at hand, but, anyway. One of my theories is that the "intruder" element of the song could suggest that the "poetic" descriptions were actually invented by Rael to disguise his role in an act of sexual violation (this is, of course, only a theory). Gabriel has certainly explored similar themes in subsequent tracks of his solo career (ie. "Intruder"), and I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility here. Alternately, it could simply be a reference to an encounter with a mysterious prostitute. The room for interpretation is rather open.
Returning to a discussion of the music, it should be noted that the aforementioned keyboard lead recurs fairly consistently throughout the track (in various settings, though). A few harpsichord effects create a certain element of absurdity in relation to the theme. The song ends with another guitar lead, which develops into an extended outro.
"Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats" is the album's second instrumental, a quasi-symphonic arrangement on a reasonably basic theme. It takes the form of a lament, and is otherwise notable for displaying the powers of the group to create a work of beauty which has a highly ironic placing in the context of the album.
"The Colony Of Slippermen" is divided into three sections. "The Arrival" begins with an amazing series of sonic effects by the four instrumentalists, creating an extremely disturbing ambience. Following this, the "song proper" begins musically in classic Genesis style -- this is another high point of the album. After a paraphrase of Wordsworth, the song describes Rael's arrival in a land of grotesque, distorted individuals known as the "Slippermen", who too have undergone the previous encounter with the lamia creatures -- Rael discovers that he, too, has assumed their distorted form (side note: if the "intruder" interpretation is to be used for "The Lamia", it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to associate this setting with that of a prison). The other elements of this culture inform him that the only manner in which he can escape his condition is to be castrated by the nefarious Dr. Dyper. And that leads us to ...
"A Visit To The Doktor" (part two of "The Colony Of Slippermen") is a brief section, connected musically to the previous section. Gabriel's vocal urgency is again quite impressive, as he orders the Doktor to undertake the painful operation (the sound effect which corresponds to the castration effect is quite interesting, by the way). Rael is accompanied by John in this operation, with said brother-figure too having become afflicted with the Slipperman condition.
Then comes the final section of the song, entitled "The Raven". After the operation (which features an amusing vocal alteration), Rael is given a pouch carrying his castrated member ... which is promptly stolen by Raven, a giant black bird that preys on the area. Steve Hackett's guitar line in the "theft" section is perhaps the ultimate depiction of an anapest rhythm in musical form, by the way. After his, Rael chases after Raven to the edge of a cliff, whereupon Raven drops the castrated unit into a giant lake [note: obvious mythological reference here]. The music is excellent throughout this section, with some very interesting percussive effects (that could possibly be Eno's creation).
The following songs seem slightly inferior in comparison to the general flow of the album, perhaps due to the time constraints placed upon them. That said, it isn't really fair to regard "Ravine" as a separate track -- consisting entirely of guitar and keyboard effects (probably Banks and Rutherford), the track is almost completely atmospheric. Perhaps it would have made more sense to have this as the last section of "The Colony" ... though, in that case (for the conspiracy minded) the number of songs on the album wouldn't have worked out to a perfect 23. Hmm ...
The lyrics to "The Light Dies Down On Broadway" were reportedly written by Banks/Rutherford as a means of clarifying the narrative to some degree, which they do fairly well. Rael here is given the opportunity to return (via a magical portal) to the streets of NYC, but, upon seeing his brother John drowning in the waters below (disturbing metaphors regarding the "fertilization" of the waters by the castrated member are appropriate), decides to risk his own life and attempt a daring rescue. This is a much more "concrete" song than anything else on this side, and has some narrative value as such. The distinction of Banks and Gabriel in terms of lyric-writing is made quite clear here; gone are the sexually-oriented imagery, replaced by Banks's somewhat abstract descriptions. Musically, it's very good, if a bit behind the higher points of the album. The flute effects are a nice touch as well.
And that leads to "Riding The Scree". Primarily an instrumental number, this track begins with an altered keyboard passage which seems to have been guided by Brian Eno in spirit, in not in actually. The guitar and bass lines suggest a funk-oriented motif, oddly enough; and harmonized section in 9/8 is extremely good. Gabriel's lyrics describe Rael's endeavours to reach John as he rushes towards the rapids.
That, in turn, not surprisingly leads to "In The Rapids". I will admit that my rating for this particular song in somewhat higher than I originally suspected that it would be. From a musical standpoint, there is little in the way of virtuosity here -- as an atmospheric number, however, its dirgelike qualities work extremely well. The song ultimately succeeds on the basis of Gabriel and Collins, whose vocal and drum contributions and a level of emotive strength that corresponds to the theme of the song extremely well. What pushes the song "over the top", however, is the concluding section, and the sudden rise in tension as Rael encounters John and realizes that he is actually staring into a double of himself. His consciousness shifts between the two figures, and evaporates from the corporeal sphere entirely.
"It" is the consolidation of the mystery that is the album -- seemingly a self-contained unit, it depicts a creative force in a state of abstraction, as applied to various particular situations. The sonic effect of the "shift of consciousness" is nothing short of incredible. Hackett's guitar effects (seconded by Banks throughout) work amazingly well throughout the number, and Gabriel's impish puns are the perfect resolution to the theme -- once knowledge has been gained by the lead character, it can only be transposed to others via elusive proverbs.
[Interpretations: (i) the number of drug references throughout the song -- the words "horse", "shaken", "dope", and "rock" are used in rapid succession -- can hardly be coincidental. It's not quite clear what point Gabriel was trying to make ... (ii) re: homoeroticism -- I trust that the possibilities presented by two male individuals reaching a state of perfect unity in an area of raging water need not require too much explanation; the line "When you eat right fru it" from "It" might suggest these possibilities as well, albeit expressed in a slightly politically incorrect manner (presumably without malice, of course), (iii) this one is a bit of stretch, but has anyone else considered as a reference to a "single's bar" on an album steeping in Kabbalistic references could actually refer to the "son of a single entity", perhaps corresponding to the mental entity created by the merger of the two Rael figures. As I said, this is a bit of a stretch ...]
And, of course, the album ends in a cheeky bit of Gnostic humour with the line, "It's only knock and know-all, but I like it". What could be more appropriate?
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is a mysterious, beautiful and disturbed work, and is ultimately one of the most essential of English progressive albums.
Given the creation of this album, it's completely understandable that Gabriel and Genesis were incapable of working together on future projects. Gabriel's ventures were clearly beyond what the others were willing to endeavour towards -- it's amazing enough that Tony Banks appeared on even one album of this sort, and a second would have been virtually unthinkable. Still, as a "once in a lifetime" experience, the creation of this album is highly important in the history of the progressive genre.
(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 24 February 1998)