June 27, 2023

Both avowed Genesis admirers, the intention behind this album was to essentially pay homage to their heroes, and to ‘write the songs Genesis never did’. And they do so, quite admirably.

Can you tell me where my country lies? / Said the unifaun to his true love’s eyes’. That oft-quoted line from the Genesis track Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (from the Selling England By The Pound album, of course) is a massive clue as to what this album is going to be all about. Originally released in 2008 on the Swedish label Progress Records, the album is the work of a duo comprising Nad Sylvan (now of course widely known through his lengthy association with Steve Hackett) and Christian Thordin, going by the mysterious name of ‘Bonamici’. With the songwriting being a combination of one, other or both, Bonamici provides all of the keyboards while Sylvan rather impressively handles everything else (many might be quite surprised to find him such a multi-instrumentalist if mainly familiar with him as a singer). Both avowed Genesis admirers, the intention behind this album was to essentially pay homage to their heroes, and to ‘write the songs Genesis never did’. And they do so, quite admirably.

Now, before we even look at the quality of the material contained herein, let’s address the Giant Hogweed in the room: yes, this is entirely derivative of Genesis, particularly from 1973-1976. You couldn’t avoid that, short of putting your fingers in your ears, shouting ‘Not Listening’ at the top of your voice and burying the CD in a lead lined box. However, such accusations are futile to the point of wasting air. Sounding like Genesis here isn’t an influence, it is the entire point and raison d’etre behind the project. Accusations along the lines of ‘tribute band’ are utterly redundant, since: a) a tribute is literally the dictionary definition of what the duo were creating here, and b) it is nonetheless all entirely new material. Everything here takes its cue from the alchemy that Genesis created in the mid-’70s, from lyrics to vocals to instrumental sound to composition, but it is an imagining of new material which could have been created by the band. If you are someone rabidly demanding innovation and originality in everything you listen to, then you should move along the bus and let someone else sit down. If, however, you are intrigued to imagine someone finding a set of undiscovered outtakes from the Selling England and A Trick Of The Tail recording sessions and put them out as an album, then you’re in luck. Because basically, it’s as if someone has.

Sylvan’s ability to channel Peter Gabriel and – especially – Phil Collins in his vocals is no secret to anyone who has seen him deliver the Genesis material in Steve Hackett shows over the past decade or more. Right away that anchors these twelve new compositions either in 1973 or 1976 (nothing here sounds quite so much like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway), something which the instrumentation eagerly backs up. Are these tracks as good as the material Genesis were writing in that golden period? No, it isn’t, and one senses that the musicians themselves would not for a moment make a claim of such hubris for it themselves. Is it, however, perfectly enjoyable and deftly performed material which could quite easily have been made up of music which narrowly failed to make the cut for those albums? Most definitely, it is, and the very best of this stuff channels Tony Banks’s keyboards here, or Steve Hackett’s soaring lead or delicately sculpted acoustic filigree there so successfully that you momentarily forget that you are not listening to the masters themselves.

The highlights here include the opening Trick Of The Tail-esque Birth Of A Biggie, the Hackett-inspired To The Green Faerie, the stately A Way Out and the Bonamici piece which birthed the whole idea in the first place, Maudlin Matter. There is excellent work in the longest track, the epic Quest For The Last Virtue, though it fails to quite sustain its fourteen minute running time, and could have been effectively pruned a little. Likewise the groaningly titled instrumental Rehacksis (after Hackett’s ‘Regenesis’ projects of course) is a nicely observed Hackett homage which only suffers, ironically, from the lack of Hackett himself taking the guitar to the next level. The only really skippable track to these ears is the rather slight Swinger’s Party, channelling Gabriel’s worst excesses of too-clever-for-his-own-good punning wordplay, which might be fine as something of a light hearted interlude, but is too long by half at eight minutes (but then again, many love his lyrics to the lengthy Battle Of Epping Forest, so your mileage may significantly vary). There is further ghastly punning in the Los Endos-themed closer End Or Fin, but although that track perhaps veers a little too close to its inspiration it still makes for a nice finish to the album.

With Progress Records having had to fold in recent times, Esoteric have very astutely undertaken to reissue the album in new packaging, with a booklet including all of the lyrics, plus the original liner notes and a new addendum from Nad Sylvan himself. The new artwork produced for this release (or at least I assume it is newly produced, as I have only seen one prior cover design) is very nicely done, and to my mind undeniably superior to the rather drab and dark packaging of the original. It casts a new light on this album just as this album casts a new light on a bygone era of Genesis, and there is much here to be enjoyed and celebrated. Take a little trip back, as another Genesis song of the time advised us…