Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant

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Pictures at Eleven by Robert PlantPictures At Eleven was sweet relief for Zeppelin-starved fans still in shock over John Bonham’s death and the break up of Led Zepplin when it was released as Robert Plant‘s debut solo album in June 1982. However, this album soon got lost in the shadow of later works by Plant, which is unfortunate because pound-for-pound, this may be his finest work as a solo artist. Unlike those later efforts, this album is not dominated by keyboards, which gives space musically for guitarist Robbie Blunt to really shine. The album also displays some fine drumming by Phil Collins, who took time off from a dual career as front man for Genesis and his own fledgling solo work to step into the unenviable position of being the first drummer to back Plant since the 1960s. But of course the true talent here is Plant himself. He stepped up to compose (along with Blunt) some very interesting material which, while maintaining some traces of his previous life with Led Zeppelin, really takes a quantum leap into the new-wavish realm of the early 1980s.

Plant was in a unique state of mind during this period. He believed that the stardom in Led Zeppelin had in someway begotten the string of tragedies that struck his family in the late 1970s and, ultimately, Bonham with his death in 1980. In this light, he refused to perform any Zeppelin songs live and would not set out on a major tour until after he composed his second album, The Principle of Moments in 1983. For this debut solo album, Plant took the rock world by surprise, with a smoother and more stylized vocal style to complement the variety of diverse guitar motifs by Blunt. Still, Plant maintained the same high energy and dynamic output with some signature ad-libs and majestic wailing, which made him one of the most esteemed vocalists in rock.

Pictures At Eleven was also Plant’s debut as a producer and it has held up sonically through three decades. One critique of the sound is the very weak presence of bass by Paul Martinez, as Plant really focused on the guitars and drums in the mix. However, the performances are so strong by Blunt and Collins that Martinez is hardly missed.
 


Pictures At Eleven by Robert Plant
Released: June 28, 1982 (Swan Song)
Produced by: Robert Plant
Recorded: Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales, 1982
Side One Side Two
Burning Down One Side
Moonlight In Samosa
Pledge Pin
Slow Dancer
Worse Than Detroit
Fat Lip
Like I’ve Never Been Gone
Mystery Title
Primary Musicians
Robert Plant – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Robbie Blunt – Guitars
Jezz Woodroffe – Keyboards
Paul Martinez – Bass
Phil Collins – Drums

 
The songs on Pictures At Eleven is generally standard in lyrical content, focused heavily on love, sex, and heartbreak. However, the bulk of the songs have odd and unexplained titles. “Pledge Pin” is one such title, nicely driven by Collins’ drumming and percussive effects, the song contains slow driving of musical rudiments and a great vocal melody by Plant. This song also features some extended saxophone by Raphael Ravenscroft and became a popular track on AOR radio. “Moonlight in Samosa” is a soft and pleasant ballad lead by Plant’s relatively new “crooning” voice (which he first developed on Zeppelin’s final album In Through the Out Door) and Blunt’s potpourri of guitar textures and styles. The song has a dramatic edge towards the end of the final verse.

Although most of the material is presented in a new fashion, there are two songs on that are most reflective of Led Zeppelin. “Slow Dancer” contains some vocal desperation and mechanically squeezed guitar riff. Couple this with the long, improvised length of song and you have an instant favorite for Zeppelin fans. This song features a fine performance by former Rainbow drummer Cozy Powell in lieu of Collins. “Burning Down One Side” makes the most immediate impact on the Zeppelin fan as this has a topical feel as a plausible extension of that band. This opening track was the most popular from the album but disappointingly failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic.
 

 
Two of the most interesting songs on the album kick off the second side. The bluesy “Worse Than Detroit” almost feels like Jimmy Page and John Bonham are playing at parts, but here is a jam by Robbie Blunt and Phil Collins at their finest. A wild mid-section features harmonica by Plant, which is complemented later with the heavy slide riff of Blunt. “Fat Lip” is almost the polar opposite of “Worse Than Detroit”. It contains some electronic percussion and fine guitar motifs interspersed between variations of vocal parts – not quite verses nor choruses – but a very unique arrangement. It is really the only song on the album where keyboardist Jezz Woodroffe is prominent and he co-wrote the song.

“Like I’ve Never Been Gone” is a true ballad with just a flair of Spanish styling by Blunt. This song is a little overdrawn but still not totally unpleasant. “Mystery Title” closes the album with a zany guitar riff that predominates the beginning of the song gives way to some very interesting and diverse parts in near schizo fashion, although it all somehow works.

Pictures At Eleven was a solid and successful launching of Plant’s solo career and, although it didn’t contain any really popular individual songs, it was probably the most solid and consistent album he put out.

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1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1982 music.

 

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A Trick Of the Tail and
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis

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Buy Wind & Wuthering

Genesis 1976 albumsWe love Genesis here at Classic Rock Review. Although, this is certainly not evident by our treatment of the band so far in this inaugural year. We’ve had four previous opportunities to cover Genesis albums during our look at four classic years but passed on each of those albums (Trespass in 1971, Abacab in 1981, Invisible Touch in 1986, and We Can’t Dance in 1991). Well, today is an opportunity for some make up as we will do a double review of Genesis’ two 1976 releases A Trick Of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering.

These two albums mark Peter Gabriel‘s departure and drummer Phil Collins debut as the group’s lead singer. These are also the only two albums where Genesis is a four piece band. They were a five piece with Gabriel and would become a three piece in the future following the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett.

The band had searched long for a replacement for Gabriel (some claiming as many as 400 auditions were conducted) all while they wrote and recorded the instrumental tracks for what would become A Trick Of the Tail. Collins provided a vocal “guide” so these candidates could become familiar with their potential vocal role for this material, but no one was sufficient for the job. After briefly considering putting the album out as a pure instrumental, the band decided that Collins should be the new permanent vocalist, although he was initially reluctant to do so.

