I know there are those who feel artists who rework their older material are being creatively lazy by not simply issuing new music. I sometimes wonder if such critics are the same folks who complain if they don’t get note-for-note renditions of their favorite hits when legacy bands hit the stage.
But I see considerable merit when performers and composers like Keith Emerson, Jeff Lynne, or Steve Hackett take the time to devise fresh approaches for the classic releases they became known for. For one matter, albums produced back in the day were typically shaped in comparatively short time frames. The music was mixed and engineered using the technology available at the time. So it shouldn’t be surprising that as the decades have progressed, creative folks are inspired with new ideas to refresh what they did so long ago.
In some cases, as with Lynne, they hear shortcomings they’d like to improve on and now have access to technology that can be used to brighten or enhance old analog sounds. And, as in the case of Hackett, they now have the opportunity to reinvigorate their early work by drawing from a new vista of sonic possibilities.
I realize it would be heretical to suggest Hackett’s Genesis Revisited II in any way supersedes the 1971-1977 era of music from Genesis that Hackett participated in. But I admit feeling this two-CD set is something of a major achievement for Hackett. Yes, the foundations, building blocks, arrangements, melodies, spirit and flavor of the original recordings are alive and well in Hackett’s revisions. At the same time, it’s clear Hackett invested considerable time and care in shaping what he couldn’t have done before with a wide range of collaborators that enlarge the cast of characters in the Genesis theatre of songs.
In fact, there are 35 vocalists and players in this production. Singers including John Wetton (Asia), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Simon Collins (son of Phil), Conrad Keely, Francis Dunnery, Neal Morse, Nad Sylvan, and Nik Kershaw provide a rich palate of voices that is sometimes very evocative of Gabriel’s quivering tenor but just as often deliver the stories as if playing different parts in a prog rock musical. For but one example, “Ripples” features a female singer, Amanda Lehmann, to evoke the vibrato of Marianne Faithful.
In his extensive liner notes, Hackett has much to say about his choices and changes. For example, he claims:
“The temptation to infuse those tracks with more detail and enriched clarity was irresistible. On these versions I’ve altered the detail within the songs whilst aiming to preserve the authentic spirit of the originals. Real string instruments are often used either with or instead of Mellotron, there are several new introductions, plus many additional effects recorded on Apple Mac Logic with amp plug-ins instead of going the traditional route.”
In addition, Hackett created new vocal parts and altered both his guitar lines as well as other instrumental solos. For example, he believes “The Chamber of 32 Doors” is now more symphonic than the 1974 version on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. “Supper’s Ready,” the opus from 1972’s Foxtrot, now has more texture due to the multiple vocalists. “Broadway Melody of 1974” is bluesier, with a colorful cacophony of city sounds, and “Camino Royale” is now spicier with New Orleans jazz stylings.
Looking over the song list before I played disc one, I knew “Musical Box” from 1971’s Nursery Cryme was going to be my real test for comparison. Right out of the box, as it were, the original was my favorite Genesis performance piece and the song I played most frequently. I was far from disappointed by the new version. In his notes, Hackett admits he was now able to do things he couldn’t the first time around, and the soundscape now includes Nad Sylvan’s multi-tracked choirs and the Fiddlers three have “become soprano sax and violin along with slightly distorted flute.” (His liner notes state “Musical Box” was the first time he used his pioneering “tapping” guitar technique, a playing style showcased on 1973’s Selling England by the Pound.)
Likewise, “Return of the Giant Hogweed” benefits from clever new effects like police sirens, John Hackett on scat flute, Rob Townsend doubling the bass, and dual guitar leads from Hackett and Roine Stolt. Two tracks, “A Tower Stuck Down” and “Please Don’t Touch,” may be new to Genesis fans as both were songs Hackett describes as “branches,” that is, songs written for but not released by Genesis. Still, they fit nicely in this package, like two long lost cousins showing all the obvious family traits.
Much credit should go to Roger King, who played keyboards and co-produced this magnificent branch, to use Hackett’s term, of the Genesis musical legacy. This is an expansion of the role he played in the first of these projects, the 1996 Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited. It’s on that album that songs like “Waiting Room Only” and “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” were redone, which accounts for their absence on the second volume. Like Watcher, the frequent use of strings on Genesis Revisited II adds new majesty to the tracks.
In addition, the variety of the performers gives the songs more distinctive character and interpretations than the singular vocals of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins were intended to deliver. Further, the digital mastering allows for a more precise, clear distinction of all the instruments in their often sophisticated time changes and unexpected layers.
Will you forget the originals listening to the new versions? Probably not, and you shouldn’t. At the same time, you don’t need to be overly familiar, or even have ever heard, the classic albums to appreciate Hackett’s re-imagining of Genesis music. Genesis Revisited II trumps and is a far superior experience to many a similar release of completely new progressive rock lyrics and melodies. It’s a beautiful bounty of musicianship rooted in the past, but with branches reaching high into the surreal cosmos of Genesis.