Part I: The Background
Here’s one that gets overlooked. So after releasing their debut From Genesis To Revelation, the band sort of called it quits for a year, having been not all too pleased with the creative direction their producer had basically forced upon them. With Trespass, Genesis was reborn as a progressive rock band. Of course, without Steve Hackett and Phil Collins (who would come on board for their next album, Nursery Cryme), some say it lacks that trademark Genesis sound. I’d argue that Tony Banks is actually the one who provides that Genesis sound, but that’s besides the point. This is a remarkable album, but it often gets the short end of the stick, with the exception of the album closer “The Knife,” which became a live-show staple.
Part II: The Music
Looking For Someone: The opening track of the album really captures the album’s essence: Trespass is a compromise between pop sensibilities and progressive song structure. While the track meanders a little, there is a solid melody to sustain it. We’re really witnessing the birth of what I call the Genesis mysticism here—it’s that feeling that you’re on a fantastical, magical, and epic journey that a lot of the early Genesis stuff evokes. The instrumental break is consistently musical—it never really feels indulgent or drawn-out. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t the most remarkable of opening tracks. But it’s a great start to a solid album. RATING: 7/10
White Mountain: Now this is more like it. Even without the lyrics, the acoustic guitar picking and the arpeggiated organ really give you that crisp winter’s day feeling; this is one of those songs that transports you to a vivid, surreal landscape. Story-wise, the song’s about a wolf named Fang who wants to defeat One-Eye, the pack leader, in order to claim his crown. They engage in a fierce battle and—spoiler alert—Fang dies. Personally, I’ve never really cared much for Peter Gabriel’s storytelling; he can get quite obtuse at times. But the lyrics here are coherent and to-the-point, they neither muddle the song nor call attention away from the actual music—the lyrical and musical elements of the song blend together perfectly, something that can’t really be said for the majority of Gabriel-era Genesis songs. RATING: 8.5/10
Visions of Angels: This is another one of those songs that really paints a vivid picture, not lyrically but musically. This song isn’t actually about angels—if you listen to the lyrics, it’s actually a song about lost love. But the music really does channel the essence of divinity. What I mean is the song starts with a soft, rippling piano melody that reflects the majestic and breathtaking essence of the natural world. But when the drums kick in, the song evokes a sense of awe in a way that’s almost terrifying; it’s that feeling of staring into the face of something that both fills you with a sense of wonder and strikes fear into your heart. RATING: 9/10
Stagnation: This song lacks the dynamics of the previous ones until the last couple minutes, and Gabriel’s vocals are buried pretty low in the mix, making for a kind of monotonous, aimlessly drifting tune. There is a sense of beauty to it though. It’s a peaceful song, sure but… Well the title says it all. It kind of stagnates. RATING: 4/10
Dusk: This song suffers from the same tediousness as the previous one. In fact, it’s worse. The band manages to meander for a good 4 minutes without once stumbling onto anything that resembles a melody. It’s all about atmosphere, this one. But the atmosphere just doesn’t feel as compelling to me as it did in White Mountain and Visions of Angels. Maybe dusk isn’t the best subject to write a song about. RATING: 3/10
The Knife: Fortunately, things pick back up again with the album closer, which just happens to be one of the best songs in Genesis’ entire output. The Knife is aggressive, epic, and bursting with energy. It’s an anthem about revolution, and damn if it doesn’t make you want to “stand up and fight” as the lyrics say. We also see the band implement the classic instrumental interlude that is so prevalent in progressive rock—a few minutes into the song, pretty much everything drops out except for the bass and organ. Then Gabriel serenades us with a bit of flute playing before the song builds back up to what should have been an explosive guitar solo. But the solo here is a little reined in; it too builds, slowly, until the song finally concludes with an oddly jubilant organ riff that transitions into some fierce vocals and climactic drumming. RATING: 8.5/10
Part III: The Album
Aesthetic: I have no qualms with the production of the album—in fact, I prefer this to a lot of the later stuff. Genesis is a band that got more and more overproduced as they went along. There is a consistent feel to the album—it’s a blend of evocations of nature and mythology. What about the album cover? The story goes that the artist slashed his portrait with a knife to honour the song of the same name when it was added to the tracklist after he’d already finished it. Indeed, the addition of The Knife tips the scales a bit over into the aggressive, violent side, making the cover not as fitting. Trespass is an apt title though; going back to what I said about Visions of Angels, the album almost feels like you’ve trespassed into some sacred, holy realm that you have no business being in and do not completely comprehend. Some of it, anyway. The word “trespass” also evokes “sin”, which hearkens back to White Mountain, where Fang’s sin is trying to usurp One-Eye’s crown. SCORE: 4/5
Artistic Merit: The band is beginning to come into their own here, but it does really feel that they’re mainly experimenting with a cluster of ideas that they would perfect later on. And it does occasionally tread that very thin line between artistry and indulgence, albeit not as much as they would later on. SCORE: 2/5
Flow: This is an album that doesn’t flow well. It’s all over the place. The first three songs form a cohesive whole, before we delve into the tedium that is Stagnation and Dusk. And then we suddenly get the thunderous The Knife, which doesn’t seem to even fit in with the rest of this album. About the disparity between the first three songs and the next two: one might argue that those are divided by a split in album sides. But even if you aim to make each album side a digestible whole, we should still feel like we’re listening to the same album when we get up and flip the record over. Oh, and who thought it would be a good idea to put the two dullest tracks on the album right next to each other? Did they think no one would bother to listen to them? SCORE: 3/10
CLOSING REMARKS: I enjoy four sixths of this album, I really do. But that back-to-back snoozefest of Stagnation and Dusk can be downright torturous (even if the tracks do possess a hidden, tranquil sort of beauty). I still find it remarkable that the band could transition from the baroque pop of their debut to this in only a year. This isn’t by any means a top-tier Genesis album, but it is definitely worth a listen.
FINAL SCORE: 63