DUKE (1980)

 

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Fun Facts:
1. This was the first CD that I wore out from repeated listening.
2. It is Tony Banks' favorite Genesis album.
3. Widely considered among fans as "the last great Genesis album", although others may argue that title belongs to "Wind and Wuthering".

Behind the Lines

Part I of the "Duke Suite" kicks off the album with the by-now familiar power chords, immediately evoking the not-so-distant memory of "Eleventh Earl of Mar" and "Down and Out".  As the instrumental texture eventually thins out, enters Phil with a stunningly "different" vocal performance.  Smokier than ever, effortlessly alternating between sheer power and aching beauty, all without suffering in the higher ranges.  A sign of things to come.      

Duchess

"Behind the Lines" ends rather abruptly in an emotional climax, then out of the ashes a pretty yet  mysterious bridge tune emerges.  At first there is minimal instrumentation, but soon a pattern evolves and the perfect atmosphere is set up for one of my favorite Genesis songs of all time.  Tony's typically fatalist lyrics about the rise and fall of a lady singer was supposed to be a metaphor/prediction for the career of Genesis itself.  Good thing I've always had a knack for depressing lyrics :)  Regardless of whether pessimism is your cup of tea or not though, the chorus of this song is arguably the most stirring motif the band has ever composed.  Again, Phil's awesome vocals is crucial in sustaining the impact of this emotional roller-coaster of a song.            

Guide Vocal

A short quiet section wraps up the first suite in this album, featuring piano and vocals only.  Tony wrote this song by himself, giving it vague lyrics that is open to interpretation.      

Man of Our Times

This one is Mike's baby.  I have always had trouble interpreting the meaning behind this song.    Mood-wise it contrasts sharply with Guide Vocal, instrumentally aggressive bordering on bombast.  Vocally highly demanding, I'm not sure how many other male singers could hit those high notes.  While stylistically similar to "Cul-de-Sac", I've always preferred the latter.

Misunderstanding

One of two tunes that could have ended up on Phil’s "Face Value" album.  Described by Phil as another one of those "boy-meets-girl" songs.  Structurally simplistic as we would expect from the songwriter, there is no denying that this is the most pop sounding song on this album.  I rather like the desperation expressed in the repeating last line "there must be, there must be, some misunderstanding, ahh…", and wish Phil didn’t change that ending in live performances of the song. 

Heathaze

This Banks' song aspires to be another "Mad Man Moon" but doesn't fully succeed.  It starts out promisingly with pretty verses, but begins to lose some appeal starting with "Time to stop this dreaming".  The majority of what follows feels a bit slow and somewhat lacking melodically.  Consequently the climatic portion sounds artificial/contrived.  The lyrics are often thought-provoking, however. 

Turn it on Again

This song provides the much-needed rhythmic kick after "Heathaze".  A deliciously aggressive turn by Phil on lead vocal is supplemented by Mike's driving bass rhythm.  This song ends just in time before it gets tiresome (unlike in live versions).  I especially enjoy the falsetto backing vocals "I can see another face" superimposed on the fade out chorus.  

Alone Tonight

This ballad by Mike unfortunately happens to be my least favorite song on this album.  The main problem for me is the lyrics…  How should I put it, how about the word "corny".  Phil tried mightily to rise above the whiny chorus, but even he couldn't completely overcome this fatal defect.  Mike has proven both before and since that he is capable of writing much more superior ballads than this.

Cul-de-Sac

A tremendously underrated song among the fans.  I actually like this track better than "Heathaze".  Rumored to be written about the extinction of dinosaurs, it is of course not hard to extend the analogy to a host of other groups.  So it is unique for its political undertones.  However the song really excels in melody, being one of the most hummable on this album.  The musical progression seems logical rather than forced.    

Please Don't Ask

Another personal song by Phil which made the cut, and a brilliant ballad I might add.  When you read the lyrics it actually sounds poetic, yet without losing that down-to-earth charm we all know and love.  This coupled with that trademark tear-jerking delivery and minimalistic yet effective instrumental backing, and you've got yourself a classic.

Duke's Travels

One of my favorite Genesis instrumentals, and that is saying a lot.  It opens with what sounds like ocean waves crashing against the shore, then out comes this blood-pumping drum solo, joined soon by amazing virtuoso keyboard work by Tony.  Mike also gets his chance to shine by way of a furious bass and drum duet with Phil midway through the song.  It gets better.  Towards the end of the track, the individual instruments somehow melt into one glorious "wall of sound" which propels forward with an unstoppable thrust.  At the apex of this gigantic build up, Phil enters with a drastically different retelling of "Guide Vocal".  The mood achieved at the end of this song can only be compared to the ending of "Supper's Ready", an enormous sense of victory and redemption.        

Duke's End

After the perfection of "Duke's Travels", anything else may seem like a let down.  Thankfully this piece is just a short instrumental rehash of "Behind the Lines", harmlessly wraps up this overall incredible album.

 

 

 

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