4 August 2004

Notes: Nursery Cryme (1971), Genesis

I've been re-listening to a very old album from Genesis. Nursery Cryme was their third and came out 33 years ago.

Some aspects are very disposable, but I've always valued its structurally diverse, but stylistically consistent package. It pairs well with the follow up, Foxtrot (1972). It seems less random to see those two paired together at Amazon.

I wonder what stylistic pairings these albums got on their release. musicplasma's no help--Genesis has had such a long career that it connects the obvious and popular (Phil Collins) but has nothing to say historically. And Amazon's suggestions for similar music give 15 other Genesis CDs, three Yes CDs, and a Peter Gabriel. I'll once again defer to this site for hits from 1971. Just for context: Rod Stewart, Carole King, Donny Osmond.

Structure begins with the song durations:

  1. The Musical Box (10:29)
  2. For Absent Friends (1:48)
  3. The Return Of The Giant Hogweed (8:10)
  4. Seven Stones (5:11)
  5. Harold The Barrel (3:01)
  6. Harlequin (2:56)
  7. The Fountain Of Salmacis (7:54)

Between the three longer pieces, the listener is given a break with some very simple, tuneful songs. The most complex composition is "The Return Of The Giant Hogweed," which I was glad to find out that I'm not the only person who thinks it's like the movie The Day of the Triffids where giant walking plants attack people and take over the world. "Hogweed" is theatrical and busy with many perpetuum mobile sections. A portion of the lyrics (taken from this site):

Turn and run! Nothing can stop them, Around every river and canal their power is growing. Stamp them out! We must destroy them, They infiltrate each city with their thick dark warning odour.

They are invincible, They seem immune to all our herbicidal battering.

Long ago in the Russian hills, A Victorian explorer found the regal Hogweed by a marsh, He captured it and brought it home. Botanical creature stirs, seeking revenge. Royal beast did not forget. He came home to London, And made a present of the Hogweed to the Royal Gardens at Kew.

Waste no time! They are approaching. Hurry now, we must protect ourselves and find some shelter Strike by night! They are defenceless. They all need the sun to photosensitize their venom. ...

Silly, but engaging. "Harold The Barrel" has some equally silly moments. In its short three minutes, it tells the story of a mild-mannered businessman who one day snaps. Various characters such as his mother and The Lord Mayor (all credited in the lyrics) plea for him to come to his senses as the news tracks his exploits.


A well-known Bognor restaurant-owner disappeared early this morning. Last seen in a mouse-brown overcoat, suitably camouflaged, they saw him catch a train.


"Father of three its disgusting" "Such a horrible thing to do" Harold the Barrel cut off his toes and he served them all for tea "Can't go far", "He can't go far". "Hasn't got a leg to stand on" "He can't go far".

The music has a manic vaudeville-Beatles feel to it, arranged primarily for piano, bass, drum, along with considerable antics with vocal harmony. There's a very Peter Gabriel moment with a quietly lyrical piano section where he sings:


If I was many miles from here, I'd be sailing in an open boat on the sea Instead I'm on this window ledge, With the whole world below

It's as if his breakdown was caused by everything around him, and if only his surroundings were different he'd have kept his sanity.

Upon the ledge beside him His mother made a last request.

67-yr-old Mrs Barrel: "Come off the ledge if your father were alive he'd be very, very, very upset. "Just can't jump, you just can't jump" "Your shirt's all dirty, there's a man here from the B.B.C." "You just can't jump"

You can guess the ending.

The strongest song on the album is the last: "The Fountain Of Salmacis." The story, about Hermaphroditus, provides the strongest structure for narrative on the album. Even "Hogweed" drifts a little and doesn't offer a strong dramatic arc. Taking from Greek mythology helped the story structure. The opening:

From a dense forest of tall dark pinewood, Mount Ida rises like an island. Within a hidden cave, nymphs had kept a child; Hermaphroditus, son of gods, so afraid of their love.

The arrangements too are stronger here. Where "Hogweed" was daring and breathless, "Salmacis" is assured and more orchestrated: the melodies stretch out longer and are arranged with more "lush" voicings. A notable feature: early on, as the narrator sings Unearthly calm descended from the sky, vocal harmonies answer in an antiphonal descending pentatonic scale. Near the end, this same musical structure is used but dramatically at half speed. The fevered initial statement is altered into the mourning, closing lines:

Both had given everything they had. A lover's dream had been fulfilled at last, Forever still beneath the lake.

[ posted by sstrader on 4 August 2004 at 5:22:58 PM in Music ]