Critical expectations were low leading up the release of A Trick Of the Tail in early 1976. Hence, the album’s quality and originality were a pleasant surprise to all. It was although the four remaining members had a point to prove – that they could continue successfully without Gabriel – and they proved it brilliantly. Collins demonstrated that he is an excellent singer by staying with in the tonal range of Gabriel while still exploring his own territory vocally. The songwriting credits extend to everyone, making the album’s composition a true group effort. They stayed true to the Genesis legacy while evolving ever so slightly towards a new, modern sound. In musical direction, the album is an impressionist piece of art rock, using storytelling with and without words. The lyrics are like fairy tales or fables and the music makes you envision scenery much as an opera.

With Wind & Wuthering the band stayed true with the basic formula and philosophy as A Trick Of the Tail. However, it feels a bit more forced sounding less fresh than its predecessor. This is especially true on the second side where the band seemed to be making one last try at constructing an art piece in the fashion of their earlier albums. But, most of the songs sound under developed. That being said, Wind & Wuthering does have some brilliant moments, especially when it comes to the songs that open and close the album.

 

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A Trick Of the Tail by Genesis
Released: February 2, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, October-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Dance On a Volcano
Entangled
Squonk
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault, & Battery
Ripples
A Trick Of the Tail
Los Endos
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis
Released: December 23, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Relight Studios, Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, September-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Eleventh Earl of Mar
One For the Vine
Your Own Special Way
Wot Gorilla?
All in a Mouse’s Night
Blood On the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers…
…In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars

 

One of the fascinating qualities about A Trick Of the Tail, is how each song is so entirely different from the previous one. Some may consider this to be non cohesive, but we feel it enhances the listening experience by presenting the talents of these musicians in one package. “Dance On a Volcano” is the most complete group composition on the album. With a minute long intro that sets the sound scape, a measured, plodding tempo during the two verses moves into a frantic pace during the futuristic section that drives the song on a tangent towards its conclusion. The message of the song is when faced with an ugly, volatile challenge, you need to attack the situation like a hero would and dive right into the fire and fight. The song reprises during the album’s closing instrumental “Los Endos”, a foray into the world of jazz fusion. During the closing fadeout, the band pays homage to their former lead singer as Collins recites a few lines from “Supper’s Ready” off of 1972’s Foxtrot, an epic song closely associated with Peter Gabriel.

Steve Hackett’s “Entangled” has an ethereal musical soundscape, like an old English folk song. The lyrics juxtapose the peaceful sleep induced by anesthesia and the dreams of flying over the landscape until the song drifts towards a haunting instrumental section at the end. As a counter piece on the second side, Mike Rutherford‘s “Ripples” is a beautiful but sad ballad with fine melodies during the chorus that lament old age and dying –

Sail away, ripples never come back, they’ve gone to the other side…”

Keyboardist Tony Banks contributed the most compositions on A Trick Of the Tail. “Mad Man Moon” is a piano ballad with strings that blossoms into something almost theatrical, like an opera or performance art. “Squonk” is the first heavy, rock sounding release of the “new” Genesis. Full of hooks and catchy melodies, it retells the English legend of the squonk, a sad creature which roams about wallowing in misery and then melts away to tears once captured. Banks also wrote the album’s predominant “pop” songs.

The upbeat title song “A Trick Of the Tail” focuses on a “beast” character who leaves his own kingdom and enters the world of humans. He is captured and put on display in a freak show after his captors refuse to believe in his kingdom, which he claims is covered in gold. “Robbery, Assault, and Battery” is an entertaining song which moves from section to section, exploring many different time signatures and melodies. Both of these songs had promotional videos made, a forecast of the music world a half decade later with the advent of MTV.

Wind & Wuthering begins with a seven and a half minute mini-suite called “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, a good jam lead by Rutherford’s keys with and interesting middle section led by the folksy motifs of Hackett. This piece feels like a combination of several songs off The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and refers back to an historical English figure and events. Banks’ “One For the Vine” is a nearly ten minute piano tune with fine vocals by Collins. Sounding more like 80’s era Genesis, this piece morphs into a mellow, program-music-like piece before breaking out into a wild, percussive upbeat section.

Mike Rutherford’s “Your Own Special Way” is the plainest forecast of the new pop-ier direction that the band would pursue as a trio in the late seventies and through the eighties. A waltz, lead by a strumming, 12-string riff the song breaks into a full-fledged soft love song during chorus. It later goes into a gratuitous electric piano part that seems to do nothing but eat up clock, showing that the band was, in some sense, just trying to get through this album. “Wot Gorilla?” concludes the first side as a basic yet interesting instrumental.

Genesis in 1976

The second side of Wind & Wuthering sees the band attempting to return to Gabriel-era theatrics, but falling just a bit short in this quest. “All In A Mouse’s Night” is a play involving a couple, a cat, and a mouse, while “Blood On the Rooftops” starts with a nice, classical sounding guitar and contains fine overall instrumentation, but the song as a whole doesn’t quite reach its potential. The album concludes with a three song medley, the first two of which are average but interesting instrumentals. “Afterglow” concludes it all with a beautiful and simple approach that offers a melodic conclusion to Genesis’ second album of 1976.

With our previous two presentations of twin album reviews (Alice Cooper in 1971 and Guns n Roses in 1991), the material was close to even in quality and importance. However, this is not quite the case here as A Trick Of the Tail, which we consider a classic, is decidedly superior to Wind & Wuthering, which may be reserved for dedicated Genesis fans.

~

1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

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