Happy the Man
By 1971 Genesis had all the pieces in place. Following the devastating departure of guitar player Anthony Philips and drummer John Mayhew they'd finally found musicians who had the chops to keep up with these posh boys' grandiose visions. Though (with singer Peter Gabriel especially) their roots lay in white r'n'b it was no longer simply good enough to sing about the simple joys of being young. Their previous album, Trespass, had been full of post-apocalyptic allegory (a subject they'd return to) and anti-violence diatribe. Easing into their self-appointed role as purveyors of very English rock fantasy, they retired to the obligatory 'place in the country' and gave the world Nursery Cryme. An album filled with 19th century shaggy dog stories, greek myth and rural life. Genesis had virtually invented their own genre, Edwardian rock.
By this point their roots in the work of prog predecessors, Procol Harum and Family, were still very visible, yet Gabriel's love of role-playing within song was taking them somewhere else entirely new. Honed by endless gigging at places like Ayelsbury's Friars club, songs such as ''The Musical Box'' were tailor-made for his use of costume to hide his shyness (a creepy old man in this case). The production was far too rudimentary to really convey their power but recent recruits, Phil Collins (ex-child star and fusion enthusiast) and Steve Hackett (proven track record with sibling John in band, Quiet Sun), made all the difference.
Collins' snappy drums were augmented by his uncanny ability to sound not unlike Gabriel, allowing him to sing on one track ("For Absent Friends"). Hackett's armoury of tapping and swell techniques really broadened the palette of the band, giving Tony Banks more room for his Delius-lite organ filigrees, not to mention their newly purchased Mellotron, bought from King Crimson who they were now chasing in the 'most-English band' contest. "Seven Stones" is a masterclass in pomp, in a good way. And let's not forget the twelve string guitars. Never has a band had such a chiming about them and hardly surprising; nearly every member played one.
So we end up with a series of mini suites about murder by croquet mallet followed by psychosexual haunting ("The Musical Box"), armageddon by enraged plant life ("The Return Of The Giant Hogweed") or hermaphroditic tales of caution ("The Fountain Of Samalcis"). All of it delivered with a panache that wouldn't quite put them in the big league but was a large step towards making their mark.